How to Use Market Intelligence For Better Results in Sales Leads Prospecting

April 17, 2012. Business-to-business (B2B) companies are placing even greater emphasis on sales leads prospecting, as a result of uncertainty over the global economy and evolving buyer behavior. 60% of B2B companies say generating business leads is their number one sales and marketing priority for 2012, according to the B2B Marketing Benchmark Report by MarketingSherpa. On average, 74% of the over 1,700 respondents said that generating high quality leads is challenging, while 49% found generating a high volume of leads to be so. Many simply lack the resources they need inhouse.

B2B companies surveyed in the B2B Marketing Benchmark Report admit that they lack:

  1. Resources in staffing, budgeting or time
  2. Sufficient insight on target customers
  3. Reliable data to drive decisions
  4. Insights on competitors
  5. Inhouse best practices

Companies also need to have a thorough understanding of complementary or new high potential markets. So more and more are now turning to external help to qualify leads for them, so that their (limited) sales and marketing resources can focus on increasing the close ratios of new deals.

What can companies do in order to ensure effective prospect targeting, list integrity and good conversion rates? Does it make sense to hire consultants to help with lead generation and qualification? How can companies work effectively with their external consultants? What should they look out for?

“The overall prospecting-to-sales function involves administration, research and actual sales calls. But without professional intelligence research resources, a sales person’s time is divided amongst different tasks. Most could end up following cycles and trends that may be unrelated to the actual work of prospecting. Outsourcing sales leads prospecting to a third-party consultant can reap great payoffs, but I would have to stress that any consultant you use must understand your business and be resourceful in getting the right and highly qualified information. You need to check that they have access to knowledge about your potential markets, appropriate secondary information, local researcher and analysts, and proper research methodologies. Before commissioning a consultant, check how quickly they can provide the sales leads, the cost of research on existing and new markets and their references,” said Rahul Dhingra, Senior Consultant at M-Brain (formerly GIA) in North America.

“When we conduct market intelligence that is needed to generate the best possible list of sales leads, we look into many things. We look at who the industry players are and their customers. We examine how market share is currently distributed, who else our clients’ customers are buying from and if they are happy and what their satisfied and unmet needs are. Next, we examine who are the right people in the prospect company to speak with and how their buying process works. This way, you can effectively combine both secondary and primary research for more effective results. We have also used this method to evaluate market potential. In one case, a client wanted to review if they should invest in building facilities in a new region. M-Brain (formerly GIA) conducted sales lead generation research on behalf of the client, and found that customers would be willing to switch suppliers if this client had a local presence. This validated their decision to invest in the area and they subsequently achieved a competitive market share position in the region,” explained Aleksi Grym, Business Unit Director for M-Brain (formerly GIA) in the United Kingdom (UK).

Companies are well advised to follow some vital steps before working with external consultants in sales leads generation/prospecting.

1. Identify your goals strategically

It helps to first identify your top management priorities. Are they prioritizing improved close ratios? Shorter sales cycles? A target number of customers or amount of revenue?

Next, find out what sales leads tactics have worked for your sales team, and what haven’t in the past. This will help you evaluate how to go about setting priorities. For instance, it is worthwhile to check if following up with previous lapsed customers has led to sales. Find out which regions tend to generate the most sales leads and if they are well covered by competitors?

You can also conduct Win & Loss analysis to identify your preferred client type or client segment. This will make the identification of leads more precise and generate higher quality leads.

You can also analyze your sales cycle and map out groups of potential customers for different “˜seasons’. Do certain manufacturers buy more components a few months before Christmas?

Try identifying similar clients or client segments in different industries or geographical markets. Identifying completely new types of client segments can be equally important in expanding beyond the core base of clients.

In a recent example, a technology giant systematically un-stacked their marketing resources from a core base of clients and redirected some of these to high potential new clients identified by M-Brain (formerly GIA). A mix of cross-selling and up-selling programs generated $41 million in new revenue in Germany alone.

Growing the revenue contribution of clients outside a core base of customers can also reduce risk exposure, particularly during times of economic turmoil.

