From an early age, most of us are taught not to “follow the crowd,” but instead to chart our own path. However, when it comes to sales and marketing, following the crowd can produce impressive results

Clinton Bonner, Director of Marketing and Social Content for crowdsourcing provider TopCoder, explained during a session at the Revenue Driven Marketing Leadership Summit hosted by Aberdeen Group in Boston, MA that when his company adopted crowdsourcing techniques for its own sales and marketing efforts, lead generation and development of “quality conversations” improved significantly.

Getting to the New Clients

Bonner began by describing the difficult lead generation process undertaken by TopCoder, a crowdsourcing “open innovation” community of digital content creators. Unlike some crowdsourcing providers, TopCoder does not allow the “one off” sourcing of projects but requires the purchase of a full pipeline of services. As a result, the typical sales cycle lasts six to nine months.

“It takes 120 to 150 hot leads to produce 20 to 22 marketing qualified leads (MQLs), which produces four sales qualified leads (SQLs) that produce one new client,” said Bonner. “We were producing five MQLs a month, which was enough to keep us treading water but not swimming quickly.”

Eating the ‘Dog Food’

Working with a team of four business development specialists, Bonner decided to find a way to make them as productive as a team of 40 specialists. Although TechCoder builds all of its IT applications through its own platform, Bonner said he realized the company was not “eating its own dog food” when it came to sales and marketing.

“We decided to generate new content, like webinars, white papers and social media postings,” he said. “It did help generate more conversations and more clients, but it turned out that the content really helped convert people who had already started talking to us. The content was sort of like an app store that provided what prospects needed to keep the conversation going.”

With the content having less impact than hoped for on prospective clients who had not yet engaged with TopCoder, Bonner decided to pilot a crowdsourced lead generation platform called ConnectAndSell, which linked to TopCoder’s Salesforce CRM solution and specialized in getting qualified leads on the phone.

“We had to get serious about our data,” said Bonner. “We weren’t syncing it properly and not tying our content together smartly. Qualified conversations are difficult for us to obtain because of resistance to change. We need pure volume.”

For example, Bonner said TopCoder hosted regional “roadshows” and used ConnectAndSell to identify people with “.gov” emails in the Washington, DC area and then find relevant associated data such as articles they had published. Thus initial contact was much more targeted and relevant. “Our qualified conversations went up by a factor of eight to 10 times,” he said.

The ‘Three Ps’ of Crowdsourcing

Bonner said crowdsourcing is not “throwing things over the fence and hoping the crowd works magic,” but a competition-driven model that obtains the best work from highly trained specialists. He said crowdsourcing represents the future of work and is based on ‘three Ps” -- platforms, parallelization and productivity. He expounded a bit on the meaning of the second P.

“As an executive you should be an orchestrator and not get involved in the muckety muck. Watch things happen. You have to let go of things you’re not used to letting go of and accept that a piece of the chain of work will be done in a non-traditional way.”