TECHNOLOGY: Prospect management systems

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Information is king in the world of marketing

None more so than in the B2B sector where high quality sales leads are a commercial imperative for all enterprises. Traditional sources of marketing data have been available for decades, but until now the analysis of that data has not offered marketers a means of focusing their specific needs and retrieving potential customer data via an easily accessible interface.

One of the key drivers that have made today’s prospecting tools a practical proposition is the Internet. Prior to this, marketing information was bought from vendors who would provide little more than list databases. The Internet has changed not only how marketing data is bought and sold, but has also added a new layer of sophistication that has enabled businesses to fine tune the prospect data they are buying.

“One thing we are seeing is a focus on quality of information and a more targeted approach,”

Says Nick Frazer, head of B2B marketing at Experian. “Prospecting tools are increasingly being used in a more targeted manner. We’re seeing smaller downloads of data that allow clients to focus on best prospects and to go after them. There has also been an increase in directory-based tools that allow additional data to be downloaded.”

Prospecting for new clients is now more of a science, but the tools that are available today must be taken in context. In this market, one size definitely doesn’t fit all, as each business’s sales lead requirements will be unique to them.

At first glance the new species of prospecting tools offer solutions that can deliver highly qualified sales leads for very little outlay and effort. Jeremy Keohane, MD at TW Connect however, warns that this evolution of the traditional sales tool must not be taken at face value.

“Clients are seduced by the ‘out of the box’ promise as it seems a quick easy fix. There is often a massive unforeseen investment in learning and adaptation – sometimes this can outweigh the initial capital investment. It can also make the prospecting tool redundant if it does not live up to the hype.”

He continues,

“Another concern often raised is that many businesses are complex, fast moving or have channel components. This makes the identification and distribution of prospects a non-linear activity – many prospecting tools do not accommodate for this complexity in the business structure and process.”

Adaptation over time will give you a sales tool that will improve the quality of the leads it returns, but it is unlikely that an off-the-shelf product will instantly have the depth of data your business will require

. Be prepared to put in substantial levels of work and resources to bring your prospecting tool within the confines of your existing sales systems and develop it into a prospecting tool that can regularly offer qualified sales leads.

Targeted sales

One key component of any prospect tool that your business would like to use is the flexibility of the search criteria when selecting a potential prospect’s report. Qualified sales leads by their nature are highly targeted and usually of bespoke design. Applying a universal search criteria may result in many hits, but it will always be the quality of those potential sales leads that will determine whether the prospecting tool can deliver the sales levels you require to give a good ROI.

Larger data suppliers tend to aim their services, at not surprisingly, larger companies in the B2B sector. For the smaller businesses, the prospecting tools that have developed offer a more tailored – and therefore more cost effective – means of identifying potential leads.

Have the new prospecting tools enabled even the smallest B2B enterprise access to high-quality business data?

Andy Smith, MD of CorpData, says, “It suits the resources available within many smaller companies to undertake regular direct marketing in small batches rather than single large hits. Our own product, Sales Turbine, can be tailored to suit the individual needs of businesses of all sizes looking at ongoing prospecting activity. Fresh, clean data is delivered in batches each day, week or month. And with a minimum requirement of just 100 records each month it is suited to even the smallest B2B enterprise.”

Kirsty McKinney,

Brand manager at Market Location, also says, “There is no reason why data analysis should have to mean big budgets. We wanted to create a tool that was accessible by all. Horizon (which will be updated next year) has four different levels of sophistication so a smaller firm can purchase the lowest, cheapest level but still be able to gain valuable insight to drive its prospecting.

It is also available on a monthly subscription so businesses are not tied into a long-term commitment. The other critical aspect of Horizon is that it is created to be used by marketers. We recognised most businesses cannot afford an analyst – so why create a data analysis tool that requires that kind of high-level statistical experience?”

Off-the-shelf prospecting tools are attractive as they can provide a tailored sale lead for relatively small outlay. Systems like Sales Turbine can provide just a few prospects starting at a cost of just 24p per contact. The unit cost of sales data must always be put into the context of the search criteria you are using. Low cost is attractive, but look closely at how you can analyse the available data that provides the end contact details.

Data analysis

Segmentation has been a key tool within every business’s marketing department. Targeted sales messages have always been the foundation of the customer-to-business relationship. What the new prospecting tools have done is enable analysis of the available data to be carried out quickly and efficiently within a user interface that anyone can use.

As Per Löfgren, director of EuroContactPool outlines, the marketing information is the same, but how this is interrogated and then utilised has changed thanks to these new tools. “The type of information requested is the same as it always was,” he says.

“Databases contain the same types of information now as they did five years ago. There are still companies buying large volumes of data in bulk for campaigns but we see the trend of volumes going down and there is more targeting and less ‘spraying and praying’.”

Catalysts of change

The prospecting tools that have developed over the last few years have been in direct response to a market that requires more precisely targeted sales data to survive in the long term.

Large-scale direct marketing campaigns certainly have their place in your marketing mix, but increasingly, the B2B sector is demanding more focus in its marketing activity and therefore the data that it uses.

What drivers have enabled the prospecting tool market to develop? McKinney says, “Environmental concerns and pressures have been a major catalyst, and the realisation that we have to be more responsible in our marketing. Bulk-buying and mailing are not the future of sustainable marketing.

Also, there is more pressure on marketers than ever before. They need to be able to justify their actions to secure their budgets. Data analysis and prospecting tools are just some of the new ways in which they are doing this.”

Tim Wise, director of MarketingFile, outlines his view of the future of prospecting tools, saying, “The most likely developments are those of ‘hot’ leads rather than cold data, although this has implications for the data collection processes of large data owners.

Additionally, data is being sourced from a number of non-traditional sources such as the ‘failed quote’ insurance data available from The Trading Floor.”

He continues, “A further development will be the addition of low volume fulfilment services, as the online tools link with digital print companies and mail aggregators, allowing low-volume mailings to be undertaken at no greater cost-per-item than a larger campaign.

MarketingFile also makes available a number of cheap, simple tools to ensure compliance with TPS/FPS legislation, and MPS suppression files, which can be integrated into contact management software such as Act or Goldmine.”

More integration with asset management and CRM systems is also in the future for prospecting tools. As the tools stand at the moment they offer an additional layer of functionality that can be advantageous to all enterprises in the B2B sector who have previously bought raw sale lead data, or generated their own in-house.

In this market one size definitely doesn’t fit all, as the sales criteria of your company may be widely different than that of even your strategic partners. Prospecting tools certainly have their place in your marketing armoury, but choose the service and tool that you use carefully.

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