The nurturing of leads is a classic marketing responsibility. In the process of uncovering and qualifying sales leads, some of the most potentially productive ones already are directly under marketing's nose in the form of lost, discarded or ignored prospects.
"If just 5% of all leads are closing, sales thinks the other 95% are junk," said Jim Lenskold, president of marketing consultancy Lenskold Group. "But marketing can take that 95%, pull out sets that shouldn't be in there and pull out another set that needs nurturing."
The result can be a very large chunk of leads that can be recycled and eventually brought to a successful sales conversion.
"Sales re-engagement is one of the single most powerful ROI tools marketing managers have available to them," said Brian Carroll, CEO of lead-generation company InTouch Inc. "You're getting more out of the money you've already spent by going deeper within the opportunities you already have. It seems like common sense, but the reality is, I know of very few companies that think about it, because they assume it's the salespeople's job."
Daunting but worth it
The lead-recycling process is one of those marketing chores that hasn't really been impacted by technology, and thus can appear dauntingly complex, requiring a phalanx of communication activities like direct mail, e-mail, events and phone calls. But the process can be worth it.
"Those leads that don't close are potentially a better group than brand-new prospects," Lenskold said. "Well-nurtured leads represent an unbelievable opportunity."
While the lack of specific re- engagement automation might seem a problem, there are associated support systems that exist today. Technologies from companies such as Aprimo, Eloqua and Unica can help identify leads initially through Web activities—if, for example, 10 executives from the same company have visited a vendor's product pages over the past quarter, that company might be identified as ready to buy.
After such leads are handed off to sales, other processes, such as those provided by companies like Adtrack and Blueroads, manage leads and provide appropriate feedback to marketing—closing the loop, as marketers are fond of saying. And, with CRM monitoring keeping track of the process, or with automated campaign services, leads that didn't pan out the first time around can be cycled back for re-engagement.
"At this point, you can start to plan increasingly granular interactions," said Charles Watson, VP-marketing and products at Blueroads, which specializes in managing sales channel leads.
To effectively revive seemingly lost deals, Watson recommends ongoing "drip-feed" communications involving a steady (but not intrusive) stream of newsletters, e-mails, press releases and high-level white papers.
"You don't want to go radio-silent here, because at some point, maybe in two years, that lead will want to review its purchase decisions," Watson said. Even if the prospect bought from a competitor, he added, a possible sale may be down the road. "You just want to keep your head in the game and stay in touch for that time when they'll evaluate that solution again."
One company that is working hard to recycle the leads that didn't pan out the first time around is Serena Software. Working with Lenskold since February, the company is analyzing its marketing metrics to better understand its sales pipeline, and—in the words of Ceri Jones, director of Serena's European marketing group— "optimize the good things."
"We were not hitting our quarterly targets," Jones said, "so we needed a more central conversation with sales." The company has implemented a lead-scoring system, which, Jones said, ultimately aids lead recycling via such things as e-mail, telemarketing, webinars and white papers. New dashboards are providing quick views of the success of campaigns and products, Jones said, and he's interested in exploring the Crystalreports service offered by his CRM vendor, Salesforce.com, for added analysis.
"The speed of our execution is a little slower than we'd like, but we've already seen some good output," Jones said.
With so many fingers and disparate technologies in the lead recycling pie, trouble can pop up. It's quite possible for a disconnect to occur between the initial lead generation process and the re-engagement phase, said Mikel Chertudi, senior director for demand generation at Omniture Inc.
"Here, in trying to recycle leads, marketers might overwrite all the sources that brought the lead to them in the first place," Chertudi said. In fact, the company is activity beefing up its own lead re-engagement process.
But when done correctly, Chertudi said, effective lead recycling uncovers seemingly lost opportunities, "people who are ready to talk to sales about our products. You can turn 15% to 25% of these seemingly lost leads into sales, or at least sales-ready opportunities."