Converting leads: Lessons from the customer journey

How do you turn leads into sales? That’s the fundamental challenge facing sales professionals as they fire up their computer each morning and look for the best targets for the quickest and most profitable conversions.

As the provider of quality leads to numerous companies across the technology sector in North America, ITWC wanted to know how sales teams approach the process, and to figure out why some are more successful at converting leads than others — even when they are using the same lead packages.

We asked some of the top sales agents in our network how they nurture leads into sales. An overview of their top advice is shared below and will be featured in a special June 13th webinar — “Moving from Leads to Lead Completion” — that will endeavour to take some of the mystery out of leads and lead completion.

Some numbers to begin

In a world where data analytics plays an increasingly important role forming marketing strategy, it’s important to note a few statistics:

  • 57 per cent of purchase decisions are complete before customers even call suppliers. (CEB)
  • 67 per cent of a buyer’s journey is now done digitally. (SiriusDecisions)
  • 71 per cent of marketers expect to increase their investment in content marketing in the coming year (Curata)
  • Sales processes that mandate eight to 12 contact attempts and use multiple modes of contact enjoy a 90 per cent contact rate.

The customer journey

View the customer journey as a courtship. Attract a customer’s attention with your brands and our social media. Invite a deeper relationship by offering research, case studies, and whitepapers that are relevant. At events and workshops, invite customers to explore your ecosystem, where they can learn from other partners about your unique value proposition. Finally, partner with a company like ITWC that uses sophisticated digital analytics to confirm a shared understanding of their goals and aspirations (with targeted messaging and measurable proof of delivery). From that, a viable partnership emerges.

By understanding where your clients are in the journey, you can tailor your pitch accordingly. The appropriate initial response is critical. Nothing turns off a customer faster than pushing for a sale before a relationship is established. This is especially true for companies with low brand recognition in the marketplace. Even with pre-qualified leads, the customer may have a budget, need, and authority, but from a timing point of view, a “sales” contact might come too early. Sometimes they are still gathering information or checking with associates for options.

Quality over quantity

It’s no longer about hitting as many potential customers as you can with as many ads as you can muster; it’s about increasing your visibility — raising your profile so that as many people as possible will notice you, tune in to what you’re offering and what you stand for, and move toward you, either by buying something or “bookmarking” you for future consideration.

The personal touch

Even if you’ve heard it a thousand times, it bears repeating: Companies don’t buy from companies, they buy from people. You need to build a relationship with the people at the company you are selling to. Executive contact is seen as the most desirable entry point, but it’s not the only route to a sale. Find someone else at the company you can get to know and then get referred up the chain from the inside. A “lower level” lead might get you a date and that coveted introduction. Just remember that it’s a date — not a guarantee you’ll be consummating a relationship by the time the meeting is over.

Many sales professionals we talked to cautioned that for the B2B buying process there is typically no single buyer: It’s a team. There are many people who influence the buying decision, and it’s a mistake to focus on a single player to the exclusion of those in lower positions that may have sway.

Price is not enough

In a market where it is tough to differentiate yourself from the competition, companies without brand recognition (or those who enter the process late in the game) may feel they have to use price as the differentiator. Sadly, even in today’s budget-conscious times, price is often not enough.

So what then? One expert suggests you turn that into an advantage in the first call. Anticipate their lack of knowledge about your firm. Try something like: “Thank you for taking my call. If I were in your shoes, the first thing I’d be asking is what this company is all about? Give me two minutes and you’ll have a better idea as to why you should consider us…..”

Then you can impress them with the research you’ve done. Take 90 seconds to focus on the issues you know they’re facing. If you don’t have that direct knowledge, you need to let them know your parallel experience. Try something like: “We’ve noticed in working with companies like yours that these certain issues are top of mind. Is this true for you as well?” Follow up with: “We’ve seen the following benefits with our clients. What would it mean to your company if you could achieve similar benefits?”

