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Star Tribune: Keep Your Sales Pipeline Full
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Barbara K. Mednick

Barbara K. Mednick is a Twin Cities marketing communications consultant and freelance writer. Her work frequently appears in the StarTribune WORKING section.
www.startribune.com/working

Keep Your Sales Pipeline Full

Complex technologies require sales professionals to abandon cookie-cutter techniques and embrace strategies that will tailor and personalize communications.

While the factors that make for a good conversation with a prospect haven't changed much in the past decade, the strategies to win the prospect over have changed dramatically. The practice of selling has become more complex due to the Internet, voice mail, e-mail, caller ID and other technologies.
While these offer numerous benefits, they also have caused new challenges; requiring sales professionals to abandon cookie-cutter techniques and instead embrace strategies that will tailor and personalize communications.

New Challenges And Opportunities

"Sales prospecting is harder today than it was 10 years ago because there simply weren't as many barriers to starting the conversation with a prospect," explains Brian Carroll, CEO, InTouch, Inc., and author of "Lead Generation for the Complex Sale." "In the past, calling the prospect with a short pitch usually initiated a conversation leading to an appointment. Advances in technology have made that a thing of the past."

That's why it's critical to implement effective sales prospecting processes to keep the sales pipeline full, says John Moroney, associate partner, Acumen Management, LLC. "While it's harder today to successfully reach prospects through traditional direct mail and cold calling efforts, it is now easier to target the right person, tailor the message and track interest through web-based tools. Savvy salespeople are using the Internet to glean much more data about prospects."

Benefits Of Having A Process

It's important to have a consistent, ongoing prospecting process to ensure effectiveness and quality, according to Carroll and Moroney.

"The ability to generate better quality leads is another key benefit of a prospecting process. Lead criteria will help you target ideal customers and lead quality will dramatically increase as a result," explains Carroll, who focuses on sales and marketing issues in the complex sale.

Prospecting Challenges

Carroll sees six key changes facing organizations involved in a complex sale:

  1. Fewer sales pportunities.
  2. Harder to differentiate from competition.
  3. Increased selling at executive level.
  4. More outreach required to the sphere of influence.
  5. Less selling time due to longer sales cycles.
  6. Difficult to measure return on investment.

Success Strategies

Moroney suggests creating a dialogue with the target market of prospects prior to entering into the sales cycle. "For example, you can help them become educated about what you offer, without the threat of speaking as a salesperson. By responding to e-mail and direct mail invitations, prospects indicate an interest and the salesperson can contact only those responders," he says.

Carroll recommends the following success strategies:

  • Build an ideal customer profile.
  • Talk to your best customers.
  • Develop a lead generation calendar.
  • Define specific, measurable goals for lead generation.
  • Diversify - don't rely on one tactic.
  • Rigorously qualify every sales opportunity.
  • Have a follow-up plan.

And last, but not least, be consistent. "Dig your well before you're thirsty. No matter how busy you are, be sure to make time to do personal lead generation activities," advises Carroll.

Republished with permission from Star Tribune Sales and Marketing. This article was originally published on Saturday, January 6, 2007 in the Star Tribune WORKING section, www.startribune.com/working

 
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