Why Lead Generation is All About Building Trust

Lead generation is often thought of as being the first step in the sales process – and while there is truth to that, it’s important to keep in mind that ideally, lead generation shouldn’t really feel like “selling” at all. Lead generation is the first stage of a longer and more involved, complex process. It’s the opening to a bigger conversation. With lead generation, you are asking people to begin a longer journey with you – and what does it take to get people to agree to keep talking with you and agree to keep “traveling” with you? That’s right: trust. Lead generation is ultimately an exercise in building trust.

 

Here are a few examples of how to build trust during the lead generation process, and why it matters:

 

Building Trust with Cold Calls

 

One of the classic sales techniques – which still is part of the toolbox for lead generation today – is cold calling. Sometimes there’s no better way to get in front of your prospective customers than to pick up the phone and start calling. However: that doesn’t mean that you should just indiscriminately start calling people and bombarding them with sales pitches. Cold calling itself requires elements of trust building. How do you build trust on a cold call, especially if you don’t know the person you’re talking to? By doing your homework first. Do your research. Make sure that the company you’re calling is really an ideal fit. Try to do some networking upfront to find the right contact in advance; make sure you’re talking to the right person or the right team of stakeholders so you’re not wasting people’s time.

 

Cold calling – done right – is an ideal way to build trust, because you are showing the prospects that you have a good reason for calling them. If you can show prospects, starting from that first cold call, that you are well informed about their business and that you care about helping them solve a problem, they’ll be more likely to trust you and more likely to keep talking.

 

Building Trust with Content

 

Another form of lead generation involves sharing content – whether it’s your own company blog or social media posts or activity in LinkedIn groups. The Internet is clogged with content, and lots of it isn’t very useful – this is where you can break through the clutter by becoming known and trusted as a great curator of content. If you get known on Twitter or LinkedIn for sharing really smart, useful content – industry trends, breaking news, exceptional thought leadership – even if it’s not your own original content – you will make great strides in building trust with your prospects. Your prospects will want to check out your Twitter feed or LinkedIn profile before they talk to you. If they see a steady stream of smart, helpful, relevant content from you – showing that you’re up to speed on the latest trends and insights affecting their business – that will go a long way in building trust.

 

Another way to build trust with content is to share relevant content individually with prospects as part of the cold calling process. For example, the obvious example is to share a white paper or infographic that supports your sales pitch – but as part of your initial conversations with new prospects, you should also look for opportunities to share news articles or other timely content that is relevant to the customer’s problem, even if they’re not directly related to what you sell. Just be diligent and responsive – these opportunities will emerge naturally out of your conversations with customers.

 

Building Trust with Referrals

 

Perhaps the best form of lead generation is when you don’t have to make a cold call, but instead can get a “warm” lead from a referral. Referrals are so important, because that new prospect already has a built-in level of trust and willingness to talk with you. However, referrals don’t just “happen.” Many business owners and sales people aren’t proactive at asking for referrals. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask!

 

For example, after you close a sale, or a few months after the sales closes and you’re checking in on the happy customer, you should build it into your sales process: “Would you happen to know of any other colleagues or contacts who might like to hear from someone like me?” or “I’m glad to hear that you’re happy with our solution! Do you know of anyone else who might benefit from what we sell?”

 

And don’t just ask current customers for referrals: feel free to ask former customers, former colleagues, friends of friends, and anyone else in your network who knows you well enough where you would feel comfortable asking them for a contact.

 

Ultimately, lead generation is not about cold calling and sales funnels and email blasts and “numbers,” it’s about establishing trust, one person at a time. Every situation that you’re in while finding new sales leads and talking with prospects – whether it’s a cold call or responding to a sales inquiry or asking for referrals – is an exercise in building credibility and winning people’s trust, so that they will give you permission to keep talking and keep leading them through the customer journey.

Are All Lead Generation Companies the Same?

If you’re looking to hire a lead generation company, you might be wondering what really makes different lead generation companies unique. After all, most of these firms make similar promises and have similar service offerings; they might all claim to have the same levels of expertise or experience with your industry. So how do you decide which company is really the right one for you? How can you make a fair comparison among multiple lead generation companies?

 

Here are a few key questions to ask when evaluating lead generation companies, before you sign a contract:

 

Are the lead generation reps based in the USA?

Many companies say they are US-based, but this doesn’t always mean the same thing. Some firms have a US headquarters, but then use offshore/overseas calling centers to provide their staff of reps who will actually be making the phone calls. If it matters to you to have your business represented by US-based talent, you need to ask upfront and make sure that any of your lead generation calls or appointment setting calls will be handled by US-based reps.

 

Are the company’s reps employees or contractors?

Again, this is another area where some companies are not 100% upfront about the details of their operations. Many lead generation companies farm out the work to independent contractors or sub-contractors. This saves money for the lead generation firm but might not help your business get the best results – and also, you might prefer to have more transparency and accountability for how your business’s confidential information is managed. These concerns can often be addressed better if your firm uses in-house employees instead of farming out the work.

