Let me put my B2B marketing hat on here. I recently chimed in on a Linked In discussion about leveraging outside firms or inside sales teams to help set appointments/screen leads for experienced sales reps. I have used both methods to great success – and a few failures – and want to share them with you. Some of this could apply if you sell consumer products via direct sales reps as well.
Many account execs these days have moved from a strict “feature-function-benefit” sale to a more “customer-centric selling” technique. This used to be called “solution selling” and there is a great book on this topic if you want to learn more. For those of you not familiar with this from enterprise software, this means that the rep acts more like a consultant and detective and less like a “hard sale” pusher – they take the time to get to know the person’s business, ferret out their pain points, find ways to measure value and then build a solution/package that meets the person’s needs. They have strategic business-level conversations, rather than getting down in the weeds on features and functions. This is a much more collaborative and consultative relationship that can yield future sales down the line, since the client sees you as a partner.
Many firms with dedicated, “high-touch” sales reps sometimes hire outside firms to either telemarket for leads or screen incoming leads for real opportunities. This allows the account execs to focus more on relationships, building value, strategic partnering and business solutions – rather than cold calling and wasting their time with “tire kickers’ who will never buy.
I’ve used both external firms and inside sales teams for this function. Aaron Ross is a great consultant who built a top-notch Inside Sales team at Salesforce.com and now helps organizations refine their sales processes to get results. I’ve worked with him in the past and he’s great. Vanella Group is also a wonderful prospecting firm full of professionals who used to be big whig sales execs and know how to find real opportunities (she doesn’t use people right out of college to do this kind of prospecting and screening).
Here’s what I have learned are the keys to making it work:
1) Have buy in from Sales leadership: The key factor is aligning with sales and ensuring the Sales VP is on board, has a say in the selection of the firm/new hire, helps define which leads are “appt worthy” and actively enforces good follow-up behavior among his/her reps. If the Sales leader is not on board and enforcing the process but its all coming from marketing, you’re dead in the water.
2) Nail Down a Clear Process: Sales needs to be well-informed about the initiative, know what the next steps need to be and how the whole process will be measured. Create a clear appointment-sales-rep handoff process so nothing falls through the cracks (put your operations hat on, create a process flow with decision points for all parties and ensure all reps know and agree)
3) Track and Measure. We had appointment setters who could enter the lead directly into our salesforce.com (SFDC) sales and marketing automation system. If a rep did not follow up or take the appt, we knew exactly when and who and could call them out. We also could track leads through to the sale from this initiative by using SFDC’s analytics.
4) Agree on What Makes a Qualified Lead: Ensure the definitions of a “qualified lead” worthy of an appointment are clearly understood and agreed to between marketing and sales so no one wastes time or money. This misunderstanding is one of the biggest reasons such initiatives fail. Have clear criteria for both sides on what makes a lead appointment-worthy. For example, we had company size, level of the person, if they were going to spend on a solution within 6 months, etc. as part of this criteria.
5) Maintain Accountability: Track all your activity to generate the lead and appt, so that if sales drops the baton, misses the appointment or doesn’t dollow up, you can know this and can remedy it quckly.
6) Make a Superstar That Others Will Follow: Celebrate success by enlisting the help of a well-respected, successful rep to “try the system out” and when he/she gets a win, promote it broadly. Reps will only spend time doing things that they know for a fact will yield commissions.
7) Put Communication Channels in Place: Ensure you have a process in place for the outside firm to make the appt and the rep to KEEP the appt. I’ve seen outside firms make appts and not clearly communicate time, date, etc to the rep (or not know which rep to send it to). There needs to be a mechanism to quickly check the rep’s availability so the prospect is not left hanging. I allowed my outside firm to send emails directly to my reps, even though they would put the lead in the system, just to ensure the appt was kept.
8) You Need More than People Who Can Dial a Phone: You need experienced sales reps who can listen, overcome objections and ferret out opportunities and pain points. They need to know what to listen for, how to ask probing questions and how to get past gatekeepers and talk about value. Again, Vanella Group does a great job with this.