Middle of the Funnel Marketing

Check out this interesting article about how to more effectively move opportunities from the top of your sales funnel to the bottom by employing these nurturing techniques in the middle.

A Guest Post by Alan Vitberg, Owner, VitbergLLC

Combine Telemarketing with Marketing Automation for a Powerful 1-2 New Business Punch

We’re reading and hearing more about the leadership at professional services firms saying that top line growth is their key objective for 2012. So, they’re either asking partners to take more accountability for developing relationships and working their contacts for new business opportunities, or they’re turning to inbound marketing and outbound marketing techniques like telemarketing to fill the top of the sales funnel.

But the real test of new business development not only comes at the top of the funnel, but how effectively the firm nurtures leads in the middle of the sales funnel. According to a recent study by Marketing Sherpa, 79% of marketing leads never convert into sales. Yet, other studies like the one done by DemandGen Report show nurtured leads produce on average a 20% increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads.

As much as managing and niche practice partners would like to think that prospects are pacing the floor awaiting their call, the fact is that most leads acquired with top of the funnel marketing activities just aren’t sales ready. In fact, about 8 out ten prospects just aren’t ready to sign a contract after one touch, regardless of the strength of your company or personal brand. But, according to Marketo, an average of 20% of leads that are nurtured will convert to sales-ready leads within 12 months.

That’s a powerful argument for professional services firms to consider a dedicated lead nurturing program, and one of the most powerful nurturing programs you can construct will come from combining telemarketing touches with touches delivered through marketing automation technology.

Marketing automation is executed using software that reduces repetitive tasks associated with marketing processes, including customer segmentation and campaign management. One of the key benefits of automation in lead generation is the ability to set up a campaign that automatically sends messages to prospects on a regularly scheduled basis. Another key benefit is the ability of the automation software to track responses, both at the campaign level and at a level that identifies if the prospect has engaged with the campaign by opening or clicking though a message.

To make a lead generation and nurturing campaign successful, personal need to be woven into the campaign schedule, and that’s where telemarketing can and should play an important role. Start with a campaign plan that includes a two or more offers (i.e. whitepapers, seat at a webinar), landing pages on your web site supporting the offers, and the outbound and inbound marketing tactics you’ll use to deliver the offer. Telemarketing can play an important role in the outbound promotional components of the plan.

So here’s how a lead nurturing process can be executed by integrating automation with telemarketing:

1. Touch 1: Prospect is driven to a landing page where they complete a form in order to get an offer (i.e. “free whitepaper”). Consider using telemarketing at this point to inform prospects of the offer and where and how they can redeem the offer.

2. Touch 2: An automated thank you response is delivered to the prospects

3. Touch 3: Use telemarketing to make an introductory phone call to the prospect, with the objective of exploring their issues

4. Touch 4: 30 days later, send an automated e-mail with a case study

5. Touch 5: 45 days later: send the prospect another offer (i.e., a webinar) that requires an action, like filling out a form again. This should be set up and automated at the beginning of the campaign and triggered by time after first contact

6. Touch 6: Make a phone call to personally invite the prospect to redeem the offer

7. Touch 7: 60 days later: send an automated invite to the prospect inviting them to subscribe to your blog

8. Touch 8: 75 days later: call for an appointment

The combination of telemarketing with automated marketing touches can be a powerful combination for nurturing prospects though the sales funnel. These campaigns need to be designed and timed and fully complete even before the first outbound or inbound promotion is launched, and along the way, measuring conversion rates of leads to qualified leads to sales ready leads is a prudent step as it will provide insights as to effective techniques and approaches for future campaigns.

Alan Vitberg is owner of VitbergLLC, a marketing agency that works with professional services firms, specializing in inbound marketing, internet marketing and lead generation. He can be reached at avitberg@vitbergllc.com or at (585) 425-2552.


