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November 1998

A Hot Sales Lead Or Some Good Market Research? Why Choose!


Recently, I asked the CEO of a rapidly growing high-tech firm a simple question: "What would you rather have, fantastic market research or outstanding lead generation?" His response was equally direct, "I want both!"

He's not alone. Many enterprises today have a culture and business style that does not fully close the loop between marketing and sales, thereby overlooking the fantastic possibilities associated with how market research and lead generation can work together as a powerful one-two punch.

Clearly, market research and lead generation are vastly different animals. That said, a closer look at what both are capable of accomplishing within the enterprise reveals how they are actually complementary, rather than mutually exclusive disciplines. What's more, market research and lead generation can be more fully integrated at countless organizations through the often-overlooked central hub of the call center.

The Five Ps And One M Of Sound Marketing
As a starting point, market research is an essential element that falls under the catchall umbrella of marketing, which itself can be distilled into five alphabet soup letters. To please the business school crowd, we'll call these the five Ps and the one M.

First the Ps:

  1. Product: What is the product or service being delivered?
  2. Price: How much does it cost to make, inventory, finance, distribute and sell?
  3. Place: What are the distribution channels-wholesale, retail, direct, telemarketing, resellers, online, catalog…?
  4. People: Who are the key people bringing the product to market and what motivates them?
  5. Promotion: How do you communicate the benefits of the product - advertising, PR, trade shows, direct mail, online promotions, Web site…?

And now for the all-important M.

  1. Market: Who are the customers? What do they need? How do they make the purchasing decision? Is the sales cycle long or short - an individual or group decision? Where does the actual transaction take place? How competitive is the environment and what are the barriers to entry and exit for you and your competitors?

Understand the five Ps and the one M and how they can work together, and your organization will have a pretty good handle on how to best turn the spotlight on a particular product or service - that is at first. But what if you're a little bit off on pricing, or your promotional efforts don't seem to hit the audience just right, or your overall understanding of the customer doesn't jive with what your salespeople are discovering? After all, that's the real world, and most of us live and work there.

In that case, your organization will desperately need market research. But where will you get it? What type of research is appropriate for your particular needs? And why don't you just concentrate on getting more and better sales leads?

We'll revisit these types of issues in a moment; but first, a look at the lead generation process.

Sales And The Mantra Of Qualified Leads
Lead generation is typically the sole province of the sales force. Go to your favorite trade show and look at what absorbs most exhibitors. The answer can usually be summed up in two words-"qualified leads." It is not the sheer number of prospects that counts. What really matters is how likely you are to generate a sale with a particular contact. As a rule of thumb, the larger the price, the longer the sales cycle, and with it the more people you have to woo to make a wow. Even telemarketing campaigns-which are essentially electronic versions of door-to-door solicitation-are in reality a lead generation and sales effort lumped into one.

Given the fast-paced nature of most organizations today, a sales staff cannot afford to spend too much time with the wrong kind of folk. Rather, it has to quickly make a qualitative judgment as to how likely any sales prospect can be moved "down the funnel" in an orderly fashion from general product awareness and interest to agreement on terms and conditions for purchase. That's the bottom line. The boss doesn't want to know if they're interested. The boss wants to know when they'll take delivery.

So how do you get better leads and what does market research have to do with it?

Bridging The Gap Between Lead Generation And Market Research
To answer this question, let's take a look at a rapidly growing company in the burgeoning industry of voice over data networks. The firm is e-Net, Inc., a pioneer in data telephony whose product suite delivers award-winning voice quality over a broad range of data fabrics in both the wide area and local area networks.

e-Net, which was formed in 1995 and went public in 1997, now has approximately 45 people located in two offices-its headquarters in Germantown, Maryland, and an R&D facility in Austin, Texas. The company's CEO, Rob Veschi, is obsessed with product quality and customer service. If asked, he probably would consider himself to be more of a lead generation person than a market research type. In reality, he's both-and so is the company.

Rob Rice, VP of sales for e-Net, explained the lead generation process for the company's business products: "Our first step is to closely evaluate the profile of those types of organizations most likely to use our enterprise product suite. Typically, these are networked organizations with remote locations, ISPs, cable companies, computer manufacturers and a broad range of international firms that can benefit dramatically from reducing their long-distance costs. Next, we must determine the most cost-effective, yet powerful way to reach these vertical markets. At e-Net, we use a combination of trade show exhibits, PR, trade advertising, industry monitoring and good old fashioned cold calling. At that point, it's up to our sales team to capture leads, qualify them and demonstrate how compelling the e-Net story is."

But what about market research for a company like e-Net? In essence, direct feedback gathered by Mr. Rice and his team during sales meetings can produce some of the best feedback e-Net can buy. Because his sales team works from a well-conceived plan and then shares this data across the enterprise-including marketers, product developers and senior management-lead generation becomes an extension of market research. In short, when you make information a continuous loop that circumnavigates the enterprise, you leverage the knowledge base dramatically.

That's a good start, but there's more. e-Net also runs a call center for its product suite and all customer information is maintained in its corporate database. Problems are forwarded to a fix team and resolution histories are well documented. What's more, as Sandy Lenga, who runs e-Net's Technical Support/Help Desk, explained, "Our development people use this customer feedback and so do the marketing and sales teams. In that way, the entire enterprise can quickly see if there is a high volume of a certain type of issue confronting users and then huddle to correct the problem. Plus, data from the call center is available for the sales and marketing people right at their desktops. In that way, each of us can collect information, characterize users and better understand the types of customers using our products at any point in time."

e-Net is also moving toward a more formal market research mechanism for the company's business products. Explained Christina Swisher, director of Marketing & Operations for the company, "To get an even better handle on how senior decision makers at the corporate level evaluate data telephony product offerings, we are exploring a series of highly targeted, exclusive industry briefings and focus groups rolled into one. Key executives from select vertical industries and geographic regions will be included in this research effort. Data from that form of market research will then be shared with the sales team, the product engineering group, the call center and senior management to further sharpen our existing marketing campaigns."

That's smart, and the way it should be done.

The Ultimate Relationship: Market Research And Lead Generation
In summary, market research is merely a tool. It doesn't generate revenues unless you take lessons learned, share them throughout the organization and put the knowledge to work. Similarly, aggressive lead generation won't produce maximum sales until the sales team works from a coordinated game plan, views its mission as a combination of research and revenue generation, and exchanges its findings across the enterprise.

Lead generation and market research: they have the makings of a beautiful relationship. Exploit the data your organization already has, and you will tap into a competitive advantage few of your competitors can match.

Paul D. Feldman is the president of Feldman Communications, a leading advertising and public relations firm serving a broad range of public and private organizations worldwide. Feldman is a frequent guest columnist and speaker whose marketing campaigns have won a number of industry awards, including the Gold Quill from the International Association of Business Communicators.


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