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Who Are You After?

Get a better handle on your customers before outsourcing sales prospecting

Business-to-business (B2B) companies are placing even greater emphasis on sales leads prospecting as a result of uncertainty over the global economy and evolving buyer behavior. According to the “B2B Marketing Benchmark Report” by MarketingSherpa, 60 percent of B2B companies say generating business leads is their number one sales and marketing priority for 2012. On average, 74 percent of the over 1,700 respondents said that generating high-quality leads is challenging. Many simply lack the resources they need in house as well as sufficient insight on their target customers and competitors.

The overall prospecting-to-sales function involves administration, research and actual sales calls. But without professional intelligence research resources, a salesperson’s time is divided amongst different tasks. Most could end up following cycles and trends that may be unrelated to the actual work of prospecting. Outsourcing sales leads prospecting to a third-party consultant can reap good payoffs, but any consultant you use must understand your business and be resourceful in getting the right and highly qualified information. You need to check that they have access to knowledge about your potential markets, appropriate secondary information, local researcher and analysts, and proper research methodologies. Before commissioning a consultant, check how quickly they can provide the sales leads, the cost of research on existing and new markets and their references.

If that describes you, then what can you do in order to ensure effective prospect targeting, list integrity and good conversion rates? Does it make sense to hire consultants to help with lead generation and qualification?

Here are some vital steps before working with external consultants in sales leads prospecting:

1. Identify your goals strategically.

It helps to first identify your top management priorities. Are they prioritizing improved close ratios? Shorter sales cycles? A target number of customers or amount of revenue?

Next, find out what sales leads tactics have worked for your sales team and what haven’t in the past. This will help you evaluate how to go about setting priorities. For instance, it is worthwhile to check if following up with previously lapsed customers has led to sales. Find out which regions tend to generate the most sales leads and if they are well covered by competitors?

Try identifying similar clients or client segments in different industries or geographical markets. Identifying completely new types of client segments can be equally important in expanding beyond the core base of clients.

Growing the revenue contribution of clients outside a core base of customers can also reduce risk exposure, particularly during times of economic turmoil.

2. Create detailed target customer profiles.

Most companies know their top customers relatively well, but it also helps to investigate them and other prospects deeper. Besides knowing the basic demographics, have there been changes in what’s driving their purchase decisions? Who are their influencers? Do they belong to any associations or forums?

It is not sufficient to have a list of CIOs for example. You also need to know their buying habits, key concerns or sources of information, for example. The better you know the target customer profiles, the better your sales leads list will be.

It’s critical to identify the right persons to target, meaning the ones who have the ability and authority to make a purchase and assess the level of receptiveness to your products or services. That way, you can avoid spending time on those who have little or no influence over the purchase process and focus on those who do and their various purchasing requirements. The purchasing organization may favor low prices; the production manager, state-of-the-art technology, and the sales director, low production cost per unit. In this case, you have three different needs at one client organization. In one such example, GIA assisted a food and beverage company with product attribute mapping analysis to identify and weigh the importance of different product attributes for each stakeholder in the purchasing process. This goes beyond basic sales leads generation, but is often very effective in helping clients close deals.

3. Invest in research and more research.

Gathering databases from local chambers of commerce, newspapers, professional organizations, trade directories, associations or export promotion bureaus is simply not enough. You want to ensure the prospects are “warm” to your approach.

But how much should you pay for the research? How do you know it will be a budget that is likely to cover your needs?

One way to determine how much budget to allocate to professional research resources is to evaluate how much time your sales team spends on creating prospects lists on their own. Is it 30 percent? How much would 30 percent of your company’s sales payroll add up to? That amount is a good one to start with. Allocating that 30 percent to a market intelligence company to help research and develop a list of sales leads professionally will probably generate better returns on investment, particularly if they have a very wide range of research sources, industry insights and networks.

As a start, you could consider a pilot project. For example, you can brief the consultant to focus on a specific market segment or a specific geographical area. In briefing your consultant, be sure to tell them everything they need to know, in order to understand where your business is today and where it would like to go, so they can help to identify the type of sales leads that are right for you. Answering these questions is a great start:

  • How do you segment your market?
  • How does the market share and market size look like for your markets
  • Which products or product categories are relevant?
  • Which customer segment and geographical markets should they focus on?
  • What is your go-to-market strategy?
  • Which are your main product/service benefits/differentiators?
  • How do these benefits/differentiators compare with key, local or new competitors?
  • Is there a specific competitor that has problems and whose clients we might want to target?
  • How do you conduct win/loss analysis and what have some of the findings been?
  • What are your objectives and time-span?
  • Which budget is available for the analysis?

The better equipped you are with the market intelligence to monitor and analyze your existing and potential markets, the better positioned you are to identify new potential markets and sales leads.

Aleksi Grym is Business Unit Director UK, and Rahul Dhingra is Senior Consultant North America at Global Intelligence Alliance, a strategic market intelligence and advisory group.