A mistake I often see in companies that serve manufacturing or industrial markets is in the system for managing “leads.” It’s not entirely a mistake, per se, but more of an overreliance on the system at the expense of customers.
This approach almost immediately renders the prospect or customer as a number to conform with protocol. It creates the impression that the primary concern of the company is gettin’ the dough and moving on to the ‘next one.’ It minimizes the problems a prospect is trying to solve, while elevating the company’s bargaining position. And we rationalize this as just how business is done.
How many relationships—business or otherwise—are sustained or even last after a beginning like that? Maybe some. But I’ve seen far more partnerships fail under the weight of this system than those that were built on loyalty.
To understand the point, think about this: Imagine the last time you were on the phone with your cable company, power company, or another service provider, trying to resolve an issue. We’ve all experienced the frustrations from dealing with automated systems and bureaucracy. How many conversations have we all had, lamenting the crumbling of our entire society and culture, based on our loss of basic customer service and social skills?
I’ve had these conversations, and many, many times with company owners and marketing cats. They share your (our) frustrations when bumping up against the cold, hard truths of relationships built on a lead rather than a need. They get just as angry and frustrated as we all do in those situations. And then they return to their jobs of demanding or sustaining the same type of system in their own companies that frustrates their own customer base in the same ways.
A customer isn’t a lead to be harvested, but a person serving something that needs help to grow. Yet, a lead-based system can permeate an entire organization, where overworked and misdirected resources follow flowcharts or standard practices to build revenue rather than loyalty. Consider this: Does your company promote a system that serves leads rather than needs by passing the responsibility of gathering the customer’s problems and challenges to sales or applications engineers for engagement, costing time?
Does your company promote a system that serves leads rather than needs by passing basic contact information down the line and counts this as success? Does your company not bother to follow up with the customer, even if the company doesn’t get the sale, to see if they’ve been taken care of? Does your company push automated, broad messaging designed to attract targets to an audience that actually has very specific, real needs? Does your company treat a new addition to a database as a success? Does your company look to generate a contact, rather than one that shows the potential the customer can realize by partnering with you?
Is the cycle of lead generation a seemingly unbreakable machine that can’t even be discussed, deviated from or challenged?
I’m not suggesting that sound lead acquisition and management systems aren’t critical to any successful manufacturing enterprise. What I am asking, though, is to think if the system to manage leads in your company has become the tail wagging the dog and may be unintentionally harming sales.
Some customer relationships just don’t work out. That’s a fact of business life. But many end too soon because they begin on a foundation that leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy of disappointment. These systems are often built on measuring a lead reaching a specific point in the chain through the seller’s organization and less about the progress the customer is making at each stage.
Consider our own frustrations as we deal personally with lead generators and bureaucrats. And then ask yourself, “Are we generating something valuable or just an invoice?”