While there is no easy solution, the right marketing/sales funnel -- one that turns people who don't your company efficiently into potential customers then filters out all but the warmest leads for your sales people to close -- can help.
After talking with hundreds of CEOs, a simple way to know you have an efficient marketing/sales funnel is that a dollar spent on marketing sales reliably results in at least a dollar of recurring revenue.
One key point: make sure your company has the right business strategy-- meaning that your company sells a product that solves a problem plaguing your target customers better than the competition -- before building your funnel .
Here are the six stages of a good marketing/sales funnel for a company that sells to other companies based on several interviews, including my conversation with Sushil Thomas, CEO of Arcadia Data, a supplier of visual analytics software:
1. Collect new names from inquiries or conference attendees
The marketing department in your company should seek to generate interest in your company's products. To do that well, marketing should identify which groups of potential customers to target.
Marketing should host conferences, get articles written in relevant media outlets, and conduct social media and email marketing campaigns to interest them in the company.
2. Send company and product information electronically
Your company should receive some responses from people who want to know more about your company. Marketing should automatically email them documents and videos.
Marketing should analyze the responses to these emails -- the people who open the emails, click on the videos, and read the documents -- what Thomas calls electronically-qualified leads.
3. Contact electronically-qualified leads by telephone
Your company's telephone sales people should try to talk to the electronically-qualified leads.
Telesales should ask these people about their job responsibilities, why they are interested in the company's products, whether they are considering purchasing products from other companies, and when they expect to make a purchase decision.
When those conversations go well, telesales will qualify the lead.
4. Forward telesales-qualified leads to account executive in the right territory
Telesales will identify which sales territory is the right one for each of its qualified leads. Telesales will contact the manager of the territory or a specific account executive and share the information they've learned from the conversation.
5. Evaluate whether to bid on the deal
If the telesales-qualified lead sounds promising, the account executive will deem it a sales-accepted lead. For each of those, the account executive will speak with the potential customer to assess whether the project is real, who the executive sponsor(s) are within the company, and the budget.
If these details suggest that there is a good opportunity for the company, the sales executive will deem it what Thomas refers to as a sales-qualified lead.
6. Win the bid
For each sales-qualified lead, the company will assign resources to develop a proof of concept for the potential customer. If the company decides that your proof of concept is better than that of your competitors', it will ask for your proposed terms and check references.
If all that checks out, your company will win the bid.
There are plenty of details to get right here. For example, over time your company will learn what conversion rates -- e.g., at stage two, how many people who receive social media messages or email will turn into electronically-qualified leads -- to expect at each stage.
What's more, your company should make sure it has the right number of telesales people and account executives to follow up on leads and turn the best ones into paying customers.
What's more, there's probably as much or more to learn from the leads that don't work out than the ones that do. For example, how can marketing better target its social media and email campaigns to surface a higher proportion of electronically-qualified leads? How can telesales boost the number of leads they qualify that turn into paying customers?
And when the company loses to competitors, is the product wrong, the price too high, or the company's reputation not strong enough?
All these answers will help your company better meet its numbers.