An Email Sales Sequence That Works

Today’s most productive digital (inside) sales professionals are using email to uncover new customer leads. When combined with phone prospecting, direct mail, LinkedIn and social listening, email can earn more meetings — faster — with qualified prospects.

The Truths and Myths of Email DeliverabilityToday’s most productive digital (inside) sales professionals are using email to uncover new customer leads. When combined with phone prospecting, direct mail, LinkedIn and social listening, email can earn more meetings — faster — with qualified prospects.

Whether you’re using LinkedIn’s InMail and/or standard email the process is one of provoking curiosity.

It’s a three-step methodology:

  • break the ice (grab attention)
  • earn a conversation (spark curiosity)
  • provoke a response (earn an invitation to converse)

It’s a repeatable methodology that works consistently as a “first touch” email tactic. But what about beyond the first touch?

The best sequence of email messages to send after the prospect says, “I’m interested” is a sequence of questions that further qualifies your eventual meeting.

Success Is NOT About More Meetings, Faster

Before we discuss effective email sales sequences, you need to know the truth: Your objective as an inside or field sales rep should not be more meetings faster. It must be more qualified meetings faster. There’s a difference. Don’t miss it.

Yes, I realize most inside sales professionals are measured on dials, emails sent, responses gained and appointments set. I also realize most sales reps aren’t worth their keep. Same goes for sales managers. Most don’t get the job done.

Those who do … the top performers … they know the goal: Use digital tools to get more meetings, faster, with leads they have a better chance at closing.

It’s last part that separates the top 5 percent of earners from the rest of the pack. Consider upgrading your goal. Push yourself. Don’t just gun for more meetings.

Aim for more meetings with better prospects.

They’re Interested, Now What?!

What sequence of email messages works, once a prospect invites you to discuss their pain or goal? What’s the best cadence and message strategy to use? The answer may surprise you.

Less is more.

It sounds trite so let me explain. The most common mistake sellers are making with email (when prospecting) is sharing too much information, too fast. I’ve discussed this before in context of the first touch email message when trying to break-the-ice with buyers. But the problem is more common in the follow-up email sequences sellers are using.

Said bluntly, when invited to talk about our solutions, most sellers fire away.

We send information about what we’re selling — rather than further qualifying the prospect to explore if there’s a fit.

When potential clients reply, we are often quick to celebrate. Success! Because we are thrilled at the chance to converse with the buyer.

Too thrilled.

We tend to fire off emails with a list of benefits, customer lists and a few dates to meet for a demo, etc.

How Many Leads Do You Need?

One key to successful B-to-B lead generation programs is to calculate exactly the right number of qualified leads to provide to sales—as part of your campaign planning. If you generate too many leads, you’ll be wasting precious marketing dollars. If you generate too few, your firm may be at risk of missing its revenue targets, with potentially disastrous financial implications. Moreover, you’ll annoy your sales team by not supporting them properly. So, let’s look at a neat way to figure out in advance how many leads your company needs, so you can invest accordingly.

One key to successful B-to-B lead generation programs is to calculate exactly the right number of qualified leads to provide to sales—as part of your campaign planning. If you generate too many leads, you’ll be wasting precious marketing dollars. If you generate too few, your firm may be at risk of missing its revenue targets, with potentially disastrous financial implications. Moreover, you’ll annoy your sales team by not supporting them properly. So, let’s look at a neat way to figure out in advance how many leads your company needs, so you can invest accordingly.

This easy method uses your sales people’s quotas to back your way into the number of leads required, based on sales productivity per lead. You will need four numbers:

  1. The average revenue quota per rep, in the period, whether it’s a year, or a quarter, or a month.
  2. The average revenue per order, or per closed deal.
  3. The percent of their quota that the sales people generate naturally, without the help of leads. This revenue typically flows from repeat sales, from deeper penetration within the accounts, or from referrals.
  4. The conversion rate from qualified lead to sales.

