Effective Customer / Prospect Profiling. How well do you know your customers and prospects?

Let’s be honest … 

  • Does your organization know all the important stakeholders (influencers and decision makers)?  In every location?
  • Do you know the potential account size (not historical value)?
    • How confident are you that part of your marginal accounts are not in fact LARGE accounts purchasing from a competitor?
      • If so which competitor?
  • How much do you know about adaptation and potential usage (or the number of installations)?
  • Do you know about growth (or contraction) plans?

OK you’re using a CRM.  And your sales people are supposedly entering some - if not all - of this data.  However, the vast majority of organizations that engage with us find it very difficult to encourage their CRM users to participate and engage in actively building comprehensive profiles.  Truth is, most CRM users generally put in as little data as possible - either because they are lazy,  or they are focused only on selling and don’t want to be bothered or it's because they prefer not to be accountable.  The latter is most often the case and management just lives with it.  

Additionally you may find that even your sales and account management assets know (very) little about your customer and prospects because they focus very narrowly on the easy short term opportunities where they believe that can get quick hits.  Good salespeople (generally) only focus their efforts on the 20% that potentially will produce 80% of their revenues.  However, when you dig around in the remaining 80% there will always be some large potential that is not known to sales at all.   

Information is power.  A salesperson’s mindset quite often is … “If I have the information and you want it, then I can leverage that to my advantage.”  And many salespeople do in fact just that, creating a situation whereby the salesperson is the lynchpin in your company's relationship with your customers and prospects.

If this is the case in your business then relationships with the customer or prospect base are going to be controlled almost entirely by the sales assets engaged in developing that prospect or managing the account.  

So who cares (one may say)?  “As long as they make their sales/quotas then I’m happy.”

True - as long as you’re aware of the potential consequences.  

  • What happens when the salesperson leaves?  Could you lose the lion's share of the investment in his or her sales opportunity pipeline?  Especially if he/she leaves for the competition?
  • What about the lost opportunity factor?  Is your salesperson maximizing the potential by investing in new and lucrative revenue streams?  Or cross or up selling?
  • And what about the company not having much ability to manage sales productivity?  Can you focus selling efforts on those prospects and or clients that you want them focused on - not only the low hanging fruit they prefer to sell to into?
    • Example:  You learn that a competitor is having issues.  Do you have any real time ability to reach into your CRM and identify those clients/prospects using that competitor and then focus sales efforts on turning these companies into your customers?

A company needs to manage its customer and prospect relationships.  The long term benefit gives it the ability to keep its finger on the pulse by controlling, managing and building client / prospect relationships positively and pro-actively.

And to do this the company needs to make sure that customer and prospect data is managed and kept up to date in your CRM system.  

How can you foster such a structure?

…we learned more about our market penetration and position in 6 months than we did in over 30 years of doing business.
— Client quote / Financial Institution

Profile building and helping companies and sales forces understand their customers and prospects better is complex and time consuming.  Generally it’s not in the sweet spot of activities for salespeople or inside sales and generally the major CRM systems require customization in order to store and effectively use the data.  

Let us know if you’d like learn more how profiling can impact sales and marketing productivity and help grow sales by allowing you to improve and manage relationships with both prospects and customers.

See part 2 of this article.


Bells & Whistles vs Need, Pain & Interest

I got a call yesterday from a young inside sales rep who works for a company that specializes in automated tools to assist the inside sales process. The call resulted in one of those rare win-win-win outcomes, although he might not see it quite that way. Let me explain.

He introduced himself by saying something about some vague connection between me and the CEO of his company, implying that somehow he and I had spoken or communicated or knew one another. I don’t think so.

More likely, he was responding to my click on a broadcast email I had received earlier in the day from his company inviting me to an all day web conference on the topic of inside sales. Although I had an interest in the topic, my schedule precluded my attending, so I was just poking around to see what I might have missed.

Other than raising my suspicion with his introduction, the young man was otherwise quite articulate and seemingly knowledgeable about his company’s product line. He explained that he had done some research on our company and had determined that they could help us because their products focused on assisting companies with inside sales and lead generation missions by providing automation tools to enhance productivity.

