What Constitutes a Valuable Sales Lead?

An important job for anyone in a sales management position is to define what “valuable” means with regard to leads. Not all leads are the same. Some leads will be very valuable. But other leads will have little value. Therefore, it is safe to say that defining what constitutes a valuable lead is an important job for sales management. Why waste precious time working on leads with little promise? Perhaps leads can be obtained that will support efficient selling efforts and hasten attainment of revenue objectives. If there is a possibility of obtaining valuable leads, then sales management ought to allocate as much time as may be required to formulate a system to capture valuable leads. Further, sales staff should always work on as high value leads as possible.

We should note that sales management engaged in defining value for leads very often will have an opportunity to also define the stages of development for leads that will be typical for the specific business at hand. We spend considerable time working with leads for clients over telephone conversations. Therefore, what follows is specific to telemarketing and, further, very specific to teleprospecting. However, in a subsequent post we will present complementary stages that contribute to lead maturation from raw to high value for electronic media — social and email marketing. The stages for lead maturation from the perspective of teleprospecting include:

  1. Identifying Potentially Useful Contacts within a Prospect Business
  2. Engaging in an Initial Conversation with a Potentially Useful Contact. This first conversation is characterized by the teleprospector gathering information to identify what the prospect needs as well as contacts within the prospect that have the authority to purchase products and services to satisfy needs
  3. Engaging in a Conversation with a Potentially Useful Contact that Expands on the Original Conversation. The teleprospector plans this second conversation to provide the contact with information that can be useful to identify needs and decision makers
  4. Engaging in an Initial Assessment with the contact. A teleprospectors utilizes this third conversation to exchange information with the contact on the needs and decision makers that have emerged from the first and second conversations
  5. Mapping into the Prospect Company. The teleprospector enters into as many additional conversations with other contacts as may be required to identify all of the other contacts from this prospect who need to be included in any subsequent conversation about the needs and decision makers who have been determined from the first three preceding conversations
  6. Vetting Assumptions about Needs and Decision Makers. These conversations provide the teleprospector with the opportunity to establish the credibility of apparent needs and decision makers.
  7. Obtaining Referrals. Authoritative contacts are used by the teleprospector to secure the participation of all of the contacts produced by the mapping exercise in step 5, above in subsequent conversations with the prospect business
  8. An Unqualified Meeting with Unqualified Decision Makers. The teleprospector engages in a group meeting with the contacts who have been identified. The meeting topic is specific to the need assumed to be pressing for the prospect business. The outcome of this meeting will determine any further steps in the development of the sales opportunity

If we find that the sales opportunity has further promise beyond #8, above, we are comfortable turning the lead over to clients for further development as a valuable lead. If you care to learn further about our methods, then please call Ira Michael Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. We welcome contact. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Unique Dynamics of “Cold Call” Prospecting Telephone Sales Calls

Most sales people have a pavlovian reaction to “cold call” telephone sales — quick glances from left to right (anywhere but straight eye to eye contact) and a determined effort to vacate the premises. The fact is that “cold call” telemarketing tasks are uncomfortable and far removed from the type of ego inflating activity that most sales people require to gin themselves up to the task of hitting their numbers on a month in/month out basis.

But the truth is that “cold call” telephone sales provides a highly targeted, controllable method of expanding market visibility with precision. In fact, if properly managed and executed, cold calls can be utilized to increase market awareness of a product precisely as planned. Therefore, I regard this method of prospecting as the most precise and efficient method available to any type of business marketing any type of product or service. While the number of prospects contacted depends entirely on the number of telemarketers at work (I eschew any mention of “robo dialers”, which dialers I consider to be entirely useless and a waste of precious funds that could be better spent on buying a telemarketers time), the contact, itself, is highly effective.

In contrast, advertising (even inclusive of online, context-sensitive display ads) is inherently a broad market passive technique of juxtaposing text, photos, suggestions, etc (which may all have the very same forward, presumptuous characteristics of a cold call) alongside subject matter that attracts prospect interest but, nonetheless, irrelevant to the ads themselves. The return on investment for advertising, I argue, is far less and certainly not appropriate for tight lipped businesses with leading edge technology that need to operate under the radar.