It’s that time of year — holiday parties, events, open houses — likely you’re hosting at least one and attending a few. And while we aren’t in favor of commercializing the holidays, it’s the plain truth that these events can be opportunities to interact with clients, prospects, referral sources and others who influence your success. Here are some ideas to ensure your holiday celebrations lead to celebrations of your success in 2012:

  • Before your firm’s annual event, pull your people together and share the invitation/RSVP list. Encourage your staff to identify who they want to make sure they speak with and to be proactive about seeking out those people at the event.
  • Remind your people not to cluster together in large groups at your event or any other. It’s not very inviting and limits your ability to interact with others.
  • Review your firm’s 30-second speech or key branding talking points. You and your staff will likely be meeting new people at holiday events; now is the time to build a consistent brand image for your firm so that future marketing efforts are successful.
  • Share some ideas for how to follow up with contacts your people make during holiday events when the situation warrants follow-up. Activities could include an invitation to an industry event, a personal note attached to an article or newsletter, a phone call to set up lunch, or simply a nice-to-see-you email.

Simple Tools

Accountability. The word alone can conjure negative feelings of getting in trouble. Consequences. Same thing. But without accountability — and yes, maybe even consequences — business development activity in a professional services firm is sporadic and results are unpredictable. So how can you start to integrate accountability into a culture that doesn’t historically embrace the concept?

It isn’t as hard as you might think. Four simple tools — and how you apply them — can begin the process:

1. Annually — set the right growth goal, determine what it will really take to reach the goal and whether that’s feasible, and determine where your growth will come from.
2.Semi-annually — measure your billing results using the same parameters you did in setting your goal to determine if you need to step it up half way through the year and how to set your goal going forward at year-end.
3.Quarterly — review the referrals given and received by your firm for each referral source to assess whether you’re networking with the right people and effectively implementing this valuable lead generation tactic.
4.Monthly — analyze your sales pipeline to determine if you are generating enough leads and working opportunities to move them through the sales cycle.

Simple tools — but, like a whetstone, it’s all in how you use them that will determine your success. Don’t just produce the reports; hold regular business development meetings with all who have responsibility for growth, ask them to report status of results and activity, and watch as eventually accountability starts to work its magic. Activities are implemented when people said they would be, your people commit to building their skills so they can be more effective, and growth results will follow.

All from four simple tools.

Knowing When to Stand Firm on Fees

With year end work approaching and tax season on its heels, you may find yourself in a conundrum: Good clients who really like working with your firm, love your service and think your fees are fair that just won’t be able to pay your standard fees this year. What should you do when clients ask for a fee reduction?

Start by identifying the A clients you want to invest in. When you know the clients for which, should the issue arise, you are willing to make fee concessions you’re more prepared when approached. Be ready with a plan to talk with clients so you are not taken by surprise if they ask.

Don’t discount the fees of a D client in bad times. You’ll only perpetuate the pain going forward. Be willing to let some clients go.

When a client asks about reduced fees, first explore changes in scope that can impact the total fee. Will a review be ok for a year or two vs. an audit? Can you do a collateral only audit vs. a full scope engagement? Can you get clients to do more of the work so you invest less time–like assigning a client’s employee to the audit team full-time for the duration of the fieldwork to be the “go-fer” in finding information or people, and to get questions answered without the CPAs doing the running around? Can you arrange a term payment plan for the fees to make it easier?

Most importantly, be willing to talk with clients about the subject. Don’t hesitate or act angry they asked or buckle at the first sign the client wants a reduction. Empathize with them, but remember what you are charging for the service you provide is fair. If you choose to invest in a client, make sure they know it is a temporary situation. Let them know you are willing to do it because they are an important client of the firm and you want to help.

Finally, consider proactively approaching clients you know are suffering and invest a little in fee reductions or a temporary change in scope. Your small investment will generate exponential returns by strengthening your client relationship.

‘Tis the Season

No, it’s not the holiday season, yet. Although that will be upon us before we know it. It’s lead generation season! Itâ’s time to reap the rewards of all the time and money you’ve invested in marketing and positioning activities throughout the year. All those endless mixers, tradeshows, golf outings, ad campaigns, social media efforts, etc. have led to this.

