In working with clients to improve sales results, we often analyze what’s in the pipeline to predict sales success, but, lately, I’ve been thinking about earlier leading indicators.
A leading indicator is a factor that changes before its category changes in the same direction. It’s a signal, like the direction of the stock market is a leading indicator of the direction of the economy.
But what if we change the context from the economy to sales? What are the leading indicators of sales declines and improvements?
To focus on closing ratios and sales results is to focus on lagging indicators. It’s too late in the process. In my work, we usually focus more on prospecting activity, contacts and meetings – and we call them key activities that are most predictive of sales improvement – or leading indicators.
Focusing there is focusing on areas you can manage and improve. But there are other earlier factors in success. What about lead generation and public relations efforts above the contact activity of the sales force?
At most local media companies, the answer is: “What lead generation efforts?” Above the sales team level of most local media companies, there are no significant lead generation efforts.
B2B companies that sell into companies like dentists, medical specialists, technology companies, retailers and law firms are using lead generation tactics well above a field force. Many of them use event marketing & trade shows, direct mail, market education programs, social media and/or telemarketing campaigns, loyalty programs, webinars, voice to voice programs and more.
But we local media companies, who sell advertising (B2B) still operate like we expect businesses to call regularly to request our ad salesperson. Really? We don’t market and promote for high quality leads.
We just do the minimum. On the website, there’s a media kit and a contact name and phone number to call. Some local media companies run a few house ads in print, too. We sell classified ads to consumers. But B2B lead generation or product promotion events? Not so much.
We own a very effective ad medium. We should be taking advantage of it. We should be doing online webinars and in-market workshops. We should be blogging and twittering and friending and reviewing. We should produce and sponsor events – and we should collect data and glean leads from it, regularly.
Many media companies tried a few things with unimpressive initial results and then just quit trying. It’s time to practice what we preach again – to use our advertising medium in a mix with other marketing tactics to reach our best new prospects.
If you are a local media ad salesperson, are you doing your part, beyond just cold calling? How are you using technology and social media to improve your referrals, testimonials and leads?
If you are a local media company publishing or ad exec, what are you doing to focus on and fuel activities that are most predictive of success? Are you just pushing your sales team for more of the activity or are you actively marketing to stimulate more leads and a more receptive audience for your sales teams’ presentations of your brand solutions?
Do you set a metric for the number of published press releases and articles or speaking engagements? Do you set a number of direct mail, email, newsletters or digital impressions? To your sales activities, add metrics for these higher level sales-related and lead producing activities that create opportunities.
Sales managers: How many calls can your staff make in the marketplace each week? Is it lower than you would like to see? Do you need to look again at your territories for time lost to travel? Are sales support & process so weak that too much time is spent on customer service? Is sales team engagement low? Contributing factors might include compensation, training and performance management. Solve problems and find opportunities. In this way, you help fuel the factors that are most predictive of success.
Studies show that well-trained and managed staffs with better company support will consistently outperform salespeople trained in on a “sink or swim” basis with less support and management focus.
Even small, local media companies can afford social media and lead generation on the website – and in print. Your team can speak to the chamber of commerce and ad clubs, etc. Compared to the cost of turnover and curbed enthusiasm from excessive rejection, simple lead generation, good sales training and product promotion efforts will be real bargains – contributing to more & better quality contacts and activity – key leading indicators of the sales improvement you seek.