A very popular movie amongst salespeople is the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross, a tightly dramatic examination of several veteran salespeople struggling to keep their jobs. One chord is struck with any salesperson who’s ever seen this film: It’s all about the sales leads. A generous portion of the story is wrapped around these sales reps agonizing over the weak quality of their sales leads—while sales management forcefully argues that it’s not the lead quality, it’s the quality of the salesperson and their closing skills.
This age-old argument aside, leads factually have everything to do with sales rep success. A lack of leads—or almost worse a continuous flow of weak leads—can literally break salespeople and cause them to think they really can’t sell. For a whole sales force a sales period (such as a month or a quarter) spent working bad leads can mean a major struggle toward the end of the sales period to make quota, resorting to irregular discounts, special terms and promises the company may not be able to keep.
What Constitutes a Good Sales Lead?
While salespeople might instantly reply, “Somebody who buys!” to this question, it’s obviously a little more involved than that. Put simply, a good sales lead would consist of a prospect or prospect company that fits your company’s customer profile. It’s someone with an issue that your product or service will resolve, and who can afford it. Hopefully, it’s someone who has actually heard of your product or service and therefore would be interested in it. The more of these criteria the lead meets, the easier and faster the sale will go.
Where do They Come From?
Therein lies the million-dollar question. In the old days it was up to a sales force to drum up their own leads—and in some quarters this is still true today. More commonly, though, it is up to Marketing to constantly seek out sources of leads, bring them in and provide them to the sales force.
Leads can be obtained by issuing promotion on various channels: email, trade shows, display advertising (in print and online), PR articles, handouts, and many others; these invite the reader to visit the company’s website. The website is designed to convert the basic interest into an actual lead; the stronger ones actually pick up the phone and call in, others fill out a form for more information.
The best source of sales leads is referrals from happy customers; the better job a company does of providing a great product or service, the more of these there will be.
Leads can come from many other sources as well—from companies that provide lists of potential prospects, from affiliates, even from companies that cold call for you. In the last few years, social media has become a major lead generation method; people visit a LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social media page, subscribe to a Twitter feed, engage with others and become interested that way.
The more sources the better, as in many respects it is a numbers game: more leads means more chances to sell. But in the end it’s the quality of that lead that matters the most—and for Marketing to truly do its job it will have to be able to constantly monitor leads and their progress if they don’t want the sales force figuratively turning up at Marketing’s door with torches and ropes.
How does Marketing monitor lead quality? Simply relying on salesperson feedback is at best inadequate; out of fear of losing their jobs some reps may keep silent for some time while they pound on and fail with weak leads, while only the less successful reps actually complain, tending to invalidate the information.
As with anything, the only reliable feedback is through real-time actual data. This is obtained through a leading-edge CRM solution with which leads can be tracked through every stage of the sales pipeline. With that kind of view Marketing will know right away if a particular sales lead source isn’t working or—better—when it is so that they can obtain more from the same source.
For the sales force, the hard truth is that it is all about the leads. In this series of articles, we’ll be exploring the subject in-depth.
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