The coronavirus pandemic forced organizations around the world to revisit their sales processes. As face-to-face meetings and large industry trade shows became relics of the past, companies realized they needed to pivot to survive. The only problem was that they didn’t know what a new sales strategy would look like amid the ongoing economic uncertainty.
In the face of shrinking demand and plummeting revenue, organizations opted to broaden the tops of their sales funnels to acquire as many leads as possible. They assumed more leads meant more sales. Don’t make the same mistake: This approach comes at a cost. It forces you to spend valuable time qualifying a mountain of additional leads. Many of them will be turn out to be dead ends, which means you’re investing time and money with no chance of securing ROI.
Instead of focusing on the top of the sales funnel, find ways to increase the volume further down. When you acquire prequalified leads, you can invest more time in moving these prospects through the funnel. Even if they don’t end up closing, you come away with valuable information about your ideal customers’ needs and pain points.
Acquiring the Right Leads
Some of the best customers at my SEO agency have been personal introductions from existing clients or colleagues. While most of the business world calls these types of clients “referrals,” there’s a distinct difference between the two. Introductions have an additional layer of authenticity and trust. Anyone can refer someone to you, but only a genuine client or partner will facilitate an introduction with a qualified lead.
There’s a lot of data about the value of referrals. About 78% of B2B marketers rank leads from referral programs as good or excellent, and 54% report those leads cost less than ones produced by other channels. However, many resources fail to distinguish between introductions and referrals. I believe that the recorded “success” of referrals comes from the small percentage of genuine introductions.
Of course, none of this should be surprising. Humans are social creatures, and we look to each other for advice and validation. At some point, you’ve probably caught yourself combing reviews for an amount of time that’s completely disproportionate to the value of the purchase. There’s no reason to spend 30 minutes reading reviews for a product that costs $6, but we can’t help ourselves.
Four Rules to Maximize Value of Introductions
A review is a testament to the quality of a product or service — much like an introduction. Although introductions happen organically all the time, you might need to cultivate them in adverse market conditions (such as during a pandemic). To make introductions a valuable part of your lead acquisition strategy, follow these four rules:
Be straightforward about what you’re seeking. Salespeople often ask their connections whether they know any good potential clients, putting the burden of defining a good lead on the contact. Instead, you should know exactly what kind of a lead you’re looking for before you ever approach a contact. If you sell enterprise software, for example, you might be looking for CIOs at companies undergoing digital transformation. If you run a small marketing agency, you might be interested in startups with less than $500,000 in revenue that are looking to scale quickly. Asking for a generic introduction defeats the purpose of a prequalified lead, so you’ll want to be as specific as possible.
Make the introduction process as easy as possible. Your contacts’ time is valuable. If they’re well-respected members of their respective industries, their introductions will likely be highly in demand. When asking for an introduction, assume that your contact receives multiple requests per week. Your goal should be to make it as easy as possible for this contact to fulfill your request. The best way to do this is by typing up emails they can send to clients about what you (their vendor or client) have to offer. Let your contacts know that you drafted the message to save them time, but make it clear that they can adjust the wording.
Don’t forget about the relationship with the contact. Nothing is worse than introducing someone and then never hearing from them again. If your contact takes the time to refer you to someone else — whether at your request or organically — they deserve to feel valued. Send them a thank-you note and consider adding a gift card to their favorite restaurant. Look for ways you can return the favor in the future to help them out with their business. Remember that you’re playing the long game: By treating contacts well, you’re investing in valuable sources of future revenue.
Don’t skip steps in the sales process. Just because someone was introduced to you doesn’t mean that you can go straight to closing. Work the lead, give them your pitch, and be clear about what you have to offer. Prequalified introductions might result in a sale, but nothing is guaranteed. Think otherwise, and you’ll likely come across as pushy and arrogant.
If the introduction isn’t a good fit, let your contact know. They care enough to send leads your way, so you should express your gratitude and tactfully make sure they know what kind of lead you’re looking for the next time around.
In an uncertain business climate, it’s not a great strategy to spend time sifting through piles of unqualified leads. Expanding the top of the funnel can result in more sales, but it requires a corresponding increase in work to convert those leads. Instead, scale your sales efforts by acquiring qualified leads through introductions to get amplified results from the same amount of work. There are numerous ways to do this, but introductions have stood the test of time. Plan to cultivate introductions and propel your sales forward throughout the rest of 2021.