The first three numbers are likely to come from a discussion with sales management and your finance department. The last number you probably have on hand, from sales and marketing experience.

Here’s an example of how to do this calculation, based on a set of hypothetical numbers that might be common in large-enterprise selling environments. We are saying that each rep is on the hook to deliver $3 million in sales in the period. As a first calculation, subtract out the percentage of that revenue that the rep can produce without any leads supplied by marketing. In this example, it’s 40 percent self-generated, leaving 60 percent, or $1.8 million, that the rep needs help with from marketing.

We divide that remaining revenue by the average deal size, which is $60,000 in this example, to get the number of closed deals that each rep, on average, needs to complete to deliver on the revenue quota. In this example, it’s 30 deals.

Finally, we divide the number of deals required by the lead-to-sales conversion rate, which is 20 percent in this example. Voila. Now we know that each reps needs, on average, 150 qualified leads to make quota.

You can also take this to the next step and calculate the campaign inquiries required by dividing the 150 leads by your inquiry-to-lead conversion rate. With that, you can plan your campaigns to generate enough inquiries for your pipeline that will convert to a known number of qualified leads, and thereafter to the needed revenue.

So, with this simple math exercise, you can avoid waste and keep your sales reps as productive as they can be. Do you use another method that you can share?

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

5 Tips to Identify Prospects in a Niche Market

Sources of prospective customers have evolved dramatically in the past decade. Today we offer ideas for direct marketers who are on a tight budget and searching for prospects in niche markets where they don’t require thousands of leads. They just need a few dozen or a few hundred qualified leads. The good news is that B-to-B marketers, B-to-C and non-profits now have easily accessible options, many of them

Sources of prospective customers have evolved dramatically in the past decade. Today we offer ideas for direct marketers who are on a tight budget and searching for prospects in niche markets where they don’t require thousands of leads. They just need a few dozen or a few hundred qualified leads. The good news is that B-to-B marketers, B-to-C and non-profits now have easily accessible options, many of them online, to identify a small number of highly qualified prospects.

Last week I spoke with two organizations that have the same dilemma finding qualified leads. One of those is a digital learning advocacy organization whose vision is large, involving elected officials at state-levels and requiring support from corporate sponsors in a niche field. Among the dozens of initiatives for this organization, a vital one is raising money.

Fortunately, the organization, the Digital Learning Alliance (DLA), already has the support of CEOs from the largest of multi-million dollar corporations who are the leaders in this niche. But CEOs and senior management from the next tier of digital learning organizations need to be reached. DLA knows some of the companies who are prime candidates for sponsorship, but not always the people inside. Before cold-call phone calls are made, DLA wants to identify these prospects and introduce them to their message.

As direct marketers, we know there are lists available to rent to reach these companies. But DLA is an organization who doesn’t want the volume of names that often come with a minimum order. Nor do they want to go to the expense of mailing or emailing an unproven list. They just want a few hundred qualified leads.

Since many organizations share this same dilemma, today we share a solution to reinvent how you find leads. It’s in plain sight, but you may have overlooked how you can use it. With a reported 225 million users who have opted-in to connect with others, LinkedIn is a tool that can be used to reach out for prospective contacts to opt-in to messages. If you choose this course, here are five recommendations for you:

  1. Create Your Company Page: Do this first if you haven’t already!
  2. Friend-get-a-Friend: For DLA, they ask the leaders of well-known companies already supporting them to reach out on their behalf to their LinkedIn contacts. With this approach, there is built-in credibility with the initial contact.
  3. Search for Prospects: Using Advanced Search, you can filter results and invite people to connect from companies you know should be on your prospect list.
  4. Start a Group. For those who opt-in to the Group, it’s a way to make sure the news feed has updated information about what’s happening to fulfill the organization’s vision and mission. You can post discussions and questions to encourage engagement.
  5. Join Other Groups: If there is a group whose members include people in your niche, join it. Then pose questions, offer answers and demonstrate why you should be followed.

