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.

Do “Warm” Inbound Sales Leads Really Exist?

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

 

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

 

The Truth About Inbound Lead Generation

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

 

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

 

Combining Inbound Lead Generation with Outbound Follow-up

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

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

 

How to Rank Your Inbound Sales Leads

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

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

For example, you could ask questions such as:

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

How to Stop Wasting Time on Unqualified Sales Leads

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

 

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

 

Asking the Right Questions for Lead Qualification

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Sales Lead Follow-up: Ask them to Commit

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How to Get Rid of Unqualified Leads

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Lead Qualification Helps Build Trust and Create Customer Relationships

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

 

Lead Qualification Gives you a Jumpstart on the Sales Process

 

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

 

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

How Better Sales Intelligence Leads to Bigger Sales

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

The 4 Biggest Mistakes in Managing your Sales Funnel

Many sales people are familiar with the concept of the “sales funnel,” with the idea that every sale starts with a large pool of prospects, which are eventually narrowed down by the various steps of the sales process (qualification, presentations, proposals, etc.) leading to a much smaller number of customers who actually decide to buy and close the deal.

 

A big part of success in managing sales leads is developing a better way to understand and manage your company’s sales funnel. Here are a few of the biggest mistakes that small business leaders tend to make in managing their sales funnels – and ideas on how you can get better results.

 

Mistake #1: Always asking for “more sales leads.” Many companies make the mistake of thinking that they can get better sales results just by constantly engaging in lead generation activities to “dump more leads into the funnel.” This is a costly and inefficient way of getting more sales, because it takes time, effort and investment to find more sales leads. Chances are good that your business can improve your sales results by doing a better job of managing the sales leads you already have, instead of constantly hunting for more and more sales leads.

 

Mistake #2: Focusing on CRM technology instead of your sales process. Many sales organizations make the mistake of investing in expensive customer relationship management (CRM) software but without a clear understanding of how they want to use the CRM software to improve their sales process. CRM technology can be a valuable tool, but it cannot replace a smart strategy for understanding and adjusting your sales activities to line up with your biggest priorities in your sales process. For example, you as a small business leader need to understand what is happening at every stage of your sales process. Are you failing to generate enough appointments during your initial contacts with new sales leads? Are your sales appointments failing to result in enough follow-up sales presentations? Where in the sales process are you having the most difficulty, and what can you do differently? These are the questions that CRM tools can help you answer, but you can’t rely solely on technology to do the hard work of identifying and fixing the problems.

 

Mistake #3: Not training your sales team. Sales training is not just for new hires. Sales people need motivation, coaching and a clear idea of what they’re selling and how to adjust to customers’ changing needs and expectations. You have to constantly keep your sales people up to date on the latest ideas and sales techniques. Help your sales team learn from each other and collaborate by sharing their experiences on what works and what doesn’t. Listen to your sales people during their sales calls and offer coaching and guidance on how to improve.

 

Mistake #4: Not measuring each stage of your sales funnel. Many sales organizations focus too much on their final deal closing ratios, and don’t pay enough attention to the conversion ratios that lead up to the final negotiations with the buyer. Take a look at all stages of your sales process and measure your success rate at each stage. For example, out of 100 sales leads, how many will agree to an initial appointment? How many of those appointments lead to a more extensive sales presentation? Where in your sales process are the biggest successes and the biggest opportunities to improve?

 

Managing your sales funnel needs to be part of an ongoing effort to see what is happening within your sales process and adjusting along the way. If you have a clear understanding of where your challenges are coming from, which parts of the process need to improve, and constantly coach your sales team to improve their efforts at each stage of your sales funnel, you will start to see a better result in the most important number of all – sales.

 

4 Lead Management New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

Every New Year brings the promise of renewal and rejuvenation for everyone who works in sales. Jan. 1 presents a clean slate and a chance to do things differently – reconnect with promising prospects, enhance your sales processes, improve your efficiency, and find new ways to add value for customers.

 

If you’re looking for new ways to take your business to new heights in 2015, you can start by looking at your sales lead management processes. Effectively managing sales leads can make the difference between a top-performing sales organization and an “also-ran.” With most companies facing intensifying competition, pressure on profit margins, and a slow economic recovery, doing things right on the “back end” of your sales process can pay big dividends when it’s time to close the deal.

 

Here are 4 top New Year’s resolutions that any sales organization can employ to create a more efficient and profitable 2015:

 

1. Take better care of long range business leads: Wondering why you have a never-ending need for new fresh sales leads? According to a recent study from the Aberdeen Group, only 16% of leads that are deemed sales opportunities actually close. That means that without a formal lead nurturing program, the remaining 84% of qualified leads that do not turn into short-term sales are slipping through the cracks. Sales people are always clamoring for “more business leads,” but they often make the mistake of not stopping to ask, “Are we making the best use of our current sales leads?”

