In part one of this series we looked at the time it takes to generate leads and how outbound and inbound methods complement each other in this process. But coordinating multiple marketing channels is resource-intensive to implement. If your sales and marketing teams are stretched (whose aren’t these days?), it might seem best to you, or your management team, to focus on traditional outbound marketing. But you know it’s not as easy as picking up the phone and closing a deal.
The reality is, in modern manufacturing time is scarce and you’re always looking ahead to the next customer, contract, or supplier. Anything you can do to speed up lead generation helps. Here in part two we’ll break down why outbound marketing is a lengthy process, and give you some tips to make sure you’re not doing anything to add to that time unnecessarily.
Outbound is valuable
In outbound marketing, your company initiates the message or conversation. Some or most of the recipients might not be aware of you or what you do. Outbound takes many forms including advertising, direct mail, or social media ads, but in B2B and specifically in manufacturing, we tend most often to see a combination of telephonic (i.e. cold calling) and email campaigns.
Calling lets you ask direct questions about a prospect’s production schedule, the raw materials they use, special manufacturing needs and who their usual suppliers are. Uncovering this type of business intelligence helps you establish a relationship with that person but also gives valuable insight into your competition as well as the exact pain points in the market, which you can apply to your next call.
But outbound is not only about making phone calls. Email is considered by many to be a powerful hybrid of content/inbound and outbound marketing. In fact, “79% of B2B marketers credit email as the most effective distribution channel for demand gen efforts.”
With email, you control the message: introduce your company, explain your services, link to a valuable resource, even make an offer. All of that is great for reaching new contacts, staying engaged with existing ones, and nurture those who aren’t quite ready to buy yet. A memorable email keeps you visible on their schedule. For example, if you’re a contract manufacturer, use email to list your capabilities, link to a compelling case study, and provide contact information, all of which they can save for future reference.
Why is this taking so long?
According to Hubspot, statistically speaking, it takes an average of eight touches to reach a prospect. And that’s just having a single conversation - consider the number of additional calls it takes to obtain a solid lead.
Why does it take so long for manufacturers to generate leads with outbound? All of these add time to the process:
- Market and company research: Before you pick up the phone you need to become familiar with the market you want to penetrate; determining which roles/job titles are relevant (e.g. line engineers, buyers, project managers, designers); and deciding exactly what you want to uncover, such as their process for equipment purchases, their production goals, or the new project they’re launching; building a list of possible contacts
- Tracking down the right person: Sometimes you’ll get the right person on the first try, but more often you’ll leave voicemail messages (and hope they call back), discover your contact no longer works there, deal with telephone “gatekeepers,” and try to keep people talking with artful rejection handling.
- Referrals to colleagues: Ideally the wrong person can point you to the right one. Some readily offer the name and number of a colleague, others need some nurturing before they’re willing to give up anyone’s contact information. Even if you do secure a referral, they might not be the right person either. It takes time to figure out if you’re asking the wrong person or the wrong questions entirely to get the info you need.
- Phone tag: If they’re out of the office, you’re often at the mercy of their schedule, so be sure to find out when they’ll be back and leave a voicemail (and be sure to check your own messages because they just might call you back!). In the industrial world it’s common for people to be away from their desks, working on the production floor or in the field, for much of the day.
- Email effectiveness: Here the risk is a bounced message, spam filter, or incorrectly entered email address, all of which need to be investigated before you can resend. Taking time to study email analytics can be a great way to use email efficiently, but according to MarketingProfs, “15% of marketers surveyed say their company still does not regularly review email opens and clicks; only 23% say they have integrated their website and emails to track what happens after a click.”
- Refining your discovery questions: Author Jill Konrath observes, “the best sales questions have your expertise wrapped into them.” Questions invite prospects to share their needs and give you insider information, but phrased carefully, they also show prospects you understand what they do and that you have relevant experience. It can take several calls and emails to build a relationship to the point a prospect is willing to tell you, for example, what types of sheet metal they use for their components, or who your biggest competitors are in a geographic area.
