Introduction: “The Leads! The Leads!”
There is one point that resonates with any salesperson who has seen the classic 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross: “It’s the leads!” In that film, veteran sales reps are saddled with sub-par leads for people who would never buy in a thousand years. The sales manager holds the good leads over their heads, saying, “Leads are for closers!” Yet the only sale closed in the film (and even that one falls apart) is from one of the good leads. It’s a reflection of the oldest gripe in sales organizations: you can’t sell without decent leads.
That’s certainly true enough. But when the leads do come in, what then? Lead management is every bit as important—maybe even more so—than obtaining the leads in the first place.
In the old rough-and-tumble days of sales, it pretty much worked the way it did in our classic film. Leads came in and were handed out to salespeople. The salesperson worked it. If it turned into a sale, great. If it didn’t, it hit the round file. Next!
As we’ve discovered through the years, that’s an awfully wasteful way to do things. There could be a million-dollar deal in the mix — one that just needs some nurturing. There may be prospects who don’t have budget now, but might in six months. These unpolished diamonds need some TLC.
Or what about the issue of lead mishandling? Suppose a bona fide lead falls into the lap of an inexperienced salesperson, who uses a flawed sales process, misses important cues, and kills a perfectly valid opportunity.
Today lead generation needs to be far more precise and employ efficient ways to route, score, and manage leads. Those folks over in Marketing are actually our friends—and alignment between Sales and Marketing is a best practice. In today’s lightning-fast world of commerce, the right sales automation is critical. And last but not least, if you’re not making social media a considerable part of your sales efforts, you’re missing out on activities that can boost your success rate tremendously.
This guide won’t be your last stop in learning all about lead generation and management—but hopefully it will be a good foundation.
Let’s start with that most important first step: Your buyer.
Creating a Buyer Profile
Unless you know exactly who your buyer is—what they want, what they need, what their pain points are—you’ll never get to square one with leads. A lead is an inquiry that may eventually become a sale. If you don’t recognize the typical buyer — what they think, how to reach them, what to say to engage them — it’s going to be difficult to sell to them.
How do you find out? The first step is to take a look at the kind of buyer purchasing your product or service. What do they have in common? Are certain markets or industries represented more than others? Who has typically been the first contact? The decision maker? Has the buying journey been similar? What are the typical pain points that led them to explore your offering?
If you are launching a brand-new product, this can be a more in-depth process. But in any case, your product was obviously developed with a particular buyer in mind. You need to reach out to them and find out as much as you possibly can.
Using Social Channels for Customer Discovery
Social Selling—used throughout the lead generation and management process—starts right here. Take a look at your buyers and their companies. Examine their LinkedIn, Quora, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media profiles. Find out what they’re posting and Tweeting about. What questions are they asking? Where appropriate, engage with them and help them. Be helpful with no expectation of a sale. Define yourself as a subject matter expert for your company and industry, so when they contemplate a purchase, your and your organization come to mind.
We have a couple of resources you may want to check out:
If you’re new to social selling, have a look at our Semi-Colossal Guide to Social Selling—it will provide great assistance for you on the social path from lead to close.
For more about leading a social selling team, you can also read John Golden and Matt McDarby’s ebook — we’re publishing it on the blog chapter by chapter.
Get Specific with Your Research
Buyer profiles don’t just begin and end with a generalized profile. Today buyer patterns have changed: much of the buying decision is made before a buyer ever speaks with a salesperson. Buyers are independent and smart about conducting research. They are out doing their due diligence, talking to peers, and exploring third-party review sites. You need to do the same.
That means with each sale, you need to dig in and find out about that specific buyer and that specific company. Become a follower of your buyer on social media—LinkedIn, Quora, Twitter and anywhere else your buyer might show up—and find out what their particular business issues are. You will utilize this public information to get you into that sale, and through it (speedily) to a close. Before your initial contact, you will be thoroughly briefed and know that buyer.
Overall, your lead and opportunity management processes will depend on creating of accurate buyer profiles. In fact, you’ll find that an accurate buyer profile becomes the first stage in your sales process.
What Every Team Member Should Know: The Definition of a Lead
Once you’ve nailed down your buyer profile, you won’t be able to get much further without answering this question: What constitutes a lead?
