Ask any salesperson what they never have enough of, and leads will always be at the top of the list. The traditional forms of creating leads including advertising, direct mail, webinars, events and tradeshows, and even cold calling aren’t delivering enough leads to create consistently strong pipelines.
The definition of a strong pipeline varies by companies. A “strong” pipeline in one company is considered a 5X multiple of sales reps’ quotas, with some sales management teams stressing 3X as a minimum. With such strong demand for leads, thought-leading companies in lead generation are turning to their frontline employees as a lead generation source.
The Forgotten Frontline
Four companies have taken the steps to look to their frontline employees as a source of generating new leads from prospects and existing customers. Continental Airlines, RBC Financial Group, County National Bank, and Alpha Company are among the companies that have enabled their frontline employees to create leads from the many more interactions these employees have compared to their revenue-generating counterparts. One company put the ratio at 150:1, meaning for every revenue-generating contact from sales, support spoke to customers 150 times. Cross-selling and up-selling is a natural extension for support staffs. If you haven’t encountered this with your credit card provider, you will soon. The financial services industry continues to be one of the most prevalent users of this strategy with significant results.
Learning From Frontline Leaders
In breaking down the strategies these companies are taking, the following steps emerge:
- Enabling data capture as the foundation for measuring lifetime customer value. When Continental Airlines emerged from bankruptcy there was a thorough evaluation of all customer-facing processes. Continental discovered that customers accepted compensation for oversold flights and also received compensation from the airlines’ call center as well. With 85 to 90 databases, nearly all of them siloed and the database management system outsourced, Continental redesigned their customer information system to monitor and predict customer lifetime value. From focus group sessions with frontline staff to continued Voice of the Customer programs with selected frequent fliers, feedback from pilots, flight attendants, and crew service staffs, Continental started experimenting with other approaches to solving over-booking including better yield management. Today, Continental’s frontline employees know the seat preferences and flights most taken for its most profitable customers, leading to effective cross-sell strategies.
- Organizing for effective data analysis. RBC Financial Group initiated a major effort during the late 1990s to retain and grow their customer base by stressing convenience and ease of doing business with. Lengthening branch hours, increasing the number of ATMs and adding in services, however, didn’t increase sales, just added in more costs. RBC surveyed their customer base and found that despite all the new convenience strategies, customers felt the bank still didn’t understand their needs. In response, frontline employees including tellers, customer service reps, and bank managers were assigned to one of three customer segments that included premium, standard, and foundation customers. Frontline employees were also trained in which bank products and services aligned with the needs of each of these three segments. When frontline employees presented the cross-sell and up-sell products, the result was captured into RBC’s customer analytics system and soon trending emerged. As a result RBC was able to re-align product and service strategies to the specific needs of each customer segment. Specific results are impressive. RBC’s executives reported that with this strategy, the company increased the number of its high-value customers by 20 percent and increased average customer profitability by 13 percent. RBC also was able to accomplish 100 percent growth in the percentage of customers purchasing high margin bundled product and service offerings using this strategy.
- Leveraging customer data at the frontline. For many of the thought-leading companies who are generating leads and sales from the frontline, the vision of delivering cross-sell and up-sell opportunities in real-time is what fuels the entire effort in the first place. Financial services firms including banks, credit unions, mutual fund management companies and savings & loans are all early adopters of applications specifically focused on delivering real-time recommendations for cross-selling and up-selling to frontline employees. County National Bank implemented an application that automatically analyzes the existing customers’ account and makes recommendations for cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. There are over two dozen vendors who offer these types of applications including Cincom Systems, who has expertise in financial services and manufacturing.
- Motivating frontline employees to generate sales leads. Thought-leading companies are reorienting the rewards from frontline employees away from purely customer service metrics to increasing lead generation and sales performance. The International Society of Performance Improvement’s 2004 study on this topic shows that companies initiating incentive programs for frontline employees potentially can increase sales by as much as 44 percent. The study also shows that the top performing companies using this strategy motivate frontline employees to deliver a balance of sales and customer service performance. Alpha Company continues to operate using this balanced approach and accentuates the focus on selling and service through solution selling training programs, sales incentives, and feedback sessions.
It may appear that having frontline employees have a mix of objectives would cause confusion. In the companies who have started using frontline employees for lead generation, cross-selling and up-selling, the results are significant. These companies have accomplished a balance between service and selling. Most important is the fact that high-margin leads are passed to the sales force, fueling larger sales pipelines and higher close rates on those leads that require face-time from sales reps due to the complexity of the sale.
Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He is the author of several books on making the most of analyst relationships, including Best Practices in Analyst Relations, which can be downloaded for free.