The Internet can give your company more exposure to prospects than ever before. However, it has also introduced more complexity into your sales cycle. Closing Internet leads and turning them into paying customers requires a well thought-out process.
If a prospect picks up the phone and calls you, they are already pretty motivated. But, if they visited your website, your blog, clicked through your pay-per-click ad, etc. they may be in the very earliest stages of deciding if they are even interested in your product or service, let alone ready to buy.
I recently had a conversation with a business owner who was not happy with his sales team’s performance closing Internet leads. When I started asking him questions about how they were handling them, I began to see the problem. He had decided that, on the very first call to new prospects, the goal was to push every single one into agreeing to an in-person appointment.
This hard sell approach was a huge turn-off and actually interfered with eventually closing Internet leads. It was inappropriate because his salespeople hadn’t accomplished several important qualifying steps first.
- Rapport: I am not talking about a cheezy “I want to be your buddy” approach. A successful long-term relationship requires a process of “discovery”. You don’t know that you are a good fit until you can ask each other important questions.
- Motivation & Goals: Why did they reach out in the first place? What kinds of pain are they experiencing? How much is their problem costing them? What are they trying to accomplish? What have they tried so far?
- Time Frame: Are they doing initial research for a project that won’t begin for a year, or do they have to choose a vendor in the next week?
- Decision-Making Process: Is the person you are talking to the real decision-maker? Will others need to be involved (ex. the CFO, the procurement dept., etc.)?
- Budget: Simply asking the question “What is your budget for this purchase or project?” is not a useful approach. Most of the time the only response you will get is “We haven’t set a budget”. The cost of something is always relative to the value you get in return. If you have done a good job of determining the cost of their pain, you can begin to “frame” the value of a solution. “If we could solve this problem that is costing you $10,000 dollars a month, would you be comfortable spending x to accomplish it?”
Once you have qualified a prospect, they need to be assigned to one of several buckets:
- Disqualified Forever: They need something you can’t provide, you have concerns about their honesty or business practices, they’re abusive, etc.
- Disqualified for the Moment: They can’t use you for the moment because they are not big enough, they really can’t afford you at this point in time, etc. This doesn’t mean they may not get to a point in the future when you could help each other. Create some passive ways to stay in touch – subscribe them to your newsletter and/or blog, become a LinkedIn connection, etc.
- Needs Further Nurturing: They are qualified, but they are still at a very early stage in the process of even determining what they are looking for. They need the passive touch points described above, but they also need educational tools to help them with their thinking – white papers, case studies, and occasional calls or e-mails from you to offer valuable information and take their temperature.
- Hot Prospect: They are qualified (fit your model and have the money), they have decided that they need a product or service like yours, and they have a time frame that justifies the personal attention of a salesperson. That attention should be respectful. The best prospects are not going to respond well to stalking, strong-arm tactics or manipulation. You need to design all of your interactions to earn their respect and mutually determine what makes sense for a next step and when it should happen (a specific time and date).
You will always be rewarded for taking the time to develop a strong qualifying process. It is also important to provide interactions that are appropriate for the stage each prospect is in. A great nurturing process always strengthens your likelihood of closing Internet leads and turning them into paying customers.
This blog was written by Laurie Leonard, the President of SUITE 1000, a U.S. based national telephone answering service, inbound call center and outsourced call center service. Her company has specialized in handling legal intake, sales leads, email lead response, appointment scheduling, customer service and help desk calls for over 20 years.