The newest sales-boosting strategy

How many sales versus marketing conflicts would vanish if marketing could easily vet and prioritize every lead it passed on to sales? And how much airfare could you save if you could grow wings and fly?

If you're a marketing executive, then you would probably put both questions in the same box because one is just about as likely to happen as the other. Vetting and prioritizing sales leads is labor intensive and expensive. Doing it fast enough to get the hot leads to sales before they cool off has been close to impossible -- maybe only slightly less impossible than actually sprouting wings.

It would be in the marketing organization's best interest to rank the promise of every lead it passes to the sales organization, but the realities of time and cost effectiveness have not allowed the necessary information gathering and analysis. Devoid of solutions, marketing executives have been left to soldier on as best they can: No matter how much they spend on marketing, most companies still treat every inbound lead the same, no matter how valuable the leads are likely to become.

Recently, however, on-demand lead scoring, supported by advances in marketing technology, has developed to improve the quality of leads that marketing sends to sales.

On-demand lead scoring should ideally combine historical customer information with consumer data and predictive analytics. If you're setting out to automatically prioritize each incoming lead, then you'll need the level of insight that comes from combining these three types of information. Without all three, you're throwing away chances to boost sales conversions and customer value.

The most basic on-demand lead scoring solutions reveal exactly who is contacting your company through your marketing programs, whether they're reachable given the contact information they provided, which leads should be top priorities and which products or services are most relevant to the lead.

This information enables salespeople to target the hottest prospects, whichever criteria you use: those who are most interested in your products or services, most likely to buy a lot of them or most likely to turn into long-term customers. The same knowledge can tell you which of your messages and offers will provide a more customized experience for each prospect.

For example, an auto dealer receives names and phone numbers of active car shoppers within minutes of their filling out forms on auto-related websites. The leads are instantly and automatically scored based on 1) the individual's verified contact information, 2) household demographics and 3) the dealer's experience with customers fitting that demographic profile. The sales team knows to immediately pursue leads that score in the top 20 percent with an immediate outbound call or customized email. Others are prioritized for follow up in order of their potential.

On-demand lead scoring applies the same methodology to phone channels. When a credit-card issuer's advertising drives prospects to its toll-free numbers and websites, the on-demand scoring solution grades them for potential value, matches them to the most suitable credit card and immediately routes likely-to-convert prospects to the best agents. The callers who are least likely to convert are routed to an interactive voice response (IVR) system, allowing the likely-to-convert callers to get more attention from agents.

A lead scoring solution's predictive power is limited only by how much a company tailors it to specific business, goals and customer knowledge. For example, is the objective to grow revenue by increasing conversions or by focusing on cross-selling opportunities? Has the company found more upside in identifying prospects who look like its most loyal customers or in those who look like those customers most likely to respond to a particular offer?

In each case, the key is a rich mix of data that includes demographics, lifestyle and behavioral information, sales histories and product and channel usage. With currently available services, a company's customer database and sales histories can be combined with descriptive and behavioral information to create predictive profiles. Companies that have embraced on-demand lead scoring have found three best practices that determine how successful their solutions are.

The first is that the lead-scoring information must be actionable at the moment you need it. Most existing customer insight platforms can offer microscopically precise insight on existing customers, but none of this rich information is actionable in the instant new prospects submit an online form or call in. In the past, you could segment your customers but you couldn't predict which prospects would behave like your best customers unless you stopped to ask each prospect, say, the five attitudinal survey questions you'd found to be predictive. A lead-scoring solution must be able to link your customer knowledge to brand new prospects in the instant you begin to interact with those prospects.

The second best practice is a basic tenant of good solution development, but it merits mention nonetheless: data quality. Your lead scoring is only as good as the information that drives it. If your scoring doesn't include verification of contact information, then you won't even know which leads can be reached, making the effort worthless. And if your scoring solution doesn't include up-to-date consumer contact information, then you're slashing your ability to assign scores to your leads.

Finally, if your lead scores aren't customized to your business, then their predictive power will lack punch. Off-the-shelf lead scoring systems typically rely on consumer profiles that aren't even tailored to your industry, much less your company, so they provide uneven results when used to drive your real-time decisions. An online shoe store will miss some sales if it relies on the same customer profiles that an insurance company uses for its automated processes. A lead scoring solution that includes information from a company's customer databases and sales history will be more predictive than one that doesn't.

There is no single instant cure-all to the problem of dead leads, but on-demand lead scoring solutions are a huge step forward from what passes for lead qualification at many companies today. Lead scoring can improve the relationship between sales and marketing, which creates a stronger company that closes more sales and spends less on qualifying leads -- without growing wings and flying.

David Wengel is general manager of interactive markets for TARGUSinfo.

 

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