Keep the conversation alive with content

Follow-up questions or conversations might be about their business issues and a request for an appointment to suggest ways you might be able to help. If they don’t have the time or seem to have interest, they might simply be at a different stage of the customer journey. This is where content is your friend. Build your profile by offering to send them material — research perhaps — that fits their buying stage. The more valuable the content, the more you’ll be in their mind. And if it’s truly valuable, you’ll be able to continue the conversation and watch them move through the stages.

Look at your own successes

Some of the best research starts with looking inward. Look at your successes. Are the conversions coming from leads associated with companies of a similar size, or a specific industry? Find the common features of the organizations where you’re getting your best results, and leverage these for success with companies with similar challenges.

Don’t give up

Our sales champions unanimously agreed the biggest mistake they see is colleagues burning through leads and then tossing them away after one unsuccessful contact. Statistics show that the average number of contacts to generate a sale is twelve or more. Even the most dogged sales people tend to give up after six or seven calls. Tossing a lead after failing to get an immediate sale is a wasted opportunity. This is especially the case in Canada, where CASL compliance is critical and will expire for un-nurtured leads.

All leads should be evaluated, scored, and classified in terms of a present or future buying process. A nurturing program should be established along with a time established for a future call. Most companies don’t have the resources, time, or ability to do this. That’s why a content partner is so essential.

To move a deal forward, you must understand the challenge a company faces, the decision process they use to solve problems, and where they are in the customer journey. Then and only then can you really engage them, and share the authentic story that differentiates you from the status quo.

Six ways to differentiate yourself

When mining for leads, it is critical that you differentiate yourself. Here’s how to make your lead program stand out:

  1. Learn more about them than your competitors. The more you know about a customer, the better your chances will be of opening an engaging conversation about their needs.
  2. Be fresh. Be original and be provocative. Don’t just repeat what everyone else is saying. Find that one great thing that resonates. How? Ask them. We train our own sales reps to ask what resonated in the content that created the lead.
  3. Develop a personal style. Create a personal habit that sets you apart. Always wear a suit if everyone is in jeans. Send handwritten thank-you notes. Respond to inquiries within minutes, not hours. Do something that customers will remember (i.e., “He’s the guy who always sends the handwritten thank-you card.”).
  4. Show you care. The customer is passionate about their business. Show you care by taking the time to understand their culture. Make sure to read some of their publications, or take in a speech by their president. At a bare minimum, study their website.
  5. Build a relationship. Relationships are built on exchanges of value. It’s not about finding a new friend, it’s about creating a personal connection that strengthens a client’s loyalty to you. Creating opportunities for collaboration by involving the customer in the problem-solving and solution development around your products and services will go a long way to building trust. And trust, as you know, is an essential part of relationship-building.
  6. Know your story. What compelling story will put you top of mind? What sets you apart? It’s not effective to provide a laundry list of facts. It needs to be the right story for the people in the room.

Register for our  webinar

ITWC is the dominant lead generation company for the technology industry in Canada. President Fawn Annan and CIO Jim Love will be hosting a special 50-minute webinar on June 13th in which they will endeavour to take some of the mystery out of leads and lead completion. Among the topics Fawn and Jim will be covering in this important session:

  • How lead generation has changed — why the old techniques aren’t working
  • The strengths and weaknesses of various lead gen methods
  • The hidden spend in your organization
  • Why you lose leads or fail to convert them into opportunities

Register to join Fawn and Jim for “Moving from Leads to Lead Completion”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Steve Proctor
Steve Proctor
Steve is Vice-President Marketing and Communication with ITWC. He spent 25 years in progressively senior positions as a journalist and editor with the Halifax Herald, with his final ten years as Business Editor. He has published two books and his freelance articles have appeared in national and regional magazines. He has led social media and communication efforts for two crowdfunding ventures and written and directed numerous dinner theatres for charitable endeavours.

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