The economic environment has made the urgency to drive sales leads a top priority and the obstacles to success more massive. Potential buyers for business-to-business solutions exist, but how do you find them at the right time without wasting dollars? The Web is the vehicle of choice when buyers start looking. Ideally, your brand shows up in the top five organic search results for your best keywords but that won't happen overnight. How can you create a framework to hone your lead generation, track where productive leads originate, refine your strategies for better yield, and optimize your spend?
TimeTrade Systems, founded in 2000, sells on-demand solutions for appointment scheduling to large enterprises, government agencies, and small to mid-size business. The challenge we face is that our prospects cut across many industries including retail, health care, financial services, and federal and state agencies—anyone who books thousands or even millions of appointments a year represents a sales opportunity. Rather than an e-commerce sale where the buyer goes directly to the Website to buy, TimeTrade—like many other businesses—must convert leads to deals through working with the customer—deals that can be in the millions of dollars. And there's no single place to reach this broad range of buyers with conventional advertising. For instance, traditional SIC codes are fairly useless, because people in any industry might need what we have.
TimeTrade is doing well in this growing market opportunity, but we stay lean. We've always watched our costs and spent thoughtfully. We don't ride trends, we spend with a well-thought-out purpose. This approach stood us well in our formative years (the dot-com collapse), and it's standing us well today.
The key is trackability, from lead to forecast to completed deal. We don't just monitor "lead gen," we watch "deal gen." And we track it by lead source, using Web-based analytics tools.
For companies that want to optimize "deal gen" through a better understanding of what strategies and channels are most productive, here are some tips on what has worked well for TimeTrade as we track leads and focus our spend by knowing which leads became deals and how to cultivate new prospects:
•Do the hard "sweat and pray" work of optimizing your Website (SEO). If you want traffic to show up on your site from searches (Google, Yahoo, etc.), you need to do the hard work of looking good to the search engine software. Think about your keywords and use them; develop links from other sites and blogs; keep your site's content fresh by writing a blog. This takes work. Get started.
•Buy additional traffic with Pay-Per-Click (PPC). As long as your competitors push you off the first screen of search results for your keywords, either you won't get found or you can buy your way onto the first screen with PPC. Caution: If you don't know which keywords lead to deals, PPC will waste your money. And it's not a scaleable solution: The money you spend on every click is gone forever. Successful SEO work is the gift that keeps on giving. So use PPC to supplement SEO, and when you no longer need PPC, scale it back.
•Know who's visiting and where they're coming from. Leadlander tells us what companies are on our site and where they came from; Google Analytics gives aggregate numbers for traffic sources and page views. However, both these tools are less valuable because they can’t identify specific visitors. That's why we…
•…Track every lead. The Web makes click-tracking easy. We use Salesforce for Google AdWords, a free mash-up for Salesforce users, to track where every Web lead came from. We have a graphical dashboard in Salesforce to track new accounts and leads by source, and we use HubSpot's inbound marketing system for non-PPC leads, and post-click tracking of all leads. It's even possible to track non-Web print ads. Some people just spend and pray on print—they just hope someone comes to their site, but they have no real idea. When TimeTrade buys space, the call to action is a URL to a specific page—which we can track easily.
•Analyze channel cost to hone in on a focused strategy. We combine data from Salesforce and from accounting to determine cost per lead and cost per deal. This strategy can be an eye-opener—we found Webcasts bring in lots of leads but have poor cost per deal compared to PPC and well-chosen trade shows.
This method works. As one example, last year we wanted to know if we should drop PPC to conserve the cash. We dug into our data and saw that PPC-sourced deals had boosted our new business year to date by 68 percent. Not only that, PPC deals made our pipeline 50 percent bigger than it would have been. This is scientific, fact-based marketing, and it's part of our culture.
These Web-based tracking strategies are relatively easy to deploy, since there's no software to install. You still need to learn what they do and understand what they’re saying; buying an encyclopedia doesn't make you educated. But combined with good thinking, these tools have helped us capture information that lets us focus our marketing efforts on "deal gen," not purely "lead gen." And we know what works, which in this economy is vital.
Dave deBronkart is director of analytics for TimeTrade Systems.