 

What is the program structure – is it Pay-Per-Lead? 

There are a few different ways to set up lead generation programs, ranging from fixed fee to billable hours compensation to Pay-Per-Lead, where the lead generation firm only gets paid for each new business lead that they produce for you. Especially in this era of pay-per-click ads, it might sound like Pay-Per-Lead is a good deal – but the downfall of this type of program structure is that it creates situations where the lead generation reps make very aggressive calls. This can alienate your prospective customers – you don’t want your pool of potential customers to get turned off by overly aggressive “hard sell” phone calls from your lead generation reps. If you are

paying on a per lead basis, that means that the reps are basically working on commission. This structure might sound good in theory, but it often results in lower-quality sales leads and poor attempts at lead qualification. Instead, you will get better results by working with the lead generation firm to create a program structure and compensation model that works for both of you – it’s worth investing in better-quality leads.

 

Do they provide lists? 

Good lead generation companies will know how to develop solid calling lists based on your solution, your industry, your location, and other factors. If a lead generation firm is asking you to provide the list of prospects, that’s a bad sign – because it means they’re not willing or able to put in the work to help expand your pool of potential leads. Also, this often becomes a way to “pass the buck” if things don’t go well on the phones – the lead generation companies can then try to blame their poor performance on your list, rather than their reps.

 

Are leads developed via multiple touchpoints? 

Too many lead generation companies are not spending enough time getting to know your prospects. Good lead generation firms have multiple touchpoints to educate the prospects about your business and gauge their level of interest; for example, multiple phone calls and follow-up email conversations. If they are only qualifying leads based on a single touchpoint, this can cause issues with lead quality, as the prospects haven’t gone onto your website or done their homework prior to the meeting.   Before you sign up for a lead generation program, make sure they are using a multiple touch point approach, so you aren’t wasting your time trying to sell to people who don’t understand your solution.

 

Clearly, not all lead generation companies are the same. Be wary of any firm that tries to promise you amazing results with no upfront costs, and make sure you can get your questions answered in an honest, straightforward way. Ideally, your lead generation firm should treat your company like a valued partner, will be excited about your competitive advantages, and will be eager to collaborate openly with you to expand your pool of prospective buyers.

 

Do “Warm” Inbound Sales Leads Really Exist?

Many B2B sales teams make the mistake of overestimating the readiness of their inbound sales leads. But the reality is, just because someone fills out an inquiry form on your website or calls your 800 number doesn’t mean they are immediately going to be ready to buy. Inbound sales leads still need to be pre-qualified, just  any other sales opportunity. Even though the customer made the first move by contacting you, someone at your company still needs to do the work of asking upfront qualifying questions to find out whether or not the prospect is a good fit.

 

Don’t assume that every inbound sales lead is really a “good” lead – because if you just pass on all of your leads to the sales team without any pre-qualifying work, you’re going to overwhelm your sales people with too many poor quality  leads – resulting in fewer sales overall. Or if you assume that every inbound sales lead is ready to buy, you run the risk of driving away the customer by switching to quickly to “sales mode” – instead of nurturing the lead and building trust.

 

The Truth About Inbound Lead Generation

By warning not to overestimate the “warmth” level of inbound sales leads, we’re not trying to say that inbound lead generation isn’t a good marketing tactic. The truth is, inbound lead generation is a great way to get sales leads.  Anything you can do to create content on your website or on third-party websites or on social media to help build an audience and attract traffic and inquiries back to your company is a good thing.

 

However, now that you’ve got all of these new sales leads, you still need to remember to do the legwork of qualifying leads, ranking and prioritizing leads, and figuring out which leads are really the best fit for what you sell. Just because the leads came from inbound marketing doesn’t mean that you can ignore the rest of the upfront work of qualifying the leads and building relationships before the sale.

 

Combining Inbound Lead Generation with Outbound Follow-up

A lot of companies are now offering automated lead qualification solutions, such as auto-reply emails or software. While these solutions can offer some value, there is still no substitute for getting on the phone and calling your sales leads to ask the early stage lead qualifying questions. People still respond favorably to the human touch of a real person on the phone – especially when they have made the first step of filling out an inquiry form or clicking an ad or sending an email. Making a follow-up phone call to your inbound sales leads is a good way to show them that you have received their message and noticed their interest, and that you are now ready to take the conversation to the next stage.

Another reason why it’s important to make follow-up phone calls to your inbound leads (rather than relying solely on email or automated methods) is that prospects often need some encouragement or a gentle “nudge” to fully enter into the sales process. It’s all too easy to ignore a follow-up email. Getting a phone call from a real person is a good way to clearly ask the prospect to commit to the next step of working toward a sale.