2. Create detailed target customer profiles

Most companies know their top customers relatively well, but it also helps to investigate them and other prospects deeper. Besides knowing the basic demographics, have there been changes in what’s driving their purchase decisions? Who are their influencers? Do they belong to any associations or forums?

It is not sufficient to have a list of CIOs for example. You also need to know their buying habits, key concerns or sources of information, for example. The better you know the target customer profiles, the better your sales leads list will be. For this reason, M-Brain (formerly GIA) develops comprehensive lists for clients. Below is an example from an M-Brain (formerly GIA) sales leads generation contract:

  • Company sales departments
  • Existing Supplier Name
  • Contract Length & Value
  • Decision-maker Contact Details
  • Interviewee Contact Details
  • Reason for choosing current supplier
  • Supplier satisfaction level (1-10)
  • Supplier satisfaction comments
  • Important factors when selecting suppliers
  • Is the target company considering a switch in suppliers?
  • Number of locations
  • Frequency of service requirements
  • Location of service requirements
  • Quantity of product requirements
  • Requirements for our other products and services
  • Interviewer comments / Vibe
  • Opportunity status

It’s critical to identify the right persons to target, meaning the ones who have the ability and authority to make a purchase, and assess the level of receptiveness to your products or services. That way, you can avoid spending time on those who have little or no influence over the purchase process, and focus on those who do and their various purchasing requirements. The purchasing organization may favour low prices; the production manager state of the art technology and the sales director low production cost per unit. In this case, you have three different needs at one client organization. In one such example, M-Brain (formerly GIA) assisted a food and beverage company with product attribute mapping analysis to identify and weigh the importance of different product attributes for each stakeholder in the purchasing process. This goes beyond basic sales leads generation, but is often very effective in helping clients close deals.

3. Invest in research and more research

With the need to understand your prospects thoroughly, it is necessary to invest in business research, or market intelligence as it is also commonly known. As shown, gathering databases from local chambers of commerce, newspapers, professional organizations, trade directories, associations or export promotion bureaus is simply not enough. You want to ensure the prospects are “˜warm’ to your approach.

But how much should you pay for the research? How do you know it will be a budget that is likely to pay off for your needs? One way to determine how much budget to allocate to professional research resources is to evaluate how much time your sales teams spend on creating prospects lists on their own. Is it 30%? How much would 30% of your company’s sales payroll add up to? That amount is a good one to start with. Allocating that 30% to a market intelligence company to help research and develop a list of sales leads professionally will probably generate better returns on investment, particularly if they have a very wide range of research sources, industry insights and networks.

As a start, you could consider a pilot project. For example, you can brief the consultant to focus on a specific market segment or a specific geographical area. In briefing your consultant, be sure to tell them everything they need to know, in order to understand where your business is today and where it would like to go, so they can help to identify the type of sales leads that are right for you. Help them by answering questions such as:

  • How do you segment your market?
  • How does the market share and market size look like for your markets
  • Which products or product categories are relevant?
  • Which customer segment and geographical markets should they focus on?
  • What is your go-to-market strategy?
  • Which are your main product/service benefits/differentiators?
  • How do these benefits/differentiators compare with key, local or new competitors?
  • Is there a specific competitor that has problems and whose clients we might want to target?
  • How do you conduct win/loss analysis and what have some of the findings been?
  • What are your objectives and time-span?
  • Which budget is available for the analysis?

The better equipped you are with the market intelligence to monitor and analyze your existing and potential markets, the better positioned you are to identify new potential markets and sales leads.

To conclude, here is one final example. An equipment manufacturer identified that one of its competitors was facing problems with its supply chain, causing significant delays to some major customers. With this knowledge, the company commissioned a consultant to help it identify the top 100 clients affected by the competitor’s delays as their sales leads targets. As the manufacturer had some excess capacity, they were able to offer a solution that would provide these prospects with critical input products, provided that they agree to switch suppliers. By swiftly using their market intelligence on industry changes, the company was able to persuade 33% of the prospects they targeted to switch suppliers in a short period of time.

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