He then asked if we had a CRM (I suppose if I said we didn’t, he’d offer to sell me some very large index card cabinets). I explained we ran a very robust, proprietary application on an Oracle platform that basically ran our entire business as well as providing ourselves and our clients with web-based CRM capabilities.

Without skipping a beat, he launched into a discourse about some of their products and how they could help us do everything short of creating world peace and climate control. Very impressive promises, indeed.

What he forgot to do was to earn my trust. He never asked me about how we use our CRM, what were its capabilities and perceived shortcomings, or what, if anything, we’d love to have that we didn’t already have. What made him think we needed his magic tools?

So he never really earned the right to move to the next level of relationship building. He turned the conversation on a dime from me and us, to him and them, without giving me a chance to tell him more about what we do or might need.

When I told him that the promised bells and whistles had strained my sense of credibility, he offered to connect me with a subject matter expert who would explain how it worked and why they could do what he promised they could do.

Suffice it to say that he had lost me.

Faced with his offer, I was left with two options. I could tell him I wasn’t interested and hang up, or I could ask for him to email me some information so I could think about it more before wasting my time and that of his subject matter expert. After a little push back, that’s what he did.

The material he sent was basically a link to a video presentation by a sales manager about their solution. It was nicely done. However, because our application also integrates with, the presentation had little value. And although there were some slick features included, most of these are already have been embedded in our application for many years.

The real win for me was in getting an idea from their presentation about how we might present calling information in our application that might make it more useful. Neat, easy to do, and a contribution that made my time on the call worthwhile for us.

But at the outset I promised that it was a win-win-win outcome. Where are the other two wins? Here they are.

The win for him was the fact that I was not, and would likely never be, a qualified prospect for his company’s tools. Had I agreed to speak with a subject matter expert, he would have recorded this as a positive outcome in his records when, in fact, it wasn’t. A false positive is not a real positive.

The subject matter expert also got a win -- by saving his own time and not making a presentation to an unqualified prospect without any potential whatsoever to make a purchase. By saying no to the invitation to meet I had enhanced his sales productivity.

So that was the win-win-win outcome I promised, but what is the real takeaway here?

If you are going to initiate a meaningful relationship with a prospect, new or otherwise, you need to do more than satisfy yourself that they are a suspect. You need to earn their trust by probing to understand their needs, challenges, interests and aspirations. What keeps them up at night?

Bells and whistles are interesting to present, but they are all about you. And prospects have no reason to care at all about you. Qualifying a prospect requires an in-depth understanding of them, because it’s always all about them (as it should be). You don’t earn the right to speak about yourself until they have finished speaking about themselves and you have something to offer that will help them meet their needs, achieve their goals, resolve their challenges, or sleep better at night.

The In-house Vs. Outsource Dilemma

Most companies that inquire about our services have already made a decision to outsource those functions and are seeking to find a partner that offers the best fit for their specific challenges.  Every so often, however, we encounter a company that is actively struggling with the in house vs. outsource dilemma. Certainly, the ability to develop “inside sales” resources in house offers a great deal of potential, and some companies elect to go in that direction.  Typically, their thinking is based upon assumptions that taking the process in house will give them greater control and communication, greater levels of expertise, a methodology for training new sales resources and, perhaps most importantly, offer significant cost savings.  On the surface, it seems like a simple cost-effective decision, especially when just comparing hourly rates – the most obvious metric.  Unfortunately, the issues are far more complex than that, and those objectives are rarely, if ever, met successfully.

First, most organizations don’t have systems in place that facilitate control and tracking of teleservices activity.  Success in this endeavor is far more complex than simply mandating some number of calls per day and providing a basic database (CRM) into which the results can be reported.  The requirement to actively manage the process is often overlooked.  And that’s not a part-time activity taken on by someone with little or no expertise in the area.  There is a need for ongoing monitoring of calls, to be sure that your brand is being represented with the degree of quality it deserves.  And there is a need for careful review of notes to ensure that potential opportunities are being managed appropriately and are not lost for lack of follow up and tracking.  Analogous to medical records, there is a need to ensure that the notes related to the progress of each opportunity are sufficiently detailed to enable someone else to take over the record should the current business developer be replaced.  As a result, there is far more management time needed than is typically planned.  On top of having to provide systems and dedicated management resources, you’ll need to provide dedicated, isolated space and phone systems that will support phone-intensive activity.  Those costs are typically overlooked and are always present in abundance.