 

How to Rank Your Inbound Sales Leads

Not all sales leads are equally likely or equally ready to buy. When you first receive a new inbound lead, whether it’s an email or phone call or response to a Pay Per Click ad, you need to conduct an initial phone conversation with the prospect to figure out where they rank on the priority scale. Create a simple lead ranking scale of “1, 2, 3” or “A, B, C” to identify the highest priority and lowest priority leads.

Asking the right lead qualifying questions will help you to qualify your inbound sales leads. It’s good to ask open-ended questions (rather than Yes or No questions) to elicit information and get the prospect to open up a bit – try to keep the prospect talking so you can learn more about them and clarify their needs.

For example, you could ask questions such as:

  • “Why did you decide to contact us?”
  • “What sort of timeframe do you have in mind to make a purchase?”
  • “What issues are you having with your current solution?”
  • “What other solution providers/vendors are you looking at?”
  • “How do you see this solution fitting into your overall business operations?”

All of these questions will help you clarify which leads are truly “warm” and which ones are not really a good fit or not really serious. Depending on what the prospects say, you can rank them as higher or lower priority in terms of urgency and “pain issues” (the level of problems that they’re having which motivate them to buy).

Then, once you have your leads ranked and prioritized, you can focus on the most urgent sales leads that seem most likely to convert, while discarding the leads that are not serious buyers, and most importantly, saving the promising “long-range” leads for further databasing, lead nurturing and follow-up.

 

It would be excessive to say that warm inbound sales leads are a “myth,” but it’s important to remember that not all inbound sales leads are truly “warm.” Just because a prospect decides to contact your company, that doesn’t mean that they are truly ready to buy – and even the most promising inbound sales leads still require some careful handling, follow-up and relationship building before they’re completely ready to talk about making a purchase.

 

With the right lead qualifying and lead nurturing processes in place – combining the best of inbound lead generation companies and outbound follow-up – your company can improve your efficiency in sorting out the best sales leads from the rest, leading to a well-stocked sales pipeline and better sales results.

How to Stop Wasting Time on Unqualified Sales Leads

Too many B2B companies are squandering valuable time by talking to unqualified sales leads. It sounds hard to believe, but it’s true: according to stats cited by HubSpot, only 56% of B2B sales organizations do not make any effort to verify valid sales leads before passing the leads on to the sales team. As a result, sales reps are being burdened with too many bad sales leads that could have been avoided with a simple process to pre-qualify leads prior to starting the sales follow up process.

 

The cost of unqualified sales leads is bigger than merely wasting time – you’re also missing out on better sales opportunities. By spending time chasing after bad sales leads, you are missing out on the chance to talk to prospects who are much more likely to buy. Better sales results are not always achieved by improving your conversion rates – bigger sales often happen when you improve your upfront processes to better qualify the sales leads that are coming in to your organization in the first place.

 

Asking the Right Questions for Lead Qualification

 

The key to effective lead qualification is to ask the right questions. Don’t ask “yes or no” questions – instead, look for ways to further open up the conversation and draw out more information from the prospects so you can learn more about them. The goal of asking lead qualifying questions is to probe for “pain” points – problems and issues and frustrations that the prospect is having with their current solution. By asking questions in a smart, subtle way, you can uncover previously unstated pain and figure out which leads are really the highest priority. This makes it easier to rank your sales leads – even if it’s just a simple scale of “1, 2, 3” – to sort and follow up with the best short-term sales leads while saving your long-range leads for further nurturing.

 

Here are a few examples of good lead qualifying questions to help open up a dialogue and draw out valuable information from your prospects:

  • “How are you using your current solution?”
  • “What’s your overall situation with your current vendor? How satisfied are you with their performance?”
  • “How does this solution fit into your overall business operations?”
  • “What you are the biggest business challenges that you’re dealing with right now?”
  • “How soon do you think you might be ready to make a decision?”
  • “Who else at your organization needs to be involved with approving budget or giving input on the purchase process?”

 

All of these questions are good ways to create a fuller picture of the prospect’s overall business operations, and see how your solution fits into their organization. You will also get a sense of “pain” issues such as dissatisfaction with a current vendor, inefficiencies or productivity problems caused by the current solution, and the prospect’s overall timeframe for making a decision. Using this information, you can make a well-informed estimate of which sales leads are truly “warm” and which ones require more time, attention, and nurturing before they’re ready to buy.

 

Sales Lead Follow-up: Ask them to Commit

 

Qualifying sales leads is an ongoing process. That first phone call to qualify your leads is important, but you also need to keep evaluating and perhaps re-ranking your sales leads as you acquire more information throughout the sales process.

 

After your initial lead qualifying conversation, if you have a prospect who seems like a good fit and who seems like they’re receptive to buying, you need to start them into your organized, methodical sales process or “sales funnel” of working through a series of steps. At each step of the sales process, you need to clearly ask the prospect to commit to agreeing to the next step of the process.