An informal poll of different departments in your company will probably yield some interesting results. A salesperson might define a lead as, “A qualified prospect ready to buy.” A Marketing person might say, “A prospect, qualified or unqualified, interested in our product at some level.” It’s been the source of heated debate for many years.
This schism in the definition of a lead is one of the primary causes of wasted leads. Marketing brings in the leads and turns them over to Sales. Some of them (in Sales’ view) are qualified, some not. The ones that Sales doesn’t see as qualified are ignored, while the others are picked up. What happens to those leads that are “unqualified”? They fall into a black hole forevermore—until some other, more prudent, competitor comes along, picks them up, and turns them into sales.
How to mend the schism? Since Marketing has a key role in the provision of leads that Sales then has to address, both departments need to come to actual agreement on the definition of a lead for your company.
The Many Facets of a Lead
Once this discussion gets underway, it’s likely that there will turn out to be different levels of lead qualification:
These are the types of “leads” that have come in from, for example, a trade show; somebody had their badge swiped so they could get your cool T-shirt, mouse pad, or mug. They’ll never buy and their company wouldn’t even use your product.
Someone who is interested in the product or service at some future date, who doesn’t currently have the budget, who is thinking of switching from a competitor in the future, or the like.
Someone who has genuine interest in your product or service, whose interest is documented with specific interactions with your organization (e.g., a download or webform, a trial) and who appears ready to purchase in the near future.
Thoughtful Lead Scoring
A more precise way of defining leads is lead scoring. Lead scoring is the assignment of an agreed-upon value to a lead, allowing it to be easily prioritized.
For example, a Marketing-qualified lead might be assigned a score of 3, whereas a Sales-qualified lead might be assigned a score of 6.
Such a system can be more complex and precise, depending on what you know about leads as they enter the system. For example, some companies use a method called “digital body language”—a profile that shows where on your website a prospect has visited. If that prospect has read most of your product data and even downloaded a white paper, that could be a strong lead which would mandate a higher score. A lead that comes in through the recommendation of a customer might be even higher. A lead that simply emailed to request more info after barely checking out your site might rate a lower score.
As these leads are qualified and move along the sales pipeline as their quantifiable value changes, so the capacity to change scores should be part of a flexible system. Some leads (e.g., a company using a competitor’s product) are likely to have a long sales cycle. Another lead might lack budget approval until the end of the year. Leads can surprise; someone who simply emailed in for more info might have done a whole lot of research somewhere other than your website, and is ready to buy right now.
Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is an in-writing declaration and agreement between two parties on particular services to be delivered, normally done between a service provider (such as a Cloud provider) and a client. Today SLAs are often used to solidify agreements between Marketing and Sales on lead definitions and scoring, the idea being that any lead handed off from Marketing to Sales must meet exact, written criteria.
Generating Leads: Who, What, When, Where
Once you’ve nailed down your buyer profile and agreed on the definition for a lead, you need to find out where you can develop leads from your typical buyer.
The Tried and True LeadGen Methods
Some do use traditional methods for lead generation, but these methods are slowly but surely being replaced by more modern social selling methods. Nonetheless you should know what they are and, where appropriate, make use of them.
Direct mail, in numerous industries, can still be a viable method of lead generation. Pay particular attention to two elements: your message, and your list. If you’ve done your homework on your buyer profile, you should be able to craft messages that will be meaningful to them and cause them to reach back. You should also isolate and use your most important Unique Selling Propositions (USPs) that set you apart from your competition.
Then, of course, there are the lists you use. Make sure the recipients on the list come as close as possible to your buyer profile. Only use reputable list brokers—check their reviews and references as there are many sleazy ones out there. Make sure the lists you want to purchase or rent are regularly updated (minimally every 6 months) so you don’t end up with a bunch of bad addresses or names of people who have long-since moved on to other locations or jobs.
Make several pieces and test them in small mailings against numerous lists. When you find one that works, then launch it broadly.
In the earlier days of the Internet, purchasing email lists of prospects was popular and is still used to some extent today. The key to these lists, as with direct mail lists, is their reliability; all the rules above about direct mail lists certainly apply to email lists. An additional factor, one that doesn’t apply to snail-mail lists, is that the recipients must have agreed to receive email from you. Before engaging in a cold email campaign, make sure you consult your local Spam laws. The last thing you need is for your domain name to be flagged as a spammer—something that’s very hard to undo once it’s done. Forever after none of your email will make it to recipients from that domain name.
