Making sales is not a matter of luck or sheer charisma—it is a process. With a consistent, methodical sales process, you will get better results than with a slapdash approach. Even the most persuasive, charming sales people still need to use well-organized processes to continually sort, rank, and follow up with various sales leads throughout the buyer’s decision-making journey. Unfortunately, lots of sales people and small business owners expect sales to just “happen” all at once—you do a first phone call, and some prospects are highly interested and ready to move forward immediately, and that’s great! But what do you do with the prospects that are not immediately ready to move forward? Good organizations have good sales processes for every type of sales lead.
Here are a few of the options for how to handle different types of sales leads with different (but well-defined) sales processes:
Pre-Qualify Your New Sales Leads
What happens when a new sales prospect contacts your business for the first time? Whether it’s a phone call or email, you need to have a process in place to pre-qualify your new incoming sales leads. What does “pre-qualify” mean? It sounds like a fancy term but it basically just means: asking good questions. You need to spend some time talking with a new prospect to figure out where they are in their purchasing decision process—which new prospects are genuinely interested, which ones are just beginning their process of doing research, and which ones might not be the right fit for your business. You need to “interview” your new prospective customers just as if you were interviewing a new employee. This pre-qualifying process can include an introductory email questionnaire or a phone call; I personally prefer phone calls because it’s a good way to get the prospect to commit to answering questions and it gives you a chance to interpret subtle signals like tone of voice and ask follow-up questions as they occur to you. Here are some good pre-qualifying questions to ask your new sales leads:
- How did you find out about us?
- What issues are you having with your current solution/vendor? How is this impacting your business?
- What are some overall business goals that you’re hoping to address by buying and implementing a new solution?
- What other competitors are you looking at so far?
- How long have you been looking for a new solution—are you just starting your research or have you been considering making a move?
This will give you a good sense of what the new prospect knows about your business, which other competitors might be in the running, and how soon they might want to move forward.
Sort and Rank Your Leads
After you’ve done some pre-qualifying questions, it’s time to sort and rank your leads. (This process can also be done with outbound lead generation such as cold calls—as soon as you’re done talking to a new business prospect for the first time, you should sort and rank them.) Sorting and ranking doesn’t have to be complicated, but it must be consistent. You need to make an educated guess—based on your initial conversations—as to which sales leads are the highest priority (eager and ready to buy; “short-term leads”) and which leads are lower-priority (they’re still doing research and kicking tires; “long-term leads). You can rank your leads as “A, B, C” or whatever makes sense, then sort them for varying levels of follow-up: the “A” leads get contacted immediately, the “B” leads get contacted later, and the “C” leads get filed away for longer-term follow-up and nurturing.
Need help managing leads?Use the GoSmallBiz 3-in-1 CRM. Learn More
Nurture Your Leads
Everyone wants to feast on low-hanging fruit of eager buyers who are ready to sign contracts and close deals today, but most leads are going to take more time and patience. This is where you need a methodical process for lead nurturing of your long-term “C” leads. Create a database or simple spreadsheet; many Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems can do this automatically, but if your business is too small to require a CRM, a spreadsheet will work. Make a list of your sales leads that require long-term nurturing and then keep following up with them over time. Take notes with each contact and keep track of the date of last contact. Lead nurturing can mean different things for different customers; some prospects might want you to send more sales literature or answer specific questions related to their business situation, other prospects might just need you to keep following up and checking in over the next few months to be on call when they’re ready to talk about the next steps toward closing a deal. Whatever your prospects need, use your lead nurturing process as a way to keep building relationships over the long term.
No matter what you sell, no matter what industry you’re in, no matter what size company you have, your business needs to use consistent sales processes to get the most out of your sales leads. Having consistent processes will help you stay focused and disciplined, and will help avoid sales leads falling through the cracks—it will help you keep doing the right activities to move the ball forward and work with your customers as they get closer to being ready to close the deal. Sales don’t just “happen;” they are the result of a well-thought-out, consistent process that puts your business in position to succeed.