 

For example, your first step might be “Phone call to thank them for their inquiry, and ask them to agree to have an online demo or web presentation.” Your next step might be, “Ask the prospect to agree to provide information to help create an ROI calculation to show how much money your solution can save them.” Every step gets you closer to making a sale – but you might need to adapt your approach along the way in case a prospect objects or hesitates. Sometimes good leads go stagnant; sometimes buyers get cold feet. Keep adjusting, re-ranking your leads as needed, and keep building relationships and working through your sales process with disciplined focus, regardless of the status of any particular lead.

 

How to Get Rid of Unqualified Leads

 

One of the best ways to stop wasting time on unqualified leads is to stop allowing unqualified leads into your pipeline in the first place. Unfortunately, too many B2B organizations are not doing any meaningful work to qualify their sales leads prior to passing the leads on to the Sales team. For example, according to stats cited by HubSpot, 61% of B2B marketers send all of their leads directly to Sales, but only 27% of those leads are actually qualified.

 

Lots of B2B companies have only a very basic, inadequate process for accepting and handling inbound sales leads. Maybe you have an administrative assistant who answers phones and forwards calls to the Sales people, maybe you have an auto-response email that automatically goes out to all of your inbound inquiries. Either way, if you don’t have some kind of early stage lead qualifying process set up, you are missing out on opportunities.

 

Just as your decision makers have “gatekeepers” who work to stem the flow of information and control who gets on these busy people’s schedules, your company also needs to have a “gatekeeper” to prevent bad sales leads from getting through to your sales team. Your sales people’s time and attention are just as valuable as your decision makers – anything you can do to free up your sales people’s time from talking to the wrong sales leads, and keep them focused on the right sales leads, is going to pay big dividends for your company.

 

 

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Underestimate the Importance of Inbound Lead Qualification

Many B2B sales people and business owners are constantly complaining about their sales leads. “We have too many bad sales leads,” they’ll say. Or, “These leads are no good.” Being frustrated with the quality of the sales leads often causes B2B sales teams to fall into a trap of constantly demanding more and more sales leads (with all of the marketing expenses and lost time that this involves), only to discover that they end up back on the same treadmill of “too many bad sales leads.” Instead of wanting “better” sales leads, perhaps your company needs to ask, “What can we do differently to get better results from the sales leads that we already have?”

 

One of the biggest reasons for complaints about “bad sales leads” is very simple: a lack of inbound lead qualification. Many B2B companies do a surprisingly lackluster job of qualifying their sales leads upfront – lots of companies simply forward their new sales leads to the sales team, without ever asking any questions or doing any preliminary sorting. Or you might see situations where B2B companies route all of their sales leads through a single overworked, undertrained gatekeeper, like a receptionist or administrative assistant, who doesn’t have time to do anything other than take a message and pass it along to the sales team.

 

Don’t fall into this trap. Instead of merely passing along your sales leads (your new prospective customer phone calls, inbound e-mail inquiries, etc.), you need to put a process in place to ask sales-related follow-up questions early on – and start to rank, sort and strategize around your sales leads before the first “sales call” ever happens. Spending a bit of time and resources on creating a coherent process for initial inbound lead qualification will pay off big time in the form of long-term sales results – and it will save time for your sales people and make your sales process more efficient at every step of the sales cycle.

 

Here are a few reasons why you should not underestimate the importance of inbound lead qualification:

 

Who’s the First Person to Talk to Your Customer?

 

Who answers the phone when a new customer calls your company for the first time? Often, this first contact will make a big first impression on the customer – for better or for worse. Aside from basic professionalism and courtesy, today’s B2B buyers are expecting a bit more from the sales process – they need responsiveness and quick answers to questions. If your prospective customer has already started to research prices and features of the solution or category that you sell, then they might be ready to have a more advanced and detailed conversation than a receptionist can provide. That first customer phone call is your chance to start building a sales relationship by asking good questions and uncovering unstated customer needs. This is too important to foist off on a low-ranking staff member who hasn’t been trained in sales skills.

 

Lead Qualification Helps Build Trust and Create Customer Relationships

From the moment a new customer calls you for the first time, this is your chance to ask sales-related questions and start to uncover the customer’s unspoken needs. You need to ask good open-ended lead-qualifying questions, such as, “What difficulties are you having with your current solution?” or “How is your current solution impacting your overall business operations?” This shows the customer that you care about their overall situation and that you want to build a broader business relationship – you’re not just robotically asking them for their name and contact information. Lead qualifying questions are a way to gauge the customer’s interest, but they’re also a way to demonstrate your curiosity and care for the customer’s overall challenges.