Usually sales people break out into one of two character types–so-called “farmers” and so-called “hunters”. I like to refer to farmers as the guys with the address books, the nice guys who are well liked by their contacts who have usually bought different products from the same sales person (my nice guy) over several sales “lives”. “Farmers” do not like cold calls. It’s the “hunters” who can be taught to use cold call telemarketing techniques. These sales people are generally in sales not only for the money, but also to satisfy a need for competition and achievement.

“Hunters” may not do a good job of maintaining business friendships, but they certainly can be trained in “cold call” telemarketing for prospecting. With a new technique like cold calling firmly ensconced in their quiver of sales methods, “hunters” can relied upon to not only deliver the orders, but to open the market precisely as planned for a controlled, yet covert, expansion of business.

Don’t pass up on cold call prospecting.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Share Topics and Use Discussion Groups to Further Qualify Prospects as You Work on the Complex Sale

As I noted in an earlier post, the “Share” feature of typical Social Media (like Google+) delivers useful benefits to marketers working on the complex sale. Present appropriate and engaging topics germane to your product or solution to attract the attention of “friends,” colleagues, contacts. The information you receive will deepen your qualification and understanding of the prospect. The fact is that the comments submitted by these individuals will provide rich information about roles, levels of authority and ongoing programs undertaken by specific prospects.

It is often difficult to engage important contacts at prospect businesses through teleprospecting alone, especially when the teleprospecting effort takes place through a direct, “cold call” effort. On the other hand, teleprospecting is an entirely suitable technique to use as a follow up to a posted comment from a contact on a “shared” topic relevant to the complex sale. In this case the person on the other end of the line will often be more receptive to the telephone call and willing to share information. The reasons for his/her receptivity are that the teleprospecting call is not obviously a sales call, and the offline nature of the interaction respects Discussion group etiquette (a carry over from the News Groups that preceeded today’s Social Media discussions) for sub discussions of topics.

These discussions can also serve as a rich “honey pot” for contacts and, therefore, an excellent means of growing address lists. Better use the resources that otherwise would pay for mass email campaigns to fund the cost of creative management of a Google+ or FaceBook (or even LinkedIn) membership. As your address book grows, the summary understanding about individual prospects (critically important to the success of your complex sale) can be expanded and enhanced through a uniform application of teleprospecting for all targeted contacts. The scripts for these telephone calls should be “survey-centric.” Your teleprospectors must keep in mind that they are on a fact finding mission and, by no means chasing a sale.

Be sure to add the collected information to your knowledge base for the prospect. As you review the information look out for indication of the maturity of the prospect business with regard to the objective of your complex sales campaign. Be wary of indicators of an immature understanding. Recognize that an indicator of an immature understanding is a reason to either stop the complex sales campaign, or, at a minimum, realign the campaign along more realistic lines. I have seen too many clients “wander in the desert” through meeting after meeting with promising contacts locked into immature organizations that lack the capacity to proceed as the result of an immature understanding of the rationale for a complex sale.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Always Postpone Prospect Meetings When Unknown Participants Decide to Joint

Complex sales for enterprise customers invariably include discussions, and meetings with a number of contacts from the prospective business. A decision to purchase a complex product is rarely, if ever, made unilaterally within these businesses. Therefore, when otherwise unknown contacts “pop up” and express an interest in participating in scheduled meetings, the correct response is to reschedule the meeting pending a thorough understanding of the new contact’s role in the business and rationale for attending the meeting.

Gaining a thorough understanding of the role of a previously unknown contact may require external research along with conversations with other contacts from within the prospective business. In any event, no effort should be spared to thoroughly educate the sales team as to the background of the new participant and his/her role in the purchase decision before the sales campaign proceeds. Proceeding with a meeting or otherwise continuing to advance the sales effort before the information (to include an explanation of why the new contact has joined the discussion and his/her role in decision-making) has been compiled will certainly delay and, perhaps, completely undermine the sales effort. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that the sales team continuously monitor the campaign for reasons to retard, postpone, or otherwise slow down the process to ensure that a best effort has been made to win the business. Further, the natural sense of urgency that typically powers sales campaigns must be controlled and channeled appropriately to ensure that whatever time is required to get the facts is spent and the information is collected prior to proceeding further on the sale.

