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Overstuffing the pipeline

Published: October 19, 2011

Author: Sean Marshall

Every client I have ever worked always wants the same thing: more volume. My reply is always the following: can you handle it?
Nearly every company wants to grow. Unless you’ve started your company as a lifestyle business, scaling it as quickly as possible is likely one of your top goals. While savvy entrepreneurs keep efficiency at the front of their minds, the allure of rapid growth can be too tempting to slow down.
I’ve seen this manifest itself in a number of ways. B2B, B2C, and every hybrid model in between can fall victim to this. In many cases, a company’s downfall is the inability to support the business it brings in. Many would regard this as a “high-class” problem, and workarounds can often be found. This inevitably puts stress on an organization, but I’ve seen many companies rise above. So long as management recognizes the shift and adapts, a company can survive. What I want to focus on today is marketing waste caused by too much of a focus on rapid growth.
Cramming your pipeline full of leads sounds great in theory, and I’ve never met a sales rep who doesn’t want more leads. The reality is that the longer you wait to connect with your lead, the less likely you are to convert it. While this isn’t a ground-breaking thought, the problem typically happens for two reasons: a weak lead-qual team or having too many leads to process. I’m a big believer in having a tight feedback loop between sales and marketing, and though slowing things down is like kryptonite to entrepreneurs, going out to get more leads while there’s no one to address them is waste.
Now, many organizations have long sales cycles and, armed with tools like Marketo and Eloqua, can bring dead/stale leads back to life. Additionally, these tools can help weed through bad leads faster and enable your team to focus on the best prospects. Even then, there will come a time when there’s just too much for your team to process effectively. Keep tabs on bandwidth and adjust your PPC strategy accordingly. Restrict dayparts to hours when your team is live. If they are spending their mornings processing last night’s leads, free them up to tackle that day’s free inbound requests.
The shorter the sales cycle, the more important this becomes. EDU and personal finance are two verticals that immediately come to mind. In these cases, you are dealing with customers/prospects who are likely applying to multiple schools or requesting loans from multiple institutions. Pouncing on these opportunities is critical. Not having the time to process the leads is a poor excuse, but if your team isn’t equipped to handle it, you can’t blame your team. It’s better to attack a smaller set of leads with full force than to spread your team thin to cover more ground. It might give you more reach, but the effort will be weaker.
Purely on the PPC side, budget is the number one enemy of scale. I often tell our clients that if we hit their targets, we should operate with unlimited budgets. If we hit targets and budgets are still restricted – we probably need new targets. The important thing is to communicate expectations clearly. Customer acquisition is tied directly to traffic volume. If things are capped, there’ll be no volume to be had.
This becomes even more dangerous if you continue to expand keyword sets. Assuming your existing KW set spends your budget at target, what can you expect from adding MORE keywords? Budget cannibalization is almost inevitable. Safeguards can be put into place to ensure the best keywords still receive the same amount of traffic (think campaign structure), but just stuffing more keywords into your account won’t cut it. Your goal should be to grow your program. It’s possible that you can maximize traffic by uncovering pockets of cheaper, equally successful, traffic, but if you’re just swapping it out with your old winning keywords, what are you really getting done?
Marketing programs are full of choke points. You might be creating them purposefully to keep things manageable, but if you can handle the extra business, find them, bust them open, and let her rip!
Sean Marshall, Director of Search Engine Marketing
– Questions? Comments? Email us at bloggers at ppcassociates.com.

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