The One That Got Away: Better Practices for Lead Follow-Up
Every day, we help busy leaders create a sustainable lead generation system so they can remain confident in the growth of their company without losing focus on their other responsibilities. We do this by first going deep into persona work and building a plan that is Strategic, Organized, Accountable and then Repeatable (aka our SOAR System).
While we love to make things pretty, write clever content, and wow clients with integrated video and digital campaigns - what is the point if the marketing spend is not translating into increased revenue?
We take the longer road, what we sometimes call the slow burn, to create a reliable foundation for lead generation for years to come. Once that foundation is strong, the leads should be coming in predictable waves.
But what happens to those leads? What's a salesperson to do to actualize a sale? What are the current best practices for closing a deal that doesn't just make money, but makes sense to everyone involved along the way?
It's obvious that a B2B sale of software service may require additional steps for technical specs, due diligence for compatibility issues or multiple demos. And B2C sales may require a more immediate and probably visual approach that can look more like customer service even before the consumer is a customer. Either way, buyers are flowing through their buyer's journey at their own pace. They don't like to be rushed and yet don't like to wait around.
We have a habit of not giving lead generation follow up tips without helping people first understand the buyer's journey.
UNDERSTANDING THE BUYER'S JOURNEY
A more old school approach to understanding a potential customer's path to purchase insinuated that people took step one, then two, then three before they were ready to buy. Or, if you're really old school, they were ready to be sold.
But the way the modern consumer carves out their path is often a zig-zagged and complex series of events. What can be seen, no matter the trajectory, is that people tend to move from actions in the AWARENESS stage to the CONSIDERATION stage and finally into the DECISION stage.
Understanding the key identifiers of these stages can immensely help lead follow up even before applying other best practices.
In this stage, the buyer begins to realize that they have a problem, but they can't quite put a name to that problem. We like to use the analogy of someone having the flu. In the awareness stage, the patient starts experiencing symptoms of an illness - maybe they have the flu, maybe the symptoms are for mono, a common cold or worse.
The questions that a buyer would be asking in this stage of the buyer's journey are general in nature. For example, "Am I even speaking to the right audience? Or, "Will this plan even work?"
In this stage, the buyer has defined their problem and begins researching options to solve it. In our flu example, this is when the patient receives the diagnosis from the doctor and starts thinking through solutions to start feeling better. Rest, medication, etc.
The questions that a buyer would be asking in this stage of the buyer's journey are a bit more specific. For example, "How do I know whether to insource or outsource?" Or, "Where can I quickly tap into (insert target audience here)?"
This is the stage where the buyer makes a final purchase decision. In our flu example, this is when they would be prescribed a specific medication and dosage in order to solve their problem: the flu.
The questions that a buyer would be asking in this stage of the buyer's journey are very specific and typically include the vendor's name. For example, "How will (insert vendor) make me look good to my boss and my organization?" Or, "What is (insert vendor)'s track record with big brands like mine?"
One interesting thing about the modern consumer is that the awareness and consideration stages often happen well before a salesperson is every aware of a potential lead.
The fact is, the average buyer consumes 11.4 pieces of content before making a buying decision. This means that treating a buyer who has done their due diligence (researching online, on social media, in trade magazines, or through friends and peers, etc.) as if they are in the awareness stage simply because this is the first time they are reaching out to your company will probably result in a lost sale.
That is to say, if they arrive in your lead funnel but are already in the decision phase, they need to be helped as such. Going back to the basics of uncovering their pain or even helping them reach the conclusion that they simply must do something about it will probably cause them to become impatient. If they are in an active decision mode, they are directly wondering if your company, product or service is the right solution for the problem they know they have and they know they want to solve.
Lead follow-up is just one part of a much bigger system of sustainable lead generation. For more information on how to create such a system check out SOAR by following the link below.
Priscilla's BEST PRACTICES FOR LEAD FOLLOW-UP
If we understand the journey there are still tactical moves a successful salesperson must make. The following are our best practices for your consideration:
1. A.B.H. - ALWAYS BE HELPING
No one likes to be closed.
No one plans to use their vacation time to simply check things out on a used car lot. No offense to used car salesmen, but there is a stereotype to overcome for a reason. We all hate being sold and yet we still get in our cars, on our scooters, or (if you live in Boulder) in your Subaru Outback and get to work and talk differently.
You could see our point here as meaning to operate using the Golden Rule - simply do unto others as you would have them do to you. But there is something deeper that is missed if that is the maxim applied. While Zig Ziglar offered many still tried and true rules for selling, his phrase he considered to be the "ABC's of Selling" translated to "Always Be Closing."