 

Lead Qualification Gives you a Jumpstart on the Sales Process

 

Lead qualification questions will help you determine which sales leads are the most promising and highest priority. Instead of passing along all of your sales lead to the sales team, you can figure out which ones are most likely to buy, which ones are most eager to buy, and which ones might need more time for long-range lead nurturing. You can do this as simply as you prefer – for example, by setting up a lead scoring system of “A, B, and C” leads (where “A” leads are the best sales leads and “C” are the least likely to buy). This is an inexact science, but over time you will get better at reading between the lines and hearing the subtle messages in the customer conversations, so you can better predict which leads are “serious buyers” and which ones are just “tire-kickers” who are still doing their preliminary research.

 

Inbound lead qualification is an underrated, under-appreciated skill that more B2B companies need to consider investing in. It helps you gain valuable visibility into the intentions of your sales prospects, and gives you a way to organize your sales process around your best sales leads. From the moment that customer calls, you can hit the ground running by asking good sales-focused questions and by starting to build a relationship. All of these activities will help make your sales process more efficient and more profitable for the long-term.  You can learn more about our lead nurturing services by clicking here.

How Better Sales Intelligence Leads to Bigger Sales

Salespeople too often feel like they’re flying blind. If you’re making low-yield cold calls and having a hard time trying to find the right decision makers to talk to about B2B sales, and you feel like you’re not getting results, that probably means you need better sales intelligence.

 

What is “sales intelligence?” Broadly speaking, sales intelligence includes any information that can be useful to improve sales effectiveness – anything that sales people need to know about their target market, the industry, the prospect’s business, the decision makers, or recent changes within the client’s business that might make a sale more likely.

 

Sales intelligence helps sales people spend more time selling and less time doing the legwork and research involved with tracking down data and finding phone numbers. Sales intelligence gives sales people the power to do more of what they do best, while also creating better quality sales leads and making a more efficient lead generation and lead nurturing process. Sales intelligence helps you know your customers better so you can hit the ground running with better informed, more constructive conversations and build trust faster.

 

A recent report from the Aberdeen Group titled Sales Intelligence: What B2B Sellers Need to Know Before the Call, found several persuasive reasons for why business intelligence can make it easier to close sales.

 

Here are a few stats from B2B sales teams that use sales intelligence:

  • 62% of B2B salespeople said that sales intelligence helped them get more sales leads and better quality sales leads
  • 41% of B2B salespeople said that having better understanding of the sales territory, target industry and prospective client account helped them be better informed and have more “consultative” conversations with clients
  • 25% of B2B salespeople used sales intelligence to watch for “trigger events” that helped find high-value prospects – by knowing what is going on at the client’s company, it’s often possible to have a better sense of when the client will be in need of your solution

 

What about salespeople who do not use sales intelligence? These sales people, according to the Aberdeen Group study, spent an average of 200 hours per year on non-selling related activities – such as tracking down data, finding phone numbers, and planning to make sales pitches. Sales intelligence makes it easier and faster for salespeople to do their jobs, and arms them with information they need to have better-informed, more productive, more credible conversations with clients.

 

The right sales intelligence can show your salespeople which companies are the best fit for your solution, it can help you find prospects who are most likely to be ready to buy from you, it gives your team detailed strategies for how to approach each company or each type of decision maker, and it helps your sales people understand the customer better. There’s always a learning curve with finding a new customer. Better sales intelligence makes that learning curve less steep.

 

When sales people are equipped with updated knowledge and sound strategies based on data, they are able to sell smarter. Better quality sales leads, better-informed conversations, and better relationships with prospects are all going to lead to better sales results. Stop flying blind. Better sales intelligence can give you the strategic vision to uncover better sales opportunities.

Summer 2014 Is Over…Does Your Sales Pipeline Need a Fresh Start?

September is back to school season, the start of football season, and the start of autumn – and with all of these seasonal changes, every B2B company sales team shifts into a new gear as we start getting ready to make a final push toward the last quarter of the year. Now that summer vacation season is over and your customers and prospects are all back in the office, it’s time to refocus your efforts and take a fresh look at your new business pipeline.

 

Has business development started to stall during the quieter summer months? Does your sales pipeline need a fresh start to build momentum into the last stretch of 2014? Here are a few indications that your sales pipeline might need some urgent attention:

 

1. Not enough new business appointments

 

If your sales appointment calendar is looking thin, it might be time to take a closer look at what you’re doing for appointment setting. The sales business always has its ups and downs, but even when business is steady you need to keep doing the little things every day to keep cultivating new sales lead opportunities. Keep cold calling, keep following up with new prospects, and keep doing what it takes to stay busy and keep your sales calendar full of possibilities.

 

2. Too many unpleasant surprises

 

Have you recently lost a big client, or had a few promising deals go south unexpectedly? The sales process can often be unpredictable, and sometimes every company loses a big account for reasons beyond their control – but if you feel like you’re having too many instances of bad luck and unpleasant surprises lately, that might be a sign that you need to take a fresh look at your sales pipeline. How are you forecasting sales? What are your conversion rates for each stage of your sales process? Are you letting too many unqualified sales leads go through to your sales team? Or are you doing a great job of getting customers interested during the initial stages of the sales process, only to lose them in the end when you start talking about ROI?

