By Gregg Schwartz
Most of the time when people talk about sales, they think in terms of classic phrases like, “always be closing,” “making the ask” and “closing the deal!” And while it’s important to have that crucial instinct to bring sales to a successful close, the truth is that sales is not just about the end result of “closing” – it’s a complex process that takes time and requires careful management at every stage of the game.
In addition to an excessive focus on “closing,” many companies focus too much on the front end of the sales funnel. Many sales teams are constantly demanding more sales leads and complaining about the quality of the sales leads that they receive – but the truth is, even with the best sales leads in the world, if your company doesn’t have a good process in place the middle of the sales funnel, you’re not going to get good enough results out of your sales leads. What really distinguishes the best sales organizations from the rest is not how many sales leads they get – it’s how expertly they handle the sales leads that they already have!
The truth is, aside from the high-profile deal closers and the ever-elusive high-volume, high quality sales leads, the most overlooked part of the sales process is lead nurturing and lead management – the “middle of the sales funnel” which is often underutilized. Following up on sales leads and nurturing business relationships through the process is not always as glamorous or exciting as closing deals and generating new leads – but it’s often even more important to your company’s success.
Here are a few key tips and insights to improve your lead management and lead nurturing sales process.
A surprisingly large percentage of B2B sales organizations don’t do any upfront work to pre-qualify their sales leads – they just pass all new sales leads on to the sales team, as if all sales leads are the same. For example, according to stats cited by HubSpot, only 56% of B2B sales teams verify valid business leads before passing the leads on to the sales team. But sales leads are not all the same! Some sales leads are a good fit for what you sell and are serious buyers, while others are just doing preliminary research or testing the market. It’s important to know which sales leads are which before you give the leads to your sales people – because sales reps often get overwhelmed with too many bad leads, which then causes them to waste time and miss out on good business opportunities. Ask some questions upfront during your first point of contact with a new business lead – try to learn more about what they want, why they wanted to talk to your company, how soon they might be ready to make a purchase decision, and what “points of pain” in their current business operations are driving them to consider buying a new solution or hiring a new vendor.
Once you’ve done the initial work of pre-qualifying your sales leads, it’s important to rank them by order of priority for follow-up. Sort the sales leads into groups based on which ones seem most urgent and which ones are less ready to buy. Keep it simple: just a basic “A, B, C” ranking system can give you the clarity you need. And don’t worry if you don’t get all the rankings exactly right – some “A” leads might turn out to not be ready to buy, and some “C” leads might be ready to move more quickly than expected; the goal is to just sort your sales leads into preliminary categories to help save time for the sales team.
Plan for Follow Up
Once your sales leads are pre-qualified, sorted and ranked, it’s time to implement your overall plan to work through the sales process. Work with your sales people to follow-up on the highest-priority leads first, and create a longer-term “lead nurturing” follow-up plan for the longer-term sales leads that will require more attention and relationship building before they’re ready to buy.
Don’t get distracted by the common mistake of focusing on “closing” or “getting more leads” at the expense of the rest of your sales process. Yes, it’s important to get good leads and know how to close deals – but what happens in between, in the middle of your sales funnel – will help determine your ultimate success as a sales organization. Get better and managing the sales leads that you already have – with smart processes for pre-qualifying, prioritizing, and planning for (possibly) long-term lead nurturing – and you’ll be better able to maximize the potential of your sales leads and close more deals.