The current best practice, that is more of a mindset shift first and later translates into tangible tactics, is what we call the "ABH's of Selling" translated to "Always Be Helping."
When in doubt, simply never start a sentence with these words, "If I could find a way..."
2. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Powerful content marketing systems are built with lead magnets and great articles allowing potential buyers to digitally "browse."
Intuitive workflows can also be created to nurture leads into this buying stage. Companies can adapt these systems to best reflect their comfort level of aggressive sales.
It doesn't pay to reach out with a sales pitch to a prospect before they are ready to buy. Great content marketing systems know they are delivering Decision stage buyers as "marketing qualified leads" in hopes a trained salesperson can move them into a "sales qualified lead" and of course, continue the process as they become a customer. Don't want to be "salesy?" Then don't be. Make sure your lead generation system is providing leads who are showing signs of actively being in the decision stage.
When buyers enter the decision stage they want to move quickly. The degree of impatience of the modern buyer is obvious and really can't be overstated. In fact, according to InsideSales.com, up to 50% of sales go to the first rep who makes contact. We've watched companies pour money into marketing efforts and content strategies to create leads only to have them never used. The Harvard Business Review underscores this truth in a study that revealed that companies who attempted to connect with prospects within an hour of the initial query were almost seven times more likely to qualify the lead.
3. CLEAR NEXT STEP
As salespeople, we get excited when a prospect gets excited. It's only natural. But if we don't clear some smoke when we feel the excitement we most likely start making our own assumptions about their level of interest, the scope of the project, size of the budget, timeline before buying and so much more.
For the purposes of successful lead generation follow up, however, let's apply it to the ubiquitous, "call me back another time" phrase sales people loathe to hear. To clear the smoke we could ask, "Would it be ok if I called you next Friday/in 2 months/in the fall?" But in order to really see the future more clearly, the smoke could more effectively be removed by asking, "If I were to call you next Friday/in 2 months/in the fall, what do you think you would want to discuss in that conversation?"
It's a simple nuanced difference, but one that is based on being helpful both to the prospect and to the salesperson (see best practice #1).
In the end, clearing the smoke is not about a sales tactic or applying pressure. It's about getting a clear next step of action. This allows prospects to explain their timeline, their concerns, their budget issues or anything else in a much more transparent way. It doesn't have to be as mysterious as smoke in the eyes, it can simply be an overt question like, "What would you like me to do as a clear next step to help you in your buying process?"
4. OVERNIGHT SUCCESS STORIES
No one thinks they are really going to be an overnight success, but most lead generation follow-up plans (or lack thereof) that I've seen leads me to believe that they are still under this grandiose delusion.
In terms of best practices for follow up, sheer TENACITY is often overlooked. Consider that 44% of sales professionals give up after their first rejection.
"92% of sales people give up after four "no's", and only 8% of salespeople ask for the order a fifth time. When you consider that 80% of prospects say "no" four times before they say "yes", the inference is that 8% of sales people are getting 80% of the sales."
It's important that tenacity is best served with the buyer in mind (see #1). That is to say, a great salesperson is tenacious in their pursuit of truly helping the buyer - not necessarily tenacious in pressuring someone to buy.
When you realize that most consumers walk through the decision stage at least five times before buying you might think our best practices boil down to pushing and pushing for the hard sell. You'd be wrong. If you want to know how to follow up without being annoying, be sure to take all five of these best practices into consideration. Which leads me to this last follow up tip.
5. CONTENT IS KING
Many salespeople erroneously believe that content is for marketers. They see the content that leads the buyer to become a lead was a part of the process and now the sale must happen. But with all we've talked about from maintaining a helpful mindset, to being responsive, to speaking clearly and being tenacious, a truly great lead generation follow up plan should make great use of company generated content.
It would be erroneous to assume that just because a lead digitally "raised their hand" (READ: filled out an online form of some kind, and identified themselves to be emailed or called) that they digested the very best content your company has to offer.
Does your company have a great checklist the buyer might enjoy? If they are asking about locations for your services can you simply provide them a quick link back to your locations page? If they ask about your company commitment to the environment do you have a great PR clip you can send them? Did your President pen a great blog earlier in the year about her personal thoughts on future product development? If your main form of contact is follow up emails this best practice can be a game changer.
In B2B this also works extremely well when social selling on Twitter or especially LinkedIn.
Regardless of the conversation you had with the prospect, using your company's current library of content is easily the most underused resource for lead generation follow-up. Using existing content as a follow up not only saves a sales rep time, but it also shows the prospect that you were attentive to their concerns, needs or wants.
Lead generation is evolving. Make sure your sales efforts are evolving also. When it comes to best practices for lead follow up, don't let your next buyer be the one that got away.