Marketing and sales, while two separate and distinct disciplines are directly related. Marketing without sales leads to large investments of time and money with little return. Sales without marketing leads to low close rates and lots of frustration on the part of the sales force (partners). A balance is ideal and transition from marketing to sales is critical. See the following illustration:

Marketing (blue line) activity is high when your prospects are just starting to get to know you. Activities that help with this are listed at the far left.

Sales (red line) activity starts after a certain period of marketing. Typical “sales” activities are listed at the far right.

Activities in the middle can help you transition from marketing to sales–assuming you take the necessary step to get face-to-face with a prospect so you can start the process.

Late summer/early fall is one of the most productive seasons for proactive telephone lead generation to help transition your firm for three reasons:

#1: Many of your prospects are starting their budgeting process.

#2: If you’ve been marketing throughout the year, your firm is well positioned to transition to sales by scheduling face-to-face meetings.

#3: Seasonal services such as tax, employee benefit plan audit services and financial planning are top of mind for CEOs/CFOs in the fall.

Now is the time to start planning how your firm will accomplish that transition to sales. Whether you choose to make the follow up phone calls internally or to outsource, make sure callers are prepared and understand the objective of the follow up call. (Setting up meetings is radically different from selling solutions on the phone.)

Remember that the follow up call also serves as an extension of your firm’s brand, so make sure it’s conducted in a professional manner by a well prepared caller. Prospects will sense anxiety or lack of preparedness with the acuteness of a shark sensing blood. This can reflect negatively on your firm.

Also, be sure the person who will be following up with the leads understands the objective of the first meeting. Meetings from proactive phone follow up feel different from meetings from a referral. Engage in pre-meeting training to ensure the person going on the appointment is prepared for the difference.

With a little time and effort to follow up while the iron is hot, your firm can reap the rewards of lead generation season.

How Much is Too Much?

I was surprised to learn that a friend of mine had recently changed jobs. He, in turn, was surprised that I hadn’t heard.

“I posted it on LinkedIn yesterday.”

And, indeed, when I looked back through THREE PAGES of older posts I finally saw the indication that he had changed positions. I also checked the digest of my Linked in network activity; it was listed as one of about eight items at the very bottom of a page I had to scroll, scroll, scroll down to find. Past all the updates of the great business books people are reading, past the twitter feeds, past the same blog link posted by three different people at the same company.

As I started thinking about it, I wondered how much information is too much information. What is the right frequency of contributing information in a medium that moves at the speed of light? I had missed something really important, something I really would like to have seen, because it was displaced by so many other pieces of information.

Let me just state that I don’t have a huge network of people. I think I just recently topped 100 connections, and even that seems like too many. How can I possibly keep track of all that information?

There are tools to help manage all the information posted, tweeted, re-tweeted, whose updates you see, whose you don’t. But if I use these settings to hide everything from certain connections, I have to ask myself, why are we connected in the first place?

If I could make one plea to the users of online communication tools, it would be this: Please don’t post for the sake of posting. I call these random acts of posting, and if you are doing it you risk becoming such a part of the landscape that even people you know will stop paying attention to you. You don’t have to share information about your reading list, travel plans, and daily routine just to stay top of mind. The more you do this, the more likely I am to tune you out.

Conversely, there are certain people to whom I ALWAYS pay attention (assuming I see them amid all the junk) because they post so infrequently that if they are making an effort I know it is important. If you have made social media part of your personal business development activity you want to be one of these people. What is the right frequency? I say a couple times a week.

Something else I learned–if you have important information you want people who are professionally important to you to see, make the effort to contact them directly. Send a quick email. Make a short phone call. Mail a note. But don’t assume the world is paying attention to you online 24/7.

A Friendly Reminder about Marketing Budgets

You need one.

Ok, so maybe that wasn’t as friendly as you might have imagined based on the title of this post. But seriously, you need a marketing budget.

