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Is this a common response you, or a member of your sales team, has when presented with a lead?  The answer probably depends on many variables within your organization, but for those of you that chuckled, read on.  The definition and importance of a lead means different things to different people and is predicated on a number of company specific factors.  If you’re still reading, your organization has most likely invested in some type of lead generation process and the volume of leads flowing to you or your sales team is significant.  Previous blog posts on this site have discussed the difference between a lead and a name and how “not all leads are created equal”, so this discussion is focused on the sales process employed in handling leads and overcoming the indifference often exhibited by sales professionals when tasked with following up on leads.

To set the stage, consider some of the generally accepted truths about the business environment today. 

Prospects are utilizing the web to guide them through their buying decisions much more frequently than in the past.  Additionally, employees in general are tasked to do more in less time due to the assistance of ever advancing technology.  Technology has also made it easier to target and message prospects, so they are receiving more and more unsolicited information about solutions to their needs.  The logical result is an overtaxed prospect that blocks out communication attempts while researching internally defined problems without outside assistance.  Since the primary role of a consultative sales person is to help the prospect define a need, uncover root cause and provide the best solution, it is easy to see how the modern buying cycle and sales cycle are at odds with one another.  Based on this, it is logical to assume a lead that has shown an expressed interest will likely have a much higher sales conversion probability than a name generated from a target market list.

Because of the above, the first step in developing a sales process around leads is to rank the perceived interest level of the customer.  Obviously, a lead generated by a prospect filling out a web form would demonstrate a high interest level, whereas a name generated from a target list has no known interest level.  Unfortunately, we also know that only about 2% of website visitors will fill out a form, in part because they have the ability to conduct their own research to determine what solution they believe will best meet their needs.  So as a first step in the process, develop a ranking system of leads based on how the lead was generated.  A suggestion would be to rank form fills at the top, followed by visits to target pages to a site, followed by mail campaign opens, all the way down to target market lists.

The next step in the process is to determine how to follow up with the leads in each category of your ranking system.

As part of this step it is critical that each member of the sales team understands how the leads are ranked and why they are ranked in a certain way.  Additionally, each sales team member needs to understand the specific process to be utilized for each lead category.  It is up to the sales leader to determine the frequency and type of contact for each category, but much more time and effort should be spent on highly ranked leads.  Most research on the subject of engagement leans towards six or more attempts over a defined time period utilizing multiple communication channels.  This seems reasonable considering the workload of the typical prospect and the information “noise” to which they are subjected.  If the sales team understands the ranking system and the reasoning behind the subsequent process, indifference will be reduced and high interest leads will be given the necessary attention.

Once a ranking system and a contact process has been established it is also critical to develop messaging that will resonate with the prospect and hopefully cut through the noise of all the information the prospect is currently receiving.  Messaging is probably one of the most challenging aspects of developing a replicable sales process.  Again, messaging will be dependent on your particular value proposition and the specific client needs addressed, but, generally, the more specifically you address your target prospect (read personalized here) the more likelihood of success in engagement over time.  Suggestions here would be to make the message as customer centric as possible and utilize multiple messages to avoid becoming repetitive over the course of the contact period.

As a final step, it is extremely important to have a tracking mechanism in place to monitor progress and gauge success.

Preferably, this would be handled with a CRM, however it can be as simple as a spreadsheet.  Whatever the vehicle, it is critical that the team members and the leader are able to track the activity to make sure the process is followed and results can be measured.  The individual sales person needs a vehicle to keep track of what message was delivered to what client at what time.  Once measurement provides insight into increased results from higher quality leads, the comment about “another lead” will likely be met with more enthusiasm and less sarcasm.