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.


How to Keep Your Best Sales Leads From Plunging to Their Death

Too many great sales leads die in the first 15 seconds. Instead of taking flight, the sales lead quickly plummets to the ground.


The biggest reason why promising sales leads fail is the sales rep’s choice of opening statements. From the moment your sales reps get on the phone with a prospect, they can either cause the premature death of the sales lead, or nurture the lead into a deeper ongoing sales relationship.


Here are three of the biggest “lead-killing” opening statements that your sales reps might be making:


  • “I understand you are interested in buying (our product, service or solution).”
  • “I understand you are very unhappy with your existing (vendor/solution) and are going to replace it.”
  • “I understand that your existing vendor is not doing a very good job.”


The reason these statements kill sales leads is because they are not rapport building statements, they are deal-closing questions. If the first thing you say to a prospect is, “Are you ready to buy from me?” chances are you are going to build sales resistance (without even realizing it).


If your sales reps are asking for the sale too soon and making closing statements way too early in the conversation, it will be devastating to the follow-up process and you will unwittingly drive away many sales leads that might have been interested to buy from you if your sales team had handled the process a bit more gracefully. For more about the reasons why reps often rush the follow-up process (with damaging results), read my earlier article on the 80/20 rule.


Why are these “lead-killing” opening statements so bad for your sales process?


  • They assume too much. If you ask any of these questions to the prospect and the prospect answers “yes,” that means that he/she is automatically welcoming you to enter their sales cycle. But most prospects aren’t ready to move quite that fast. Don’t overstep your bounds, and don’t assume too much based on a limited amount of information. Just because you happen to have some business intelligence supplied by your lead generator does not mean you have already been selected as a preferred vendor. Slow down and be prepared to work through the process of building rapport, developing a relationship, and showing the prospect how you can help resolve their specific pain issues.
  • The questions make you sound like an order taker. If the first thing a prospect hears from you on the phone is, “Are you ready to buy from me?” that tends to dissuade people from having further conversation. Moving too fast is a total turn off for most prospects. Instead of sounding like a seasoned professional who knows the prospect’s industry and is focused on helping the prospect solve a problem, asking closing questions too fast makes you sound like a telemarketer who is merely reading from a checklist. This comes off as high pressure.


Unfortunately, when prospects get turned off by presumptuous, high-pressure or overly assumptive sales calls and exit the conversation early, most sales reps are completely oblivious about the reasons why the sales lead died. Too often as a result of the above process, reps will report these leads are “unqualified.” Instead of taking a closer look at what they are doing on the phone, the reps will be quick to blame your lead “source” as not effectively qualifying leads.


You can’t be monitoring every call your reps make so watch for these kinds of entries in your CRM system:


  • “Prospect said he is staying with his existing vendor for now.”
  • “Prospect says…I never said (_____________).”
  • “Prospect said he only requested information and is not in the market at this time.”


Read between the lines – these are defensive comments, indicating that the prospects are fending off overly aggressive, assumptive statements by the sales rep. If your sales reps are making these types of notes frequently, that is a sign that something the reps are saying on the phone is unknowingly driving away your sales leads. Once the prospect is in a defensive mode the chances of the lead advancing are very slim.


In reality, the prospect did say all of those things to your lead generator that were indicative of interest and openness to the possibility of buying. But when the first thing that the prospect hears from your sales rep are closing questions and assumptive statements, the prospect goes into “exit mode,” feeling so turned off by the rep’s tactics that they just want to end the call as soon as possible.


Instead of starting a call with closing questions, train your sales reps to warm up the call by opening with rapport-building questions:


  • How did you get into the business?
  • How long had you been trying to solve these issues?
  • What have you tried to do to fix these issues?
  • What kind of impact is this having on your day-to-day operations?
  • How do you measure that?

Instead of assuming that the prospect is ready to buy, take some time to build a relationship and find out more about the prospect’s specific pain issues. Then work through the sales process to link your solutions to the prospect’s needs, demonstrate your company’s capabilities, and prove to the prospect that you can deliver a worthwhile ROI.


The first sales call is not a deal-closing opportunity – instead it’s the first step in a longer, more profitable process. Don’t let your sales reps act like order takers. Train them to be the sophisticated sales professionals that high-value B2B sales demand.


Confessions of a Professional Call Screener

Getting past the gatekeepers to talk with decision makers can be one of the most challenging aspects of sales. The more important your decision maker, the more likely it is that they have one or more levels of gatekeepers – administrative assistants, direct reports, etc. – to keep people from reaching them by phone.


We interviewed a professional call screener (whose name will remain anonymous to protect his/her identity) to get the inside story on how sales people can avoid getting weeded out by some of the familiar call screening traps – and what it takes to really get through to decision makers.