Why, you may ask? After all you’ve been getting by ok without one. You’re still marketing. Last year you sponsored 25 different golf holes at 20 different outings (those 5 overlaps were due to an unfortunate lack of internal communication). You have people out networking in the community and serving on boards. You take your clients to lunch and got a sweet deal on your yellow pages advertising. Last year your firm offered a couple of seminars and sent out a few letters. And maybe you even are investing in an email newsletter. Of course, you don’t really know if any of this stuff works, but at least you’re doing it, right?

So if you have all this activity going on, why do you need a marketing budget?

Here are five reasons:

  1. Control spending. The fundamental purpose of a marketing budget is to give firms control over their marketing spending. A budget enables firms to put aside a set amount of money that they would like to invest in growth and manage the way that money is spent each year. It precludes the open checkbook policy that causes firms to end up spending too much (or in many cases, too little) on marketing and sales activities.
  2. Avoid random and ad-hoc marketing activities. Creating an effective budget requires some marketing planning to take advantage of the best opportunities for growth. This ensures marketing dollars are being spent in a manner that supports your firm’s growth strategy. Without a budget and this forethought, firms often struggle to reign in their spending. These same firms almost always find themselves engaging in one-off marketing activities that may or may not support a firm’s vision for growth.
  3. Leverage investments. A by-product of developing a marketing budget is the ability to leverage marketing investments by creating activities that support each other. For example, investing in an advertisement in an industry journal can also support an investment in telephone lead generation that is also focused on that industry segment.
  4. Measure results. Without a marketing budget it is impossible to measure the return your firm is generating from its marketing investments. Measuring results is critical in determining which activities you should continue to implement, and on which activities your firm should not waste your people’s time or firm’s money.
  5. Ensure the proper balance between marketing and sales. Firms need to implement the right mix of marketing and sales activities to be successful in meeting their growth goals. By evaluating your firm’s marketing budget you can get a feel for how your firm’s business development efforts are divided among marketing, transition and sales activities to make sure the mix is appropriate based on your firm’s goals.

Yes, five awesome reasons you need a marketing budget. What are you waiting for? Don’t know where to start? Visit our website to learn how we can help.

Boring concept. Big payoff.

Last month we posted about the importance of database maintenance — with some guidelines on effective data management. We made the point that most companies realize they need to segment their target market, but “segmentation” goes beyond just identifying the type of companies you want to target. Not flashy, but pretty darn important.

Shortly after we posted our commentary, we came across a cool report by ITSMA and the good folks at RainToday.com* that details the lead generation best practices of high performing companies. The report is full of great strategies and tactics you can employ to generate more leads and get a higher return on your marketing investments.

Among other things, the report found that the highest performing companies take segmentation a few steps further to figure out the title of the decision maker(s) for their services, and the names of those individuals at each company.

This finding is in complete alignment with our experience.

We’ve really seen those additional steps make a tangible difference in direct marketing campaigns. We worked with a client who was skeptical about investing the time and budget to research the names of individuals at their target list of companies. Like many firms, they thought they had a pretty clean list already. But, they were willing to test the scrubbing process. So we divided their list in half. On one half we called to update contact names. The other half we used “as-is”.

The “scrubbed” list produced 2.5 times more appointments (qualified leads), and the total cost per appointment was 50% lower, even with the added cost of scrubbing the list!

So, yeah, we scrubbed the rest of their database before embarking on their year-long lead generation program.

This is just one highlight of what can be found in this great study. Click here to find out how you can get access to the full report.

* Lead Generation Benchmark Report: How the Best Firms Fill the Pipeline, 2010 ITSMA & RainToday.com

Building Your Brand in 30 Seconds or Less

In professional services, it can be difficult to differentiate among firms that offer (from the buyer’s perspective anyway) the same service. After all, you all subscribe to the same credentialing programs. You follow the same set of professional practice standards. You all do quality work. On the surface — your firms all appear the same.

During the course of consulting with a firm it’s common for us to ask professionals at various levels (staff, associates, managers, partners, etc.) as well at those with different aptitudes for business development, “why should companies work with you?” Inevitably, we receive as many different answers from professionals within the same firm as individuals we ask.

