A number of my conversations lately have focused on the various techniques and strategies for lead acquisition. Specifically, clients insist they need more new prospects to talk to.
Figuring out how to put more people into the top of the funnel is certainly a healthy conversation and an important part of the sales strategy. When we dig into the problem however, I often find that there are plenty of leads/prospects/etc. and that the real impediment to revenue is their ability to convert interested prospects into buyers, which is the same as if they were going fishing with a hole in their net.
Picture a fly fisherman standing in the middle of a stream. He (or she) is highly skilled at choosing the right pattern, their casting is perfect, and the fish are biting, so time after time they end up reeling in beautiful trout. As they place the fish in the net and release the hook, the fish slides right out the bottom through a giant, gaping hole. Not surprisingly, the fisherman returns home each day with nothing to show for his efforts.
Companies spent vast amounts of money and resources to acquire prospects. Additionally, they tend to have fairly detailed processes and analysis to determine which lead sources are generating initial interest. As I discussed in my post Lead Hand Off Process, companies often have only very vague notion of how these leads should be pursued to successfully convert them, and worse, how these conversion protocols are being followed. Therefore, the concept of nurturing leads is even more vague of a notion, if they’re aware of it at all.
A (Funny) Real Life Story
A few years ago, I went to Las Vegas with a group of friends. One of our crew was a gentleman who was very good looking – much better than I. He was well-dressed, athletic, great teeth, nice hair and charismatic. Not surprisingly, he a hit it off with the ladies wherever we went. At every club, he would stop attractive women passing by our table and start a conversation.
It was amazing to see him work. He was handsome, charming, and funny…at first. He had a couple of great opening lines, got them laughing, and then after a few minutes he would stop talking altogether and just stand there smiling at them. He had nothing else to say. It was fascinating and hilarious at the same time. The women who were practically hypnotized at first would stand there for a moment of uncomfortable silence and then wander off. By the end of the weekend we were taking bets on how much time would elapse from beginning to end. He could always get them ‘on the hook’ but also had a giant hole in his net.
A Progressive ‘Hierarchy’ of Understanding
So what needs to happen? The answer depends on where the prospect is in their journey. They could be at the point of initial curiosity or they might be far along in the evaluation process. Too often sales organizations write prospects off as ‘unqualified’ when they are simply ‘immature’ and then accuse marketing for delivering bad leads. The real problem is that salespeople approach prospects assuming full engagement in the buying process when they may be just starting the learning process.
First you must identify where in the process your prospect is. Are they somewhere in the Interest phase? Are they as far along as the Selling phase? Or are they still all the way at the beginning in the Ignorant phase and they’ve never even heard of you or your product? (Queue marketing…) Once you know where they are and what questions they are asking themselves, you can start to answer the needs that they have at that moment to help them move along to the next phase of the lifecycle, getting them closer to the moment when they’ll be ready for Adoption. Understanding where the prospect is in their journey AND aligning your approach to their reality correlates directly with your ability to advance the conversation. I refer to this continuum as the ‘Hierarchy of Understanding’, and nurturing leads along this line is a crucial element in any sales strategy.
To help grasp the concept, imagine your business as a real/physical storefront with plenty of foot traffic ensuring a steady stream of potential customers day in and day out. Some walk-ins are looking for something right now or may be enticed by an impulse purchase. The vast majority, however, walk out into the street. This occurs for a number of reasons. Perhaps they don’t have money with them, or they need to get to an appointment, or they simply aren’t in the shopping mood right now. What is your plan for these people? Certainly, a meaningful portion of prospects that ‘walk-away’ are qualified but just not ready to engage, and you don’t want to let them leave without a plan of action to get them back in the door.
Fundamentally, sales organizations must acknowledge that it is their responsibility to help prospects develop their knowledge and understanding to move them from simple interest to potential buyers. To get them there, you need to have (and follow!) a plan for nurturing that lead through that entire spectrum of necessary interactions in order to develop the relationship through to the point they are ready to engage with you.
Bottom Line, Hook and Sinker
New leads are important but you can’t just fixate on getting the fish on the hook. If you don’t have a plan for getting them into the net (and keeping them there until dinner) they may fall off the line and swim away from you. Instead, know more than just what bait you’re going to use. Have the net ready and know how you’re going to get them there.
By Townsend Wardlaw