Converting Sales Leads Into Buyers

SCORE ExpertAnswers

When Jill Konrath recognized that the crazy-busy work environment was wreaking havoc with sellers, she immersed herself in the issue until she discovered new strategies that worked. That resulted in her highly acclaimed book, SNAP Selling, which jumped to #1 on Amazon within hours of its release, joining her previous book, Selling to Big Companies, as one of the site’s most popular sales titles. 

Jill has worked with large companies like IBM, GE, and Staples as well as numerous small businesses. She’s also shared her insights and ideas via TV, leading business publications, and on her website jillkonrath.com which contains a wealth of free resources. 

 

Q:

All customers begin as leads, but is it possible to differentiate a “good lead” from one that may have a lower chance of panning out? 

Absolutely. Good leads demonstrate a deeper interest in your products or services than “send me some info” leads; they want to learn. Any time you encounter someone actively searching for information and answers, you can assume they’re more likely to buy from you—or someone else.

Savvy small business owners will get more and better leads if they narrow their niche. It allows them to focus their messaging and website on their ideal customer’s needs, issues, and concerns. They look like an expert, not a jack-of-all-trades. And, that’s highly attractive to their leads. 

Q:

Credit cards are a great way to bring cash in immediately. But what should a small business owner know about setting up and managing these transactions?

A lot of small businesses don't seem to realize how accepting credit cards can help their business, beyond just making it easier for their customers to pay. Average tickets are higher with credit cards than cash, and credit card acceptance can increase sales by 20-30%.

That said, it's important to know what you're signing up for, because not all credit card processing providers or fees are the same. Many companies promote credit card acceptance to small businesses on unappealing terms or with hidden costs.

Q:

You often see services that advertise access to sales leads for a fee. Are these worth considering? 

Personally, I think it’s a waste of money. They’re not leads, they’re names. And, they’re people just like you—who hate being contacted by strangers who want to make a pitch to them. They’ll quickly delete your emails or phone messages. 

Q:

So what are some ways to develop your own leads?

LinkedIn is a great tool for people selling to the corporate market. They can use it to attract, research and engage with prospects. The Advanced and Company search functions give you a way to identify people who work for organizations that could buy your products or services.

In fact, many small businesses are leveraging it extremely well to initiate conversations with potential buyers. In my 2013 Sales & LinkedIn Survey, I share specifically what they’re doing. You’ll be impressed with what’s possible.

Q:

What role does a small business website play in developing leads? 

It is one of the best ways to do it – especially since people spend so much time researching things online. It shouldn’t read like a brochure, touting your products or services. Instead, it should focus on the needs, issues and questions that prospects have related to your product or service. The content should be educationally focused and not promotional. And, you need to have a way to collect leads on it too.

Q:

Is telephone cold-calling still relevant or has that given way to “cold-emails" - and what are the benefits/risks of adopting that tactic? 

Cold calling via the phone or via email can be effective. What matters is the message. You have to quickly establish credibility, pique curiosity, and suggest a next step, all in 20 seconds (phone) or 75 words (email). The focus should always be on your prospects – the issues and challenges they’re facing, their objectives.

Q:

What are examples of “good” and “not-so-good” cold call messages?

Most people don’t want to sound like a salesperson when they call, so they leave messages like this:

Hi, John. My name is Jill Konrath. I’m the president of Leapfrog Strategies. We specialize in offering a full line of sales training program. And, the reason I’m calling is that I’d love meet with you and find out how you’re handling your needs and share with you what we do. I’d be glad to meet at your convenience.

The truth is, your prospects hear that same message multiple times per day. It doesn’t work anymore. They immediately delete it – often right after you say your company name. So you need to change what you say. Below is one I personally use for cold calls. It gets to the point right away:

John. Jill Konrath here. As a VP of Sales, I know that one of your biggest issues is new client acquisition. I have some ideas that  have worked really well for other technology companies. Let’s set up a time to talk and I’ll share them with you. 

See how different that message is from the previous one? It’s my “elevator speech,” but it’s about their issues. It shows that I know what their challenges are and have some ideas, thus making me a credible resource who’s worth meeting.

