Welcome to part two of our review of lead generation partners. In part one (here’s a link for those who haven’t yet read it), we discussed what a lead gen partner can do for an organization.
To summarize, Procurement should spend time getting to know these providers and their capabilities in advance of developing a scope of work. Generating leads is only part of what these firms offer, and Procurement pros could potentially help fill a number of gaps in their organizations’ sales processes by deploying these resources in other ways.
Today, we’ll dig into the next step – kicking off discussions with lead gen providers to select the best fit for our needs.
Meet the Experts (Again)
I’ll start by reintroducing the two industry insiders I sat down with to discuss the lead gen landscape.
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?
With their help, we’ll answer the question, “what’s the best way to go about selecting these firms?”
Selecting the Right Lead Gen Partner
Procurement has a lot of options in the market, in terms of both the number of suppliers out there and the services offered. Before going to market, Procurement should consider what it is they need, and which suppliers can best meet that set of requirements.
What should an organization be aware of when evaluating lead gen partners?
Kelvin First, there needs to be an internal planning phase. Approach suppliers with specific needs already in-hand and discuss specific outcomes you’re seeking. There’s a reason organizations go outside for these services. Perhaps there’s a bandwidth issue with available inside resources, or problems with those resources focusing their time and attention on closing business. Discuss those problems with potential partners and start developing a strategy for how a lead gen firm can support those specific headaches. Along these same lines, have a definition of what success means to you. What do you consider a “win?” Make sure any firms you talk to share your definition of a good lead and winning outcome.
Mike These firms need to remain focused on ROI, and lead gen suppliers should discuss the ROI of any of the offerings they’re proposing. Transparency here is key, both in describing their process to get you to that ROI. At the same time, these organizations should also be transparent with how they expect a lead gen firm to fit into their strategy from the beginning.
Toward that end, what questions should these organizations be asking to make sure they’re aligned with a potential lead gen partner?
Mike Organizations should always ask about a lead gen firm’s specific experience in their industry. This includes, as Kelvin mentioned earlier, asking them about typical success metrics for your specific industry. Get early feedback on your strategy from firms you’re speaking with, especially if you’re looking to support a new product or break into a new market. Ask them to evaluate your targets, and if those targets are the best approach for success. They’ll often have a different approach to recommend based on experience.
Kelvin There’s a wide range of services and varying levels of lead quality offered by these firms. Don’t assume an apples-to-apples comparison between firms: Be very upfront in asking, “what are you giving me?” Also seek out commentary on proposed budgets, and what potential partners can accomplish with that budget. A self-reflective analysis of that budget compared to your position in the market is critical. In other words, “how much do my targets know about me, and how much do I know about my targets?” It isn’t uncommon for organizations to either focus on the wrong targets or misunderstand how much those targets know about their offerings. A good lead gen company will be able to produce this intel before a lead gen campaign is launched.
Transparency has been a key topic today, but one that I’ve seen some organizations struggle with. The degree of detail that organizations choose to share (or hold back) when approaching supplier relationships can often cause friction. In that regard, what information should an organization share with lead gen providers up front?
Mike Honestly, anything and everything they possibly can. It’s understandable for an organization to keep some things close to the vest at the outset of these discussions. However, any ammunition you can provide to a lead gen partner will help them better understand your current state and the challenges they’ll need to solve. This includes content developed to support the sales team, any client success stories you’ve developed, and talking about the types of companies in the sales channel today and how they got there. There has to be an open line of communication to share what has worked and what hasn’t.
Kelvin We want to learn everything about you because we want to be able to communicate like we’re an extension of you. If you publish a weekly or monthly newsletter, I want to be on that mailing list. If you develop whitepapers or other content, I want to be the first to read it. If there’s a new, prominent marketing campaign being developed, I want to leverage it to help achieve a stronger and faster ROI.
Think back to your best and worst clients. What does a best-in-class client do really well, and what could Procurement to do better when engaging lead gen firms?
Kelvin Procurement teams would do well to always include Sales directly in discussions. These resources understand the business development process and have realistic expectations of what the market can bear and what a lead gen firm can provide. The worst case scenarios? Those are typically cases where clients go out to market without these supporting resources and then try to develop a scope that isn’t appropriate for the organization. They have an idea in their mind about what will or won’t work, and aren’t responsive to suggestions for changes in strategy or targets. This often leads to unrealistic goals, a misalignment on targets, and ultimately a failed initiative.
Mike Bad clients completely misunderstand what they’re up against. They often think their competitors are their largest challenges in growing market share – not true. Their real challenge is a lack of pipeline activity over the long term. My best client right now truly treats us as an extension of their sales team, which is part of what works so well. However, the bigger reason for their success is that they’ve developed a sales process, follow it, and bake us into it. They sell through education by hosting webinars, exhibiting at trade shows, and participating in trade associations. As leads come through from this process, we take them and convert them into opportunities. If an organization isn’t doing these things, then lead generation may simply be a Band-Aid on a much larger pipelining issue.
For closing thoughts, I’d like to end with one final question – is there anything I haven’t asked that I should have?
Kelvin We haven’t talked enough, I think, about longevity. The key to all of this is a long-term partnership rather than a one-off transaction. There are times when a limited pay-per-lead model makes sense, but it is generally a losing proposition over a longer span of time. Instead, look for partners that can be integrated into the sales team rather than simply tactical vendors offering a temporary sales activity injection. Lead generation and sales pipelining are always going to be critical parts of a healthy sales process, so don’t treat them as optional nice-to-haves for your sales team. There’s a real chance that lead generation can be built within an organization, but if the resources aren’t already in-house then leveraging an outside firm is a good way to support growth.
Mike Nail down your scope, whether building lead gen capabilities internally or evaluating firms externally. Keying off of Kelvin’s final note, have a clear understanding of your needs before going to market, and develop a clear SOP for how a lead gen firm will fit into your sales process.
As before, I’d like to close out with a few key takeaways from my discussion with Kelvin and Mike.
- Look for partners, not just vendors. This isn’t a new concept from me, and I champion this relationship outlook as often as I can. Procurement teams who work primarily in commoditized markets may look at vendors simply as a source of goods and services. To get the most out of a relationship, we all need to work strategically with these providers. Doing so will help us better identify how they can be more effective and new areas they can support our organizations.
- Maintain open communication throughout the process. This goes hand-in-hand with my previous point. The more information you can give to a potential or newly signed partner, the more likely the relationship will be a success. Holding cards close to the vest in a market event can only serve to obfuscate the scope of work.
- Recognize the value these firms bring. Remember that you’re bringing in these resources for a reason – they have a skill set that may not be present in your organization. Setting goals for new partners to work against is fine, but develop these goals collaboratively with your partners to ensure success.