How and why to back off investigation-stage leads

Updated: Aug 18

This one is for the sales ops pros out there, and true to the industry, its jargon-heavy. Jargon is in bold, definitions are at the bottom.


Working at a fast-growing startup, I often demo software that might help our core team work more efficiently and effectively. At about 25 employees, it seemed like a good time to look into human resources software solutions. I was simply investigating; if I found something that offered a price and value match then I’d pitch it to my team. Key word: investigating. I checked out the websites of a variety of software providers including a third party website that aggregates information for side-by-side price and feature comparisons. I learned a few things, but nothing about HR software.


Filling out a few ‘request price’ lead gen forms has led to an absolute onslaught of marketing “follow up”. All-time-of-day phone calls from local-not-local numbers. For days. Weeks. Months. Pretend-real-but-obviously-automated emails proclaiming “you must have been eaten by an alligator!” and “if you aren’t the decision-maker can you please put me in touch with the person that is”. No on both counts, not sorry, and SPAM laws still require ‘unsubscribe’ links.


Sales reps, it’s not your fault. You might be the most empathetic cold caller around with a list of leads that you need to service and convert into sales. This is not a warning for sales reps but for sales ops managers who think shiny new technology can replace 90% of the sales cycle.


1. Aggressive sales tactics at the early stages of the buying cycle will work against a sales rep and their firm.


Folks know when an email came directly from a rep or when it is simply a next-gen mail merge. It’s not the font choice or the ‘send via’ email address. It’s common sense. Do I honestly believe that a human being is going to send me five emails in two weeks asking about my interest in a product that I have spent five minutes investigating? I don’t. I don’t even believe that a human being is loading an email template. When I read a plea to please give a rep ten minutes, I only feel badly about ignoring it until I realize that a human being has never even hit the send button. If a rep sent me one single email I would be more likely to respond to it than a drip of ten.


In a similar vein of frustration, sales reps need to stop calling from a local number. Unless someone lives or once lived in Vermont, I don’t want to see a phone call come from a Vermont number. Seeing a local number does make me more likely to pick up the call. However, picking up a call is not an effective conversion. While I’m more likely to pick up, I’m also more likely to hang up in the middle of your sentence.


2. A B2B website should be a tool that provides a service for both the seller and the buyer.


An effective B2B website should provide the selling business with at least three services:

a way to capture leads in order to nurture them through the buying cycle a way to help leads who are actively deciding between multiple purchase options a way to qualify leads, or at least help them un-qualify themselves if it’s not a great fit.


An effective B2B website should provide the potential buyer with at least three services:

resources that tell buyers whether a company’s team knows what they’re talking about education around the problems a product or service solves from the lens of a potential customer an easy way for a customer to get the level of communication that is appropriate for the current stage of their buying cycle


If I come to a website through content that sparked my attention, then I am nowhere near ready to buy. What I am ready to do is let this company onto my radar. Keep in touch. Send me more of that great content, or let me know when there is an upcoming webinar or recently published white paper. Show me, over time, how much the team knows about the industry. And go ahead, throw me on a drip campaign, I’m not against automation. In fact, at this stage of the sales cycle, I appreciate a hands-off approach to providing value.


Now, before one jumps ahead to the right content for that drip campaign, remember that I’m on this website now and it’s worthwhile to keep my attention. It should be easy for me to get from my landing point, whether that be your homepage or a blog, to a page that is more specific to me. One can do that by providing ways for me to self-select my interests or persona. Most people land on an average of two different pages per session. The easier it is to self-select, the more likely it is for a lead to get to the correct page number two.


Page number two should not only solve my goal to educate myself about how a product might work for me, but it should also solve the company’s goal of weeding out unqualified leads. Why would a sales op leader want to waste their reps’ time calling folks who are simply not right for the product? Salespeople likely have three questions that they ask each lead they connect with in order to gauge suitability. Whether it be budget, level of need, current products used, or something else entirely, this second page can answer and ask the most common questions. If my budget is $30 per month and a company’s service is $500 per month, I don’t need to waste that company’s time. If I am able to see the value in the product, then I will fondly keep that in mind as circumstances change.


There may be a time when I am closer to investigating how your product will specifically work for me, and that is an effective conversion moment. At that time, I’ve likely moved from downloading white papers to downloading a price guide, case study, or a product comparison tool. This means I have moved into the evaluation stage, and I am likely looking at more than one option. This is an appropriate time to reach out with a phone call. I prefer an email to schedule a call, but I get that not everyone who will respond to a phone call will respond to an email, so fine, go ahead and call. At this point, I am not looking for automation, but a white glove experience. I no longer want a high-level value proposition, I want to communicate with a human being about what I can expect and how we might work together.


3. Don’t rush the close.


The closer I get to the end of the buying cycle, the more I want from a sales rep. At this point, I’ll take phone calls, I’ll respond to emails, I’ll put their people in touch with my people. I’m not only judging a product, but I am deciding whether I want to work with a team long term. I was once looking at two similar products. One was higher end, more functionality, and more expensive than the other. The other product did not have everything I was looking for, but they were honest about their product roadmap and estimated it would be rolled out within 3–5 months.


Because it was so important to me, they asked me to demo their wireframesand offer feedback on how that would work for my needs. This alone leveled the playing field. Why wouldn’t I want to work with a team that integrated other business functions into the process, such as their tech development team? It shows me, besides their level of hands-on care, that their sales team is not living on commission island, which you can assume is a separate world from the post-close experience.


Key Takeaway: Treat people like people, even in automated processes.


Jargon:


Sales ops: Sales operations, typically referring to sales operations managers who set the culture and processes for their sales team.


Sales reps: The sales team working under the direction of the sales ops managers.


Lead gen form: A web form where one adds their contact information, typically their email and name, in exchange for a resource such as a white paper or webinar registration.


Local-not-local numbers: A fake phone number that companies use for cold calls to appear neighborly, usually with your location’s area code.]


SPAM laws: The CAN-SPAM Act, Federal Regulation that sets disclosure and communications requirements for mass outreach.


Drip: An automated chain of multiple emails sent over time.


B2B: Business to business, a business model where one business sells to another business.


Buying cycle: The stages a person goes through before making a purchase, often starting with investigation, working through evaluation, negotiation, and ending with on-boarding or referral.


Conversion: The progress from one stage of the buying cycle to the next.


Send via email address: the long URL link next to an email sender’s email that indicates that the email came from an automation platform such as mailchimp, salesforce, or constant contact.


Un-qualify: The determination that a lead is not right for an offered product at this time.


Product Roadmap: A technology company’s plan for upcoming features.


Wireframes: A virtual draft of technology before it is coded or deployed.


White glove experience: A personal touch.


Commission Island: A fictional place that reps who are driven solely by quota and not incorporated with the rest of an organization live.


Post-close experience: The onboarding process which typically includes access to customer support, educational how-to resources, and continued product development.


Also published on The Startup.