Q:

There’s a fine line between being persistent and being a nuisance. Is there a “rule of thumb” for how often one should follow-up on a sales lead? 

Typically, it takes between eight to ten contacts before you connect with a prospect, whether it’s a lead or someone you’ve decided would make a good customer. Most people give up after three to five attempts. It’s good to alternate email with voicemail too. The key is to consider spreading your message out over multiple contacts. That way, you can keep it shorter and more interesting. 

Q:

Preparation is essential before a sales presentation. What can you do to relax, and be at your best when it’s “showtime”?

Forget that it’s “showtime.” Selling is about having a conversation, not making a pitch. Before you even meet with people, you need to determine whether it’s typical for a decision to be made in one meeting, or if several will be needed.

If you have only one chance to sell to them, you’ll be more aggressive in showcasing your best stuff. But if you’re selling to other businesses, it’ll likely take 2-3 meetings, if not more. You’ll want to slow things down so that the first meeting is focused on you understanding their current situation, objectives, challenges, issues, and more. Follow-up meetings are used then to explain how you can help. 

Q:

You’ve written that closing sales is a natural outcome of the process, not a process in and of itself. Can you elaborate?

There’s so much focus on closing—and I hate it. Our role is to focus on how customers can leverage our product or service to achieve their goals. We must understand and learn about them first—find out what they want to accomplish, and identify any obstacles in the way.

In our conversations, we need to let them know how we’ve helped similar people/businesses and reduce their fears of change. We need to help them figure out what they need to consider in order to make the best decisions. When you do that, they want to work with you. 

Q:

OK, the lead is now a customer. But are there elements of your sales strategy that should be integrated into your company’s support/service work? 

Becoming a customer is just the start of a relationship. Your most important next step is to ensure that it goes well. Even if you have problems, they are judging you on how you handle them. To get any more business, you need to deliver what you promised—and make sure the experience of working with you is stellar. 

Q:

What’s a good next step for expanding business with a new customer?

Start thinking about how else you can help them. Please note, I didn’t say to think about what you can sell them. If you keep your focus on helping them, they’ll be much more likely to do more work with you. Share your ideas and point out any problems you identify. Show them what they may be missing that they hadn’t thought about. That’s the best way to grow your business.

Q:

If a lead doesn’t pan out, is it OK to ask for feedback that might help you pursue other customers?

Absolutely. If they tell you that they decided not to do anything or stay with the status quo, you haven’t given them enough reason to change. You need to focus on getting better at understanding the business value you provide and the difference you can make. But, if they tell you that they decided to buy from someone else, then you have a totally different issue. They don’t believe you’re a better value or solution. You’ve fallen short here. 

Q:

Your books, and those of other authors, provide wonderful insights into the process of turning leads into customers. What added value can one get from working with a SCORE small business mentor? 

SCORE mentors provide reality testing of your concept. I used SCORE early in my career when I had a great business idea. My mentor even agreed with it and thought my plan had a great chance of success. Then, he asked a pivotal question of me and my two colleagues: “Which one of you three is going to handle sales?”

I looked at him like he was crazy and said, “I thought you said it was a great idea.” He responded, “Yes, it is. But great ideas don’t sell themselves. One of you will need to focus on this.” 

My colleagues wanted nothing to do with sales, so I said I’d take on the challenge. It’s the smartest thing I ever did. And, I would never have done it without a kick in the butt from the SCORE mentor. 

Q:

As we move deeper and deeper into the digital age, is there still a time-tested piece of sales advice that is as accurate as ever?

Sales is all about making a difference. Our products and services are simply tools that help our customers achieve what they want. If we can focus on that, then we’ll be successful. We need to do this in person and we need to do it online. It’s what matters.

 

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About the Author

Sales expert Jill Konrath is the author of two best-selling titles, SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies, has trained sales teams at Fortune 1000 brands including IBM, GE and Staples, and works with numerous small businesses to provide the same high-quality sales training normally available to large corporations. Visit her website at jillkonrath.com.