Sales-prospecting firm expects to triple employment in 2010

The economic downturn has been a frustrating time of missed targets and sharply lower commissions for many salespeople. But for locally based LeadJen LLC, which uses high-tech analytics to help its clients generate more and better sales prospects, the recession has offered opportunities for rapid growth.

Founded five years ago, LeadJen had 20 employees in January. Halfway through the year, the company already has hired 20 more, and President Jenny Vance expects to add another 20 over the next six months. She said LeadJen is gaining traction because it helps salespeople do what they do best—close deals—by improving the task they hate most.

“No one loves to do cold calling. No one loves to do prospecting,” said Vance, who co-owns the firm along with founder Bill Johnson and some outside investors. “Salespeople can be more effective if appointments are pre-qualified so conversations are with relevant prospects.”

LeadJen now has 150 customers, Vance said, who pay anywhere from $3,500 to $50,000 per month for its help identifying sales prospects, analyzing reports and other consulting services. She declined to disclose the company’s revenue. LeadJen gathers insight from every call a salesperson makes to predict the likely outcome of the next one, and then works to improve it.

That means answering a host of questions: How many telephone calls or e-mails did it take to set an appointment, and which form of communication worked best? Does this company require top executives to make purchasing decisions, or can middle management make that call? What type of objections will potential buyers most frequently cite, and what sort of response will overcome them?

Ultimately, the sales pipeline can be improved by gaining a better understanding of what resonates and what doesn’t, Vance said. In the recession, sales staffs have less time than ever to waste on unproductive prospects. They can close more deals by identifying at what point their best efforts are wasted.

“Why make eight calls when you really need two? Does it make a difference when I call more or less frequently?” Vance asked. “As a business, [LeadJen] can finally answer questions clients were so hungry for. It’s not just how much time they spent on the phone, which doesn’t tell them how to be better.”

Indianapolis-based Internet startup PolicyStat, which makes Web-based software for hospital administration, is a LeadJen client. PolicyStat president Steve Ehrlich said LeadJen assisted his firm with market research and lead generation, then scoured its lists to help sales representatives reach the right buyers.

“Suffice it to say they’ve had a direct impact on almost every dollar that we’ve brought in,” Ehrlich said.

Locally based My Health Care Manger Inc., which guides working adults and their parents through the maze of decisions and agencies involved in care for seniors, also is a LeadJen believer. My Health Care Manager Chief Operating Officer Jane Niederberger said LeadJen has helped her company improve its sales campaign by honing in on details such as which day of the week prospects are most receptive to pitches, and which interaction tends to be the turning point that closes a deal.

“Our own sales team would keep traditionally going after a client until they got a negative response [or a sale],” Niederberger said. “But by looking at the work by LeadJen we know after [perhaps] the fifth call, it’s the law of diminishing returns, so they can cross it off and pursue a new prospect more efficiently.”

Improving prospects is a one of the most difficult challenges in sales, said Butler University professor Daniel McQuiston, chairman of Indianapolis college's marketing department. And he said there are as many different forms of lead generation as there are salespeople.

The most productive form of prospecting, he said, is based on referrals given the instant credibility that comes from a personal connection. That's what sets apart most veteran salespeople from neophytes: a personal network of valuable contacts that takes years to build.

McQuiston said he can easily see why LeadJen would appeal to sales managers, since its point is to increase a sales staff’s efficiency and enhance the allocation of their most precious commodity: time. And salespeople may embrace it, understanding LeadJen’s efforts can produce productivity gains and, ultimately, increased commissions. After all, he said, time management is what separates average salespeople from exceptional ones.

On the other hand, he said some may be reluctant to accept LeadJen. A notoriously independent lot who like to be valued for their own judgment, many sales professionals prefer a wide degree of flexibility in how they manage their schedules, he said, and they like to be measured on the number of dollars they generate.

Managers may call time wasted what salespeople consider valuable long-term investments in information-gathering and relationship building. That’s why some have balked at adopting tools they find cumbersome, like

“You have to find a balance. You can’t let the data drive the process,” McQuiston said. “A lot of companies have found they get knee deep in this stuff and salespeople say ‘I’m not going to do this. It’s too much work. I’ve got to put too much data in. It helps customer service people, but I see no benefit to me.”

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