One SMB's Secret For Improving Sales Leads

How one SMB generates bigger, better sales prospects with the right mix of automated behavioral scoring technology and--wait for it--actual human relationships

Kevin Casey, Contributor

September 2, 2011

4 Min Read

Remember the good old days of sales, when leads came in on index cards and deals involved nothing more than a phone call or a handshake? Me neither.

"Go back 20 years and sales controlled the information," said Carter Perez, VP of sales and marketing at HA Advantage, in an interview. "If a customer wanted information on a product, you had to call sales."

No longer--that information is readily available online today. Yet Perez doesn't long for those bygone Glengarry Glen Ross-era days: the wired world enables his minuscule marketing department--all of him and one other person--to manage a database befitting a much larger company by analyzing the online behavior of prospective customers. HA Advantage, a 22-person transportation management firm, counts other small and midsize businesses (SMBs) as its customers. Perez's two-person team handles a leads stockpile of 40,000 and 50,000 companies and between 150,000 and 200,000 people inside those organizations.

"The first challenge is: how do you communicate with that [SMB]?" Perez said.

Perez said his tiny team is able to identify a much larger list of prospects--and optimize how the seven-person sales team builds relationships with them--by virtue of automation. HA Advantage began doing so as an early, pre-launch user of Act-On's cloud-based marketing platform. Perez's newest tool is automated behavioral scoring for leads, which allows the sales staff to produce results more efficiently--no minor thing for such a lean team.

"It helps us find that needle in a haystack," Perez said. "We're communicating with all of those people, and that can very quickly get overwhelming. What [automation] gives the ability to do is to understand which people are listening to our message, responding to it, and then to channel our sales and marketing efforts to those individuals."

In other words, HA Advantage's finite resources are laser-focused on the opportunities that give them best chance to make money. The behavioral scoring application is called "Hot Prospects," which Act-On publicly released Wednesday at's Dreamforce conference. Built on the API and integrated with the customer relationship management (CRM) software, it allows marketers to set up a grading system for prospect activity online. Salespeople see real-time alerts when a lead achieves a score indicating they're likely to make a purchase decision--and when a phone call or other contact would likely bear fruit.

For example, a prospect might score points for downloading a whitepaper, opening an email, or participating in a webinar. Perez tailors their marketing programs for three different prospective customer profiles--hence the disparity in the number of company leads and the number of people leads--and can customize scoring accordingly. The heat index is based on recent activity during the previous 30 days.

After adding behavioral scoring to his marketing mix, Perez quickly saw an efficiency boost: Initial contact with leads that the system identifies as "hot" is 27% more likely to result in a completed, qualified sales call when compared with calls to typical prospects. And those successful initial contacts are 70% more likely to move to the next phase of the buying cycle than successful contacts with average leads.

Yet the technology makeover of the sales cycle hasn't done away with the human side of the equation, at least not for HA Advantage. Leads that don't rate highly on recent activity are likely to end up in a second, equally important group that Perez calls the lifetime scoring category. These are longer-term prospects that have said no, but not never. Like with other business-to-business firms, the sales cycle for these leads can require a good deal of relationship-building and patience.

"You're trying to create a conversation with a customer over a longer period of time, so that when they're ready to buy you're one of the solutions they consider," Perez said.

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About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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