 

With a well-managed sales pipeline, you can do a better job of sorting and ranking your sales leads, managing expectations along the way, and developing more accurate forecasts of how soon various deals might close.

 

3. Too many deals in “sales purgatory.”

 

We’ve all been there – you have some great initial conversations with the client, you follow up, you have subsequent appointments, the client is excited and ready to move forward, and then…the client goes silent. If you feel like too many of your deals are stalling or stuck in “sales purgatory” where you can neither abandon them nor close the sale, then this is another sign that your sales pipeline needs work. By doing a better job of qualifying and managing the leads in your sales pipeline, you can constantly re-assess, re-evaluate and re-focus on which sales leads are highest priority and most worthy of your sales reps’ time and attention.

 

4. The sales that you are closing are not profitable enough.

 

Are you getting bogged down with too many small sales? Even if it seems worth making a small sale today because the new client has potential for future growth, if the only sales you’re closing are smaller than your target revenue – or if you are selling at a price that does not allow for a sufficient profit margin – you’re going to regret it in the long run. Small client accounts often take an amount of time, energy and resources to service that exceeds their value. Sometimes there is such a thing as a “bad sale” if you’re not getting enough of a profit margin to cover your costs, or if the customer turns out to be a bad fit for your solution. Many of these challenges can be minimized by paying more attention to your sales pipeline – make sure that the right sales leads are getting through your sales process, make sure that you’re focusing your attention and energies in the right place.

 

The last quarter of 2014 is coming soon, and with it comes a final push to meet our sales goals and put our companies in position for 2015. Many sales teams ramp up their efforts to close more deals in the next few months, and that’s important – but at the same time, you need to make sure you’re taking a fresh look at your sales pipeline. Qualifying sales leads, evaluating your sales process at each stage, and continually re-sorting and re-focusing on the sales leads that are most likely to buy are all part of laying the groundwork for sales success.

Jump Starting a Stalled Sale

B2B sales is often a long and complicated process, and complex sales require a significant investment of time to establish channels of communication, build relationships and build trust. According to a study of VPs of sales at technology companies cited in Harvard Business Review, 54% of technology sales executives reported an average sales cycle length of 90 days or more for outside sales. If your solution involves complex implementation or multiple stakeholders within the prospect’s organization, you can easily expect your sales cycle to be even longer than that.

 

With a lengthy sales cycle, it’s not unusual for the sales process to get stalled at some point. Often, sales people will start out with strong momentum and optimism as they get an inquiry or talk with a prospect for the first time – the prospect might seem interested and eager to move forward, and the prospect’s company might seem like a great fit, only for the client’s communication to suddenly come to a stop.

 

When prospective clients “go silent” like this, it can be frustrating and nerve-wracking for sales reps, who might wonder, “Was it something I said? Did I do something wrong?” Often, sales get stalled for reasons beyond the sales person’s control. But there are a few things that sales people should keep in mind as they try to jump-start a stalled sale:

 

Check your assumptions: Your deal is often stuck because you think you are deeper in the sales process then you really are. Just because a client expressed interest (or even verbally hinted at proceeding with a deal) doesn’t mean that the client is truly ready to move forward. There are often a variety of steps and approvals and budgetary concerns involved on the client’s side that need to be resolved before the client is truly “ready.” But if you’re assuming too much – if you’re assuming that the client is more ready to buy than they actually are – then you might be unknowingly communicating in a way that indicates that you think your prospect is more sold on your product and service then he/she actually is. Without realizing it, you might be coming across as high pressure and pushy, and driving the client away.

What to do in this situation: Send a message to the client that takes the pressure off. Remind the client that you’re happy to work with them through any concerns and answer any questions. For example, you might leave a voice mail that says, “Hi, I’m sure you still have some questions about our solution, and I’d love to talk with you and any other decision makers on your side of the table to help everyone figure out how we can add value and be a good fit.” Show the prospect that you empathize with their situation, and then truly listen when they come back to you with questions and concerns.

 

Don’t give up: Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because your prospect has gone dark that the deal is dead. Keep in mind – you are not the most important thing on your potential client’s to-do list today. Clients often go silent for reasons beyond your control that have nothing to do with you. For example, the client might have gotten new direction from their managers, saying that the project that they were discussing with you is no longer a top priority. Or the client might have gotten bad news about their budget, and they’re trying to figure out whether they can still afford to buy from you. Or the client might have learned about an internal shakeup within the company that is going to result in big organizational changes, which means that there is a new level of uncertainty and no one knows whether they can move forward on the deal. Clients are all busy, just like everybody else, and they are constantly trying to deal with changes and challenges affecting their jobs that have nothing to do with your deal.

What to do in this situation: Give it some time. Keep track of how long it’s been since you last heard from the client. Check in with them after a few weeks, even if it’s just to request a simple update on how things are going – but be empathetic. Don’t make the conversation all about your deal. Instead, show concern for the client and see if they’re doing all right; especially if you’re hearing rumors about big changes happening within the organization.

