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September 14, 2023

Forensic Marketing


With each new transition – within a company or company to company – there are opportunities to be seized and unknowns to be discovered. It’s an opportunity for forensic marketing.

I use the term to some degree metaphorically. It isn’t about justice or law. But the investigation you undertake in your first weeks at a new job can be equally weighty to your company.

Let's assume you're going to begin with the necessary steps of calibrating with your new boss, identifying your objectives, and getting acquainted with your new team. It's what happens next that can make all the difference to you in any new role. These are the key things I’ve learned to do when starting a new job.

Study the Data

This seems obvious, yet I’ve stepped into environments where I was encouraged not to do so. “Our reports aren't accurate,” they’d say, or: “it’s too incomplete to give you a good idea of what’s going on.” You don’t have to disagree with them, just smile, nod and read every scrap of reporting you can get onto a screen. Yes, data chains are often broken or fractured at some point or at many points. It's commonplace, and sometimes the breaks are massive. But I’ve never stepped into a new environment where some data wasn’t on the table – even if it’s just web trends or social dashboards. Start with what you have and study it all.

Talk to Everyone

Everyone means everyone. Visualize your new area of responsibility as a continuous business process and make sure you have a dialog with every key person who’s touched by that process. If you’ve just taken up a demand-focused marketing role, for example, by all means talk to your colleagues in Marketing, especially your peers, superiors and direct reports. But don’t neglect others who are equally valid to the process: salespeople, channel people, operations…. Have a conversation with everyone who is a stakeholder in your overall business process. And don't forgot to:

Ask for Opinions

As you talk to people, they'll be quick to tell you where there are breaks in the data chain. They'll point you to areas to be fixed and tested as you dive into your duties. But consider: while there may be an absence of data, I’ve never seen an occasion when there was an absence of opinions about data. You’ll hear things like: “we don’t capture that data, but what I think is happening is….” And “our reports don’t show this because of how the data is interpreted, but I’m pretty sure….” It's all relevant to you. And the gap between opinion and fact will tell you important things about the organization. Let's keep going.

Assemble a Picture

The data you’ve looked at will give you some idea of what the picture is. The dialogs you’ve had will give you another idea. If it's a demand-oriented area, you'll be tempted to put it the data into a conventional funnel model and look for the bottlenecks -- the areas of greatest inefficiency. And by all means do so. But it’s equally revealing to assemble the picture you get from the data and place it alongside the picture you get from opinions about the data. Place them side by side, figuratively, and see how near or far they are from each other. This will be more helpful with an example, so I’ll give you one from real life.

A True Story...

I stepped into a global demand generation role at a large company. As I began my early stage investigation (“don’t believe the reports,” I was told, “they’re not reliable”), I noted one consistent fact from what I could see: only about 30% of marketing-generated leads were actioned by the salesforce. That’s a serious problem, so I flagged it for further study. As I began my round of dialogs, I heard this consistent theme from the marketing folks I spoke with: “Those [insert expletive here] salespeople aren’t doing their jobs. They’re leaving leads on the table!”

When I began speaking to the salespeople themselves, however, I heard surprisingly little. They seemed evasive and untrusting. After several attempts, I failed to ignite a single meaningful dialog. There was, it was clear, long standing enmity and distrust between Marketing and Sales that would certainly make my job more difficult.

I spent the next six months coaxing help generating reports with better quality data; optimizing campaigns that were beginning to perform, by my standard, quite well; generating leads carefully validated through telemarketing that were passed as hot as possible to the sales teams – only to see 70% of them ignored.

This was unsustainable. I knew I was generating good quality, well validated leads. And the salespeople I had come to know seemed like good people. It still didn’t add up.

As sometimes happens, it was a chance conversation that cracked the nut.

I was at a company dinner one evening and sat next to a salesperson who I knew to have just closed a multi-million dollar deal for technology that supported the reservation system of a major airline.

He was happy to talk and told me a great story of selling well done. From getting a foot in the door of the account, to discovery, to formulating a solution, to validating the economic proposition, and handholding the buyer through proof of concept, and so on. Altogether, he worked just over one year to bring the deal to a close. Then he asked me this question.

“Can we talk about leads? I haven’t touched one in a year, I’ve been too busy with this airline. Now, my pipeline is completely empty.”

Yes, I could help. But my brain did some quick thinking. We had 54 people selling our solution. Average sales cycle times were 12 to 18 months. How many leads could a single salesperson handle at any given time? I didn’t know but it was certainly a finite number. Yet my primary campaign was generating leads in the range of two to three hundred per quarter.

It didn’t take long for me to validate the problem. I spoke to a sales manager, and dug around for some custom reporting.

The salespeople weren’t “ignoring” leads or otherwise ignoring their job responsibilities. Faced with more leads than they could possibly pursue, they cherry picked. The leads they picked were the ones they believed would close in the shortest amount of time.

Solutions to this problem are pretty simple:

  • Hire more sales people
  • Generate fewer leads, focusing on even higher quality
  • But I went one further: with 15% close rates from opportunity to win/loss stages, I also learned that in every deal our teams were up against the same two competitors: and they were behemoths compared to us. I reduced spending on lead generation and began campaigning to contacts whose accounts had open opportunities. I shifted messaging to build their confidence in us as a proven, reliable provider who would give them better attention than the industry giants. It worked.

Our close rate rose from 15% to 24%, cycle times were reduced by 20%, and deal sizes grew 30% larger for the opportunities to which we campaigned.

I didn’t get what I wanted from a single closed loop report. And no one to whom I spoke had the answers I needed.

When you begin a new job, become the investigator your company needs, learn everything you can from your data and your people, and piece the picture together.

Listen to everyone, but leave nothing untested.

Good luck.

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