3 New Rules of B2B Lead Generation

Many B2B sales people and small business leaders seem to believe that they always need “more sales leads,” and so they center their B2B lead generation strategy on the idea of “more, more, more:” more cold calls, more sales outreach, casting a wider net to find more companies to target, and so on. The idea is that if you get “more” sales leads, your B2B lead generation efforts are a success – after all, the most important thing is to get the longest possible list of new leads to call, right? In fact, the truth is more complicated. B2B lead generation is about more than just casting a wider net and finding more leads – sometimes you need to focus instead on finding “better” leads or develop a better understanding of what to do with the leads that you already have. Instead of casting a wider net, think of B2B lead generation as an exercise in “finding a better focus.”

 

Here are a few of the new rules of B2B lead generation:

 

Do Your Research: In the new world of B2B lead generation, most of the work happens before you ever pick up the phone. You need to do your research and find out which companies are an ideal fit for what you sell. You need to know how your solution fits into the prospect organization’s business operations. You need to have a sense of how you can credibly speak to the prospect organization’s concerns and see how their immediate and longer-term business goals align with yours. B2B lead generation is not just a scattershot approach – you need to have a clear and compelling “reason” for why you’re calling each company on your prospecting list. Make sure you know who you’re calling, and why.

 

Find Allies: Once you have identified your target companies, it’s important to invest some time in cultivating allies within the organization. Who do you already know at the company? Who among your existing customers could put in a good word for you or offer you a referral? What can you do to find someone to talk to at the prospect organization – even if they are not the ultimate decision maker – who can help “warm up” that first cold call? B2B lead generation is often an exercise in finding and cultivating allies within the prospect organization – finding the people who, although they are not your ultimate “buyer” or decision maker, can still help you make progress toward finding the right people who will be at the table when it’s time to close a sale.

 

Pre-qualify Your Leads: Just getting a longer list of “more leads” is not very helpful if most of those leads turn out to be bad. We see this happen a lot in our industry, where B2B lead generation companies promise to deliver massive quantities of leads, and then it turns out that many of the leads are poor quality – not really serious buyers, not well-informed about the seller’s solution, or sometimes not even in the right vertical or industry! “More leads” is not always the answer – sometimes if you get too many low-quality leads, it will just clutter up your process and waste your sales team’s time. How can you combat this? Start by pre-qualifying your leads – when taking inbound calls and inquiries, or during the lead generation process. Ask questions early and often to learn more about the prospect and see if they are really a serious buyer – for example, “What issues are you having with your current solution?” and “How are these issues affecting your business operations?” and “How soon are you looking to make a decision about implementing a new solution?” This will help you end up with a list of sales leads that are better qualified, better focused, and more likely to end up with a successful sales deal.

 

B2B lead generation is not simply a matter of finding “more leads.” The bigger challenges – and the more rewarding results – come from finding “the right” sales leads and making your overall list of sales leads better. By finding companies that are the right fit, by finding allies that can help open doors for you within the prospect organization, and by pre-qualifying your leads upfront, you can start working from a better organized, more focused, better targeted list of sales leads that will result in bigger sales conversions.

3 Steps to Building a Better Lead Generation Process

The importance of the concept of “lead generation process” is frequently misunderstood and underestimated. Many B2B sales organizations act like lead generation is something that just “happens,” and if they go out and make cold calls or spend a lot of money on advertising, new leads will come rushing in. Other B2B sales teams tend to think of lead generation as something that there’s never enough of – they constantly are demanding more leads. The truth is more complicated. The lead generation process requires a careful approach and a strategic plan. If you handle it correctly, your lead generation process will yield bigger results than ever before.

 

Here are a few key tips on how to build a better lead generation process:

 

Do Your Research First

 

It sounds like an obvious point, but it’s true: you need to do your research upfront before you ever pick up the phone to call or send an email to a new potential sales prospect. The first step of the lead generation process is not about lead generation at all, it’s about doing your research and strategically targeting which companies are the best fit for what you sell. You should spend a lot more time on research than you do on making cold calls. Just like the old saying, “measure twice, cut once,” you should spend at least twice as much time doing your homework and researching companies as you spend on the phone.

 

Find Allies Within the Prospect Organization

 

In addition to doing research on which companies are the best fit, you also need to spend time on identifying departments, teams, and internal stakeholders within the prospect organization that are going to want to hear from you. For example, if you sell a system or software solution that improves productivity, which internal departments within a company are most likely to be affected by this? Who are the potential allies who will benefit from implementing your solution – who within the company stands to gain from buying what you sell? Sometimes the process of “finding allies” can help you identify secondary stakeholders and decision makers who might not get to have the final word on whether or not to buy from you, but who can assist in the sales process. Especially in B2B sales, the sales process can be lengthy and time consuming and complicated. It helps to figure out – early on – which people within the prospect organization are most likely to be on your side and who have a vested interest in seeing you succeed.

 

Pre-Qualify your Sales Leads    

 

Lead generation is not just a numbers game. Yes it’s true that “more sales leads” is usually better than “not enough,” but “more leads” is not always the answer. Sometimes your sales team already has “enough” leads, but you’re not getting the right results from the pool of leads that you do have. Many companies make a mistake of not qualifying their new sales leads. They treat every new lead the same – they assume that every new prospect is equally likely and ready to buy. But the truth is, not every lead is equal! Some prospects are urgently ready to move forward and are eager to start the sales process, while others are just beginning the early stages of their research, while others are confused or uncertain or don’t really know what they want.

