By Shreesha Ramdas, Vice President, Enablement for CallidusCloud LeadFormix

In our last post on leaky buckets and the sales funnels, we focused on how marketing can better align with sales goals by focusing on the top of the funnel, i.e., filling the funnel with good opportunities. The second area that marketing should focus on is providing advanced intelligence about every lead that enters the funnel. In a socially connected world, the customer is better informed than ever before, and the success of the sales cycle depends on how well the sales person knows the customer and her needs.

In the past, companies relied considerably on cold calls to get its sales process started. But cold calls are meeting with an increasingly hostile audience. According to Chet Holmes, author of the "Ultimate Sales Machine," most sales people make cold calls to prospects with little idea about their requirements or needs, invariably resulting in irrelevant pitches and minimum success. This is an avoidable outcome given the abundance of information about the customer – the digital pulse — that allows the sales person to know the customer well before first contact is made. Cold calls are now akin to flying blind in broad daylight through clear skies.

Key Attributes of an Effective Lead Intelligence System

Long-term success hinges on implementing sales processes and systems that deliver lead intelligence in real time, so that sales staff can take the appropriate follow up actions. These processes and systems must possess the following attributes.

Lead Intent: Let's face it — not every "lead" really is a lead. A "lead" may actually be a competitor looking for information, a vendor looking to sell to/partner with you, or even anyone with a passing interest in your products and services. You need to separate the "wheat from the chaff," and focus on the real leads to maximize your chances of sales success. For example, you can track the source domain and user behavior of your website visits to identify intent, and you can use this information to quickly zero in on the real leads.

Lead Quality: Not every lead is created equal. They vary in terms of their level of interest, awareness about your products and the stage of their buying cycle — all of which can be discerned by their digital footprint on your website, social channels, and possibly, other sources. While the sales team should focus on the "higher quality" leads to maximize the chances of the immediate sale, the marketing team must focus on nurturing the others and improving their "quality" to the point where they are ready for the sale.

Lead Enhancement: Sometimes, a "lead" is a pointer to the actual lead. The sale happens fastest when you directly address the key influencers or decision makers, but these folks may not always be the ones that are out there looking at your products. But, can you get to them? The answer, fortunately, is yes. The technology exists to identify the visitor's domain mash it up with commercially available databases to identify key people at these companies that you can then sell to, all in real time.

Lead Insight: At a time when the buyer is more in control of the selling cycle than ever before, sales must know not only the buyers' needs and stage in the selling cycle, but also the buyers themselves. In this era of the social web, people are voluntarily putting growing amounts of information about themselves on social networks and other websites. This information needs to be harvested (again, in real time) so that sales use this valuable insight to make a better connection with their prospects.

Lead Integration: A lead evolves into a prospect, then into a customer, and in many cases a repeat customer. You operate on the basis of this larger picture of the customer lifecycle, and your systems must reflect that larger perspective and timeline. Information collected at each stage of the customer lifecycle should be made available from a single point of contact, most likely, your CRM system.

Putting Knowledge into Action

Done right, a good lead intelligence system can have a profound impact not only on new leads, but also existing prospects in terms of upsell/cross sell opportunities. While the marketing organization must invest in arming the sales team with precisely this kind of intelligence, the sales team must reorient its selling style to make use of this intelligence. In other words, it's time you stop flying blind.

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