As marketers, we are very good at understanding our products, knowing how they bring value to our customers, and helping JW Sales Funnel.jpgour customers translate our products into that value.  We know how to promote our products and how to target market segments and different buyers with the right messages in the right channels to make sure everyone in our market knows about the benefits of our offerings and can bring them.

We work to generate interest and then determine if the person interested is “qualified” (meaning, generally, they can buy our product), then we create what we call a lead. Sometimes those leads buy, and sometimes (likely the majority of the time) they don’t and are sent to the cultivation pool.  There, we do things to keep in contact until they are ready to buy.

To do all of this, we run campaigns that target certain profiles of buyers.  Those might be by preferences, industry, or some other market segmentation.

But what if we segment by time?  What if we run campaigns targeting people who are ready to buy?

One of the ways I help my clients is to use the massive amounts of data they have about their prospects and customers to discover the actual triggers that cause prospects to make buying decisions and customers to make repeat buying or renewal decisions.  Once you have this information, you can go beyond a simple understanding of the reasons they buy to gain insight into what events trigger the decision.

Then, you can focus your campaigns around these events.

Consumer marketers have been great at this for decades.  You know this if you’ve ever bought a house or gotten married.  Suddenly, new homeowners are flooded with catalogs and emails promoting interior design, home improvement, and other related products new homeowners typically need.  Brides- and grooms-to-be are inundated with ads for wedding services, flower arranging, music performance, and other wedding related services.

Can this translate into the B2B world?  Of course it can!  But it has not done so very well.  At least not yet.

I recently talked with a vendor of marketing automation systems about their segmentation, and it turned out that they were very good at selling their system to young, growing companies.  So they were running campaigns targeted at those companies.  I asked them to review about 50 recent sales to this type of company, looking for things their sales reps knew had happened to the customer in the months before the sale.

There were several things that seemed to be common, but one that stood out was the closing of a fund-raising round (typically what Silicon Valley folks call a “B” round). Suddenly the company had money, and the primary use of that money was to invest in customer growth—meaning marketing and sales investment.  One of the first things they did was to buy a marketing automation system.

After this, they started running a campaign targeted specifically at companies who had just closed a “B” round of funding.  And, yes:  conversion rates shot through the roof.  Contact-to-lead ratios jumped dramatically.  Cost-per-lead dropped.

The next question is:  where do you find the people or companies that have recently experienced a buying trigger event?  Depending on the event for which you are looking, there may be publications or data sources that list these.  In the example above, we used some of the popular venture capital publications to get the lists of companies and then merged that with the data already in the CRM system.

If the event you choose does not have a data source or publication associated with it, you can use both traditional and social research techniques to find both the companies and the people (If you sell marketing solutions, imagine finding the tweet posted by someone you didn’t previously know celebrating their appointment as CMO.  You’d probably want to get in touch with them). This can require some data scrubbing, but it will yield a much higher quality of lead.

The important question we miss all too often is, “When do our customers buy?”  We are quite good (I hope) at knowing why, but knowing when is just as important.

Selling to your prospects when they are ready to consider buying changes your lead generation and cultivation strategy.  You can become much more efficient in your outbound efforts and much less annoying to all those customers who just don’t want to hear from you this week.

I challenge you to consider:  do you know any events that trigger a buying decision in your customer?  Are you using that knowledge to create time-based segmentation?

Because in creating an effective and efficient lead generation machine, timing matters.