Q. What are the easiest types of calls to identify as “sales calls?”

A. As a call screener, my job is to protect the time of the decision maker that I work for – so I need to make sure I’m not passing through calls that are going to waste our executive’s time. Lots of sales people make it really obvious that they are calling on a sales call – for example, sales people might say, “May I speak to the person in charge of purchasing” or “Who is your current vendor/supplier for (such-and-such) product or system?” When people say this, I immediately know that it’s a sales call, and I put my guard up – because I know they probably don’t have a relationship with our executive and they’re just trying to get through. It’s amazing how many sales people call that really don’t know anything about our company or don’t know the names of the people who work here. It’s like they just got our number off of a calling list.


Q. What do you do when you suspect that a call is a sales call?

A. I always say, “Is this a sales call? What are you selling?” The good sales people usually come clean and tell me what type of product or system they sell – there’s no point in trying to deny that they are, in fact, making sales calls. Sometimes I’ll ask them for more information, or I’ll ask them to send me a brochure. At this point, I’m not going to tell them the name of the decision maker, because my job is to keep the decision maker from getting calls like these.


Q. Do sales people ever just, well…lie to you? In an attempt to get through to your boss?

A. Yes! All the time. Unfortunately! Lots of sales people will use some kind of line on me, like, “I’m returning your boss’s call,” or “I’m a friend of your boss.” This always makes me suspicious. Because usually, I know who the boss is calling, and I’m usually familiar with the boss’s inner circle of friends who would be calling during a work day. Whenever someone tries one of these lines on me, I know they’re probably a sales person. So I ask them for their name and number, write down the information and double check with my boss before I connect them.


Q. What happens if a sales person lies to you?

A. If I find out that a sales person was lying to me, I’m not going to be very helpful in connecting them to my boss in the future.

We need to do business with people we trust. Starting off your first contact with me with a lie is not good business.


Q. What is the “right way” for a sales person to approach you, in a way that will make you want to help connect them with the decision maker?

A. The best sales people treat me with respect and try to get to know me and act with courtesy and professionalism. They don’t lie and they don’t try to hide things from me – they are happy to talk about what they do and volunteer information and details about what they’re trying to talk with us about. Just because it’s my job to be the “gatekeeper” doesn’t mean I’m always going to keep the gate shut! If you can show me what kind of value you can offer, and show me how your product or service can help make my boss’s life better, I’ll do what I can to help make sure your information or phone number or whatever gets in front of my boss.


Editor’s Note: As an additional bit of advice, we also suggest – try to build relationships with decision makers that are not dependent on gatekeepers. Use your network. Go on LinkedIn and start working your network from a few degrees of separation out, and try to ask for introductions so you can get closer to the decision maker. Find out which people you might already know inside the prospect’s company. Build alliances with people at the company to get introduced to the right people and “work your way up” to reaching the decision maker.


If your only chance to talk to a decision maker is to try to talk your way past a gatekeeper, then your chances are slim. But if you can work your way toward the decision maker, by using your relationship building skills and your existing network of contacts, you’ll be more likely to make the sale.


Getting Thrown Under Bus Again? 6 Tips For Sales Survival & Recovery

One of the most unpleasant situations to be in as a sales person is when the client blames you for what the client perceives to be a failure or shortcoming of your product or solution. Clients might go from being happy and reliable, to being angry and threatening to cancel their contract.


“Getting thrown under the bus” in this way by clients can be demoralizing, to say the least. You have invested many hours in building a business relationship, only to find out that the client doesn’t trust you as much as you thought.


As a vendor, we are often the easiest people to throw under the bus. We work outside the client’s organization, and so there is rarely any internal political cost to blaming the vendor when something goes wrong. Vendors are also (wrongly) seen as expendable, since the company can always go put the project out to bid and find some new vendors and solutions.


If you want to salvage the business relationship, or better yet, avoid getting thrown under the bus by a client in the first place, here are a few tips for what to do and what to avoid.


Here are a few ways to identify clients who are likely to be “bus throwers.” Often there are several of these factors in play, and the more there are, the more of a toxic mix you have:


1) Clients who are new to their positions. They might not have encountered a situation like the one they’re hiring you to help solve, or they might not have been responsible for implementing this type of solution before.

2) Clients who are new to their jobs and “in way over their heads.” If a client is inexperienced or lacking in management skills, this raises the risk that they will blame you first when things go wrong.

3) Clients who are in their jobs and “in way over their heads” and who were hired by bosses who are also “in way over their heads.” This situation multiplies the risk. Clients who feel insecure in their positions will want to make themselves look better and make their bosses look better – and they will protect their own reputations even if that means throwing you under the bus.

4) Company culture of “micro management.” If your client and your client’s company aren’t good at delegating and letting people do their jobs, this is another risk factor for an unpleasant client experience.

5) Companies in new industries where there is no previous operational or marketing path to follow. These folks are making it up as they go along. They have “great” new ideas that they ask you to execute, but any mistakes will soon become your blunders.

