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.


Ultimately, Nortel Networks did opt to go with BlueRoads, and implementation, begun immediately after Nortel Networks allocated the funding for the project, wound up taking just four weeks. The pilot went live in July 2002 for two months, covering a handful of the company's product lines in the United States. Here's how the system works: Sales reps at the channel partners are able to log into the Web-based solution using their unique user ID and then pull leads out of the available lead pool within the system. The salesperson then becomes accountable for providing feedback on each lead he or she pulls; if the rep does not provide feedback on a lead within a certain amount of time, that lead "expires" and goes back into the available lead pool.

The system facilitates the feedback loop through such features as an "auto-introduction e-mail." When a rep picks a lead, the system generates three e-mails: one to the system noting who took which lead; another to the rep noting that he or she picked a certain lead and reminding the rep to provide feedback within, say, 30 days; and a third e-mail to the prospect letting them know that a Nortel Networks business partners will shortly be in contact with them.

The launch of the solution did not produce an immediate spike in wins for Nortel Networks, according to Pierret, but he says that the company's management was nevertheless impressed by the quantity and quality of new information that the system generated. "We launched on a Monday, and by Tuesday we had people actually providing feedback on leads that they had pulled," Pierret explains. "At the end of two months, we didn't have a single win, but management was seeing the statistics we were giving them. We had some proposals outstanding — quite a few — and that was enough. But more importantly, the numbers were there. We had the analytics that could tell us what was happening.

Previously, management either did not have access to that type of data, or those data were very difficult to collect and transform into actionable information because of all the disparate processes at work within the company and its channel partners. With better information coming in on the quality of leads, the effectiveness of this or that lead generation campaign, and the productivity of different sales reps, Nortel Networks' management felt it was better positioned to see what was working and what was not, and who was working effectively or not.

"After two months," Pierret continues, "we could tell management: Unless this vendor changes its behavior in the next month, it needs to be 'canned.' Or, unless these users change their behavior, we should get rid of them and replace them with others. By the end of the pilot, we knew that one of our lead-generation vendors wasn't cutting the mustard, and we warned them. And two months after that, we got rid of them."

The ROI on Better Data

At the end of the pilot, based on the results to date, Nortel Networks elected to sign a longer-term, year-to-year contract with BlueRoads and expand the solution to cover all its product lines across its different geographies using a phased approach. By January 2003 the implementation covered all the United States, and by March, all of North America. South America came under the system by September. Currently the system encompasses a total of about 700 users, representing some 160 reseller organizations, and the uniform process covers all Nortel Networks products.

The new pull approach to lead dissemination did produce improved sales results, but not immediately. Nortel Networks tracked its close rates from leads from the beginning of the pilot in July 2002, and for the first few months the rate remained more or less unchanged from previous levels. However, as the new process took hold, Nortel Networks noted the lead closure rate began to swing upward to the point that currently it is on the order of five times what it was at the beginning of the pilot.

In addition, the company saw the secondary assignment rate for its leads drop rapidly, falling to as low as one-sixth its previous rate. And moreover, the reasons for secondary assignments were now more visible to the company's executives, making this issue more manageable. Beyond this, Nortel Networks saw revenues from leads double every quarter for six quarters in a row. Says Pierret: "It's like compound interest: when you double something every quarter, no matter how small you start, it gets to be pretty big. And when you start talking several millions of dollars attributable to the program, it starts to get a lot of attention and momentum."

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