While the LinkedIn basic service gets you started, the upgrades may be worth the investment to reach deeper into possible connections and other features.

Of course the downside to this approach is that searching for people on LinkedIn can be time and labor intensive. But if you only need a few qualified prospects, don’t have money to rent a list or resources to pay for the waste of either printed direct mail or unopened email, and you want to connect with someone inside an organization where you can get a referral, what better place than LinkedIn?

Plus, if you have a PowerPoint presentation you can share, you can get it to your prospects seamlessly with Slideshare (owned by LinkedIn). Slideshare is a tool used by many executives seeking out information in PowerPoint presentations and videos.

We’ll keep you posted in a future blog about how this approach is working for DLA. In the meantime, if you have additional experience and recommendations about where to find leads for niche markets, please share them in the comments section below.

To Gate or Not to Gate, That Is the B-to-B Content Marketing Question

There’s a spirited debate in B-to-B marketing about whether it’s best to give away information (aka “content,” like white papers and research reports) to all comers, versus requiring web visitors to provide some information in exchange for a content download. In other words, to gate your content or not to gate. The debate involves aspects of both ROI and philosophy. Here’s why.

There’s a spirited debate in B-to-B marketing about whether it’s best to give away information (AKA “content,” like white papers and research reports) to all comers, versus requiring Web visitors to provide some information in exchange for a content download. In other words, to gate your content or not to gate. The debate involves aspects of both ROI and philosophy. Here’s why.

I know that plenty of very smart and well-respected Internet marketing experts line up with dear old Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, who famously said in 1984 that information “wants to be free.” The underlying assumption there is that people buy from companies that they trust—a valid point, to be sure. Casting a net through free—unimpeded—distribution of content encourages both trust and, perhaps more importantly, wide dispersal and sharing of information. You’ll get to a much bigger audience, who will be educated on the solutions to their business problems, will be grateful for the free info and, one hopes, will think of you when they’re ready to buy. So far, so good.

The problem is that this model—which lives under the umbrella concept known as “inbound marketing”—leaves marketers in a serious quandary. We don’t have any way of knowing who is reading our informative, educational and helpful content. We are left sitting on our thumbs, unable to take any proactive steps toward building relationships with these potential prospects. All we can do is wait for them to contact us and, we hope, ask us to participate in an RFP process, or, more likely, give them more info and more answers to their questions. Is that any way to sustain and grow a business relationship—not to mention meet a revenue target? In my view, it leaves too much to chance.

Let’s look at the numbers. The ROI model for inbound marketing says that distributing the content to a wide audience will eventually result in more sales than gating the content and marketing proactively to a smaller universe. Let’s look at how these numbers might actually work:

To start the conversation, say that wide distribution would put your content in front of 10,000 prospects, via free downloads and pass-along.

In contrast, we might similarly assume that by gating, and requiring some contact information in exchange for the content download, we would only get 1 percent of that distribution: 100 prospects. These are now legitimate inquirers, and we can conduct outbound communications to them. By applying typical campaign conversion rates, we could predict that of 100 inquiries, 20 percent will qualify—producing 20 qualified leads. Of those, we’ll be able to contact 50 percent (or 10), and of them 20 percent will convert, resulting in 2 sales.

But how many sales will we get from the 10,000 with whom have no direct connection? It’s hard to say. When inquiries come in, we can ask where they heard of us, and certainly some will say they read the white paper, or whatever content we put into circulation. But this data tends to be unreliable. Inquirers usually don’t remember how they heard of you, or they just make up an answer to get the question out of the way.

This is exactly why business marketers debate the subject with such vigor. We have data, and thus proof, on the gating side. But we only have conjecture on the other. So it boils down to which side you believe. It’s tough to do sustainable marketing on faith.

