3 Steps for Effective Sales Lead Follow Up (none are the Hail Mary)

Posted by Dan McDade

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on Apr 28, 2015 9:30:00 AM

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 Sales Hail Mary

The term "Hail Mary" has become generalized to refer to any last-ditch effort with little chance of success. The origins of the phrase date back to October 28, 1922, during a game between Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. During that game the Fighting Irish players said Hail Mary prayers together before scoring each of the touchdowns, winning the game 13 to 3. One player, Noble Kizer (a Presbyterian) suggested praying before the first touchdown, which occurred on a fourth and goal play at the Tech 6-yard line during the second quarter. Following the prayer, the quarterback threw a quick pass over the middle to score. The ritual was repeated before a third and goal play, again at Tech’s six, in the fourth quarter. This time the QB ran it in for the touchdown. Kizer stated after the game: “Say, that Hail Mary is the best play we’ve got.”

Today, the Hail Mary pass usually refers to a last minute pass into the end zone to score from behind for the win. The best known examples are Staubach to Person in 1975 and Flutie to Phelan in 1984. However, winning with the Hail Mary is a long odds tactic. Exciting when it works. Most of the time it doesn’t.

The ways sales executives follow up on leads is a little like trying to win games with the Hail Mary. It can be exciting, but there is little hope of success. There are three main reasons why sales rep follow-up on leads is relatively ineffective:

  1. The leads suck. If you are sending raw, unfiltered and mostly unqualified leads to sales they will never follow-up on them. Period.
  2. They are busy with active sales cycles, OR they operate more like farmers than hunters because they feel more comfortable tending to current and known prospects as opposed to seeking out “cold” prospects.
  3. They simply don’t know how to follow-up a lead.

In this blog we'll tackle #3: How to appropriately follow up on a lead.

Lead follow-up involves three components: preparation, communication and execution:

1) Preparation

You have, no doubt, read that prospects are impatient with sales reps that ask a lot of discovery questions (especially if the information can be found with a little research). And when you engage with them they certainly expect you to know their company, their market and the competitive landscape.

Assuming you’ve done all the research, there are additional tools and tricks that can help you prepare even more thoroughly for your call or meeting. When (notice I said when, not if) you go to LinkedIn for background information, look for recommendations made by your contact’s peers. This will provide insight that goes beyond their work history and education. Familiarize yourself with their Twitter presence—specifically the hashtags they use—to get a sense of their interests and beliefs. A visit to the prospects’ Facebook page will provide a glimpse into their personality. If you find they don’t use social media very much you can be a little more traditional in your approach.

Fifteen additional minutes of preparation will change your communication from ignored to welcome.

2) Communication

The bad news is that it takes significantly more outbound calls, voicemails and emails to follow-up a lead than you’d wish was the case. It can take 8 – 12 touches (even on the most qualified leads) to schedule and complete your first call or face-to-face meeting with a prospect. If your approach is to call twice and then ignore the lead because “they must not really have been interested,” you might as well keep throwing the Hail Mary pass until you get lucky.

Instead, I’d like to share with you a more strategic plan of action. Here are my step-by-step recommendations for effective lead follow-up:

I. Review all information provided. When you receive the lead, carefully review the information provided. Depending on the source this will vary, but along with the leads we generate, we provide detailed documentation of conversations AND a digital audio file (except where prohibited) so that you can get to know the personality, cadence and communication preferences of the prospect and validate that the lead qualification criteria has been met. Do your research (review Preparation above), then call the prospect and send them an email. Instead of leaving a time wasting voicemail such as, “I am looking forward to our discussion,” leave a voicemail and send an email that demonstrates your knowledge of their situation and how you have helped solve business issues for other similar companies. (The chances of getting the prospect on the first call are slim.) The call and email should be placed/sent within four hours of the lead being handed off to you—even if a meeting has been scheduled for a future date.

II. Stay in touch. Depending on the number of days between the receipt of the lead and the scheduled call or meeting, send two to three additional emails with prospect specific educational information and/or benefit information. Find a relevant article. Set-up alerts and congratulate them—or, inform them about something going on in their market they might not have been aware of. Keep yourself top of mind and begin to add value in their minds.

III. Meet (or maybe not). At the time of the scheduled call, don’t be surprised or disappointed if the prospect is a no-show. That happens 50% of the time and does not mean anything at all—except that the decision-maker is busy and another priority came up. Zero out, find out what you can, ask the admin to see if they can find the prospect and then reschedule a new appointment (on the spot with the admin) if the individual is not available. If there is no admin, leave a voicemail and send an email asking for the appointment to be rescheduled. The average person doesn’t want to come off as rude; and if they miss a meeting they will try to make it up to you in some way—that’s just how it works.

IV. Don’t give up too soon. Following a missed meeting, make three to five more calls, (leave no more than three voicemails) and follow each call with an email containing something relevant to the prospect—not just the generic, “Sorry I missed you,” message.

V. Reheat. If after these steps you’ve still not made contact, best practice processes call for the lead to be returned to marketing or sales operations (wherever nurturing takes place) so that the lead does not end up in a black hole.

3) Execution

So what should happen when you do make contact? There are so many resources on the subject of sales execution that I am not going to cover sales methodology and tactics here. What I do believe to be critical is that you recognize where the prospect is in the buying process and move the sale forward from there. Follow these steps to boost the buying process and drive more sales:

  1. Find a pain or need.
  2. Get agreement that there is pain or need.
  3. Get agreement to do something about the pain or need.
  4. Agree on a generic solution.
  5. Agree on customized specific solution (that may or may not be yours).

I hear an objection: “This sounds old fashioned.” It’s not. Regardless of the sales methodology you use, the buying process is going to come down to these five steps. The problem is that most companies’ marketing departments start and stop at Step #1 (finding a pain or need), and most sales organizations start and stop at Step #5 (agreeing on a customized solution). One of the biggest execution mistakes you can make is to jump the gun and begin selling to your prospect at Step #5 when they have not completed Steps 2  4. The most critical of these steps is Step #4 (agreeing on a generic solution). Getting through this step requires facilitation and collaboration. The sales executive must be more interested in helping the prospect find the right solution for their situation—not just pushing their offer.

In the end it’s up to you. Are you going to wing it and throw the Hail Mary, or are you going to optimize each and every lead opportunity? Wing it and you’ll end up with a lot of balls in the air and hardly any touchdowns to show for it. Use best practice processes in lead follow-up and sales execution and substantially increase your revenue and commissions.


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Topics: Sales Process


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