I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
Unlike the typical finance department, where the staff has the same educational and training focus, a sales department is often comprised of a variety of people. They completed varying amounts of higher education, worked in different industries or might have switched to sales after an earlier career path.
Different types of people mean your sales staff’s opinions can vary greatly, from their thoughts on the bonus structure to their process of assessing the value of prospects. Consider presenting two different experienced salespeople with the same prospect. One salesperson might put the prospect in the “unqualified” group and decide they don’t warrant personal attention, and the other sales member could see them as highly qualified and worthy of focus.
While the divergent thoughts on the prospect’s value might be surprising and arbitrary, you can perform a simple test to see similar results. Simply create a feature set describing a new lead that has requested more info from your firm. Then present the sample prospect to your sales staff and ask them to mark the prospect as qualified, non-qualified, or in need of more exploration. You’ll likely get all three answers, which means your staff could be spending time on window shoppers instead of qualified leads, and your group lacks a formal new business qualification process.
4 Qualifying Questions
Given the diversity of the team and the strong personalities found in sales, can you reasonably fix the qualification issues? Assemble the team and drill down formalized qualifying questions that will be posed to every prospect. The sales staff is required to ask and record these questions before their sales cycle can move forward.
Below are four key questions sales teams should be required to ask prospects:
These four questions should form the basis of a formalized qualification process that sales reps are using data to qualify leads instead of relying on their “gut instinct” or potentially biased opinions formed by their knowledge of the lead. A planned and repeatable process means the sales staff focuses on the best prospects and spends minimal time with unqualified leads. It’s a smart approach that should drive closing percentages and reduce the overall sales cycle. While a manual approach to the formal questions and qualification process can be managed, a full-featured CRM system can offer significant streamlining.
CRM means management and lifecycle tracking of leads, but also enables multi-tiered classifications. Consider three groups of leads titled Platinum, Gold and Silver. The Platinum leads sit atop the classification standards and warrant immediate and frequent attention, the Gold leads require follow-up but it’s likely any sales will take some time, and the Silver leads might not even have a timetable, but they do deserve limited attention. Sales managers typically accept that Gold and Silver-level leads might be contacted a few times, but then they often fade away, and are either discarded or placed in a non-contact dormant status.
The right CRM platform will help you establish a “drip marketing” campaign for the Gold and Silver leads. Insert automation into the process of periodic following up for the lukewarm prospects and free up your sales staff to aggressively pursue the Platinum group. Set the CRM system to automatically send product updates, key customer testimonials, or discounted pricing alerts to the prospect on a schedule. Tweak the plan for the Gold prospects who might be on a shorter timetable or who simply have stronger interest.
Need management reports? Robust CRM platforms will automatically create activity reports to see prospect activity (which can of course further influence the content or frequency of your messages.) Establish benchmarks of activity that would move someone from Gold-Silver to a Platinum prospect that needs to be engaged. The key to improving lead generation and qualification is to implement an 80/20 type situation that uses CRM automation to both classify and pursue prospects with the utmost efficiency.
Larry Caretsky is President of Commence Corporation, a leading provider of online CRM software for small to mid-size businesses.