Every organisation with a sales force keeps an eye on the leads it generates - how many does each salesperson get and how many are converted into customers. But as most companies now appreciate, the costs of generating and converting leads need to be carefully managed or they can become a real drain on profitability.
The basic tasks of lead management are to lower the costs of lead acquisition while at the same time increasing the rate of conversion into customers. To do this it’s best if you separate the lead-getting activity from the selling activity and develop metrics for monitoring each. The two are actually separate functions and require different sets of skills and resources. Lead-generation is a marketing function, while the job of converting those leads to customers is a sales function.
Lead quality is essential
Leads are acquired in any number of ways. For marketers who purchase prospect lists the content and quality of the list should be far more important than the cost, yet how many lists are bought on the basis of price? The answer is, far too many.
Those who specialise in lists know that good lists are worth what they cost. They’re regularly updated, their data is accurate, and it’s possible to nominate prospects by geographical area, by age, by occupation, or any other profile that will allow the sales team to target suitably qualified prospects. You don’t have to pay for a huge list if you’re only a small company or are restricted in your geographical coverage. Carefully targeted prospects are available on a cost-per-lead basis; it’s even possible to rent or buy lists of people who have previously responded to the same form of marketing you intend to use.
The most important metric to monitor is not the cost per lead, but rather the relationship of leads to final sales, by dividing the number of leads purchased by the number of conversions obtained from those leads. The closer this result is to ‘1’ the better the quality of the leads you’ve paid for.
Another way to improve the quality of the leads you get is to have your existing customers provide you with referrals or word of mouth. Referrals are really a way of leveraging off a high level of customer satisfaction and represent a much more likely set of prospects than leads gained from cold calling.
High quality leads make it possible for your sales team to achieve better rates of conversion from leads to customers. This effectively lowers selling costs and will go a long way towards offsetting any additional costs incurred to ensure that lead quality is consistently high. There are many more steps you can take to improve the conversion rate your sales force achieves.
Have a system that assigns a relative value to each lead at the first contact. ‘Hot’ leads are those who are definitely looking to buy; ‘Warm’ leads are those who might buy; and ‘Cold’ leads are probably not interested in buying. Discard ‘Cold’ leads at the outset of the selling process. Concentrate selling efforts on ‘Hot’ leads. Give them priority and only after all the ‘Hot’ leads have been processed should the sales team turn its attention to ‘Warm’ ones.
Raise conversion rates
Leads are often obtained through offers. Before the handover to the sales team the lead should be provided with any information they may have requested – a sales brochure or product order form for example. Have a system that records what was requested and what was provided. Be persistent. One enquiry handling expert estimates that 45% of all leads turn into a sale for someone, but only 22%-25% actually convert within the first six months. That means that 45 out of 100 leads might eventually convert to customers if they’ve correctly handled.
Another consideration is that competition usually decreases over time. The reason is simple – most businesses lose interest in a lead if it doesn’t turn into a customer pretty quickly. Patience and ongoing communication will eventually deliver all the conversions you’re going to get, but many won’t convert until several months have passed.
This tells us that every lead management system must accommodate the need to stay in touch with leads over a fairly long period of time. So communicate with leads – perhaps by telephone, email or a newsletter – until they either convert to become customers or must be reclassified as ‘Cold’.
Keep in touch
Keep in touch for an appropriate length of time until you’re absolutely certain there’s no hope of ever converting that contact to a customer. Remember too that most businesses have competitors and if you’ve done your prospecting correctly even the people who initially reject you are somebody else’s customers. They may eventually become yours if you don’t give up.
Each member of your sales team will have a conversion rate that shows how successful they are at converting leads to sales. This metric can be used in conjunction with total dollar volumes when you’re comparing the results of individual members of your sales team and determining which salespeople are your top performers.