Also as with direct mail, your message is everything. In fact, because of the volume of email today, it’s probably even more important. You have a fraction of a second to either engage your recipients before your message hits their Trash folder.
Because of changes in buyer behavior over the last few years—with buyers becoming far more educated on your product or service before they ever speak with you—cold calling is becoming increasingly less effective. If it’s a necessary part of your sales operation, however, you can modernize your process and practice some careful cold calling.
As discussed earlier, you need to create an individual buyer profile for any company you’re going to approach. This should be done wherever possible in cold calling. If no information is available at all, then follow the general buyer profile you have created.
Since cold calling has changed so much, there are several great cold calling approaches offered today by sales experts. One great one is offered by Jim Keenan in our Titans of Sale Interview (see the information under the question about cold calling right at the beginning).
Your website, all by itself, can and should be a lead machine.
Optimizing your website to be found by prospects online used to be all about keywords, but a much more important factor today is content. Your website should offer as much helpful, relevant content as possible. It no longer works to have empty content just stuffed with keywords—that will turn off both the search engines and your prospects. It needs to be truly relevant, and the more actual help it offers to readers, the better.
Today, helpful content is offered right in primary web pages, but it is best offered through a separate but connected blog. Post daily blogs about topics you know will be helpful, based on your buyer profile. They don’t all have to be directly related to your product or service—in fact a high percentage of your blog posts should just be aimed at non-product-related general help. To the degree your prospects find your information useful, your blog will become more popular and traffic will increase.
A great tip on ramping up traffic to your blog is to invite guest bloggers with large followings from your industry to post on your blog. People following your guest blogger will visit your site and, if they like what they see, will keep returning.
While keywords aren’t as important as they used to be, they are still important. You should conduct research on the most-searched keywords for your prospects, and optimize your website and blog posts around them.
Of course all the best content in the world, and the most sought-after keywords, will be of little value if people nose around your site and then leave due to lack of interest. Organize your website so that web visitors are guided through ever-increasing levels of interest in your product or service. Add calls-to-action (CTAs) on every page you can—for a demo, a free quote, or whatever your introductory service happens to be.
There are many experts on websites available for consultation; check references and results. No posers allowed! If you can’t afford to hire an expert, read up on best practices. A good resource is automated marketing company HubSpot who has numerous helpful articles on increasing your website response and lead generation.
Of course one of the oldest forms of lead generation is advertising. Traditionally done through display ads in publications, today it’s far more prevalent through banner and other kinds of advertising through the Web, such as Google AdWords and remarketing.
Because of the volume of advertising noise level, advertising today must be very clever and effective to work at all. As with your direct or email messaging, it must aim directly at your buyer profile.
Public Relations (PR)
Your lead-generation machine should certainly include PR. Positive third-party articles about, and mentions of, your product or service could prove to be a significant source of leads.
PR is a whole field of expertise unto itself, and it will certainly help you to employ such an expert full time. You can also outsource PR with great results.
Know Your Media
The first important point is to know what publications, websites and blogs are most popular with your readers. Such research should also include your potential buyers’ social media habits—but we’re going to cover that separately. For now, let’s just focus on where they get their industry news, what kind of sites or publications they turn to for reviews on products and like yours. Fully research these out, study their content, get to know them well.
Cultivate Your Outlets
Then, you’re going to want to cultivate the writers and editors in those media outlets. Make friends with them. Find out what kinds of stories they’re looking for, what constitutes “real news” for them. Then get your content team cranking that out in the form of press releases, and provide it to them.
Your relationship with the press should be very similar to that with your prospects: Your primary goal should be to help them. If you keep that firmly in mind as a goal, it will take you a long way in PR.
Learn What Will Resonate with the Press
The closer you come to what these writers and editors really want will mean a considerable increase in your chances of obtaining press. Conversely (and critically important) the farther away you stray from what they actually need and want—no matter how important or relevant you think your release is—the lesser the chances of that press coming about. In fact the more “junk” these editors and writers perceive they are receiving from you, the less attention they will give you. Because of the volume of traffic they receive, it will get quickly to the point that they will emotionally unsubscribe from anything you send.