 

Chances are your sales team – whether they realize or not – are shutting the door on many older business leads. Maybe your sales team completed a follow-up call several months ago (or even a year or two ago) and did not receive a favorable response. This doesn’t mean that the sales leads are truly “done.” Ask yourself, “What has changed since we last approached these business leads?” Perhaps your lineup of services has changed. Perhaps your prospects are now at a different place in their purchasing cycle than they were a year ago. Perhaps your prospects’ business needs have changed. Whatever the change may be, take a fresh start and pursue these “old” business leads with a new angle. What is “old” can be “new” again in the New Year.  We make sure to re-establish contact with “old” sales leads every six months to see if our services are now needed. A lot can change with your prospect’s business in 6 months.

 

2. Make frequent, frank assessments of your pipeline of business leads: Make honest and realistic assessments of the condition of your sales pipeline. Establish some new benchmarks for 2015 to measure your conversion rates at each step of the sale – and look beyond the simple metrics of conversion-and-close ratios. For example, the Aberdeen study reports that nurtured leads deliver 47% higher average order values. This means that properly managing your pipeline can create a compelling return on investment. Aberdeen also found that nurtured leads result in increased opportunity to sales conversion ratios, and higher bid-to-win ratios. Finding these “hidden value” deals within your pipeline means you need a system of multiple marketing touches to uncover opportunities along the way.

 

Too many sales pipelines look great on paper or in your database reports, but in reality your projections and probabilities of closing deals may be too “rosy.” Knowledge is power: if your sales pipeline needs to be expanded with additional lead generation efforts, you need to know this as soon as possible so you can react. A better managed sales pipeline will create a more predictable sales process and a smoother revenue curve, without extreme spikes and valleys.

 

3. When decision makers disappoint you, be patient and have a system in place: Rejection is an occupational hazard in sales, and it’s not easy hearing customers say “No” and “Not interested” all day long. But the reality of a good lead generation and lead management program is that your sales team are always going to have “not interested” responses to sift through. Managing “not interested” responses requires patience, discipline and a consistent system with different protocols to handle the different varieties and “flavors” of responses. For example, if you get a “not interested” response from a key target account that is high on your priority target list, that target account should be put on a monthly e-mail list and set in your “come up” system for a follow up call in 8-12 weeks. “Not interested” does not mean that the conversation is over. Most of the time, when a prospect says they are not interested, they really mean, “We’re not interested right now,” or “The product is not a good fit for our current operational needs.” However, customers’ needs can change rapidly – whether it’s new technology coming on to the market, or trying to keep up with competitors, or adjusting to changing internal dynamics within the customer’s company. Don’t take yourself out of the running by mindlessly disqualifying prospects based on one “not interested” response. You need to be able to handle the nuances of different types of responses and different priority levels of customers – otherwise, you run the risk of constantly contracting your own marketplace, without any system to reintroduce yourself and remarket to your potential customers.

 

4. Overcome sales call reluctance: Too often, sales people talk themselves out of making a sales call. Whether it’s lack of confidence, lack of understanding of the prospect’s business, or lack of a compelling angle to approach the customer, sales call reluctance is a profit killer. After all, you lose 100% of the sales that you never try to make. How many times have you visited a prospect’s website and then systematically talked yourself out of picking up the phone to make the follow up call? This year, make it a resolution to be more open to possibilities. Be prepared for your prospects to surprise you. Prospects that may not initially fit your ideal client profile (based on what you see on their website) might turn out to be better suited than you expected, once you get them on the phone. It’s not uncommon to find that the website you were looking at is not up to date and doesn’t reflect a recent merger. I can’t begin to tell you how many times prospects might have introduced a new product line, or ended a relationship with a current service provider, and we followed up just at the right time as they were starting their new selection process. You will never know unless you make the call.

 

Sales is the business of creating something from nothing, making the calls and making things happen with customers every day. Every year is a chance to make a bigger difference for our customers, our companies and ourselves. I hope these New Year’s resolutions will help you get out there and have a great start to 2015!

 

About the Author
Al Davidson is the founder of Strategic Sales & Marketing, a “leading light” among lead generation companies since 1989, helping to deliver B2B lead generation and appointment setting services for global clients ranging from local small businesses to the Fortune 100. The company’s sales agents have generated over 7 million new sales leads, and created millions of dollars in new revenue for clients. You can learn more about Al Davidson by visiting http://www.manageyourleads.com/