6) Clients who come from other industries where they have been very successful and are now taking over a new business segment and begin to apply rules that worked in their previous experience – without knowing whether the rules will work.


What happens if you get thrown under the bus by a client?


First, keep in mind that it’s not personal, it’s just business. Even though you might feel frustrated, angry, or even betrayed, try not to let your emotions get in the way.


Instead, try to salvage what you can. Find out what parts of the contract can still be upheld. Try to talk to other allies or key decision makers within the company and find out if there are other opportunities to serve other parts of the company away from your bus-throwing client.


If the business relationship cannot be saved, look to minimize the damage to your company’s reputation. Deal with the situation gracefully. Don’t give the client any ammunition to use against you by bad-mouthing you and your company in the marketplace.


Closing a sale can be tough enough, without having to worry about the deal blowing up in your face. Getting thrown under the bus by a client is never fun, and once it happens there isn’t always much you can do to minimize the damage. Instead, prevention is the best medicine. Try to avoid the clients who are most likely to throw you under the bus. Watch out for potentially toxic situations. Try to work with clients who are secure in their jobs, who are trusted by their bosses, and who communicate with candor and authenticity (without seeming to have any hidden agendas).


3 Simple Steps to Get the Most from Your Sales Leads

Lead generation companies often have to juggle two competing priorities: our clients want more sales leads, but they also want to convert a higher percentage of the sales leads that they already have.


Many sales leaders have the misconception that lead generation and sales conversion are two separate goals – the sales people constantly cry for “more sales leads” while their managers insist that the sales people need to get better conversion rates from their existing sales leads.


Fortunately, these two goals do not have to conflict with each other. Along with a robust lead generation program to keep more new sales leads coming in, it’s also important for sales organizations to create a solid pipeline of sales opportunities by managing their sales leads for the long term. With the right sales lead follow-up and sales lead nurturing techniques, sales teams can keep maximizing the value from every new sales lead that comes along.


Here are three steps to get more value from your existing sales leads, while also uncovering new opportunities along the way:


Rank and qualify your sales leads


Not all sales leads are created equal, and not all sales leads are worth giving the same amount of attention. One of the first principles of lead management is that sales leads need to be constantly evaluated, sorted and ranked in order of priority. For example, you could list your sales leads in order of “perceived pain” (how urgently they are looking to make a purchase) based on your sales team’s conversations.


Learn how to ask the right questions to draw out the prospect’s deeper concerns. Qualifying B2B sales leads is not just about robotically reading from a script, it’s about building rapport and beginning to develop a relationship where you can talk to this person multiple times over a longer-term period – and sometimes your lead qualification questions might uncover some other opportunities for sales.


Most sales people are eager to jump on the “highest priority” sales leads which have indicated a willingness to buy. But your company will be well served if you can also teach your sales team to value the “lower priority” sales leads – because these sales leads will enter the pipeline to become future sales opportunities, if the team knows how to nurture them and guide them through the sales process. Today’s “low priority” sales lead could become a lucrative sale six or nine months from now.


Use content marketing to follow up with sales leads


“Sales lead follow-up” doesn’t mean peppering your prospects with phone calls asking, “Are you ready to buy yet?”


Instead, lead nurturing is often well complemented by the smart use of content marketing materials, which present information and build credibility with prospects in a helpful, educational way.


For example, your sales team, as part of the longer-term process of building relationships and addressing the prospect’s pain issues, can offer to send free web demonstrations, white papers, case studies, “success stories,” and blog articles that are relevant to the prospect’s needs.


Even if the material shared is not relevant to the immediate sales conversation, it’s often beneficial to share great content with prospects just to show them that you care about helping their business – for example, you could send articles on industry trends or business intelligence that might benefit the prospect.


Make it consistent


Sales lead follow up needs to be a constant, ongoing process. In addition to phone calls, fortunately there are a variety of solutions on the market that makes it possible to automate much of the sales lead follow-up activity, such as e-mail newsletters (your sales team can ask prospects to opt in to your e-mail newsletter, even if they aren’t ready to buy), Webinars (to continue to educate the prospect and offer helpful information along the way), and product demonstrations.


Just like a magazine or website publishes an “editorial calendar” to schedule content creation around certain topics and times of the year, your sales organization should create a regular “sales follow-up calendar” that works as a cohesive, repeatable, consistent process to keep making contact with prospects, and to keep maximizing every sales lead on your list.


In the long run, there are very few truly “good sales leads” or “bad sales leads” – almost any sales lead can turn into a sale given enough time, nurturing, and appropriate follow-up. By ranking and qualifying your sales leads, following up with helpful content marketing and information that benefits the prospect, and by ensuring a consistent system for nurturing leads, your sales organization will start to maximize the potential in every name and number on your sales lead database.