 

Don’t over message: Too often, sales reps make the mistake of responding to silence from the client with an ever-intensifying series of voice mails and e-mails. It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of over messaging. Your prospect doesn’t respond to your voice mails and e-mails, so you just send more voice mails and e-mails.

What to do in this situation: Instead of bombarding your client with messages, cut through the clutter by sending a simple hand-written note. Be humble, keep it short and sweet, yet clearly state your hope that you can keep talking and working toward a deal. For example, say: “I’m sure you’re busy right now, but please let me know if there is anything I can do to help move forward. I’m ready to answer your questions anytime. Thanks!”

 

It’s normal for B2B sales to stall at some point. Every client wants to do their research and due diligence and make sure they’re getting value for money while also getting the support they need to make sure that your solution will be implemented properly. Clients are busy and are dealing with multiple deadlines and pressures from different directions. If you find yourself in a stalled sale situation, first take time to analyze your own communication and assumptions. Give the client some space if needed. And work to reconnect with the client based on empathy and genuine concern for their needs – not just endlessly “checking in” with a sense of sales pressure.

 

Al Davidson is the founder of Strategic Sales & Marketing, one of the industry-founding lead generation companies, providing B2B sales appointment setting services for thousands of clients.

 

The High Price of Sales Turnover

Sales is often known for being a competitive, high-pressure business where “you’re only as good as last quarter’s numbers” and where sales people are constantly expected to deliver ever-improving results. In this kind of mindset, most people might expect that sales teams are constantly churning through new sales reps – as some people thrive and make their quotas and climb the ladder, while other sales reps struggle to make the cut. But is sales turnover truly healthy and necessary? Or is turnover on sales teams part of a hidden cost that needs to be managed differently?

 

According to a study from the Aberdeen Group, “Sales Performance Management: Getting Everyone on the Same Page,” sales turnover can impose surprisingly big costs on a sales organization – and the best sales organizations aren’t necessarily the ones with the highest or lowest turnover, but the ones who do the best job of managing turnover.

 

Here are a few insights from the Aberdeen Group study on the realities of the costs (and complexities) of sales team turnover:

 

Sales teams have more turnover than they want: Under the leadership of Jack Welch, G.E. became famous for its 20-70-10 human resource management – the top 20% of performers were groomed for management, and the bottom 10% of performers were fired or managed out or reassigned. Asked to identify their “ideal turnover rate,” the participants in the Aberdeen Group survey said (page 21) that their ideal turnover would be approximately 9.5% – which is very close to G.E.’s “bottom 10% turnover ideal. However, the “actual turnover rate” identified in the Aberdeen survey was 20.6% – which means that sales organizations are averaging twice as much turnover as they ideally would prefer to have.

 

Replacing sales reps is expensive: According to the Aberdeen study, the average cost of replacing a sales rep was $30,420. This cost comes from a variety of causes, as outlined in the following points.

 

New sales reps are less productive: Only 38% of new sales reps meet their first year quotas, compared with 45% of overall sales reps. Everyone who’s ever gone to work at a new sales job knows that there is a learning curve – it takes awhile to learn your catalog of products or services, learn your accounts, learn the unique methodology and culture of the company you represent, and start to confidently build relationships with prospects.  Many organizations use appointment setting to build the pipeline of a new sales rep.

 

Hiring and training new sales reps takes a long time: Companies surveyed by Aberdeen Group reported an average time to hire of 1.7 months, and an average time-to-productivity of 3.6 months, for each new sales rep. Every time one of your existing people leaves your team, unless they were woefully underperforming, it’s going to take some time and effort to find and train a decent replacement. And all of that time equates to sales that aren’t getting made and opportunities that aren’t getting pursued.

 

So if sales turnover is so expensive and damaging to an organization, what can be done? Sales turnover is sometimes hard to avoid – good sales people are constantly in demand and can often write their own ticket to have their choice of new job opportunities. Some degree of sales turnover is inevitable. In fact, the best performing sales organizations from the Aberdeen Group survey don’t necessarily have dramatically lower turnover (as noted on page 22 of the study, top performing firms have an average turnover of 19.3% instead of the overall average of 21.5%), but they have better techniques to manage turnover and lower the costs of onboarding new sales reps.

 

Here are a few insights from the Aberdeen study about how the best sales teams minimize the cost of sales turnover:

 

Better onboarding leads to lower turnover costs: Among the top-performing firms in the Aberdeen study, 64% had a formal onboarding process for hiring and training new sales reps, compared to only 48% of the overall firms surveyed. Better onboarding is one of the best tactics to boost productivity among new reps and bring them up to speed faster. It sounds simple, but less than half of all the sales organizations surveyed are doing it. What are some of the hallmarks of a good onboarding program? Consistent procedures, specific benchmarks, clear metrics and constant mentoring from other established sales reps and sales leaders within the organization. New sales reps need to be trained not just on the products or solutions being sold, but also need to be inculcated with the unique culture and values of the company.

