Online Exclusive

A new generation of lead generation

The changing nature of sales

In a 2010 study, Marketing Sherpa asked chief marketing officers about the challenges they face in today’s marketplace. The top answer was "generating high-quality leads," given by 76 percent of respondents. Generating opportunities for a sales team is difficult during good times. The declining economy only magnifies the problem. 

Further compounding the biggest challenge of CMOs – and all industry leaders – is the changing nature of sales. Lead generation has morphed from traditional cold calling or feet-on-the-street selling to digital demand generation, leaving B-to-B companies to recraft their sales and marketing functions. 

At HomeSphere, we cannot singlehandedly transform the industry’s practices, but we can offer advice about how business-to-business companies can engage their sales and marketing teams using digital techniques to generate high-quality leads and, most importantly, sales. 

Where sales opportunities lie

In years past, sales departments in B-to-B companies were ultimately responsible for lead generation and closing business. Marketing departments, if present, were often on the sidelines, generating sales sheets or placing ads focused on building the brand. 

Until recently, companies selling to other companies were left to mine databases and make cold calls. Today, the paradigm has shifted. The ability to target a prospect directly using Web-based tools has changed the entire landscape of sales and marketing with notable examples in such companies as TD Ameritrade, General Motors, Allstate Insurance and The University of Phoenix. 

Now is the time for companies in the B-to-B space, in particular the building products and construction industry, to increase efficiency in sales and marketing through the use of digital advertising and lead generation. 

To aid our customers in the transition to a digital strategy, HomeSphere has developed a platform for creating a new sales and marketing culture – including tools, techniques and a new language. 

Change the language, change the culture

If companies change their vocabulary when talking about their sales process, they’ll change their culture … and their revenue. 

Historically, the sales process began with a lead, usually found through static advertisements or the cold-calling efforts of a sales professional. 

Our teams coach our customers to back up slightly. Before defining a potential customer as a lead, we define the individual’s understanding of the company’s brand. In this new culture, a potential customer who is unaware of your products is called a suspect. In today’s marketplace, these suspects can be generated by new techniques, which we’ll describe later. 

Next in the sales funnel is a prospect. Prospects are aware of the brand but do not yet know how to engage as a customer – to use the brand. Prospects need to explore - to learn more about a company’s benefits and how the company distinguishes itself from the competition. During this exploration process, the potential customer becomes a true lead. 

It is at this point that the marketing team can build a relationship with qualified leads with the goal of earning their business when they are ready. With the help of ongoing nurturing campaigns, the lead can become an opportunity for sales follow-up and, finally, a customer. 

Understanding that the sales funnel starts well before the lead stage is key to aligning marketing with sales and to taking advantage of the power of the new digital marketplace. Armed with this new language, companies can start the work of changing the organization’s sales and marketing structure. 

Once the stages of the sales process are more clearly delineated, the difference between the roles of sales and marketing can be defined. 

Capturing suspects (and prospects)

Digital marketing tools offer B-to-B companies a greater opportunity – and greater responsibility – to generate suspects and prospects by marketing directly to individuals in need of their products. Such tools include social media, display, paid and organic search, targeted email and other types of behavior-based digital advertising. 

Marketing automation applications specifically tailored to the B-to-B market can help companies manage numerous digital marketing tools at once. Still, these applications require substantial sophistication. As such, we recommend either assigning digital outreach to an internal marketing team with a working knowledge of digital marketing mediums or outsourcing these efforts. 

Once a marketing program is in place that can effectively utilize digital media, sales teams can spend less time generating prospects and more time building relationships with qualified opportunities, eventually earning their business. 

The tools of change

Changing language, redefining roles and learning new techniques all sound difficult – and expensive. But changing a company’s approach to lead generation can have a direct, measurable benefit and can be achieved for a cost that still yields a high return. 

Outsourcing is an effective option. This is why HomeSphere developed LeadPlus, a proprietary builder lead generation platform. The tool is based on the principle that digital lead generation efforts are most effective when outsourced to organizations that focus 100 percent effort on providing these services. 

The education industry was the first to benefit greatly from outsourced digital lead generation.  Potential students gleaned from these techniques were seen as valuable to universities because they were able to provide sales teams with true sales-ready leads, not suspects or prospects. The successful experiment spawned an entire industry of independent digital marketers that were willing to invest their time and resources to find leads for these customers. Since then, the lead-generation industry has exploded. 

Not only is digital marketing more effective, it is also highly measurable. Although it’s tricky to measure the ROI of a television, newspaper, radio or magazine ad campaign, digital advertising provides nearly instant feedback. An advertiser can tell, for example, specifically who clicked on an Internet ad and ultimately bought a product or service -- even if that conversion did not occur during the same session. This allows for companies to track the life of a sale from suspect to customer and determine ROI based on actual acquisition costs rather than guessing at the cost of a sale as a percentage of the total advertising budget. 

Online properties that sell advertising have leveraged the extensive tracking capabilities of the Internet to charge advertisers for clicks rather than impressions and, more recently, for acquisitions rather than clicks. Companies see the value, which is reflected recent statistics on digital ad spending. 

The end game

Given recent economic conditions, drastic changes to sales and marketing departments need to be made.

Some good news does exist, however; namely that other verticals have made the transition to high ROI sales and marketing models successfully. We believe building product manufacturers are on the cusp of being able to make the exact same transition in the construction industry. They simply need to take the initial steps to improve the efficiency and tracking of their sales and marketing resources.

By implementing a unified digital media strategy, measurable automated lead generation tools and by reevaluating each department’s role in the nurturing process, the construction industry will see a substantial improvement in the ROI of their marketing and sales spend. 

HomeSphere is the only digital marketing company that has successfully executed a business-to-business (B-to-B) lead-generation model in the residential new construction industry. In business since 1999, HomeSphere understands the needs of the homebuilding supply chain and has developed an effective web-based tool designed to generate sales-ready leads for Building Product Manufacturers (BPMs). Its digital tool, LeadPlus, is a new and integral function of the company’s BRI platform that connects BPMs to the largest and most qualified homebuilder database in the construction industry. The system generates enhanced leads while also tracking conversions, offering a powerful tool for measuring ROI. To date, LeadPlus has generated more than $75 million in product conversion opportunities for its customers, proving the new model has profitable advantages.