There is a quote in business that has been attributed to many people over the years..."Nothing happens until someone sells something" But from a sales perspective, the reality is..
"Nothing happens until you generate a lead!"
And this is just the start of the sales process and in turn, lead management process. Leads are the essence to generating revenue in business and for as long as I, and many older than me can recall, the responsibility for lead generation has always been clouded. Marketing is traditionally seen as 'selling to the masses' and therefore bringing opportunities to the door. Sales is seen as 'selling to individuals' (persons or businesses) but still with a need to generate opportunities through various means such as traditional cold calling and these days through social engagement. Regardless of where this responsibility lies (and there is a valid argument that the most successful businesses have strong collaboration between sales and marketing), the fact remains that at some point early in the sales process, a lead must be generated. However, generating leads is only the first step - to have any value to the business the leads must be appropriate and they must be managed. Leads need to be contacted, qualified and depending on the result of the qualification they then need to be removed or put into your sales process to convert them into customers. Further, once converted they need to be managed to ensure opportunities for further engagement are maximised. So, while it can be said that 'nothing happens until you have a lead', any lead is only of value if qualified and managed into and through your sales process. Throughout my career, as a salesman, a sales manager and consultant on sales development, this is where I see most businesses getting the sales process wrong. All too often businesses look to generate as many leads as possible and then waste time on those that are unlikely to deliver a positive return on further investment.
Leads are the raw material of sales
If we consider sales as a process, like any other process there are inputs and outputs. Leads are the raw material of the sales process and like in manufacturing, if the raw materials are wrong or of poor quality, a poor finished product will result. This raw material, the lead, needs to be turned into a finished product, a sale. I am a strong believer in the principles of Lean and apply these to all areas of business, particularly sales. Lean is about adding value, reducing waste and ensuring you have replicable processes to achieve these. With your leads, ie your raw materials, you need to look at how you can add value to these and reduce waste, to you, your business and your prospect. As with any process that takes a raw material and turns it into a finished product that is valued by a client, managing leads can be seen as a series of steps. And these are in turn steps within a greater sales process. Defining and actioning an appropriate process to generate, qualify and action leads is critical to helping you turn your raw materials into finished products - unmanaged, your leads will be like raw materials in a production line. They will have little or no value, and will have likely generated a significant cost to obtain - all wasted unless managed. While leads need to deliver a positive return to the salesperson and the business, obviously not all leads will. It is therefore critical to qualify leads as early as possible in your sales process. In a B2B environment, particularly high value sales are rarely closed without personal interaction, nor on the first meeting. This provides the opportunity for the sales person to qualify the lead. Successful salespeople qualify fast and qualify early. They develop techniques to check out enquiries to determine whether the buyer is serious or 'just looking' - they develop a series of questions that qualify the prospect 'IN' or 'OUT'. The nature of the questions may vary from business to business and one individual to another, but they all need to answer the same basic question - "Is this opportunity real, or am I just wasting my time?" There are many ways of qualifying leads, but one that is simple and provides an effective foundation for questioning is to apply the BANTA rule:
- Budget - is it available and approved?
- Authority - is you contact the decision maker, influencer, user etc? Can they make a decision that helps progress the sale?
- Need - Does the prospect have a confirmed need that you can solve?
- Time - When will they purchase? This will help determine the resources you may be able to apply
- Attractiveness (Value) - Is your proposed product/service/solutions delivering value to the prospect?
Simply ranking these from zero (very weak) to 5 (very strong) will help you determine the quality of the lead, what further information you might need and ultimately whether to pursue the opportunity or not. While this is a simple procedure to 'litmus test' leads, it is only a small, but very important part of the overall process of turning your raw materials into finished products. Developing a process to qualify and manage your leads will help you add value to your prospects and reduce waste. Here are some things to consider when determining how best to manage your leads:
- To whom are you selling?
- What is you current sales process?
- What is the buyer's process?
- Are you products sold direct, through channels, online or a combination of these?
- Which of the above deliver the best ROI?
- Who has responsibility for what in your current sale process?
- How are you leads currently managed?
- How are your leads created? By whom?
- Who is responsible (accountable) for lead generation?
Now review what you've discovered. Once you have answered these questions, map out the current manner in which leads are managed (or not managed) from the time they enter your business until they are converted to a finished product or cast-aside. Review the process, following leads as they pass through the business.
- What's working, what's not?
- Who is responsible for what?
- Is you process replicable?
- Does it provide success/failure stats?
- Does it hold people accountable?
- Where there are bottlenecks?
- Where are the greatest number of leads are discarded?
- What sources deliver the greatest sales (number and revenue)?
Through this process you'll have identified several weak points or places where leads are being mishandled or not handled at all. Carefully go through every step of your lead generation/management and sales processes and address any areas that need improving, or changing. Identify what is working and if possible develop further. Determine what is not working and fix or dismiss. Of critical importance is identifying where leads are lost or dropped. Were there specific triggers at these points that were missed? Often this is where interaction with the prospect is required - where you have been looking for more information, needed to engage wider or deeper or required acceptance of a suggested direction. Regardless, these 'trigger-points' must be managed. Having gone through the above review process you'll firstly have a system that works better than before, but just as importantly you'll be able to more clearly define your requirements should you choose to implement a new lead-management system to help you make the most valuable deliverable from your raw materials. Your sales process, when clearly defined and implemented, and with your people working in step with the process you will generate, manage and convert leads into better quality raw materials. And by sales and marketing working 'hand-in-hand', synergistic results can and should be achieved.
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