Anyone who’s ever worked in sales has inevitably encountered this scenario:
You spend time and energy working on a lead. You nurture their interests, prepare them to make a decision in your favor, only to have the lead go ice cold. There are a few surefire ways to avoid wasting time and effort on a lead that’s not ready to buy.
Let’s start with the basics: qualifying sales leads. The digital age we live in has changed more than just the landscape for marketing and sales; it’s changed how people communicate in general. The challenge this presents to your team comes down to how to tell which leads are ready to buy when there’s no face-to-face interaction.
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There are four key things you and your sales reps can do to avoid wasting time barking up the wrong tree.
1. Prioritize Your Leads
What does that mean? Depending on your lead volume, you may not be able to follow up with every lead that comes in. Even when you’re ready to follow up with each one, you still should treat leads by a priority level. That’s where lead scoring comes into play. Lead scoring has gotten more sophisticated in recent years with advances in technology. Artificial intelligence, predictive lead scoring, and intent monitoring are three newer technological trends being applied to lead prioritization.
At a high level, it’s best practice to score your inbound leads on two levels:
- Profile Fit
Profile Fit represents the attributes of the lead and how good of a fit it is for your business. You can use information the lead has submitted (name, email, title, industry/vertical, company size) and/or third-party data enrichment services to determine the fit (technologies used, annual revenue, hiring trends to name a few). You probably know who your ideal customer is. The profile fit indicator is applying a weight and score to each attribute that’s important for your business. For example, if you primarily work in the B2B space, you could give a higher weight/score when the email address includes a company domain vs. using a personal domain (i.e., Gmail, AOL, Yahoo).
Quite a few vendors are providing predictive lead scoring services using third-party data enrichment and artificial intelligence to do this for you if you want to get sophisticated, but at a basic level, you should set up some sort of Profile Fit score.
Engagement represents the activity taken by the lead. There are first-party data (data you have from the lead’s activity on your website/landing pages/emails) and third-party data (data from the lead’s activity outside of your website and systems obtained through a third-party service provider).
With first-party data, you’re evaluating the actions the lead has taken and the timing aspect of those actions:
- Website activity (pages visited, number of times visited, time spent)
- Form submissions
- Email activity (opens, click-throughs)
In each of these activities, you can group them as ‘high priority’ and ‘low priority.’ For example, when someone visits your pricing page, that is typically a high priority activity vs. if they visit your careers page, which is a low priority or may even be excluded.
The other aspect of engagement is the timing aspect. If a lead visits your website twice in six months, that’s different than a lead that visits your site five times in one week.
With third-party intent, you’d typically partner with a vendor that provides these services. At a high level, they flag companies that are showing an increase in interest on a certain topic and can alert you when a company is showing that increase.
Things can get really complicated when it comes to lead scoring, but when you’re first starting, it’s best to keep it simple and build from there.
2. Clearly Define the Process
Having a clearly defined process is very important, especially when it comes to passing leads from Marketing to Sales. The only way to have Marketing and Sales alignment is to have clear definitions and processes that have been reviewed and agreed upon by both teams. Typically, companies define leads through three key milestones:
- MQLs (marketing qualified leads)
- SALs (sales accepted leads)
- SQLs (sales qualified leads)
Just like a filter for a picture, identifying whether the prospect is an MQL, SAL, or SQL will change the entire focus for your team.
If they fall into marketing qualified lead category for instance, then your sales rep knows that they’ve been exposed to your marketing, commonly referred to as ‘raising their hand,’ but aren’t quite ready to buy. At this stage, they’re more focused on the broader pain point that your company solves. They’re educating themselves on the problem. So, a little more nurturing may be required.
A sales accepted lead is where marketing passes the baton to sales. Sales confirms that the lead looks good on paper. At this point, the lead may not be ready to engage with a sales rep yet, and, if so, engagement would be on a fairly limited basis.
According to research from Google and CEB titled The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing, customers reported to being nearly 60 percent through the sales process before engaging a sales rep, regardless of price point. You have to trust the process before the lead is ready to talk to sales. Anything else results in a situation where the sales rep is frustrated with a dead-end lead, and the lead is frustrated that they keep getting hounded by sales calls.
A sales qualified lead is actively engaged in the sales process, and they’re ready to talk to a sales rep. They’ll likely have specific questions on how your company can help solve their problem and are probably vetting other options.
Each lead requires a different action, so take the time upfront to identify what stage the lead is at, so you aren’t wasting effort later. Save even more time and set up automated workflows for your business business management platform.
3. Decide Who Makes the Cut
Keeping your customer relationship management (CRM) software data clean isn’t a cue to break out the dusters, brooms, and mops. The campaign contacts that make it into the CRM should be the ones that are ready to have a conversation with your sales team about moving to the next step: purchasing your services.
Consider the BANT framework, a well-known sales qualification method. Bluleadz gives us an explanation of the framework:
B - Budget
Whether the lead has the necessary funds to move forward. While funds can often be allocated, a high-level decision-maker must be convinced that the project is a true priority—potentially worth diverting resources from other wants.
A - Authority
Whether the lead has the authority to sign off on the buy. The larger a client enterprise, the more distributed the authority is. Larger companies tend to establish a full committee for major purchases, leading to the long-term consensus sale.
N – Need
Whether the proposed solution will meet the prospect’s needs. Like most other factors, need is three dimensional: It exists in multiple ‘layers’ throughout the client firm and needs to be peeled with apt questioning to be truly understood.
T - Timeline
Sales pros can be lured into unwinnable situations by basing the timeline on “when you’d like to have this live”—most clients will say as soon as possible! To avoid this, start with the key future events the solution will be used for and work backward.
This step in the process is crucial for increasing efficiency and preventing your sales team from chasing down leads that will result in wasted effort. So, score your leads based on their level of interaction, and put the rest of the leads that don’t meet sales qualifications aside until they’re ready.
If your email campaign management software doesn’t provide you with a place to store the leads that need more nurturing, then create a space for them, or opt for a comprehensive tool that integrates with your CRM and provides a ‘holding tank’ space for the leads that need more time.
4. Communicate Consistently
Once your leads have been sorted into their respective qualification-based categories, and your CRM is cleared up and ready to house new contacts, the real work begins. When it comes to following up with your leads, regardless of where they are in the funnel, just remember one thing: don’t be a tease.
Piquing the interest of a prospect and then never contacting them after initial exposure to your marketing campaigns is a great way to get forgotten. Determine their lead qualifications and employ nurturing strategies that make sense for each prospect. That way you’re not overselling to a prospect who’s not ready and underselling to one who’s ready to purchase your services.
Don’t overlook other opportunities to attract new leads. Consider expanding your offerings, like adding a security offering, to add appeal to your business. And don’t feel overwhelmed. There are automation tools explicitly designed to assist in the marketing and sales process for your clients.
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