Using Lead Programs to Exceed Quota

“Leads.” The word often stirs up heated debate. Go to any online business forum, and it is a perennial favorite. “Are leads good?” “Can you rely on vendors to deliver solid leads?” “Where can one find the best leads?” None really gets to the core issue, though: how to make channel leads more efficient.

On the one hand, as even the greenest rep knows, a steady flow of qualified leads can help a representative exceed quota, quarter after quarter. The reason is simple: The rep spends more time selling and less time hunting for sales opportunities.

Better sales calls mean more proposals, and more proposals mean more sales. The good sales manager knows it, too. A team of quota-exceeding representatives—and resellers, for that matter—is the critical success factor in channel growth and profit.

Yet many people hate leads. Why? Because salespeople often receive an avalanche of unqualified ones. “They checked ready to buy on the bingo card!” is one of my favorites.

In other cases, information is missing, the company is outside of the target market, the buying timeframe is too far in the future, the fit with what the representative can sell is not quite right, and so on. The all-too-common experience with these types of “leads” leaves salespeople and sales management with a bad taste in their mouths.

Vendors hate them, too, but for different reasons. Keeping a campaign going is hard work. As time goes on, the programs become more and more complicated and political. Even worse, fulfillment and tracking of leads can cost more than generating the lead in the first place.

My brother, Tom Karren, the CEO of WingateWeb LLC,a provider of event management Web services, said event contact info often is underutilized because of logistical difficulties in registering and tracking attendees.

“Leads are really about increasing sales-force utilization” said Dave Green, CEO of PipeAlign LLC,a company that focuses on business-to-business, go-to-market efficiency. And he is right. Solution providers intuitively understand the issue of utilization when it comes to technicians and programmers.

Click here to read about rep-to-rep partnering as a strategy to boost sales productivity.

The more billable hours, the more profit. In fact, well-run, midsized resellers quickly apply this concept to the customer service staff, the finance department and even the receptionist.

With salespeople, however, philosophies differ on this point. Some managers think cold calling and prospecting are what you pay salespeople to do. Like Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” managers will save the best leads for “closers.”

Often, these managers have lived with one bad lead program after another and, being self-reliant, they develop a “rugged individualist” philosophy where sales management is concerned.

Other managers know the power of leads. Anyone who has ever experienced a really good lead program typically becomes an evangelist. In fact, the best salespeople learn highly efficient practices for developing leads, such as networking with other salespeople and cultivating customer referrals.

But few salespeople, no matter how successful, would turn down a few more highly qualified leads each month. And newer salespeople, whether they are new to selling, new to a territory or new to a company—really dependon leads.

Standing out from your competitors can bring remarkable margins, columnist Theresa Lina Stevens writes. Click here to read more.

The challenge for all solution providers is finding a predictable and scalable source of qualified leads. Some attempt to generate leads internally. This requires a commitment to marketing absent in many resellers. Most solution providers also lack the necessary economies.

They cannot buy media in high quantities, and they cannot justify the necessary investment in expertise and systems. Database marketing expertise. Telemarketing expertise. Direct-response expertise. Messaging expertise.

These skills require professionals. And in business-to-business markets, they are especially hard to coordinate. These professionals cost a lot, too. To justify these resources, a company must spread the necessary investments consistently over a high volume of leads.

No organization has the potential economies of scale that distributors do. They serve thousands of resellers and an array of hardware and software manufacturers. They can aggregate the best brands into solutions.

They can more readily match the needs in the marketplace with the business model of the reseller or integrator. In fact, in a way, lead generation is really a logistics business, ideally suited for distributors to aggregate.

With these built-in advantages for lead management at distribution, why have vendor co-op dollars for distributors fallen over the past 10 years? Scott Karren, the “Channel Pro,” is CEO of Channel Ventures, a consulting firm and channel development agency that helps companies build profitable channel businesses. Read his Weblog, The Channel Professional.


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