Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Leads are People Too

There is nothing better than a good body massage. Naturally, I was excited to hear about a new masseuse that came highly recommended. The masseuse introduced herself as Olga and went right to work. There wasn’t the usual “what bothers you” and “how do you like your massage” questions I was used to being asked before getting a massage. Olga went straight to business. After about five minutes, I thought my back was about to crack. I was too shocked to even say a word, and barely crawled away from the massage table. I was bruised and sore for the next couple of weeks.

Sometimes I suspect that many in the software industry came from Olga’s school. We tend to forget to ask our customers what they really want. Owen Thomas writes about it in an excellent article titled What Silicon Valley can learn from UPS. This is true not only for engineers, but also for those that are supposed to be our best communicators – marketing and sales people.

Take lead generation, for example. A prospect downloads a white paper and, what do you know, a few days later a salesperson is calling assuming the prospect is actually interested in buying a product. At the same time, prospects who are really interested in buying may be waiting weeks for someone to call and help them buy.

Some forward-thinking marketing departments have embarked on ambitious efforts to avoid these problems by using sophisticated lead scoring models, attempting to assign an objective score that will tell salespeople which leads to follow up with. To be honest, I am not sure we need to go that far. Just like Olga, we fail to ask our customers a simple question: “How much pressure do you like?” As a matter of fact, we don’t really need to ask. The answer is there, but we fail to listen.

Let me explain.

If you walk in front of a store and there’s a guy standing at the door yelling how great his product is and trying to hand you a pamphlet, you’re probably going to walk a little faster to get away before he grabs you. But when you walk into a store and look at a product you’re interested in, you would probably appreciate if someone were available to answer some questions.

We appreciate responsiveness and care, we run away from pushy salespeople. So do our “leads”.

When a prospect registers to a webinar, all she’s saying is “I’m interested in learning about the topic.” The follow up to the webinar registration should acknowledge the interest and gently check what else might interest her. A white paper? A case study? Perhaps a product demo? Jumping ahead and talking about the product or asking about project and budget is like trying to grab a person walking in front of your store. All you’re going to do is make her run.

A well-designed marketing campaign will present the prospect with a number of options that can tell us how ready the prospect is, if we just listen. Instead of worrying about lead scoring, let’s look at leads as people. Ask them polite and relevant questions, be there to answer their questions, and listen carefully to what they are telling us.

In short, I believe the formula is rather simple: marketing’s role is to provide opportunities for starting a dialogue; the role of the sales team is to use these opportunities to take the dialogue one step forward, and follow the queues of the prospect as to how fast the dialogue can develop.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...


A great post. At Productized, we are lucky that as a startup we can take a more personal approach and have actual conversations with our prospects. I know that as the business grows, the tendancy will be to automate / standardize communication. It tends to be a knee-jerk solution to "being busy". I hope instead that we can keep a more personal touch, I know our prospects would appreciate it, and in the end we will be better able to address their needs.

Thanks for the helpful reminder!

Anonymous said...

You have pointed out some very important steps that many people in sales and marketing forget all about. We all like to jump to "How great our products are." We forget to ask the questions and listen. I will be passing this on to all of my sales people as a reminder to not jump into the "close the deal" mode.


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