Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to Ensure No Sales Leads are Left Behind


I propose that every company needs to adopt a "No Lead Left Behind" policy for sales leads. 
Studies have found that among companies of all sizes and industries approximately 40-50% of sales leads are not followed up. Consider for a moment that nearly $250 billion (yes, that is billion with a B) are spent each year on traditional measured media and new media to create buyer interest in products and services. If 40% of the sales leads generated by those dollars are deemed unworthy of follow-up by sales teams then that means $100 billion are essentially flushed down the tubes each year due to sales indifference.
So, what’s new about that? Haven't sales always possessed an inherent skepticism about the value of marketing-generated leads? Yes. And, there may have been a valid reason for this behavior in the past. But an inbound lead today is a very different creature than those of the past and demands a different proactive response.
No Lead Left Behind.*

These Aren't Your Father's Sales Leads

A 2010 study showed that more than 90% of B2B customers conduct some form of online research on a product or service before they engage with a sales person. This means that most potential customers have initiated their buying process prior to ever talking to you.
Before the widespread adoption of the Internet as a means to promote and research a company's products, potential buyers had few sources of information about a company or its products. Many "sales leads" were generated by "bingo cards." Bingo cards were postcards stapled into the seam of a magazine that listed the names of the companies that were mentioned in the editorial or advertising in that issue. The reader circled the name of the companies whose products they were interested in learning more about (remember, you couldn't go online because, well, online didn't exist...), tore the postage paid postcard out of the magazine and dropped it in a mailbox. A fulfillment house processed the cards and passed the reader’s name on to the relevant company.
The value of bingo card leads was pretty low. Most of them were from people who were merely curious about a product and service and, without the Internet to easily supply this information, reached out to the company to learn more. In this environment it was rarely worth the sales effort to sort through the 99% of the “leads” that were just tire kickers in an effort to find that 1% that might be qualified as a prospect. (A study of the effectiveness of reader inquiry cards, otherwise known as bingo cards, found that “Advertisers' response to requests for information via bingo cards tends to be very slow, if they respond at all.”)

Sell to Me. Please!

Now, the situation has evolved for the better for both buyers and sellers but salespeople continue to act as if all inbound sales leads were coming from bingo cards. The Internet provides a low-cost, low-touch means for companies to deliver detailed information about their products and services to any interested party. As a result, the merely curious information seeker no longer has to reach out to a company, and consume its sales time, to satisfy their basic curiosity about a product or service.
In fact, the Internet, and the widespread acceptance of the basic compact of permission-based marketing between buyer and seller, means information seekers that reach out to companies today are much more likely to be valid sales leads. (Please note that I am saying, "lead," not "prospect.") People who fill out a form on a website know that they are giving that company permission to fill their inbox with a carefully calibrated sequence of automatically generated emails that are designed to engage and sufficiently qualify their interest to the point where an alert is triggered to have a salesperson call them. Knowing what is in store for them, most people don't casually fill out web forms unless they are prepared to engage a seller.
As a result, the inbound leads that a company receives are from a different audience than even 10, 15 and 20 years ago. These are valid leads from people who have done their homework and are deserving of a response by sales.

The Modern Sales Lead

I was talking to a VP (Jon) at a fast growing startup that was inundated by a flood of unsolicited resumes from job seekers. He said that his team had decided they needed a system to organize and track these resumes so he came into the office on a Saturday and spent four hours researching various cloud-based apps to handle their requirements. He identified three companies whose products appeared able to handle his needs. He went to each of the company's websites and filled in and submitted a sales lead via a form.
Jon typifies a modern sales lead. He conducted his initial product research online, did an initial qualification of the sellers, and then reached out a to a select group of vendors he thought could meet his requirements.
Unfortunately, the sellers treated Jon like his lead arrived by bingo card (or the Mayflower.) By the following Friday, he had not heard from any of the three companies. After two weeks he received a call from only one of the companies he had invited to sell to him. (By then he had decided that he didn't want to do business with any of these companies that couldn't be bothered to respond to his inquiry.)
Effective sales lead follow-up is a core sales process that every company needs to master. It is the easiest and fastest path to find new sources of revenue in nearly every company. But before you can define and implement this process you have to make the fundamental commitment as a company, and a sales team, to leaving no lead behind.