Treating Your Leads Right Pays Off
Link to Original Article
Author: Chris Hornbeck, CEO, Resort Insiders
Published: ARDA Developments - March/April 2012
An effective lead nurturing strategy can increase sales efficiencies and improve marketing's bottom line.
Hundreds of thousands of leads are generated every day in the vacation ownership industry for use in call center, mail, and Internet campaigns designed to identify the relatively small percentage of the population who are currently interested in previewing and purchasing a vacation ownership product. The management and treatment of those leads can have a tremendous effect, positive or negative, on sales efficiencies, marketing costs, and the overall success of a project.
Lead nurturing is the practice of managing, focusing, and improving leads that are not prepared to buy or have not yet had the opportunity. How potential customers are treated and what information they receive before attending a presentation can make all the difference in eventual sales efficiencies.
What happens to leads that are not willing to attend, not qualified, or tour and don't purchase is of equal importance. Just because a potential client is not interested in the product at the time of initial contact, it doesn't mean that person may not eventually become a customer. Identifying where potential customers are in their decision making process and engaging them accordingly is crucial to determining when and how to attempt conversion.
Lead nurturing activities include both the delivery of educational content, which serves to cultivate the customer and help guide them through the decision making process, and "perceived value" activities, such as special discounts or room upgrades, designed to entice the customer and give them a more positive view of the company. When providing the potential customer with educational information, it is paramount that the information be of real value, not filled with "fluff" that lavishes excessive praise on the company.
SEGMENTING MESSAGE FLOW
Proper segmentation is the first step in an effective lead nurturing strategy. Grouping potential customers based on financial, demographic, or lifestyle-based factors facilitates the delivery of relevant messaging. Using these customer profiles, the marketer can specifically tailor lead nurturing activities, communication methods, special offers, and educational content to each potential customer segment for maximum message effectiveness.
Proper pre-tour segmentation and lead development can deliver a happier, well-informed, and more engaged customer to the sales table. Many things influence a potential customer's decision to buy the product during the sales presentation, but the timing and substance of the interactions the customer has with the company before going on tour, things like pre-arrival reservation procedures, information packets, and communication with company staff, should be rigorously tested and improved to maximize impact on sales efficiency.
By providing the consumer with in-depth information on the product beforehand, or "teasing" potential features and benefits, a greater level of familiarity and interest can be fostered before the tour begins. These activities not only place the company in a positive light in the eyes of the customer, but also offer a chance to establish comparison points and key ideas that will be reiterated in the sales presentation.
TESTING, TESTING, TESTING
Certain information delivered without the proper guidance can sometimes be harmful, so testing and thorough consideration are important to determine exactly which information should be shared with the customer, when it should be shared, and by what method.
When testing lead nurturing activities, an "A/B" split test is the most commonly employed method. This process splits a potential test population into two categories, a control group, and a single-variable test group, where one, and only one, variable has been changed. This variable may be, for example, whether the potential client received an informational DVD or a pre-arrival courtesy call was made. By looking at eventual sales and VPG figures from each group, the effectiveness of each individual variable or activity can be gauged.
Once the net effect on sales of each activity can be determined, a simple cost analysis can determine whether to add it to permanent procedure, restrict it only to certain segments of the potential customer base, or discontinue it due to financial ineffectiveness.
One of the most valued lead sources in the industry is the "tour-no-buy", a customer who has attended the sales presentation but decided not to purchase at that time. "Tour-no-buys" are a great secondary lead source for several reasons; the lead cost for the second tour is negligible, the creation of an established business relationship with the customer makes staying in contact both uncomplicated and legally compliant, and most importantly, the customer has previously been familiarized with the product, which increases sales potential exponentially.
Statistics show that a large majority of consumers purchase vacation ownership products after attending multiple presentations. Recent industry figures state that the average timeshare owner attends an average of 2.7 tours before eventually purchasing1, and an average of 1.4 tours with the company at which they currently own.2 These numbers demonstrate the importance of an effective strategy for keeping these potential customers engaged.
Relationship marketing and lead nurturing activities conducted through mail, the Internet, and other communication methods should be designed to draw this type of customer into a long- term, passive buying cycle, continually offering benefit in return for engagement. Social media provides a unique opportunity to remain passively connected to potential customers, offering an easy way to communicate and measure interest levels, without the potential negative effect that direct contact can have.
Over time, the customer should be provided with education and value in exchange for them providing more and more data about their particular habits, travel preferences, and product desires. This method, know as progressive profiling, can create a dynamic and actionable customer database, making it easier to determine when and how to re-approach the customer for another sales attempt.
Marketers burn through large quantities of leads to gain a precious few bookings, sometimes relegating the remainder, who are either unwilling or unqualified to attend the presentation, to the trash. Financial situations, product attitudes, and travel preferences tend to change, so finding creative ways to remain connected to these potential customers and provide them with enticing, educational messaging designed to maintain and build interest in the product over time can be of major consequence to a marketing operation's bottom line.
The challenge with retaining disinterested or unqualified leads lies not so much with the messaging, but with the chosen communication method. Because of compliance restrictions on email and telephone communication, finding a way to maintain legal contact with apathetic leads can be tricky. Social media again proves to be the most effective and legally compliant tool for passively retaining and communicating with leads in an unobtrusive fashion. Email and traditional mail may also be employed, although more judiciously.
By offering social connection to those who may not be ready or qualified to tour at present, perhaps by way of a Facebook contest or a "hot deals" email newsletter, a portion of leads that would normally be wasted can be retained, nurtured, progressively profiled, and then reattempted upon their reaching a more ideal location in the buying process.
This methodology can also be effectively employed to market additional product to an existing membership base. By segmenting and identifying those customers most likely to purchase additional product and effectively communicating and engaging with them, owner and "in-house" sales and marketing programs can be optimized and enhanced.
INTEGRATE AND AUTOMATE
The eventual goal should be to map out a specific message and action flow for individual customer segments, constantly measuring engagement levels and collecting additional information throughout the process. In the cases of secondary lead sources, engagement levels can point to the appropriate time to reattempt conversion. To avoid message overlap, care must be taken to cease any nurturing activity once the decision is made to reattempt conversion.
A lead nurturing program is most productive when automated, with the message flow and actions assigned to each segment taking place at predetermined intervals throughout the initial sales and marketing process and any secondary processes. Starting small and operating such a program on a manual basis can provide the necessary testing ground to determine which activities work best and when. The processes may then be gradually automated and integrated as statistics begin to substantiate which methods are the most effective.
1,2 ARDA International Foundation / Research Intelligence Group, "Shared Vacation Ownership Owners Report: 2010 Edition", 2010
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