Monday, July 16, 2007

Managing Those Important Customer Relationships

It's always an interesting conundrum when determining how to most effectively manage your customer relationships. In a recent article by Bob Sullivan of InfoGrow, he discusses how companies are determining that marketing should be the keepers of customer data and lead management systems and strategies. It just makes good business sense. In working with our clients, we've heard some horror stories from both sales and marketing on lead management. The funny thing is that it takes a lot of work from both parties to bring on new customers. It behooves everyone to come up with the most efficient system that assists everyone in doing a better job of managing those important customer relationships.

Here's what we've experienced: Sales thinks that marketing doesn't always provide the bests leads, and in response, they work only those leads that they determine are "hot," leaving others to get lost in a proverbial black hole. Marketing works hard to feed the very best prospects to sales and gets annoyed when sales doesn't want to work them -- plus, they never get feedback on the leads from sales (because they don't work them), or the feedback that they get is something along the lines of "we need some better leads -- these leads are bunk (or some other expletive)." So, it becomes a vicious cycle as marketing continues to provide the same leads to sales, sales doesn't work them, no reporting occurs to determine campaign effectiveness -- as you can imagine, not the best environment for a win-win situation!

Sullivan reports that some companies are now letting marketing own this process. "Often marketing has the need, interest and time. As a result, marketing departments are taking ownership of the CRM database. They are bringing sales reps into the system and monitoring the usage to close the loop on the lead generation process. Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are monitored by marketing and reported to management."

The informations that then comes back out of marketing is imperative to understanding your prospective customer relationships. According to Sullivan, here's a smattering of the value that these reports provide:

- Lead generation source – tradeshow, website, mailing, ad, etc.
- Where assigned, such as distributor or rep – number of days to follow-up or assigned elsewhere
- Status update – what did rep or distributor do with the lead
- Status tracking – hot lead, warm lead, bad lead, sale, or don’t know
- Which follow-up activities, lead sources, conversions, and next actions work

All of this information is important for each group involved -- marketing, sales and the leadership team -- to follow the customer through the course of their relationship with your company. It is also important to marketing because they can more intelligently feed leads to sales in upcoming months that are increasingly more targeted. In addition, from a customer satisfaction perspective, you are no longer annoying prospective customers by over-contacting them and you are closing more of the warm leads that used to get lost and not fully worked by sales since they were not closed right away.

Bridging this gap between sales and marketing leads to overall profitability for your company. We think that by allowing marketing to do their job -- manage customer relationships -- that sales will be able to their job better as well -- bringing in new business. In essence, you are creating a win-win scenario for your customers and your company. Now, that's effective customer relationship management!

If you're as passionate about this subject as we are, you may want to take a look at our whitepaper on Performance Based Marketing and Goal Setting. From a marketing perspective, this document provides some ideas on how to effectively provide feedback on the effectiveness of all of your marketing campaigns to ensure that the lines of communication between marketing and sales, marketing and leadership, and marketing and finance are wide open.


Ron Shevlin said...

The "vicious cycle" you describe is right on. Here's what's missing in many of the firms I've been dealing (or should I say, "a couple of the things missing"):

1) Better definition of a lead. Simply, a list is not a group of leads, and a name is not a lead. But some marketing departments, in their desire to "contribute", consider every name they gather to be a lead.

2) Better definition of the kinds of leads Sales wants. Sales isn't blameless here. They often can't clearly elaborate on exactly what constitutes a "good" lead. Providing the name of a prospect ready and willing to buy isn't a lead -- it's a GIFT.

3) No insight into sales capacity. Few firms that I'm familiar with have good processes and capabilities for determining how to distribute leads, and what sales' capacity for handling and managing leads is.

Nancy Arter said...

I agree. The three points that you outline are issues that our clients are consistently grappling with, too. This is why bridging that gap between sales and marketing is so imperative. If you can get the communication process started, these three missing links can be resolved. Thanks for your excellent insight!

Becky Carroll said...

Great post on the "war" between sales and marketing. I wrote a very similar one last week from my experiences on the client side.

Success for my organization (a large, B2B high tech company) came not only with a well-managed process but mostly with a tight coupling of sales and marketing. Each had been so frustrated with the other that they were not working as a team.

Customer relationships will be strengthened when the "face to the customer" (sales) works closely with the "voice of the company" (marketing) for the customer's benefit.

Nancy Arter said...

I agree, Becky. You couldn't be more right. And, more often than not, sales and marketing work exactly at odds with each other. The sad news is that this philosophy only works to make each group less successful.

I hope more companies do what you've done at your company to cause better communication between sales and marketing, and, as you put it, to ultimately benefit customer satisfaction. Thanks very much for sharing your success story!

Bob Sullivan said...

Thank you for the reference.

Surprising for this day and age that sales and marketing are still not communicating with each other, and not working in the same sales process. I think that we need to recognize that sales people are measured by, “meeting their numbers.” This forces them to focus on closing the “hot leads”. They are not motivated to nurture longer-term leads. Yes, maybe they can do more, but marketing is in a better position to not only keep “top of mind” awareness with prospects, but classify the potential of a lead before passing it on to sales. There is shared responsibility here and we need to get both sales and marketing on the same page and working with the same data.

Nancy Arter said...

Isn't that the truth! It would also be nice to align the goals of both marketing and sales so that they can reach the same page more quickly. Too often I have seen conflicting goals between marketing and sales. This only causes the gap to widen further. Thanks for your comment!