 

The problem is, if you don’t do any pre-qualifying of your sales leads, you might overwhelm your “good” leads with too much clutter. You might spend too much time chasing after bad sales leads while failing to follow up with the leads that are actually ready to hear from you.

 

You can help avoid this situation by asking a few pre-qualifying questions to each new sales lead – whether it’s an inbound sales inquiry or a cold call or meeting a new prospect at a trade show or networking event.

 

Ask a few questions (if applicable) such as:

 

  • How did you hear about us?
  • What are some issues that you’re having with your current solution/system?
  • How are your current issues with your solution/system affecting your overall business operations?
  • What is your timeline for moving forward?
  • What other companies/competitors are you looking at?

 

These questions will help you learn more about the overall situation with the prospect’s business, and help you determine just how urgently ready the prospect is to move forward. Ideally, you can use these questions to help prioritize and rank your sales leads for follow-up – both immediate/short-term and long-term.

 

The lead generation process might sound complex and mysterious, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s all about doing your research, identifying the right people to talk to within the prospect organization, and then learning more about the new leads so you can prioritize which leads are “better” than others.

Top 5 Secrets of the Best Lead Generation Companies

Strategic Sales and Marketing has been in business for a long time, and we like to think that we’ve earned a reputation as one of the best lead generation companies – but we often find that there are a lot of misconceptions about our industry. Many B2B sales organizations are still discovering what it truly means to work with one of the best lead generation companies. After all, lots of companies can put up a website and make a sales pitch and offer big promises for what kinds of results they can deliver, but to truly stand out from the crowd in this industry, it takes hard work, a smart strategy, a consistent process, and rock-solid integrity to do business the right way. We believe that SSM has some significant advantages and insights to offer, and we’re happy to share these with you.

 

Here are a few of the secrets of the best lead generation companies:

 

They Know Your Industry

The best lead generation companies will not claim to be able to serve “any industry or company or client,” instead they will have a focused expertise on a few key industries or areas. Lead generation is a complex activity and it doesn’t always work the same way for every industry or type of product/service/solution being sold. Depending on your industry, especially if you are in B2B sales, your sales cycle might be more complicated and time-consuming and requiring a careful, strategic approach. The best lead generation companies understand this, and they know what they do best and which companies and industries are the best fit for their services – they don’t promise to be all things for all people.

 

They’re Not Pushy 

The best lead generation companies have plenty of business, with ongoing contracts from various major clients – they’re happy to take your call or listen to your inquiry, but the best companies are not going to put pressure on you to sign a contract. The best companies are not pushy and desperate and fast-talking – ideally, they should be happy to talk with you and learn more about your business to determine whether or not your company is the right fit. If a sales rep for a lead gen firm is acting overly anxious and urgently trying to get you to sign up for their services, that’s a red flag – because the better firms are more laid-back; they don’t need your business that badly.

 

They Make Realistic Promises

We hear horror stories from time to time of customers who have been burned by working with disreputable, fly-by-night lead generation firms that made huge promises and then utterly failed to deliver. The best lead generation companies are strategic, focused and highly targeted when discussing their process and their expected results – ideally, they’re going to try to “underpromise” and “overdeliver.”

 

They Don’t Work on Commission

The best lead generation companies will ask to get paid in a way that aligns their interests with your organization, and delivers the best results. This means that – most of the time – the best firms are NOT going to work on straight commission. It might sound like a good deal to you if a lead gen firm promises that they only get paid for each new lead, or some other commission-based approach. But the reality is more complicated.

 

Sometimes “paying per lead” ends with misleading and wasteful results for you as the client. Especially for B2B sales with a long-term sales cycle, sometimes it’s more important to get fewer high-quality leads than to get a larger number of leads that might not be legitimate. If you give the firm an incentive to generate as many new leads as possible, you might end up with too many low-quality leads, or you might even end up tainting your pool of leads with overaggressive tactics by the lead generation firm – this can be counter-productive to your sales efforts.

 

The best lead generation companies will have a compensation model that helps achieve the best results for your business, not just the longest list of low-quality leads.

 

They Show Clear Results

Lead generation should not be a mysterious “black box” process – it’s not magic, it’s an art and science. Your lead generation firm should be able to describe in detail how their process works and give you full visibility into how your lead generation program is progressing, with regular status reports and valid metrics along the way. The best lead generation companies are happy to share results and make adjustments and otherwise help you feel involved and connected to the process.

 

They Offer More Than Just Leads

Lead generation is just the start of a longer sales process, and the best firms won’t leave you hanging. Ideally, you should expect your firm to provide more than just a list of names; they should offer additional support, training, or coaching to help you get ready to make your first sales call with the new leads.

 

Working with a lead generation firm can be an ideal way to kick-start a new product or create new sales momentum for your business, but it helps to be prepared and know what to expect. The best lead generation companies have a proven track record of success and can offer credible answers to your questions, without putting you through a bunch of hype or heavy sales pressure. The ultimate ROI of working with a lead gen firm is not just the number of leads, but how well they can help your sales organization succeed for the long-term.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

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.