 

Smarter use of CRMs leads to better integration of new reps: How many times have you seen this happen at your sales organization: an outgoing sales rep leaves a bunch of loose ends and unfinished conversations and poorly recorded notes – and no one knows how to decipher the details? Or a new hire spends weeks sitting around with not enough to do, lacking clear direction for how to start talking to the right prospects? The best sales organizations (as identified in the Aberdeen Group survey) do a significantly better job of using their CRM systems to create seamless account transitions. 29% of the Best in Class companies actively incentivize this kind of transition-oriented CRM usage – compared to only 17% of companies overall. Train your team to use the CRM not just as a daily workload manager, but also as a repository and archive for the history, key details and ongoing conversations on each account. Your CRM system can help minimize the costs of sales rep turnover, by giving your team a clear roadmap for effective transitions and speedier onboarding.

 

Turnover among the sales team is inevitable – even the best performing sales organizations are still seeing an average annual turnover of approx.. 20% of their sales reps – but the best performing sales organizations know how to manage and minimize the costs of turnover. If your organization can do a better job of bringing new hires up to speed, integrating their accounts via CRM systems, and generally converting “new sales reps” to “seasoned sales reps” faster than the competition, you will be on your way to lower turnover costs and higher productivity.

 

Read the full Aberdeen Group study that inspired this article: “Sales Performance Management: Getting Everyone on the Same Page.”

 

3 Biggest Networking Mistakes that Salespeople Make

Sales people often are natural networkers – after all, we tend to be “people persons” who love to meet new people, build relationships, and create conversations, both in “real life” and on social media. But many sales people, without realizing it, are making some big mistakes with their business networking.

 

Business networking is one of the sales person’s oldest tools. We use our network of relationships and contacts to get in touch with decision makers, get advice, and get connected with new opportunities. But if you’re making some of these networking mistakes, you might not be reaching your full potential as a sales professional.

 

Here are a few of the most common networking mistakes – and how to avoid them:

 

Mistake #1: Networking without a strategy. Building relationships is a long-term activity. You can’t just expect to run out and immediately find the contacts or opportunities you’re looking for without investing some time and effort. Just as you would develop a marketing plan or a sales strategy to land a big client, spend some time mapping out some short-term and long-term goals for your sales networking.

 

How to avoid: Spend some time asking (and answering) some “big questions” that can guide your networking activity. For example, who are you trying to meet? Which types of companies would you love to get connected with? Who do you already know who works at these companies or knows some of these higher-level people, and how can you strengthen your relationships with your existing circle of influence?

 

Mistake #2: Networking only to “get,” never to “give.” Too many sales people only look at networking as a way to get what they want. Too many sales people only network in order to get closer to a decision maker, or get their foot in the door at a company where they’re trying to make a sale, or to get in front of someone who might offer them a new job. This is the biggest networking mistake of all. If people feel that you are in it only for yourself, they will be reluctant to trust you or help you. Networking is a two-way street – and some of the most successful sales people are also the most generous with their time and with their contacts.

 

How to avoid: When networking, always look for opportunities to “give” more than you “get.” Examples of “giving” might be as simple as sharing a timely article about a prospect’s business or industry, or connecting a contact with an opportunity that is valuable to them (even if it is unrelated to your business). Your generosity might not always be rewarded immediately, but in the long run you will build a reputation as someone who can be trusted, and someone who is willing to help others and connect others with opportunities.

 

Mistake #3: Networking only with the “usual suspects.” Especially if you sell a complex B2B solution, it can be understandably tempting to spend most of your time focused on networking with people in your niche market. But if you spend all of your time connecting only with a small circle of people, you might miss out on opportunities that could come from connecting with people from other facets of your life.

 

How to avoid: Remember that everyone you know, and everyone they know, can potentially be a valuable contact for you. Take a look at all of your social circles – work, family, community activities, social organizations – and see how you can become more of a connector. Someone you know from church or from your kids’ school might have a friend or relative who works in a business that needs your help.

 

Networking is the constant, never-ending work of the sales professional. Sometimes networking feels like trying to navigate a maze – lots of blind corners and uncertainty and wrong turns. But at its best, networking is not a maze, it’s a safety net. One of the comforting truths about networking is that we are all supported by our own “safety nets” of contacts and all of their combined expertise, experience and relationships. If sales people can learn to network with planning and purpose (instead of just impulsively grasping around with no sense of direction), if sales people can learn to broaden their networks and connect other people within their networks (instead of only talking to the “usual suspects”), and if sales people can use networking as a way to deepen their relationships and build trust (rather than only trying to get what they need), networking will become a more purposeful and helpful tool – and a better way to operate as a sales professional.