You’ll find that new product news—new breakthroughs, new technology and the like—are usually the sorts of things that the media likes in the B2B world. But there is much you can do to cultivate other types of stories, such as winning industry awards. The more prominent the award, the better.
In the award arena, you can cultivate your relationships with the judges and seek their advice. You should also, of course, get your customers to vote when your organization is up for an award.
With a combination of what the editors and writers tell you they are looking for, plus following their publications and knowing their editorial focus, you’ll get a feel for the kind of news that will work. Done right, PR can be a very lucrative source of leads.
Sales Rep Lead Generation
In many companies, sales reps are not only responsible for moving a sale from lead to close, but also for prospecting for new leads themselves.
Because salespeople are right on the front lines of customer interaction, they constantly have prime opportunities to ask customers questions like, “Say, who else do you know in the industry who could use our product?” Word of mouth brings in the most valuable leads–pure gold.
Salespeople will often encounter lead candidates in other areas, especially if they’re watching out for them. Just walking the floor of a trade show could offer numerous possibilities.
Some companies today have isolated lead generation and made it purely a marketing activity, leaving salespeople to exclusively work sales. That’s fine—but the wise salesperson will nonetheless be on the lookout for new leads anyway. If nothing else it’s certainly a way to help raise the future income of the sales rep.
Last but Definitely Not Least: Social Media
Today social media is playing an ever-increasing part in lead generation—and for very good reason. You’re going to want to dedicate a healthy portion of your lead-generation efforts to activities in social media.
It’s a social world. Your potential prospects are all out there on social media platforms: they’re Tweeting their product experiences. They’re posting and commenting on LinkedIn, and engaging in LinkedIn forums. They’re asking pertinent questions on Quora. They’re even posting and commenting in Facebook. They’re linking to valuable content found in blogs—and sharing that content through all of these channels.
Earlier on we mentioned that some 70% of a buyer’s buying decision is made before they ever speak with a salesperson. Why is that? It’s because they’re researching your product or service through social media. Certainly they’ll check out your website and check out what you have to say about your products—but that isn’t where they’re obtaining their decision-making information. In fact they will normally visit your website after they’ve encountered positive information about you in social media.
Providing Needed Information
So if your prospects are out there researching information about your product or service line, it stands to reason that the only way you’re going to bring them to your doorstep is to be out there, too. You need to make yourself into the expert that they seek their help from.
As mentioned earlier, it starts with a blog, through which you provide real help to your prospects and customers. If you do an effective job, your blog posts will be shared through social channels. You also should be proactively sharing them on every channel on which your prospects might searching.
The provision of this help and information goes well beyond your blog, though. For example, LinkedIn is currently the #1 platform for B2B social selling. You should become actively engaged there, posting helpful articles (of course strictly following LinkedIn guidelines) and obtaining followers. You should monitor relevant LinkedIn forums and groups, and engage and help people wherever possible.
Beyond that, follow your prospects on other forums such as Twitter, Quora, Facebook and anywhere else they might show up. Answer any questions you can from your area of expertise, whether or not it pertains to your product. You’ll find that you make friends in the oddest ways—for example you may find someone likes you because you’re a gardening expert, for example. But they work for a company you’re targeting as a prospect. One can definitely lead to the other, so don’t negate any possibility.
The more you get into social selling, the more you’ll realize how far we’ve come from the lead-interest-sell sales model of yesterday. It used to be that a prospect was contacted, qualified, closed and mainly forgotten. Today, however, you gain the sale in the first place by forging a relationship—you are creating trust in yourself, your company and your products. That trust doesn’t—nor should it—end with the closing of just one sale. A happy customer not only returns for further sales, but brings you other prospects as well.
A Game for Everyone
Social media shouldn’t be relegated to only Marketing or Sales, or be one person’s job. Properly done, social selling is done through every employee getting on social media and providing help from their particular areas of expertise.This is a way to expand your lead generation power from just a few to many sources. It’s how the top companies today are succeeding, and it can be far more cost-effective than traditional lead-generation sources.