More often than not, participants who are late to join the sales review are either important decision-makers or representative of important groups that must be included in the decision if the purchase is to be made by the business. Typically these late stage participants bring a new set of criteria into the evaluation that will have to be met if the sale is to be made. If the sales team does not modify the sales plan to meet the new criteria the sale will not be made. There is nothing wrong with interviewing other contacts from the business to ask the “who” “what” “where” and “how” questions about new participants to renovate the understanding of the sales team as to the business’ purchase decision system. As well, any publicly available external information about the participant should be collected so that a familiarity can be put into place before the next meeting is held.

A CEO does well to select a Head of Sales who puts urgency in its proper place; in other words, within an unwavering commitment to winning the business, regardless of how much time it actually takes to get the job done. Complex Sales and long sales cycles are not the venue for snap decisions and reactions; rather, careful and thoroughly thought out decisions must be the norm to ensure success.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Control Lead Generation Quality to Control Sales Results

The quality of leads generated through a business’ promotional efforts (including sales leads delivered from staff efforts) is very important to the actual results of sales efforts. Save a lot of time and a lot of money: make certain that the leads you receive are the leads that you can close and want to close for your business. This point may seem obvious, but it is surprising how often CEOs of emerging businesses (and especially for emerging businesses with complex products targeted at enterprise business customers) miss this point, or try to broadly hit the point with imprecise promotional marketing techniques. Finally, craft your marketing and sales compensation programs to fairly reward each piece of the respective functions to ensure that personnel are sufficiently motivated to deliver. Eschew the typical approach that rewards sales with great commissions, but lead generation marketing staff are left to approach their role as something transitional, a stepping stone to sales, rather than a career that can, itself, be quite rewarding. The planning time spent building promotional activities within marketing that will precisely attract the interest of the right prospects for sales will pay off handsomely.

Of course, in order to craft an effective lead generation program with a technique like teleprospecting, your marketing function must have completely understood and even digested the product the business is selling, like food, to the point that your product is running, like blood, through everyone’s veins. Nothing short of this completely correct understanding of the product will do. As I have written earlier in this blog, a big part of gaining this understanding is knowing how your customers are using your product; therefore, if your business is just starting, without customers, marketing’s job is that much harder, but nonetheless still absolutely essential.

If the promotional efforts include telemarketing (or teleprospecting), then marketing must subsequently publish a complete list of the qualifications of the targeted prospect business, all the way from revenue size, to geographical location, to type of business, and inclusive of all financial realities, external factors and more. Further, the staff role within the prospect business must be defined and contact lists must be developed. Underlining all of this qualification, like the foundation of a house, is marketing’s identification of the stage within the chronology of product implementation (otherwise known as product maturity) that is required for the right prospects to fit into your sales plan. As the CEO, you must have the option of selecting where, in the implementation process for the solution (or piece of the solution) that your product delivers, you establish contact with the right prospects for sales. This point of contact may be where the prospect “needs” something like your product, or earlier in the maturity cycle, where the prospect is contemplating the solution, or perhaps later, where the prospect has tried the solution and is now rethinking his or her decision and looking to renovate. There are advantages to choosing any one of these three points of entry.

With a thorough product plan and prospect qualification lead generation staff can then play their very valuable role delivering rich and promising prospects to sales who are then left to their best activities, selling to customers.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Best Practices: Outbound Teleprospecting for Complex Products for Enterprise Business

As I have written earlier in this blog, a teleprospecting campaign can yield substantial results for sales of complex products targeted at enterprise business prospects. These substantial results can amount to high quality sales leads, depending on how successfully the campaign is managed. The key to quality, of course, is the level to which leads are correctly qualified for the specific product offering and the targeted market. But how to run such a campaign?

