Closing the Sales Loop at Nortel Networks

By putting in place procedures and technologies to enforce accountability in its lead management program, Nortel Networks proved that the old maxim of "measuring to improve" certainly applies to the sales process.


By putting in place procedures and technologies to enforce accountability in its lead management program, Nortel Networks proved that the old maxim of "measuring to improve" certainly applies to the sales process.

Get a group of marketing people together with a team from sales to talk about lead management, and sooner or later someone's going to start pointing fingers. Marketing might talk about good leads squandered for lack of follow-up. Sales might retort that marketing is just throwing leads, any leads, over the wall, regardless of quality. Trouble is, unless someone can come to the table with hard numbers demonstrating that one or another party has been dropping the ball, this kind of meeting is not likely to be particularly productive. After all, as the old management saw goes, you can't improve what you can't measure. Fortunately, recent years have seen the appearance of a number of technology solutions that have put this kind of information in the hands of executives looking to improve their companies' lead management processes, as the case of Nortel Networks illustrates.

Headquartered in Brampton, Ontario, Nortel Networks is a provider of communications technology and infrastructure that enable IP data, voice and multimedia services spanning wireless, networks, wireline and optical networks. The company, incorporated under its original name of Northern Electric and Manufacturing in 1895, reported 2003 revenues of $9.81 billion.

Back in late 2001, Nortel Networks began to hear from its channel partners that they wanted to see more from the company in the way of lead generation. As a result, Nortel Networks took a hard look at its lead management processes within its North American Enterprise Division, which sells customer-premises equipment (such as voice-over-IP, PBXs, voicemail systems, call centers and routers) to end clients through channel partners. The company's conclusion: Changes were in order.

Disparate Processes, Open Loops

The issues were several, according to Mark Pierret, senior channel marketing manager with Nortel Networks. First, Pierret and his colleagues found that the company, its dealers and its value-added resellers (VARs) were using a variety of disparate processes to handle sales leads, and most of those processes involved an outdated mechanism with the staggered handoff of leads. "The vendor created the lead and gave it to the marketing manager at Nortel Networks, who gave it to the marketing person, who gave it to the sales manager, who gave it to the salesperson, and, two weeks down the line, the person who was supposed to call the prospect would finally get the information that he or she needed," says Pierret.

In addition, the company found that its "push" approach to handling leads was producing a fairly high rate of "secondary assignments." That is, Nortel Networks would assign a lead to a particular reseller, and then either the prospect would contact Nortel Networks or the company would follow up with the prospect a week or two after passing on the lead, and it would turn out that the reseller had not contacted the prospect. Nortel Networks then would pass the lead to another salesperson, and sometimes a third. In the meantime, the prospect might have already gone with a competing product or had a change of heart.

And finally, Nortel Networks concluded that it simply was not getting the feedback from sales reps that the company needed to manage its leads in a timely, effective manner. Partly this resulted from the disparate processes that the company employed to handle its leads. But Pierret also points to what he calls "the intrinsic difficulty of asking sales reps to stop what they're doing and tell us what has happened to the leads that we gave them a week-and-a-half ago." Without a "closed-loop" process for providing timely feedback on leads, Nortel Networks found it difficult to ensure that its lead-generation programs produced optimal results, since by the time the feedback did roll back up the chain of command, it was quite possibly too late to effect any change of course.

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