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.