It starts at the top, with support from upper management, and includes tight alignment of marketing and sales departments and buy-in from the sales force.
However, companies that achieve superior lead generation are in the minority.
According to a June report from research company CSO Insights, based on an online survey of 1,275 marketers, only 8% of companies are defined as "lead generation optimization" (LGO) leaders.
These leaders are characterized by tight integration of sales and marketing departments, high-quality leads delivered to the sales force and higher conversion rates of leads to first calls.
These leaders also have higher win rates, a higher percentage of salespeople making quotas and faster ramp-up time for new salespeople than companies with average or below-average lead generation programs, the survey found.
Rich Carvill, marketing manager for the industrial power transmission business at Gates Corp., said his marketing organization has been heavily focused on lead generation for the last five to six years.
"We have support right through upper management," Carvill said. "We have made a lot of good progress in terms of managing the inquiry flow and improving effectiveness in the processes."
To help deliver qualified leads and manage lead flow among its sales reps, Gates worked with Denver-based marketing agency 90Octane to develop a "lead calendar," which monitors the flow of leads based on factors such as revenue goals, sales cycles, average revenue per sale and the capabilities of the sales force.
"We really had to get buy-in from the sales force," Carvill said. "Now we have a nice constant amount of leads coming in." Gates uses integrated marketing programs, including e-mail, direct mail, online ad units and other media to generate leads.
One e-mail program, offering free downloads of a software program called Design Flex that helps users design industrial belt drives, resulted in more than 1,300 downloads in one week.
"More is not always better. You have to measure the flow of leads to the appetite of your sales force," Carvill said.
Reps must follow leads
Another challenge is getting reps to aggressively follow up on leads, he said.
To address that, Gates has started an incentive program to get reps to follow up on 100% of their leads. The next challenge is getting follow-up on leads that are sent to distributors, Carvill said.
"We lose a lot of visibility and control of leads going through distribution," he said. "We don't always get specific sales results back."
Over the next three months, Gates plans to implement a new CRM system to more tightly integrate its lead management programs. "It will add a lot of efficiency," Carvill said.
However, he added, a CRM system is just one part of the process. "Integration is crucial to success," he said. "You have to have a market-focused program, have the right products, develop training programs, provide sales tools and communicate your objectives and primary marketing goals to make sure everyone is on the same page."
Diane Quinlisk, director of market development at Kodak Graphic Communications Group, agreed on the importance of aligning marketing and sales on lead generation efforts.
"Lead generation is absolutely a priority within the marketing and sales organizations," Quinlisk said. "We have a very large global direct sales force, as well as dealers and distributors, and we work hand in hand. If we do not give our sales force quality leads, they will not follow up with them."
In a recent lead generation effort for NexPress, a digital color press, Kodak Graphic Communications launched a two-wave campaign to generate qualified leads on key decision-makers and influencers in commercial printing.
To demonstrate the product's variable color printing capabilities, Kodak did a personalized mailing featuring a picture of a golf course near each recipient's mailing location. For example, recipients in California received a postcard with a picture of the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Offered an incentive of a dozen Titleist golf balls, recipients were driven to a Web site to answer 18 questions about their printing needs and decision-making processes.
"We learned that 45% of respondents planned to make digital printing decisions within 12 months," Quinlisk said. The lead generation program was so successful that it exceeded the goal by 400%, she said.
Ad agencies are also working on programs to generate leads for their clients.
PJA Advertising & Marketing, Cambridge, Mass., has created programs with trade publications to guarantee leads to clients through Webinars, white papers and other content-driven strategies.
"Clients are really happy to take the guesswork out of lead generation," said Mike O'Toole, exec VP-partner at PJA. "Rather than buying impressions or a list of e-mail names, they can spend $40 [for example] for a white paper lead and pay only when the lead is delivered."
PJA has developed guaranteed lead generation programs for several clients, including Novell Inc. and Sonus Networks, in which it sends out RFPs to publications and gets them to compete on cost-per-lead. Clients pay for the lead only when people register for a Webinar or download a white paper.
In other findings from the CSO Insights survey, which was sponsored by software company Eloqua, lead generation optimization leaders had a 55.6% win rate, compared with a 48.6% win rate for the other companies in the study.
Also, LGO companies had a 14.7% "no decision" rate (when the prospect decides not to buy), compared with a 20.9% "no decision" rate at the other companies.
"A lot of companies are struggling with reps chasing deals that have a low probability of resulting in a sale. It means they don't have good leads," said Jim Dickie, partner at CSO Insights.
The study also found that 66.1% of sales reps at LGO companies regularly met their quota, compared with 58.6% at other companies.
Finally, 65% of non-LGO companies reported a ramp-up time of at least seven months for new salespeople to meet the revenue production of other reps in the company, while 49% of LGO companies took at least seven months to ramp up. M