Perhaps the most challenging issues relate to personnel (as is usually the case).  You’ll need a systematic methodology for recruiting, hiring and training qualified people.  The more complex your subject matter and value proposition, the more difficult it will be to find the “right” people.  Complex products and services need to be handled in a consultative dialogue, not with a script.  That means you’ll need people who can think and probe and listen and “peel the onion.” Personnel management is an ongoing process because there will inevitably be turnover.  And, with turnover, comes more efforts at recruiting, hiring and training (with lost opportunity cost during the ramp up period).  And that's true even if a career path is established, because you'll need to replace them when and if a promotion occurs.  These rather substantial indirect costs are also rarely considered when a company considers going down the in house path.

To further complicate matters, because these dedicated people are likely to be doing the same thing day in and day out, all day long, they will be significantly less productive later in the day than earlier.  The smarter and more sophisticated the people are that you hire, the greater the likelihood that boredom will soon set in (repetition is not stimulating to these folks).  This inevitably leads to shorter tenure and higher turnover rates.  And then there's vacation and sick leave with lost opportunity costs associated with those periods as well.  We always project our productivity as double that of a dedicated in house effort, and I've never been wrong about that estimate.  If anything, double is a generous view of in house productivity.

So, while hourly direct cost is significantly lower using in house resources, the total direct + indirect costs are often 50-70% higher than the rates we charge.  In fact, the most common outcome is to scrap the in house resources and go back to the old (extremely costly) plan of the "same old way."

So, if you have success in managing all of that and end up with a winning program, please let me know.  Because, as you can see, it will be unusual.

The importance of the fulfillment note

Have you gone to a website … filled in a form to request further information on a product or service?  I have. In fact yesterday I went to a website that offered a solution I had an interest in purchasing and wanted pricing information.  When I clicked on the link it required me to fill out a detailed form – which I was happy to do.

I then received the following email:

“We have received your email message with the subject:

“Pricing Plan Information Request

“If you do not receive a response within 48 hours, please send your message again.

“Thank you,” Company Name

What a turn off.  Can you believe the last sentence?  They want me to get back to them if they could not be bothered to call me or send me the requested information.  Give me a break - their chances of getting my business are zilch, zero.

Here at ETI we primarily deliver outsourced lead generation and lead qualification solutions for clients. So we also often get what I call the dreaded ‘Send me more information’ request.  Generally speaking we recognize this is an attempt to get our Business Developer off the phone and we introduce some subtle responses to control the conversation and guide into a more meaningful direction.

However, that being said it is certainly necessary at times to send out information via email and it’s essential to do this professionally to move the prospect closer to the point where he or she may be ready to engage.  It certainly should not be done in a way that turns the prospect off!

Here are some rules we suggest you follow:

  1. Use plain text rather than HTML.
  2. Personalize.  Dear Mike or Dear Mr. Falkson is far more effective than impersonal mail that starts out ‘We have received your email message on the subject . . .”
  3. To ensure readership use a meaningful subject title which will be instantly recognized as relating to the discussion that motivated your email fulfillment.
  4. Be comprehensive.  The tendency to be very brief could be unproductive whereas longer but relevant personalized email (as also in personalized direct mail) is more effective.
  5. Add links to relevant content that help make your case.  Don’t include any that are not directly applicable.
  6. Maintain interest.  Suggest you’ll follow up with in the next day or so.  Include a direct line for the prospect to call you.
  7. The signatory must be a person with a name and a title.  Must be someone the prospect can reach out to via email or phone.

Some further guidelines:

  1. You need to track (if possible) email opens.  (Only possible from html email).
  2. You do need to track every click through and link it back to your prospect records in the CRM system.  In fact you may want to develop dynamic triggers that alert your Business Developers and other salesforce participants of the prospect’s click throughs and the content accessed.  Furthermore integration into a lead nurturing process can be extremely lucrative.�
    1. Develop metrics to calculate how many people converted into high level or regular sales prospects after receiving your email.
    2. Metrics should also enable tracking click through conversions.
    3. Consider hiring a free lance professional copywriter. Effective copy is at the heart of the matter and should be well worth the investment.

At ETI we take care of our client’s email fulfillment emails as part of our service.