Any marketing veteran will tell you that a good steady influx of leads normally comes about from a combination of all lead-generating efforts. The more you can employ, the merrier. You’ll find some work better than others, at different times. Keeping them all working, and constantly monitoring and improving each, is the best way to guarantee a steady flow of leads.
For anyone who becomes a lead from whatever source, rapid response is a must. At the least you should have an automated system that instantly sends them an email thanking them for downloading trialware, and offers helpful tips on getting the most out of the product. If your CTA is a request for a call, that call should be made in minutes, not hours or days. If it’s a request for a quote, the quote should be rapidly gotten back to them, too.
It’s a highly competitive world, and your lead is probably lukewarm. It will go cold awfully fast. Don’t waste it. Get back to them as rapidly as possible, qualify them and move them onto their next sales step.
Once you have leads coming in the next phase becomes of primary importance: lead management. As we mentioned in the beginning, the way you manage your leads is as important—if not more so—than the obtaining of leads in the first place. Leads are gold nuggets; improperly handled you might as well be throwing them right back in the stream for someone else (namely a competitor) to find and keep.
Traditionally, lead qualifying was done by a sales rep. The rep would get the prospect on the phone or visit in person, and run through a system such as BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) to qualify the prospect as rapidly as possible.
Today, such qualifying can be done before the lead reaches a rep. One common method is to have an SDR contact the prospect and ask a preset series of questions Sales would need to know. Some companies even have forms the prospect can quickly fill out, from which the company will be able to estimate how qualified leads actually are.
If a lead comes in through social selling channels, its level of qualification may already be known by the person who’s been working it. In that case it can just be scored and routed.
In any case a lead needs to be qualified as rapidly as possible. When it is, it can be scored and sent to the appropriate place.
Along with the other factors listed above, agreed-upon and fast methods of lead routing need to be established. The common denominator for all leads should be “rapid service”—no matter where they’re supposed to go, they get there fast and are communicated with immediately.
Traditionally lead routing has been handled manually; once it was qualified, it was taken to the appropriate person. Today, sales automation has made it possible for someone doing the qualifying to drag-and-drop a lead right in CRM to the person who should next be on top of it. Today’s leading-edge CRM solutions make it possible for this to be an entirely visual operation so that leads can be routed in seconds, and seen and picked up instantly at the next stage.
Along with buyer profiles and the definitions of a lead, Marketing and Sales must agree upon the way or ways in which leads that are “not ready for prime time” are going to be handled.
Such leads should be nurtured until they are ready for handoff to a sales rep. The idea is to keep your company’s products or services firmly in the minds of prospects until they are ready to purchase. If your company loses touch with that lead, they could very well wander off to a competitor.
Most companies have 1 of 2 primary methods of lead nurturing, and some even do both:
1. Marketing keeps these leads in its own pipeline or sales process stage, and conducts campaigns designed to “heat up” the leads. These can be drip marketing campaigns, in which an email is sent weekly to the prospect offering news or help which might speed along the decision. Such campaigns can also include video and multimedia to make them more interesting and compelling. At the point the prospect indicates they’re ready to discuss purchase, they’re handed off to a rep.
2. Sales assigns such leads to Sales Development Reps (SDRs) who regularly contact the prospect, ask how it’s going, offer help, and provide pertinent help to the prospect for any issues they may be encountering. When the prospect is moved up to the point of purchase, they’re handed off.
Once Again, The Role of Social Selling
Social selling can play an important role in lead nurturing. As we discovered earlier, prospects are out there utilizing social media. At this stage of the game, so should Marketing personnel, SDRs, or both. Stay in touch with that prospect, answer their questions, offer them more help. Remain firmly in their minds as the experts in your industry.
The efficiency of the remainder of the lead management process is now up to the reliability of your company’s sales pipeline. A sales pipeline is that series of steps a sale travels through from lead to close. The more accurate your sales pipeline, the higher your close rates and the better your sales velocity will be. A sales pipeline contains clearly defined and measured steps, and provides actions and metrics at each stage so that each step adds value as the sale moves along.
If you don’t have an established sales pipeline, setting one up is something you should see to immediately. This is also true if you have a sales pipeline that isn’t totally followed, that is outdated, or that isn’t producing the results you think it should. A reliable sales pipeline is the only way your company will be able to make the absolute most of the leads they have worked so hard to bring in.
