In-Depth

Grading Your Marketing and Sales

If your marketing and sales efforts aren't hitting the mark, you may be missing out on opportunities. Here's how to assess their effectiveness and repair any damage.

Sales Performance International (SPI) makes money by helping other companies boost sales using a sophisticated analytic framework that emphasizes product value in the marketplace.

"It provides companies with a practical, structured methodology to diagnose and solve their most challenging sales performance problems," says Amy Brasser, strategic account manager for the Charlotte, N.C., Microsoft partner.

Brasser should know how well the system works: Her company uses it to assess its own sales efforts.

In doing so, SPI is taking a step that many Microsoft partners neglect. However skilled many partners may be in analysis—evaluating the potential of products or applications and how they may benefit a broad array of clients—that ability may not carry over to evaluating precisely how their own sales and marketing efforts are performing.

"Most Microsoft partners do very well in their ability to provide products and services for their clients," says Ken Thoreson, president of the sales consulting firm Acumen Management Group. "What they often fail to do is pay enough attention to their own businesses."

The good news is that assessing your sales and marketing performance doesn't have to be a complex undertaking. Sophisticated tools can certainly help, but experts say you can get concrete results by following some fairly simple suggestions. Moreover, Microsoft stands ready with an array of tools and training programs to help.

Assessing Sales Efforts
One way to begin is by tracking sales efforts over time to see if what goes into the sales pipeline is kicking out the necessary results. Start by determining a monthly target income. From there, estimate—in dollar figures—just how much potential sales you would have to pursue to produce the desired sales amount.

Next, identify and track a variety of factors that can impact sales. They can include:

  • The ratio of your revenue forecast versus what you actually take in (this helps you identify and refine forecasts versus actual sales)
  • The number of sales proposals or quotes per month
  • The number of new accounts
  • The number of company visits
  • The number of completed sales
  • The number of sales expected to close

"Design a pipeline report, with sales forecasts according to each salesperson.

It should include the number of appointments as well as the quality of those opportunities," Thoreson says. "The key is to find the correlation. What's required at the beginning of the month to hit targets at the end of the month?"

Thoreson suggests tracking sales for a minimum of 90 days to collect sufficient data. Over several months, not only will sales forecasting become more accurate, issues and areas ripe for improvement will become that much more apparent, be they a greater number of sales calls or an emphasis on a particular market segment.

Training Opportunities

Microsoft offers an array of instructor-led and Web-based training on a variety of topics, including marketing. Current opportunities include:

  • Marketing for Leads: How to Use Vertical Marketing to Help Win the Race for New Business. Live Web seminar, Nov. 16
  • Marketing for Leads: A Recipe for Success. Live Web Seminar, Jan. 11, 2006
  • Determining a Marketing Mix That's Best for Your Business: Web seminar, recorded May 11, 2005
  • Learn more here

Making the Marketing Grade
Tracking sales inevitably ties in with marketing and its ability to perform up to expectations. Just as you did with sales—empirically tracking activity, successful closings and other milestones—apply objective parameters to marketing as well. That way, you can begin identifying key trends, such as the measurable potential of the prospects that marketing is feeding sales.

"It's important to determine the quality of your leads—where are they coming from?" says Thoreson. "When a lead comes in, have guidelines to assign it an A, B, C or D, with A being the hottest. That way, your salespeople don't go out and expect to close in 30 days, only to find out that someone just wanted a brochure."

SPI recently conducted just such an exercise to track the quality and focus of the leads resulting from its marketing efforts. The conclusion: It was getting an adequate number of responses, but they were often not a good fit with the company's emphasis on problem solving, rather than products and sales.

To address the issue, SPI turned to its Web site.

"We redid the Web site to emphasize the problems we solve, not just the things we make," says Robert Kear, vice president of marketing. "The types of inquiries we're getting now are much more aligned with that."

Michael Kogon, CEO of Definition 6, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner in Atlanta, Ga., used a more analytical way to determine marketing effectiveness: multiple message development. The technique involves using different types of marketing campaigns implemented within a limited timeframe. That provides a direct means of comparing one marketing strategy with another—and, equally important, identifies patterns that suggest what works with different sorts of prospects.

"If you use waves of marketing campaigns, you can really see what resonates," he says. Past marketing analyses have helped Kogon target suitable marketing campaigns for particular prospects. Direct mail and webinars are successful with upgrades for mid-market companies, for example. By the same token, strategies such as seminars are more suited to information workers at larger firms.

Analysis can also help trim expenses. PYA Solutions Inc., of Jacksonville, Fla., consistently tracks marketing results through its customer relationship management (CRM) application. Partner Bill Walker says the company has learned that most of its new business comes from referrals from existing clients. PYA has adjusted its marketing efforts accordingly to focus more exclusively on current clients, urging them to pass the company's name along to others.

"We haven't had so much an increase in sales as we've had a reduction in our marketing costs because we're better focused," he says. "We're getting a better bang for our buck."

Tracking Results
Although tracking extensive data may seem intimidating, actual implementation may not be quite so difficult. If, like PYA, you use CRM software, it's relatively simple to set up and follow sales and marketing information of all sorts. If you don't yet have a CRM system, a bit of legwork and number crunching may be in order to establish sales and marketing patterns.

One simple way to gauge the effectiveness of a new marketing campaign, for example, is to set up unique phone numbers or e-mail addresses, says M.H. "Mac" McIntosh, an independent marketing consultant. That way, you don't confuse feedback from other campaigns.