The best method of running a teleprospecting campaign as an outbound lead generator for complex products targeted to the enterprise business market is in some variation of a survey. Taking a survey is rarely perceived by participants as a sales effort. But if the survey questionnaire is crafted correctly, the information gathered can be very useful as the sales force “fills in the blanks” about the enterprise prospect. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the enterprise prospect is actually a complicated organization with a system for purchasing products and services that includes many individual participants and a set of required procedural milestones that must be properly completed or else there will be no sale.

For the subset of complex products targeted to enterprise business that will require a reorganization of processes across a customer’s business (should a decision to purchase be forthcoming), the need to compile information about important individuals, recent business history, etc is especially important in advance of a sale or even the overture of a sales effort. The fact is that the core purchase process may be broken and dysfunctional. Further, the participants may not play the perceived role and the agenda of priorities may be deceiving.

This latter characteristic of some complex products for enterprise business, that a reorganization of business processes will be required as the product is implemented by the customer, plays a powerful role within the sales effort. Janus-like this aspect of the product, as implemented, can be either a smile or a forlorn frown as the sales effort wends its way to success or failure. The way is especially volatile where the perceived value of the product within the marketplace is ambiguous. Truly intangibles, sometimes these products deliver substantial benefits and sometimes not. Examples of this type of product include solutions for Operational Risk Management, and Enterprise Risk Management. What is most vexing for the market is that such a product, within heavily regulated businesses like Financial Services (including Banks, Asset Managers, Brokers & Dealers, Insurers, etc), is required and mandated by regulators, but the “how to succeed” directions are no where to be found.

In the best of all worlds for the firm offering such a complex product (with unclear perceived value in the enterprise business market), formulating an outbound teleprospecting campaign within the shape of a survey is mandatory. The firms that can follow this script typically have lots of time and, generally, lots of capital to slowly and carefully sell into the market.

But what about other firms with less time and, typically, less capital to build a market? Is there a way to use teleprospecting to advantage in a less than perfect world? I will provide an answer in my next post.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Prospect Qualification

Sales cycles for enterprise products and services are long enough, do not retard the pace of these complex sales processes by neglecting the importance and necessity of prospect qualification. Be sure to include prospect qualification within every step of your sales process to ensure that you do not waste precious time.

A client of mine met six times with a prospect over a four month period only to determine, at the conclusion of the sixth meeting, that the prospect was nowhere near a purchase decision. In fact, we could not help but conclude that four months into an intense search for a solution, this prospect was still unsure about what he actually needed to do to achieve his objective. A total of four staff members had been included in the sales campaign to win this prospect’s business, three of whom were industry professionals who could have each played a productive role in another, more promising opportunity. What could my client have done to avoid the time and money wasted on this opportunity?

A thorough review of each sales meeting revealed that very little concrete information had been gathered about the prospect prior to the involvement of an industry professional within the sales development process. We also found that the meetings with industry professionals focused on presenting a solution including detailed reviews of product features. No time had been spent on answering critically important (and rather mundane and concrete) questions about the prospect like:

  • Are they committed to finding a solution for their requirement?
  • What is their requirement?
  • What is their desired solution?
  • Who will determine that the solution has been found?
  • Who will approve the purchase?
  • What are their expectations for this solution within their enterprise?
  • Do we have a solution for them?

When we looked further into staff roles within each of the meetings it became obvious that the importance of exchanging technical information had significantly outweighed the importance of collecting sales details for the opportunity, principally as the result of the fact that management of the opportunity had been assigned to an industry professional with little understanding of sales and little sales interest.

We remediate this problem by taking two steps: 1) requiring that answers to our list of qualifying questions be fully documented and vetted prior to approving prospect meetings with any member(s) of my client’s team of industry professionals and 2) assigning a customer relationship manager to each sales effort with demonstrable experience in sales as the engagement leader. Needless to say, prospect development and sales improved significantly as the result of a successful implementation of these two steps. My client now understands, clearly, why technology cannot, unilaterally drive sales; rather, my client firmly believes that a thorough understanding of each and every prospect must permeate each phase of the sales development process to ensure success.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved