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.