McIntosh offers another straightforward tip: "Just ask customers how they heard about you. That can be particularly helpful if, say, someone contacts you based on marketing you did six months ago."

ROI Calculator

Return on Investment (ROI) is the expected return in sales or gross margin dollars for every marketing dollar you invest. Your ROI will depend on several factors, including the size of your expected sale and the cost of your marketing campaign.

  • Your ROI tells you that for every dollar you spend, you can expect to get X dollars back. For example, if you spend $2,000 on a direct-mail piece, and as a result, close two deals worth 25,000 in gross margin dollars each, your ROI is 25 ($25 returned for every $1 spent).
  • Based on experience with similar types of businesses, the minimum average ROI is approximately 7x. That is, for every $1 spent on marketing, you should expect a minimum of $7 in margin dollars. Your specific results may vary.
  • You should estimate a best-case, average and conservative scenario. Then, assuming you have a low client turnover rate, you can estimate a one- and three-year ROI.
SOURCE: Microsoft 2005-2006 Partner Sales and Marketing Toolkit

McIntosh adds that, amid a wash of empirical data, you have to realize that it's also important to listen to your gut when trying to determine what needs tracking. Maybe you're spending a lot on seminars but aren't sure if you're getting anything out of them. "Follow up on that," he says.

Indeed, effective oversight of sales and marketing doesn't necessarily mandate an exhaustive, across the board effort. "There's always the risk of analysis paralysis," McIntosh says. "You don't necessarily need to track everything. Measure the things that you're concerned about."

Protech Associates Inc., a Fargo, N.D., partner, is one company that sticks to a few carefully selected indicators to gauge what's working and what's not, says Janet Lampert, vice president of sales for the firm.

"We'll do something as simple as measuring the amount of response to a marketing campaign to see if it was really worthwhile," she says. "Sometimes, you can get so complicated in measuring every marketing and sales figure that you end up doing more measuring than selling."

Microsoft's Partner Readiness Program provides additional marketing and sales muscle. The program offers a variety of on-site and Internet-based sales and marketing tutorials. Amid other strategies, the tutorials show partners how to set up, calculate and interpret sales and marketing ratios to identify strengths and weaknesses.

On top of that, Microsoft offers its partners a Sales and Marketing Toolkit—a comprehensive, step-by-step program that walks partners through a host of sales and marketing strategies. In particular, the toolkit offers sample ratios as well as target statistics from sources such as the Direct Marketing Association—an effective way for partners to gain a sense of the numbers their sales and marketing programs should be hitting.

ROI Calculator

In its how-to guide, "Defining Your Marketing Media Mix," Microsoft suggests recording customer responses to media campaigns to gauge their effectiveness, using techniques including business reply cards, online Web forms and unique codes assigned to direct mail pieces. Always have staff ask new customers how they heard about you and use the resulting data to determine how to alter your media mix.

Here's an example of a simple response rate report, tracking three types of media:

Average Response
Direct Mail 2.73%
E-mail 2.31%
Telephone 7.44%
Source: 2004 DMA Response Rate Study, www.the-dma.org

Fixing What's Broken
Once you collect sufficient data, the question becomes how to best introduce changes and updates if sales or marketing numbers warrant improvement. One simple way is to solicit ideas from sales and marketing personnel on ways to better their performance.

"Ask for their opinions and consider them carefully," says McIntosh. "If they feel a sense of partnership in possible solutions, they'll also feel a sense of ownership in the results."

Try to open up lines of communication between sales and marketing—an often contentious relationship that, made more cooperative, can prove a wellspring of fresh ideas. "Take marketing people on sales calls," says McIntosh. "Light bulbs will start to go off."

Other solutions to boost sales and marketing results are not quite so specific to a particular problem or issue. One way is to change the persona of your company when meeting with a prospective customer for the first time. It's essential to position your firm in the broadest light possible. That way, a customer's perception of what you do—and, in turn, the amount of business the client conducts with your company—isn't limited to just a couple of products or services.

"How a client perceives you for the first time is how he or she is always going to see you," says Steve Waterhouse of The Waterhouse Group Inc., an Orange Park, Fla., sales training and consulting concern. "Reiterate a broad line of products and services over and over, and constantly be on the lookout for new elements to add."

It's also important to look beyond sales and marketing personnel for fresh marketing and sales avenues. "Be sure to talk to your tech guys—they hear stuff that people won't tell anybody else," says Waterhouse. "They can be a great channel for cross-selling."

Still another strategy is to urge marketers and salespeople to set their sights higher when targeting prospects. For instance, talking to someone in the technical department or human resources may limit the sorts of products and services that may be appealing. By the same token, someone with greater authority in a company may be aware of issues and needs that others don't know about.

"It's important to sell high—when you can, approach the CEO of a company," Water-house says. "They may have a bigger view of the value of your products and services."

Microsoft Certified and Gold Certified Partners have another tool at their disposal that can help in marketing efforts—The Customer Satisfaction Index. On a quarterly basis, a third-party vendor sends out an exhaustive questionnaire to a partner's customers, who grade the partner's performance and service.

"You can leverage it in your sales and marketing, showing how great your customer satisfaction numbers are," McIntosh says.

Ultimately, you have to take an approach to grading your sales and marketing efforts that's comfortable for you. If a comprehensive study strikes your fancy, go for it; if a less extensive peek seems more your style, opt for that. The overriding concern is to take a step—whatever step best fits you and your business. As McIntosh puts it: "Even if it's not perfect, you're still collecting critical information on what's working and what's not."

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