Getting (Outbound) Time on Your Side
Some timing issues can’t be avoided, like a prospect on vacation or an email that bounces. But you have more influence on how long the outbound process takes than you might think. These tips will help you avoid undermining your efforts:
- Follow up: If they’re interested, don’t wait. A prompt response shows you’re serious about doing business with them. With so much information online, it’s easy for prospects to do their own research and take their business elsewhere if you’re not ready when they are.
- Define, and then refine, your process: Work flows faster when it follows a plan. Invest some time upfront making a decision tree or flowchart so you’ll always know the next step to take, whether it’s to call again in two weeks, send a follow up email, or pass a lead to the right sales rep. Inevitably some situations won’t fit into your documented process for nurturing and follow up. Over time you can decide if changing the questions you ask, the schedule for follow up, or something else needs to be tweaked.
- Put your CRM and database tools to work: You probably have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or other database to store your account and lead data, but it can help you streamline processes too. If you consistently tag accounts by segment, sales cycle stage, outreach priority, or other things you want to analyze, you’ll be able to run reports and easily see your conversion rates, average number of touches, email opens, and more. This data in turn shows you where the funnel is slow and what you need to do about it.
- Take detailed notes and review them: Use your CRM, make a spreadsheet, or find a scrap of paper, but always take good notes about each conversation and next steps. For example, suppose you talk to a lead engineer at an automotive supplier and she thinks your prototyping services are perfect for a major project they’re starting in six months – sounds promising, but you’ll have to stay in contact with her over time. Then she tells you she’s retiring in three months and refers you to her replacement – great! But, she adds, the replacement has not yet transferred from their overseas location yet. Your notes preserve the details so you can make a plan on how to stay in touch. You’ll also sound far more credible and build trust faster if you can show you were paying attention the last time you spoke.
- Set up automated tasks and notifications: Many CRM platforms allow you to set “tasks” with automatic reminders so you won’t forget to call or email someone. You can also set up simple automated workflows to help with handing off a lead from one department to another. For example, set up your CRM so that if marketing changes the status of an account, the sales rep overseeing that segment is notified by email automatically. It keeps everyone up to speed so they can reach out quickly.
- Have a plan for rejection handling and gathering BI: Keep track of any rejections callers or email responders give, then find a way to counter them. The more you can anticipate about a conversation and what you’ll say, the better it’ll go. But don’t assume an uninterested contact isn’t worth your time: gathering business intelligence is almost as important as generating a lead if it leads you to a referral or uncovers a need in the market at large.
- Level with them: Sometimes cutting through the sales pitch is the best way to go. Tell them you’re doing market research and ask up front if they can help. Most people want to be helpful, and this approach appeals to their sense of knowledge and expertise.
- Plan your timing carefully: If they’ve agreed to a callback, get their timeframe. You don’t have to set an appointment, but knowing that Thursday mornings are the best time to call maximizes your odds of reaching them in the future. When it comes to email, timing matters too. Writing for Hubspot, Jeff Hoffman shares this tactic: “Five minutes before and after the hour is the span of time when buyers walk to and from meetings and check their email. Hitting ‘send’ in this 10-minute window dramatically increases your chances of getting a response.”
- Stick with it: As we note in this blog , starting and stopping a calling campaign wreaks havoc with your efficiency. It takes time away from actual calling to wrap up and switch gears to another project, only to pick up where you left off in a month or two. Making calls on a regular basis is challenging, especially if rejection rates are high, but the more time you put in the better your pacing and rhythm in conversation are, and the better you become at gathering information.
While you can be successful with a focus on outbound calling and/or email, even the best research and outreach won’t uncover every prospect. If you’re not seeing the results you want in a timely manner with a strictly outbound program, you could be missing a big chunk of potential leads. According to HubSpot, “only 29% of people want to talk to a salesperson to learn more about a product, while 62% will consult a search engine.”
What’s more, sometimes prospects find you first – “47% of buyers viewed 3 to 5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep.” That’s something to encourage, and it’s where inbound marketing and online content come in. Stay tuned for part three in our series on time and timing in lead generation for the scoop on inbound.