Direct marketing via automation: An enabler, not a closer

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Marketing automation has revolutionized direct b-to-b marketing. No longer confined to branding, direct marketers now drive the lead-generation process, historically a sales function in b-to-b. As recently as 15 years ago, salespeople were communicators and influencers, and b-to-b companies powered sales with as many reps as their budgets would allow. This strategy worked until prospects discovered the Internet, went elsewhere for information and avoided the salespeople until the very end of their self-guided evaluations. Sales teams discovered that 85% of their prospecting calls were going to voice mail and 80% of b-to-b buyers found their vendors online. Then marketing came to the rescue with automated direct-marketing strategies designed to educate buyers and build interest. Rapid expansion of the Web and supporting technologies spurred the need for better tools to manage direct marketing programs and the enormous volume of content they require. Marketing automation arrived just in time to help companies deliver content in a highly targeted way and begin the digital dialog with prospects. Now marketing, not sales, is charged with finding and engaging buyers, with marketing automation helping marketers track, identify and target those buyers. But marketing automation alone can't tell you whether the nurtured prospects are decision-makers, if the timing is right for a purchase, whether your solution is in their price range or if they even need it. Direct marketing can identify and nurture potential buyers to a point. That point is called a marketing-qualified lead. MQLs are great but, as any senior sales executive will tell you, they aren't opportunities. This is where today's inside sales teams engage, to convert an MQL to a sales-qualified lead (SQL) and eventually to a sale. Inside salespeople, or nurture reps, are well-versed in the content distributed through direct marketing. These reps initiate personal contact with prospects who show interest through their digital behavior by phone, email or a combination thereof. A nurture rep should not be a closer, but someone good at drawing information from prospects to determine BANT (budget, authority, need and timeline) and interest. If interest is there but BANT is not, a nurture rep can send the prospect back into the direct marketing path to make sure the organization remains relevant to the prospect until they are ready to buy. If an MQL does become an SQL, a richly experienced salesperson should take the ball. Remember, by the time today's prospects meet with “the closer,” they've already done their homework. Questions will be specific, requiring the expertise of a rep with a deep understanding of the solution and the market. This rep also will need to be an insightful, active listener, capable of tuning in quickly to objections with a problem-solving approach. Beyond the skills required to make the sale, successful reps in today's marketing-driven, lead-generation model must respect the marketing and sales process—and trust their teammates. Direct marketing and marketing automation may have assumed the responsibility for b-to-b lead generation, but it still takes a talented, driven sales team to turn SQLs into opportunities and opportunities into revenue. Paul Rafferty is CEO of sales acceleration company Sales Engine International ( He can be reached at [email protected]
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