While it’s always been important to have sales & marketing aligned, it’s never been more imperative than in today’s world of selling and marketing. It’s harder than ever before to engage new prospects and customers. Partially due to the easy access to all of the information on the web, prospects and customers feel entitled to getting reams of information, education and more for free. They don’t feel obligated to provide you, as the seller/marketer, with any information related to their business needs or themselves. How many times do people provide bogus contact info when downloading your valuable content (white papers, collateral, etc.)? Some companies need to validate that it is an accurate email address prior to providing the downloaded content. People have come up with a work around in that they use a valid personal email address that will pass your email address validation step but the email address is effectively a junk mail box that they use solely to get the valuable content form you without sharing any real way for you to follow up with them. An example would be [email protected] or [email protected]. Those are both valid email addresses but who is the person and what company do they work for? How can you follow up from a sales perspective? The answer is you can’t and unfortunately, a lot of the so called contacts in a lead nurturing system fall in to this category.

A lot of companies over the last few years have “lowered the bar” on what information, if any is required to download content from their web sites. The rationale behind this was that we don’t want to make it hard for people to engage with us. Ironically, we’ve made it easy for new prospects not to engage with us. I agree that in this day & age requiring street address, city, state, zip code and some other items on an inquiry from is anachronistic. Yet, “lowering the bar” too low results in worthless contact info for sales follow up and engagement.

I submit that there is an optimal balance between requiring too much contact info from an inquiry and too little. One suggestion is to require a valid corporate email address with¬† a validation step prior to providing the requested content. An additional suggestion is that you ask for incrementally more information based on the value of the content that they are requesting. Incremental and mutual commitment is a sales best practice that I’ve been preaching to my sales teams for 20 years and I believe that it is more relevant than ever. If someone isn’t willing to provide a valid corporate email address to get your content, you need to question how serious or legitimate they are as a prospect. In fact, it might be a competitor trying to glean positioning or competitive research on your company and products.

There is a seemingly endless pool of people (millions) that love free content and will never be real buyers of anything. You need to ask yourself what is an acceptable percentage of your time and resources that can be invested with people that won’t buy or are unqualified to ever buy your product or services. The best sales people are great at qualification and they don’t want to invest time with prospects that won’t buy. Companies need to adopt the same qualification rigor at the front end of the funnel or pipeline by developing stringent ideal customer profiles (ICP) and adhering to that profile and associated criteria.

There has always been an inherent distrust of sales people and marketers. They are know for making false claims about what their products or services can do and then hiding the failures. There is a more nuanced, subtle process needed to engage prospects today. Buying a huge list and then conducting an email campaign with purported compelling calls to action and follow up telesales efforts are producing diminishing results. In fact, I can share through experience that those returns are getting exponentially worse. The fact is that prospects and customers can easily hide behind voice mail and email and never reply. Worse, many prospects and customers pretend to engage with you and attempt to suck all the information that they need out of you and either go radio silent on you or will dictate that they will get back to you when they are ready. In the meantime, they are evaluating alternative products and services and making purchase decisions without your sales people knowing.

The validity of a win/loss report these days is questionable at best because in many cases it is simply impossible to ever get a response from the prospect or customer to know what they decided and why. Secondly, how do you define when you were truly “engaged” with the prospect or customer in a real sales evaluation these days? That definition has gotten a lot murkier and many sales people would classify the initial( and only) interaction with the prospect as an inquiry or lead but the prospect has actually gone on from that initial interaction, evaluated alternative products or services and made a decision without that sales rep knowing.

So it begs the question, what do we need to do as marketers and sales people to engage new prospects and sell more effectively in today’s world? There is a lot of good strategy and thought out there on this subject. By no means exhaustive, but here is my simple list of things that are imperative to do well to engage and sell effectively in today’s world. This list represents a blend of some high level strategic requirements as well as some lower level tactical needs:

  • Sales & marketing is aligned, measured and rewarded on building new qualified sales opportunities (quality pipeline growth) and converting to revenue and new customers (best practices sales conversion ratios).
  • Identify the virtual communities (communities/forums/blogs/social networks) where your influencers and decision makers trust, spend their time and conduct their research
  • Develop content “teasers” that engage your prospects and starts to build trust and credibility with them
  • Inside sales reps that can engage with prospects in their communities and that can convey domain expertise and value
  • Sales reps leverage content teasers and a steady stream of fresh, quality content that the prospects find increasingly valuable
  • Engage and drive prospects to quality content hub
  • Require and validate additional info from prospects based on the level on content value (incremental and mutual commitment)
  • Engage in mutually qualified sales cycle with clearly understood decision criteria, milestones/time frame, participants and process (leveraging sales best practices)
  • Convert qualified sales opportunities in to new customers and revenue (leveraging sales best practices)