It’s fairly easy to find new leads, but finding new leads that turn out to be qualified prospects is another matter. Every minute that you spend on the phone with someone who is unable to buy from you is a minute that you’re not spending with a real prospect. The better your leads are, the more of your time will go into possible sales.
One place to start looking for great leads is with your current customers. Make a list of your very best customers and next to each customer’s name, write down how and where you met that person. If you don’t remember, or you inherited a customer from another salesperson, you’ll have to ask the customer himself. This is usually best done as part of an account review during which you ask a few questions about how the customer’s doing, if he has any questions or issues, and what you can do to continue to keep them happy. It’s a good idea to check in with your favorite customers on a regular basis anyway. Just slip in an extra question like, “How and where did you first come in contact with us?”
Once you’ve completed this exercise, look for any patterns or similarities. Did you meet several of your top customers at trade shows? In that case, it may be time to ramp up your trade show attendance. Did they find you on social media or through your business network? If so, maybe you should put more time and effort into developing those resources. Wherever your best customers came from, there are probably a lot more people just like them that you can reach in the same way.
Another way to help identify qualified leads is to make a list of the qualities that your customers tend to share. If you sell to consumers, do they all tend to be homeowners? Or have large families? Do they have similar hobbies or come from the same geographical area? If you sell B2B, do your best customers tend to come from one or two industries? Are they professionals, manufacturers, service providers? Do they tend to be a certain size or be located in certain geographic areas?
Now that you’ve identified the markers that can guide you to the best leads, it’s time to consider a lead generation program. You may have the greatest product in the world at a superb price but if your prospective customers don’t know you exist, you still won’t sell anything. The only way you can get sales is by making your target customer base aware of what you have to offer. If you don’t have a lot to spend on your program, start small — anything from social media sites for your business to printing out flyers and posting them in places where your customer base hangs out.
When setting up a lead generation system, keep in mind that different prospects have different contact preferences. Some prefer email, others like to do business over the phone, and still others enjoy surfing social media sites. If you only use one contact channel, you’ll probably lose your chance to speak with all the prospects who prefer other methods. Similarly, when you send out marketing methods you should include multiple ways for prospects to contact you in return — email, phone and regular mail at a minimum.
Once you have a few leads and you’ve made contact with them, don’t expect immediate results. With luck, some of those leads will buy immediately. But as a rule, it takes several contacts between yourself and a particular lead before he’ll consider buying. So once you’ve got someone on your list, keep in touch with that person in a value-building way. For example, you might send your leads a monthly newsletter full of helpful tips, or a link to a free white paper on a subject that will interest them, or a limited-time offer on your product.
Every salesperson has experienced the energizing sensation of having a lead call them and say they’re ready to buy. These leads are exciting because they’re a chance to make a sale without having to bother with the time-consuming early parts of the sales process. No combing lead lists, no cold call, no wooing a prospect into a meeting, just straight into the sales presentation.
Unfortunately, the expression “too good to be true” usually applies to so-called hot leads. The truth is that you will rarely actually close a sale with a prospect you meet late in their buying process. The reason is simple: whichever salesperson first meets with a prospect has the home field advantage. The first salesperson to speak with a lead has the opportunity to frame his presentation in such a way that his product will automatically look the best.
Frequently the prospect who calls up salespeople late in the sales cycle isn’t even really shopping by then. She already has a vendor in mind, but her company’s purchasing process requires her to get a set number of bids before she can pick one. Or she may be collecting other bids so that she can go back to her preferred vendor with them and try to get a better price. The longer a prospect has been with her current provider, the more likely it is that this vendor has shaped the decision criteria in such a way that other companies don’t really have a chance. This is particularly true with very big companies that have tons of red tape involved in the purchasing process.
This isn’t to say that hot prospects are impossible to close. What it means is that if you simply give your sales presentation and leave it at that, you won’t succeed in this type of situation. These prospects need a little extra work on your part if you want to have a real chance — think of it as a trade-off for the work you skipped from the early stages of the sales process.
When you get a call from a prospect who says he’s ready to buy, ask him a few questions before you launch into selling mode. You’ll need to ask who else the prospect is evaluating, how her relationship with her current supplier is working out, what her motivation is for switching providers and similar questions. If the prospect expresses some real frustration or describes serious problems, you have a chance. If not, don’t get your hopes up.
If your cold calling isn’t putting you in touch with leads fast enough, or you’re looking for other options, consider email. Email prospecting has some serious benefits. It’s a huge timesaver compared to cold calling since you can email a huge number of prospects with one click of the mouse. What’s more, you can save a successful email and use it in the future with a few modifications. And the fact that no one can hang up on an email is a big plus, especially with new salespeople.
The basic rules for email prospecting are not necessarily set in stone. Some salespeople break these rules regularly and get huge response rates. However, they do make a good place to start if you’re new to email prospecting. Once you’ve had a little more practice, you’ll have a better sense of when it’s safe to break these rules.
Rule #1: Choose a Compelling but Businesslike Subject Line
Your subject line should make prospects want to read further but should be an honest representation of the email. Subject lines that pretend you have a previous relationship with the prospect may get your email opened, but at that point, the prospect will discard your email in disgust.
Rule #2: Keep It Brief
Most prospecting emails should be no more than a paragraph long, four to five sentences or so. Remember, the point of the email is to get the prospect interested enough to get in touch with you, not to sell to them. You want to give the prospect just enough information to get them to call you back.
Rule #3: Include an Offer
The whole point of a prospecting email is to get an appointment. So your email needs to include something that will motivate the prospect to meet with you. That’s what the sales offer is for. A sales offer can be anything from a one-time break on price to a “just for you” demo package to a gift with purchase.
Rule #4: Minimize Linkage
Don’t fill your email with links; that practically screams “sales email.” Include one link in the body of the email, and, possibly, the second one in your signature. The body link might go to a sales landing page, while the signature link would probably go to your social media or blog page.
Rule #5: Minimize Images
Yes, it’s tempting to fill your email with pictures, but resist the urge. First of all, having a lot of images makes your email very large, slower to download, and more likely be flagged as spam. Second, many email clients will block images by default for security reasons, which means your prospects will just see a bunch of big empty squares instead of your carefully selected images.
Rule #6: Include Lots of Contact Information
Some people love the freedom of email, while others are more comfortable with phone communication. So the more contact options you give a prospect, the more likely he is to reply. At a minimum, you’ll want to include a phone number and an email contact address. Including a physical address will give your email more respectability, and including your social media account information allows prospects to learn a little more about you, which can also help to inspire their confidence.
Rule #7: Flaunt Your Company Affiliation
Always clearly include your company name and (if you have one) your company logo. It’s also a good idea to include a slogan or other tagline related to your company. If your company has branding policies, use them when you construct your email template. All of this will reassure prospects that you work for a respectable business.