Most of your firm’s branding is done through your people. Your professionals interact regularly with clients, prospects, referral sources, and even the media. If each of those individuals is telling a different story about what makes your firm great, how effectively will your firm’s brand be built? Branding is about message consistency. And if you’re inconsistent you are squandering your firm’s branding opportunities.

One of the best branding investments your firm can make is to develop a 30-second speech. A 30-second speech is your firm’s answer to the question “tell me what you do”. It consists of standard talking points that everyone in the firm should know and practice. The purpose is to ensure when employees from your firm interact with someone in the community they all talk about your firm’s brand the same way.

Talking points include:

  • Who your firm serves (target market)
  • What business issues your firm helps solve
  • Benefits of working with your firm
  • What makes your firm different

Any facts you introduce about your firm should include a response to “why is that important to a client?”

Once your firm has this useful tool in place, leaders in the firm should present the talking points to everyone, and let everyone practice delivering the points in their own style. Remember, it’s a 30-second speech — so the guideline should be that answers are short and succinct. Practice is important to both keeping it short and making it sound natural. The 30-second speech can also be the basis for all your firm’s other branding materials — brochures, advertisements, website content, etc. This consistency, over time, will help the market understand why you’re the best choice to meet their needs.

And, it all starts with 30 seconds or less.

The most neglected part of your business development strategy

I received an email from LinkedIn recently with a subject line indicating that nearly a third of the contacts in my network changed jobs in 2010. It got me to thinking about the most critical and neglected component of most firms’ business development strategy — database management.

Your database may contain all the companies that reside in your geographic footprint. If so, you must use your defined target market criteria to zero in on those companies that would be the best fit for your firm as clients based on industry, size, ownership, etc. But that’s only step one.

The mantra of professional services firms is: “Ours is a relationship business“. Does a relationship happen between entities? I have a mortgage, but when I need something I don’t call “the bank”. I call Dave. When Dave left the bank, I moved my business with him.

Your database should contain updated information about the individuals at the companies you would most like to have as clients. And maybe not just one individual, but several who play different roles in the decision to hire your firm — influencer, decision maker, gatekeeper, etc. That’s step two.

Now, consider the fact that those individuals are not static. They don’t stay where they’re supposed to, and if you look away roughly a third of them (by my admittedly unscientific measurement) may take off on you. How can we prevent this from raining on our business development parade? More importantly, how can we use this as a business development opportunity?

If your list is already out of date — meaning you haven’t made any efforts to clean it up in, say, the past six months — a good exercise is to have someone call each company and ask if CFO is still the CFO, the CEO is still the CEO, etc. Make these changes and add any new contacts you discover to the list. Yep, that’s step three.

Within the target list, you probably have a handful or two of individuals that you would like to get to know on a deeper level — and who you would really, really like to land as clients.

Social media (as we have recently discovered) can be an excellent tool to help keep this targeted prospect list updated. When you receive those messages indicating that someone in your network has updated his/her profile — don’t ignore it. As a matter of fact it’s a good idea to check in on your network at least a couple times a week to make sure you don’t miss anything. If you see someone has changed positions post a congratulatory note on their profile. Better yet, call him or her with congratulations and offer to find out more about the new position and employer over lunch. And don’t forget to update your firm’s marketing database with any new contact information. Steps four, five, six, etc…

If your targeted prospect leaves it’s not only important to follow that person, but also to make sure you know who his or her replacement is. You can probably find this out by a quick phone call to the company’s receptionist.

Promotions within the same company can be treated similarly. Ask this person how their role has changed. Are they overseeing any new areas? Do they have additional decision making authority? Again, makes sure your list is updated internally — especially titles. Receiving something in the mail that doesn’t acknowledge his/her accomplishment is pretty off-putting to a lot of people.

All business development efforts, whether virtual or not, are fundamentally dependent on keeping your data updated. Implementing a few of these ideas will profoundly improve the results of your business development efforts.