If you need more help with setting up a sales pipeline, we recommend downloading our checklist 12 Steps to Creating an Effective and Predictable Sales Pipeline.
Any guide to lead and opportunity management wouldn’t be complete without a word on Sales Enablement. A salesperson comes to you and is hired because of the sales abilities they bring with them—but the only way you’re going to increase your sales organization’s closing ratios, short of continually adding more salespeople, is to continually enable your sales force.
Coaching and Mentoring
Today many sales managers have realized the importance of coaching and mentoring their salespeople. On an individual basis, this is often done through listening or sitting in on sales calls, and making suggestions for improvement afterward. An additional step is to have a less-experienced rep “shadow” one of your proven veterans to pick up best practices.
Coaching and mentoring is best facilitated by a clearly visual CRM solution, through which a sales manager can readily see at which stage or stages sales are lagging, and with which salespeople. It becomes clear what kinds of help salespeople readily need.
Such a solution also greatly frees up the time of the sales manager so that coaching and mentoring can occur in the first place.
Sharing Best Practices
Veteran salespeople always have their tried-and-true methods which have made them successful. In the old days the vets would play “close to the vest” and would rarely share their “secrets.” Today, team operation is much more important; if the whole sales force isn’t operating at maximum efficiency, everyone might as well go home. It’s a tough, competitive business environment, and a company and sales force needs all the help it can get to do the best possible job it is capable of.
Sharing of best practices should therefore be the norm in modern sales organizations. This can be done through several methods.
Reps and sales management can go over best practices at sales meetings, so that they’re shared with the whole team
A repository can be kept of best practices in written form, that reps can access and go over.
With a leading-edge CRM, best practices can be shared right in CRM, accessible right from the sales stages to which they apply.
Functioning in the Digital Era
You’ll find that, especially with your more experienced reps, that they may need help in selling in the digital era. Where traditionally a salesperson would be sitting right in front of a prospect, being able to read body language and notice other indicators, today much of sales is conducted online via Skype or other digital meeting solutions.
First, salespeople need to come totally up to speed in using the technology at their disposal. This includes methods of online presentation and collaboration, and becoming facile with online meeting applications.
But second, a salesperson needs to ramp up their abilities to “read” the prospect without being able to see them, or totally see their environment. It’s a whole other skillset from the days when the prospect was right there in person.
The Right Tools
Probably the most crucial aspect of sales enablement is the provision of the right tools in the empowerment of salespeople to sell. Today this topic is finally beginning to get the attention it deserves.
In years past salespeople kept track of their sales in any way they could, most usually having their each individual methods of doing so. These consisted of spreadsheets or notes, digital or hard-copy.
One slight step up from individual spreadsheets—still used in many companies—was the use of commonly-shared spreadsheets.
CRM solutions, now having been around for a couple of decades, were evolved to give companies a common platform through which to manage salespeople and customer relationship activities. But these became anything but a real solution for controlling and managing sales, as salespeople couldn’t stand them. Traditional CRM solutions were mainly a method of demanding considerable extra admin time from salespeople for inputting of data, and for management to keep on top of sales reps and sales cycles.
Traditional CRM solutions are now being seen as failures both as management tools and—worse—for sales forces to track and control their sales cycles. Because of CRM complexity, salespeople have tended to still retain their own solutions, such as spreadsheets and notes, which means that CRM is not saving them any time or acting as a tool with which they can manage their sales. Additionally they’re still required to act as data input clerks for CRM, despite the fact that CRM isn’t helping them at all.
Management has obviously arrived at the same conclusion. Despite the existence of CRM and the data being entered by the sales reps, CRM solutions have proven complex and unwieldy enough that sales managers still have to interact with salespeople in order to gain a true picture of sales cycle statuses.
A leading-edge CRM solution, such as Pipeliner CRM, solves both these issues:
Salespeople can instantly and visually see where each of their sales cycles stands, what needs to be done next, who needs to be contacted, and each of any other pertinent factors relating to a sale. CRM is instantly transformed from a cumbersome burden to something they actually enjoy using and which provides them tremendous help.
- The same visual nature provides sales management a tool with which they can instantly and visually see the pipeline of their whole sales force, and each rep individually. They can see where each sale stands, what the next activity is, and its chances of coming in.