Give leads the attention they deserve Featured

11:34am EDT October 29, 2006
The job of every marketer is to communicate. Using a number of different marketing strategies, you work hard to get exposure for your company, its brand and its products. So it only makes sense that when someone responds to your message in the form of a lead, you reply in a timely, relevant manner. But it’s at this crucial stage where many leads are left to languish in the hands of the sales force.

“Salespeople try to immediately qualify (or gauge) a prospect by asking themselves, ‘Is this person likely to buy?’ — and then deciding how they should respond based on their intuition and experience,” says Mark Yuhn, director of customer analysis at Urban Science, a global consulting firm based in Detroit. “Some people say that only the ‘good’ leads should be followed up on, but we believe that every lead should be followed up in the proper way.”

Smart Business recently talked with Yuhn about how to gauge a lead’s true potential — and the best ways to ensure all leads get the attention they deserve.

What is the impact if you don’t follow up?
The probable impact of not following up is a lost sales opportunity. A lead, particularly one from the Internet, is the modern-day equivalent of a shopper walking into your store. An Internet lead has likely been to your Web site and those of your local competition and has likely narrowed his or her shopping list to a few brands or products worthy of continuing investigation. By ignoring such leads, you are essentially telling potential customers that you are fine with them taking their business elsewhere. The key is to provide a timely and appropriate response to each of the leads you receive.

Timely is easy to understand, but explain what you mean by appropriate?
Remember, just like with physical shoppers in your store, all leads are not created equal. A simple lead-qualification process will give you the knowledge to determine which leads are worthy of immediate, aggressive attention and which ones can be effectively treated with a less intensive or simpler approach. If you can’t qualify leads — sorting them by their propensity to buy in the short term — you have no choice but to treat all leads exactly the same, which could end up being a waste of your valuable resources.

In the normal course of business, customer qualification occurs as part of a conversation between the prospect and the sales associate, during which the salesperson mentally estimates the probability of making a sale. With customers shopping on the Web, all the qualification can be done in advance. You don’t have to wait for the lead to even ask a question. Through data collection from brand and retailer Web sites, readily available third-party data (like Personicx, from Acxiom) and historical purchase patterns, you could instantly assess the probability of getting a sale, and then can determine the most appropriate treatment for each given lead.

How do you determine which treatments to use?
Once you know your leads, it all comes down to good old direct marketing. You need to test the variables in your treatments, such as timing, method and content. By comparing the test group versus a control group, you will see which factors provide the biggest response.

The types of treatments are only limited by a marketer’s imagination and creativity. The key is to test these ideas, measure how well they work, and then implement the ones that worked. After measuring and weighing your options, you can ensure that every marketing treatment is driving sales in the right direction and is providing a positive ROI.

Is there a way to ensure that salespeople follow up in a consistent manner across the retail organization?
Every retail organization should have performance standards in place. These standards establish rules for lead follow-up, such as timeliness and how to differentiate treatment based upon the individualized needs of the customer. Standards must be managed and measured, so the retail organization knows what is working, what’s not — therefore fostering an attitude of continuous improvement.

By getting the entire sales force on the same page, a retail organization can gain control over a process that previously had been in the hands of many individuals, all of whom had differing approaches (and agendas). With everyone working toward the same goals — and with consistency in the process — you can ensure all leads get the attention they deserve, and the retail organization will be rewarded with satisfied customers ... and increased sales.

MARK YUHN is director of customer analysis at Urban Science. Reach him at (313) 259-9900 or (800) 321-6900. Learn more at www.urbanscience.com.