Pipelining is a critical part of the sales process. Veteran sales teams know that healthy pipelines ensure continued growth, even in times of market adversity. Those with shorter vision are often left wondering why their growth is anemic at best (or see market share shrink at worst).

Lead generation firms offer a way to outsource some of this work, and Procurement is poised to help Sales get resources in place to keep pipelines full. Yet this isn’t territory that many Procurement pros have experience in. So, what can Procurement do to best support Sales in finding and selecting suppliers in this space?

I had a chance to sit down with two industry insiders to get their take. (Update: I've also posted the second half of this discussion here)

Meet the Experts

Kelvin Francis is the founder and CEO of LeadsBIXample. The firm was founded in the middle of the late 2000’s recession, at a time when small business was slated as the “the engine of recovery.” Kelvin’s goal was to serve that engine. After working in firms that catered to mostly enterprise clientele, Kelvin saw a gap in the market for smaller and mid-sized organizations and sought to fill that gap.

Michael Morris has worked in the sales and lead generation space for decades, often alongside Kelvin. Mike specializes in developing a clear the path to client growth, putting together all of the elements that make this possible. That includes B2B appointment setting and social media marketing, but also incorporates business and strategic planning needed to grow and support a sales team.  

Together, they helped answer two common questions Procurement has about lead generation firms: 
  • What can they do, and does my sales team need these services?
  • What’s the best way to go about selecting these firms?
In this first installment, we’ll take a deeper look into this first question.

What do Lead Generation Firms Do?

Procurement pros need a solid understanding of the services offered in the market and how their organizations can utilize them. This is simple in commoditized markets – to understand industrial supply needs, we’d look no further than annual usage reports. A market basket here takes shape quickly.

Not so with specialized services like lead gen. Usage reports, if a third party is used at all, may not detail all the services at play, and this category isn’t always one that Procurement has deep experience with. Sales teams aren’t always quick to fill in the gaps, either. Bringing in a third party supplier here can seem like an attack on a sales team’s abilities.

We need to understand the full scope of what a lead gen firm can provide an organization to better understand if those services can benefit our organizations. To start, I wanted a feel for how both Kelvin and Mike define lead gen offerings.

For an organization that has never really engaged with a lead gen firm, what are they and what services do they provide?

Mike     The most apparent answer is ‘generating sales leads,’ but that isn’t the full picture. Going out to the market to directly connect clients with their target audience is just part of what these firms can offer. Most provide additional services depending on how developed a client’s sales team is. Clients often engage lead gen firms to help get a better idea of what their target market really looks like, develop value propositions, brainstorm sales talking points, and refine their approach to either tackling a new market or expanding in an existing space.
Kelvin   Lead generation is all about adding fuel to an organization’s sales activities, either using internal resources or bringing in a third party. The act of generating leads is the opening activity to build a sales pipeline. There are different versions of lead generation, from serious appointment setting down to just exposing a company to the market and reinforcing branding and messaging – it’s all part of the chase that is sales.

Some sales teams worry that bringing in a third party interferes with how their process works or worry that they’re being outsourced. Do you think there’s overlap, and can lead gen companies replace parts of a sales team?

Mike     Whether or not they could, the true value of a lead gen firm is only realized through strong relationships with sales teams. These firms don’t eliminate sales teams but do cut out ‘sales waste.’ They allow sales people to prioritize warmer opportunities or those closing sooner than later. Generally, outsourcing lead gen lets a team focus efforts on chasing big fish where a relationship already exists.
Kelvin   Lead generation might be able to replace some sales functionality, but it shouldn’t be the first place organizations look to when evaluating their sales process effectiveness. Organizations should look at lead generation firms instead to evaluate how much pipelining ammunition those teams have access to, which is what helps determine how effective they will be.

You’ve both been involved in sales and lead gen for some time. What changes have you seen in the landscape over the years?

Kelvin   The biggest catalyst for change has been the amount of information that consumers have access to. They shop around and come to the table informed about their options. Sales teams need intel on where these savvier consumers are in the sales lifecycle and turn to lead gen partners to provide this reconnaissance. It isn’t just about getting an appointment any more, it’s about getting background on why that consumer is interested and what brought them to that conclusion.
Mike     There’s been a mindset change in sales leadership. Instead of relying on old fashioned sales tactics, leaders are looking for fresh ideas for approaching their audience. A common example is the adoption of CRM or other support technologies. Yesterday’s challenge was getting leadership to understand the benefits of analyzing and applying sales data. Today’s challenge isn’t convincing leadership of the value, but forming a strategy to leverage this data. Lead generation strategies are a way to directly capitalize on the analytics a lot of companies have spent time and resources building up.

Key Takeaways

The phrase "measure twice, cut once" exists for a reason. For Procurement, this means taking the time at the beginning of an initiative to delve deep into our scopes of work before relying on them in a market event. 

When it comes to lead generation, this discussion planted three key takeaways in my mind:
  1. Start by evaluating existing gaps in the sales process. Identify where the process can be strengthened, and research how lead gen suppliers can offer support. 
  2. However, do so carefully. Our goal is to bring Sales onboard, not drive them to fight against us. Establish early on that such third parties support Sales teams or, as Mike puts it, help eliminate sales waste. They aren’t meant to replace the team but to elevate it instead.
  3. Leverage suppliers early on. An informal RFI should be conducted before a scope of work is generated. Lead gen providers are in the perfect position to shed light on opportunities that Procurement may not be aware of.
In the next installment of this topic, we’ll discuss best practices for selecting and working with lead gen partners. (Update: I've also posted the second half of this discussion here)

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Brian Seipel

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