There’s a central, foundational concept for the methods that I’ll be sharing throughout all this, so I think it would make a lot of sense if we go ahead and lead off with it, so here’s the “Black Hole of Digital Marketing.”
A while back, I was in a meeting where we were discussing ways of enhancing the initial interactions between our organization and potential clients and ways to streamline the hand-off from marketing to sales. I manage the team that qualifies leads for my organization, and we’re called the Marketing Response Team.
I had this particular idea for quite some time (going as far back as three or four organizations ago for me), and this meeting gave me the perfect opportunity to really pitch it.
At first, I was having a hard time describing it, so I got out a pen and paper and just drew it out and walked them through it. It almost seemed like a lightbulb went off because they immediately saw where I was going (it’s actually really simple), so after that, I was tasked with creating a digital course on this concept of the “Black Hole of Digital Marketing” for my organization.
This concept is not product or industry-specific, and the way I pitched the idea in that meeting was as if it was (and I mean this), a “discovery” that I had.
To make this discovery, I had to bounce around and work at a few different organizations in different industries. I also had to spend a decent amount of time on both sides off the marketing and sales fence (right about nine years on sales-side and just over three years on marketing-side now).
During this time, I did pretty well and got to make a decent amount of money, but I also experienced some frustration and even career regression for a bit. I went through a divorce and a layoff and went from making pretty decent money to scraping by at times – but it was all necessary to able to experience and connect the dots for everything I’m breaking down here.
So, I basically drew out a timeline. I know a lot of people like sales-funnels, but I like timelines that show a linear order of operations. Of course I’ll use both at times, but in this case, I drew out a timeline of the necessary, fundamental action items that need to happen in order to go from first contact to close for a typical sales process:
- potential client does a search online, finds your company’s website, likes what he or she sees, submits a request to be contacted
- you then have an initial interaction, like a qualifying call
- some people try to do this all through email – I strongly advise against this
- email should be used as a tool for communication, not a replacement, so use emails when necessary but the goal should be to schedule the initial call – not to exchange a bunch of information
- if everything is a good fit, you have to have a successful hand-off to sales
- this process for this handoff should be standardized and while on the qualifying call, the rep should clearly articulate what is going to happen so the potential client has clear expectations
- if your sales team handles first contact to close, this is where they would transition from the Qualification Phase to the Discovery Phase
- I’ve seen sales teams try to do everything at once and it gets really muddy really fast
- sales people want to sell, that’s what they do – so it’s strategic to break up the different phases in your sales process because usually, no one says “yes” when they’re asked to get married on a first date
- Also, sales people should be able to focus their efforts on selling, so if there are several deals in the works (as there should be), the sales person’s focus should be there, which means: new leads will often times sit unattended for a bit, which is not good because by the time the sales person actually has time to reach out, they could be fully immersed in the buying process with one of your competitors
- discovery call
- demo or proposal presentation
- if all goes well, a purchase is made and you have a new customer
Pretty simple, right? Of course, there can be variations to this, too. Some products or industries need a few more steps (some have even less), but this is basically the gist of it.
Also, there’s another very important sub-point to this: since anyone can search the internet and find your website at any time, day or night, weekday or weekend, there’s a very good chance that people will submit requests to be contacted who aren’t actually legitimate leads.
- people will submit a request and then, for example: resubmit it three times because they’re not sure if it actually submitted, so even though it looks like you have four new leads, it’s the same person
- people who are trying to sell something to your company will submit requests in an effort to get a human on the phone so they can work their way up the chain of command
- people will submit bad information so that they can get access to the information that’s hidden behind the contact form
So, consider all of these factors, and recognize that another very important function that the team that handles leads first serves is to: keep the garbage out of the sales pipelines. This way, your account executives can focus their efforts on closing deals and not sifting through everything to identify the real opportunities.
Plus, consider how our brains are like pattern-recognition machines.
What happens when a sales person calls out to five direct website inquiries and no one answers the phone? Or two of them answer but they were: “just messing around on the site,” or: “oh, I’m sorry … my kid must have submitted that.”
All of a sudden, ALL direct website inquiries are “junk” and not worth their time to dig through, so the actual opportunities will slip through the cracks and disappear into the Black Hole.
Realistically, it’s hard to wear both hats and switch back and forth between these two functions, and having a team that handles leads first and serves as gatekeepers who keep the trash out of the pipelines really helps the organization to be able to maximize the actual opportunities by quickly identifying them and getting them taken care of.
Here’s an example: in January, 2019, my organization had 253 requests to be contacted on our website and my team converted 97 of them into MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) for a conversion rate of 38%.
This is outstanding, considering how multiple sources indicate that a lot of organizations convert at closer to the 10% mark (but this can vary due to a lot of reasons).
This all sounds great and everything, too, but just imagine if a team like mine didn’t exist and 253 requests were all dumped into the sales pipeline.
The account executives would then be dividing their efforts between:
- trying to track leads down for the initial qualifying calls
- determining if leads were good fits or not
- filtering out the ones who were not legitimate leads to begin with
- actually giving sales presentations
- follow-up activities
- closing deals
So I’m sure you can see how real opportunities could slip through the cracks this way, especially if you have an outside sales team with people on the road all the time who aren’t at their computers for 8 hours a day, readily available to provide timely responses for people who submit requests on the website. My team has a goal of “Less than 10 Minute Response Times,” and we hear stuff like this all the time:
- “I can’t believe we’re speaking already, I just submitted that!”
- “Wow! You guys are FAST!”
- “I appreciate your quick response and I look forward to working with [ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE]!”
If you work in an outside sales-type of environment that uses this digital marketing sales model, you’d still have an initial call, so really, it all starts on the phones.
Of course, you would use that initial call to set up the appointment to go on-site and handle the discovery portion where you go and inspect the job-site and take measurements for whatever you’ll be designing (think of general contractors and pool builders, as an example).
But regardless of product or service or industry even, this typical, digital marketing sales process model has:
- an open
- a close
- and a few necessary, fundamental action items in between
So, something I’ve seen at several organizations now, is that they will go and work really hard at their digital marketing activities to make it so their websites rank high enough to be found when potential clients search for their products or services (as they should).
They spend tons of time, effort, and resources (money) to make this happen, and some will staff in-house SEO / digital marketing experts (Search Engine Optimization) or even partner with external agencies. And this is all good stuff.
When functioning properly, it creates (what I think) are the greatest leads in the world: inbound, direct website inquiries from motivated potential customers (minus the junk that also comes through that we’ve already talked about).
I’ve done both inbound and outbound sales and lead generation, and we all know inbound is typically way hotter – especially when someone is:
- experiencing a problem that they don’t know how to solve on his or her own
- doesn’t know where to start so turns to Google
- does a search, finds your site
- likes what he or she see enough to fill out a request to be contacted
I mean, seriously: it’s a no-brainer to say that a potential client like this has a much higher chance of purchasing (and purchasing sooner rather than later). Intent to purchase is typically much higher, so these are your hottest leads (in comparison to most other lead sources).