Posted by Dan McDade, July 24, 2013
When qualifying and nurturing sales leads, the lead farmer (prospect development professional) has a challenging job. The starting point in lead management is usually an inquiry consisting of a name, title, a company, a phone number or email address. The lead farmer must have the patience, discipline and skill to engage the inquirer in a conversation. This step alone can take weeks or months.
Many of the best sales opportunities turn out to be those that have been contacted five or six times using a lead management process that includes voicemails, emails and direct mailings over a period of months before a conversation finally occurs.
Executives often don’t respond until a need’s priority has escalated. The lesson: Don’t give up too early on non-responsive sales leads. Many prospects will save your emails or letters and will eventually self-qualify. Sometimes they respond to a letter or email from weeks earlier, or they call when the latest touchpoint coincides with their timing window.
After a dialogue has been opened, the lead farmer begins probing, documenting, and tracking—always with the aim of moving the sales leads further through the lead management pipeline until they become fully qualified sales opportunities. The lead farmer is patient, but persistent. He is also creative and informative. If he is perceived as selling too hard, the potential buyer may be put off. If an otherwise well-qualified prospect is stalled due to budgeting or other considerations, the specialist follows up meticulously at the appropriate time. Ultimately, the specialist will either disqualify the sales leads if nothing happens or turn over fully developed, short-term sales opportunities to field reps.
A short-term, qualified lead typically has ten lead qualifying criteria.
- SIC or NAICS code
- Firmographics (revenue, # employees, # of locations)
- Decision makers and influencers identified
- Environment documented
- Decision-maker engaged
- Business pain(s) uncovered/validated
- Decision-making process and timeframe documented
- Budget allocated or process for budgeting documented
- Competitive landscape documented
- Sense of urgency or compelling event exists
Unfiltered leads rarely have more than three of these attributes, so any sales rep working on a commission check will be delighted to get all ten. With a detailed picture of the prospect’s business drivers, plans and buying processes, the sales rep is positioned as a knowledgeable advisor interested in the prospect’s business challenges.
Clearly, the “lead farming” role is incompatible with the sales role. Good prospect developers are hard to find. The best approach to performing the job effectively is to (A) assign it to a specialized in-house team with no direct sales responsibility—or (B) outsource it to a prospect development firm with best-practice lead management expertise and focused on nurturing leads into fully qualified sales opportunities.
By not passing unfiltered, unqualified leads to your sales team, and focusing instead on delivering fewer, more fully qualified sales opportunities, your lead management processes better impact your organization’s ability to generate revenue.