We’ll be happy to talk to you about improving your sales lead generation and qualification programs. Call us at 1.800.466.4384 (914.747.3030) for more information.

Customer Retention in tough times

No doubt as the recession takes hold companies are at risk to lose more customers than new ones coming in.  The problem:  If you don’t invest in keeping and developing your existing clients – especially in tough times – then it’s more than likely that your business will decline.

You’re no doubt familiar with the mantra that states that it costs about 5 times more to bring in a new customer than to sell to existing customers. 

So the question is what are you doing to communicate with your customers?  Do you have a structured customer development program to up-sell, cross-sell and above all manage your relationships in such a way to make sure these customers – whom you’ve already spent a lot of money acquiring – from walking?

Here are some ideas you may want to focus on:

  • Establish a systematic, formal process to cultivate and grow high potential accounts
  • Create a schedule to “touch” key accounts regularly
    • Build variable schedule based upon account potential (not current value of the relationship)
  • Develop a strategy to manage marginal accounts ( those that cannot be effectively managed by the sales force)
    • Outsource is one way to go
  • Raise awareness of new products and services
  • Under promise – over deliver

In Tough Times more Effective Marketing will Increase Sales Force Productivity

Tough times require all expenditures to be examined for possible reduction or elimination. Marketing is not exempt from such investigation and will undoubtedly reveal areas where cuts can and will be made. One example is Brand Advertising which for the most part is not an immediate result producing expenditure. On the other hand it would be unwise to cut advertising oriented to generate demand activity for your goods/services. Or to generate inquiries for goods/services since such sales leads can effectively be converted to new customers.

The following strategies should be implemented:

  • Focus on generating quality inquiries as distinct from large numbers of inquiries.
  • Analyze inquiry response by media to check on the effectiveness (front and back end) of both ad and media. Save money by canceling or revising ineffective ads and/or media.
  • Cancel advertising that is not generating satisfactory revenue and invest the funds in strategies that are creating revenues.
  • Analyze effectiveness of costly Trade Shows and Webinars and other Event driven activities. Not only by volume of actual inquiries but more importantly by actual conversion rates.   (Typically the return on investment from such activities is lower than other more organic marketing tactics.)
  • Be cautious about offering free or premium offers. These often drive high volume of inquiries.  That’s natural - but they are seldom effective in helping the sales force to sell more.
  • Large volumes of email can be sent at very low cost but actual readership is in doubt. Too much depends on factors over which senders have no control.
    • Use sparingly and wisely to maximize the impact.
    • Make sure your messaging is targeted to applicable prospect companies.
    • Personalize if possible with TEXT (not html) based content.
    • Where possible mail only to OPT IN contacts.
    • Track each and every email open and click through to ascertain readership and traffic driven to your website and or micro-site.
  • The management of inquiries and follow through is complex and requires a strong database infrastructure for effective control. Outsourced CRM solutions may well be helpful. ETI clients derive immense benefits using our thoroughly reliable in-house CRM solutions - provided at no extra cost. An advantage worth its weight in gold!

Qualities Clients Look for in Teleservices Providers

Edited transcript of a telephone conversation initiated by Michael Falkson, Pres. ETI Sales Support Inc, with Mr. Ostrow 08/02/08. The Aberdeen group recently undertook a study of the B2B Teleservices Industry - the first of its kind to my knowledge.  I recently had an opportunity to talk with Peter Ostrow, the author, about some of his findings.

Mike:  In your view Peter, what are the critical elements a best in class company should look for when seeking an outsourced business development partner?

Peter: They should look for a partner who offers flexibility around deliverables.

The overall deliverables should be carefully quantified and reevaluated on a regular basis.  They should look for flexibility in compensation methodology, which we've ratified through our research, and that too should be reevaluated on a regular basis.  They should look for a company which allows them to micromanage the process. 

Now that may sound counter productive to efficient program execution, but on a personal note when I look at my career, I have been least successful when I did not have the customer fairly closely involved in my day-to-day activity.  Going away with a script and a list and then simply coming back with the results is in my opinion least likely to satisfy the client.

There are some vendors in your space who don’t worry what their clients think of how they work, whose customers don’t get involved or want to know how you produce their results. They're just concerned with the final outcome. And that there may even be an implication that “we use a special ingredient or a secret sauce.”

