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Lead Management is Dead! Long Live Sales Engagement!

By Darryl Praill, Chief Marketing Officer, VanillaSoft

Darryl Praill, Chief Marketing Officer, VanillaSoft

Think about the words “lead management.” The term - with its emphasis on management, but with a foundation in lead development - describes a process few successful salespeople can consistently get fired up about. It was an effective approach that helped many sales team thrive. Times, however, change. Contrast the lead management approach with the modern concept of sales engagement. Here the focus is on what really does matter - the working relationship and process between the sales professional and the prospect customer. Replacing management-driven thinking with engagement thinking needs to be the new normal.

"Managing implies some level of control while engagement implies a deeper level of connection. Constructive and consultative sales relationships are what people are looking for"

Sales is still a numbers game (bolstered with a healthy dose of better targeting) and the more leads you have to work with, the more deals you are going to close if your product or service has value. It’s not really high-level math, but that doesn’t mean the process is an easy one. When the first lead management products hit the market, they were game changers. Suddenly, marketers and sellers could track their prospects journey through the mysterious “funnel.” It was almost like magic! People being people, however, meant that corners were cut, the best prospects were cherry-picked, and well-qualified leads might never get the attention they deserved. It also slipped more and more towards spam and farther away from the old ways of conversations with your prospects. 

While well-meaning teams were looking for shortcuts, changes were also happening on the customer side. New channels like social media (which has spread from B2C selling into the world of B2B); new types of media - including the explosion of podcasts and webinars; and research into customers behaviors and preferences which can serve as social proof and essentially act as word-of-mouth on steroids - have all reshaped the sales landscape. 

These changes reflect a reality where “leads” (i.e. people who might buy things) don’t want to be “managed” (i.e. treated like widgets in some sort of sales assembly line). These are busy people with real problems to solve and a million things demanding their attention. Capturing that attention and holding it long enough to make an impression, getting them interested - and ultimately making a sale - requires a more nuanced approach. I’d argue for one based on a true understanding of their business. I’d go further to suggest you should know their preferences, everything when they want to hear from a salesperson to how often they want to be contacted to the channel mix that should be used and an appreciation for the importance of human engagement.

Sales engagement is the new name of the game. Does it help automate lead flow within a sales and marketing organization? Absolutely, but it does it in a much more thoughtful way - and brings a genuine human touch back into the picture. It recognizes that different approaches are needed depending on where the customer is in the funnel. It’s based on data that dispels many of the myths of selling and replaces them with facts that will make sellers’ advances more welcome and effective. For example, that old five minute rule about when to reach out to someone who signed up or requested content on your website? Totally false - you have way more time to reach out to inbound prospects and in many cases, jumping the gun makes you seem kind of creepy. A sales engagement solution would ensure that lead was routed to a sales representative for follow-up after 5 minutes but before 60 minutes had transpired.

What are the core elements of a sales engagement model?

First of all, the ability to track leads is still critical and it’s key to engagement. Sales engagement also supports and encourages the development of a sales cadence or playbook that optimizes customer outreach. It also moves away from the list-based approach (which allowed reps to scan for easy wins or big names customers) and replaces it with a queue-based model that presents the next action to be taken. There are also technology tools like support for email and SMS, video, smarter lead management and routing, as well as, better personalization, scripting and scheduling tools and greater opportunities for training (based on research and peer performance). These tools, technologies and ways of doing business all make it easier for sales teams and marketers to maintain relationships that benefit all parties.

Sales engagement also enables an important shift in terms of sales management style. Traditional lead management took a bottom-up approach. Reps had their lists and were left to their own devices in terms of how they pursued their leads. Sales engagement, on the other hand, gives sales leadership greater control over the process. They can shift focus on the fly based on market conditions or business goals and those changes are reflected immediately in the queue presented to reps. This is really powerful for end-of-quarter sprints or to attack a specific market segment.

The key point here is the difference between “management” and “engagement.” Managing implies some level of control while engagement implies a deeper level of connection. Constructive and consultative sales relationships are what people are looking for.  Sales engagement has been imagined and built from the ground up to put those capabilities into the hands of effective sales and marketing teams.

Identifying, understanding, nurturing and engaging leads is the name of the game for marketers and salespeople. Technology has become an incredibly powerful tool for doing these previously exhausting activities  - but, as in so many facets of business life - that technology continues to morph and sometimes strays from the mark over time. We’re seeing a shift from the highly-structured world of lead management to the more natural, flexible, and effective one of sales engagement.

Sales engagement brings many benefits, including flexibility, accountability, better ROI, a deeper understanding of customers and improved/efficient tools and technology. Lead management had a long and successful run, but lead management is dead, long live sales engagement!

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