Myself, I grew up as a marketer in the world of measurable direct and database marketing. So it’s no surprise that I favor the gating side of the fence. I like marketing campaigns that provide predictable results. Where I can stand up in court and show a history of my campaign response rates, conversion rates, and cost-per-lead numbers. And most important, where I can reasonably expect to deliver a steady stream of qualified leads to my sales counterparts, who are relying on me to help them meet their quotas.

So that’s my argument for gating content in B-to-B marketing. I understand the logic of the other side. And I see clearly situations where it makes sense to let the information run free-as a teaser, for example, to persuade prospects to come and get the richer information that is so useful that they’ll be falling all over themselves to give me their name, title, company name and email address. But what about you? Where do you sit in this debate? It’s a biggie.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

How to Convert LinkedIn Contacts into Qualified Leads

Answering your customers’ most commonly asked questions opens the door for discovery … and for brands to make relevant suggestions. You can offer prospects a friendly tip or useful trick or, if appropriate, outline benefits of taking a trial, downloading a whitepaper or attending your webinar.

Turning LinkedIn contacts or LinkedIn Group members into leads rarely happens using what I call passive engagement. It takes something more than occupying prospects’ time. You’ve got to convince them to sign up for your webinar or download your whitepaper.

Luckily, converting LinkedIn contacts to leads is easy. Just start by solving your target market’s problems in ways they find irresistible. Then plan engagement—carefully map it out to connect your target customers’ questions to the answers your content marketing devices (webinars, whitepaper) deliver.

The Engagement Myth
If you’re like most B-to-B marketers, you’re struggling to turn LinkedIn contacts and group members into leads. But getting it done is easier than you think. After a year of interviewing B-to-B and business to consumer businesses experiencing remarkable success using social media I found the common success principle: Ditching passive engagement—and giving contacts, friends, followers and such a reason to offer more than a “like” or merely consume content.

Many LinkedIn gurus claim awareness, reach and influence leads to conversion. They say, “regular online participation in LinkedIn Groups and with followers on other social platforms can convert them from followers into leads and on to customers.”

Yes, it can but this belief isn’t much different than the “reach and frequency” promise of advertising. Namely, if we beat the drum loud enough (reach) and often enough (frequency) it will cause people to perform an action—register, attend, download. As Dr. Phil likes to say, “and how’s that working for ya?” This is what I call passive engagement.

But there is a better way: Designing engagement to produce actions by solving customers’ problems in places where questions often get asked—like LinkedIn Groups.

Solve Customers’ Problems
You’ve probably heard that posting a certain number of times, on certain subjects, on certain days inside LinkedIn Groups where your target market congregates is the key that unlocks success with LinkedIn. Or maybe you’ve heard that frequent posting of blogs you’ve written in LinkedIn Groups will generate leads. These ideas don’t work. The key to success is solving customers’ problems in provocative ways.

For instance, use LinkedIn to generate questions among customers that your webinar or whitepaper gives answers to. Creatively bait customers to communicate or complain about problems (in LinkedIn Groups) that your content marketing device provides solutions for. Next, provoke actions—exploit those complaints by enticing, “ethically bribing” prospects to register for a webinar, download or perform an action that helps you qualify them as leads. It’s a snap.

Scratch Customers’ Itches in LinkedIn Groups
For instance, grocery store Harris-Teeter pays customers to ask its dietician health-related questions on Facebook. Why would a grocer—or you—do that? Because helping customers put out a fire or scratch a bothersome itch is powerful. It can be done on any social platform where your target audience is engaging, like LinkedIn.

Answering your customers’ most commonly asked questions opens the door for discovery … and for brands to make relevant suggestions. You can offer prospects a friendly tip or useful trick or, if appropriate, outline benefits of taking a trial, downloading a whitepaper or attending your webinar.

Always beware: leads don’t “just happen” passively using LinkedIn. You need to solve problems with a plan in mind. That said, using a question-and-answer technique takes much of the work out of the process. It can even be fun. What do you think about giving this a try?