To be honest Mike, I think there are some proprietary best practices unique to various providers, though not patent worthy.  I think it’s interesting that some companies try to figure out how you get the job done and I’m ok with that. I also believe it’s wrong to keep the customer from accessing the callers, the messaging, and some of the processes. These are bad signals to clients.

Finally, I think clients should certainly look for domain expertise. That’s very important.

However, it's not always feasible that the provider of teleservices can say, " Yes! We have exactly the experience your company needs. We’ve worked for companies with the same demographics and which faced the same challenges. In fact we’ve scored a wonderful success story."  That would be too tall an order.

But for a small versus large company, for a less or more costly solution, for a situation where the brand was not well known -  or some less specific criteria, I would imagine it’s permissible and acceptable to tell a particular story which provides a little insider domain expertise to indicate we have been there before.

Mike:  How important is longevity, breadth and depth of an outsource partner's experience in establishing desirability of the vendor?

Peter:  I would say moderately important.  People want to get in bed with someone that they know or heard good things about, but being in the business for 20 years or five years doesn’t really matter that much.

Mike:  What are the vital personnel qualities of a top notch outsource partner?

Peter:  I would say staff who are strong enough to do without the script and speak from the heart about the value proposition, will be preferred,   Callers with advanced degrees,  maybe multilingual, they’re usually very good. Still these qualities are not uniformly essential as you know. 

Probably the most important quality one needs are folks who are comfortable getting on a phone on a regular basis and interacting with the sales force.  That’s probably the #1 criterion that end-users look for. Turnaround is not that big an issue.  If people trust the outsourcing company and trust the process management then it does not matter that the folks who actually make the calls come and go. Clients won’t really fret about that . . . it’s pretty far down the list.

Mike:  How important is it that the outsource partner has access to powerful flexible technology to manage real time reporting and communication?

Peter:  There are two answers to that.  I see no difference between the best in class and other companies, so I can't say that smarter companies will integrate with the customer's CRM and other tools.

But I can also tell you that the majority of best in class companies either currently or in the near future definitely plan to deploy exactly that. 

Mike:  Would you say that most teleservices providers rated in that survey were essentially meeting the expectations of their client base?

Peter:  Actually, most were.  Respondents choose whether they are either very dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, neutral, somewhat satisfied or very satisfied. Everyone came out somewhere between somewhat and very. The respondents were satisfied with the lead quality. They are generally less satisfied with lead quantity.

Quality . . . lead quality . . . lead quantity . . . all count. Clients are most satisfied with messaging accuracy; they are least satisfied with reporting metrics, business intelligence gathering and cost per lead.

Thanks a span, Peter, much appreciate your valuable input.

Telephone fairs well in media comparisons

There’s an interesting article in the July edition of B2B Magazine titled ‘Use of Digital Media Rising’ by Carol Krol. The writer focuses on the findings in “The Integrated Marketing Media Mix” report published June 2008, by the Direct Marketing Association’s. It’s the first report of its kind undertaken by the trade association .


dma media analysis

Two items are noteworthy:

  •  DMA’s research shows telephone usage ranking 6th out of the 18 media listed, with 31.9% of companies employing this medium in their integrated marketing campaigns.
  • Based on the aspect of media efficiency, email ROI returned 100% more than the revenue share (1.93) relative to its share of budget.  Only telephone did better than average in the offline media, at a 1.20 share.

Although these numbers are great I suspect the email media effeciency ratings do not take into account the cost of lead qualification from email generated inquiries so it may be that telephone (which would already include these costs)  comes out even higher than email.  In fact I’m pretty sure that would be the case.


ETI's i*collaborator vs. Siebel

Sometimes it's nice to get a compliment ...

-----Original Message----- From: Name withheld Sent: 20, 2008 1:19 PM To: Name withheld

Subject: ETI vs/ Siebel

Hi Michael,

"Your ETI sales system is very impressive. Having been the top sales rep at Siebel Systems for five years, I have seen numerous implementations of SFA. Never have I seen anything as seamless and easy to use as your application. I look forward to closing business for "Hi Tech client offering mobile video solution" in partnership with your company."

Thank you, Name Withheld

 More information on ETI's technology solutions can be found at here.

Michael Falkson

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