Generating new sales leads and acquiring new customers are the biggest obsessions of every sales team and startup founder. Companies spend big money on lead generation, PPC ads, social media marketing, sponsored posts, content marketing, and other varieties of inbound lead generation techniques to get new customers.
But what if I told you that the real problem facing your business is not “getting” new customers – it’s “keeping” the new customers that are already interested in your company?
The biggest customer acquisition mistake that many companies make is not qualifying their new sales leads. Without careful handling and a consistent process to get to know your new prospective customers, your new sales leads are likely to fall through the cracks.
The Big Disconnect
Here is a surprising truth about digital marketing: many companies are pulling out all the stops to get new customers, and then not paying any attention to what happens once those new customers actually reach out to contact the company.
Inbound lead generation is a huge preoccupation for many sales teams and digital marketers, with big spending on automated lead generation software, content marketing platforms, social media ads, and all of the other ways that companies invest in generating new sales leads.
But here’s the disconnect: after spending all that money, far too many companies don’t make any effort to analyze, sort, rank, and prioritize their follow-up strategy for these new business leads.
Not All Sales Leads Are Equal
Some new leads are urgently ready to buy and are eager to enter the sales process; others are just doing their preliminary research and might need a longer-term “lead nurturing” process before they have enough trust and confidence in your solution to be ready to buy.
But too many companies act like every new sales lead is the same!
According to statistics cited by HubSpot, 61% of B2B marketers simply send all of their new sales leads directly to the sales team, but only 27% of these leads are actually qualified and ready to buy.
This means that there is a huge amount of wasted time and miscommunication happening. If you’re sending unqualified sales leads to your sales team – without even asking any preliminary questions to get to know the prospects better – you are wasting your sales people’s time and missing out on big sales opportunities. Every unqualified sales lead is diverting your sales team’s attention from better-qualified leads that are more eager and ready to buy.
Here are a few easy ways to improve your inbound lead qualification process to make sure your sales team is getting the best sales leads – and thus saving time and delivering more efficient sales results:
Step 1. Have a preliminary conversation
Whenever your company hears from a new sales lead for the first time – whether it’s a phone call or email or social media contact – you need to have a process in place to follow up with that prospect and ask them a few preliminary questions. This is called “pre-qualifying” your sales leads – you need to find out upfront how much they know about your company, how far along they are in their purchasing process, and how much “pain” they’re experiencing that is motivating them to buy.
For example, you could ask the following questions – either by phone or via an email or even an online intake form:
- How did you find out about our company/our solution?
- What made you decide to contact us?
- What business challenges are you currently facing, and how do you think our product/solution could help?
- How soon do you expect to make a purchase decision?
Note that all of these questions are open-ended – not simple “yes/no” questions. Your goal is to get your prospects to open up a bit and share what’s on their mind – this can give you good insights into which prospects are really ready to buy.
Pre-qualifying sales leads is not an exact science – sometimes prospects will be misleading or vague – but having a preliminary conversation is an essential step to get your sales process started.
Step 2. Rank your sales leads
Once you’ve asked preliminary questions and gotten some feedback from the prospect, it’s time to rank your sales leads in priority order. You can make this as simple as ranking them as “A, B, C” – with “A” leads being the most urgently ready to buy, and “C” leads requiring longer-term follow-up.
Again – ranking sales leads is not an exact science – sometimes your “A” leads will turn out to be more lukewarm than they seemed at first, and “C” leads might turn out to suddenly be ready to buy. But it’s a good start to help your sales team prioritize the leads that require immediate follow-up.
The most efficient sales organizations know that the sales process starts with pre-qualifying your sales leads.
Many sales teams have a misguided focus on acquiring new customers at the expense of everything else. Yes, of course it’s important to get new sales leads – but what happens once you have first contact with those new sales leads matters even more. Without a consistent process to pre-qualify and rank sales leads, your sales team is likely to get overwhelmed with too many bad sales leads and too many wrong approaches.
Help your sales team get off on the right foot in building relationships with new customers – pre-qualify your new sales leads and learn more about what your customers want, before they ever talk to a sales person.
About the Author: Gregg Schwartz is the vice president of sales and marketing at Strategic Sales & Marketing, a lead-generation firm based in Connecticut. His company helps technology companies and various startups and small-to-mid-size businesses in the business-to-business sales category generate sales leads and improve their sales processes.