Shorten Your Sales Cycle, Step 1: Improve Your Lead Quality

Yesterday I wrote about a common business problem — growing sales cycles. Today I’m continuing with the second post of four in this series, “Shorten your sales cycle.”

So your sales cycle is getting longer and you’ve met with your sales and marketing teams.  You escaped in one piece but heard a resounding “too many leads just aren’t qualified” from your sales reps.

It’s critical for your sales and marketing teams to agree on a common definition of “qualified lead.”  Your company may be running terrific campaigns, but sales reps need to focus on prospects who are ready, willing and able to buy.  Even the best closers can’t do much with leads who don’t really want what you’re selling.  And those leads eat up valuable sales resources and extend your sales cycles.

6 Steps to Improve Your Lead Quality

Your first mission: understand which leads are most valuable to sales and which ones they could do without.

  • Are you reaching the right organizations?
  • Are certain company profiles more valuable than others?  Think beyond simple demographics – can you identify companies that have stronger pain and need for your product than others?
  • Are you reaching the right decision maker within your targeted organizations?
  • Is your initial message strong enough?
  • Are you reaching prospects at the right time?

Once your teams agree on your targets, put together a priority scale so that sales can focus on the most valuable leads while marketing continues to nurture those that are less likely to buy right now.

For example, define the criteria for an A, B, and C lead.  Sales can immediately tackle the A leads and move on to B leads if they have time; marketing would nurture the B and C leads until they become qualified for the A group.

When you hone your definition of “qualified lead” and your lead priority groups, you may decide to modify your campaigns and test new ones to reach and identify your “A” prospects.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1.  Try a new offer. If you currently offer a generic white paper, try bulking it up and adding more substantial data and detail that would appeal to a prospect who has more immense pain.  Be careful of luring too many frogs who are unlikely to buy.

2.  Focus on quality, not quantity. Try casting a narrower net with very targeted campaigns that have a higher probability of reaching your “A” leads.

3.  Require more commitment. A prospect with real pain will be more likely to offer detailed information about their needs.  If appropriate, place a quick call to your leads or send an email requesting a followup phone call.  (Do this before officially handing the lead to a high-powered rep.)  If the prospect isn’t willing to talk with your company live, then s/he probably isn’t an “A” lead.

4.  Focus your message. Weed out the window shoppers by focusing on a detailed benefit that will resonate with prospects who have pain.

5.  Mix up your media. If you’re stuck in a rut, evaluate and test new media opportunities – particularly online, where many B2B companies are still years behind in maximizing their online efforts.  Business buyers use search engines to find solutions; they do care about your website; they expect to be able to find the information they want and need.

6.  Change your creative. Different people respond to different things.  You’re not creating a Super Bowl commercial, but find a way to make your message resonate and stand out.  That goofy duck has made us remember AFLAC, right?

Once you’re executing your new plan, measure your results and get regular feedback from sales on how well you’re doing.  Keep them involved and keep honing and improving.  When they know you’re trying to help them, they’ll work harder for you.

And this relationship is important for my next piece in this series.  If your sales cycle is growing, you may need to improve how your teams execute the steps in your sales process.  I’ll tackle that issue in my next post.

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