Should anyone routinely follow up on new B2B sales leads?
About Common Sense - About John & Ed
John McTigue recently retired from his role as co-owner of Kuno Creative, one of the preeminent B2B content marketing agencies in the country, and is now the Martech Whisperer. In his new role he's working with companies to navigate the convoluted world of the revenue growth tech stack. John can be reached at:
You've met Ed here on the site.
For many years John and Ed have enjoyed talking about thorny issues around B2B marketing & sales, and recently we've started to record those conversations/debates. We're calling it "Common Sense" based on our shared love of history, and the perspective we hope we bring.
You can follow our musings on Common Sense at:
We take lead management for granted...should we?
Ask any company if they can scale their sales operation to manage and follow up on new leads, and the answer is always some form of guffaw and "Of course!" Except experience indicates otherwise. Marketing wants to push masses of leads - sales only wants those that sell themselves. Lost in this tug-of-war is the prospect and what they want!
This episode includes:
- What's a lead? Should a conversion even be follow up on?
- Why Ed thinks field sales is the wrong group, and an inside function is important
- Why John argues that field sales or nothing is the right answer (nothing more often than not!)
- How technology can help
- How indirect sales channel complicates the decision
We dive into each of those and more as part of this conversation about whether lead management should belong to marketing or sales.
Ed Marsh: Hi, I'm Ed. Welcome to Common Sense.
John McTigue: And I'm John. How are you doing Ed?
Ed: 'm good John. How about you?
John: Doing well. It's turning summertime here so here we go.
Ed: Well, let's then we're going to raise the temperature a little bit as we do battle today then I guess.
John: All right. Well, our battle today is focused on a topic that gets hinted at a lot, I hear it in conversation, but it's really rarely debated. That question is, when a lead comes in, a marketing lead, should the first touch come from someone inside like marketing or customer service, sales development rep, or someone outside like a field sales rep? Ed, you're experienced in this area and talk to a lot of your clients about this. What's your take on this question?
Ed: What I see is unfortunately many field salespeople are poorly qualified to do this, and honestly they screw leads up. People send them leads and you get crap like, “I'm too busy to follow up on it.” At the same time they whine about not enough leads. I mean, in many cases they don't even look at the CRM or the marketing automation to get the context before they call. The bottom line I say somebody inside ought to be doing that, even if that requires a little bit of further exploration. I mean, maybe it's marketing, maybe it's an SDR or a BDR or something like that, but I would say somebody inside.
John: Okay. I was thinking about this and I think we should back up a little bit here a few steps and I would even challenge the assumption that you should even reach out at all when the first time visitor becomes a lead, and maybe leads should just be left alone until they're ready for a sales call, either by volunteering that, asking a direct request for a sales call or some kind of consultation. But maybe we shouldn't even be sending them emails until they subscribe to the blog or request something. So how can we reach some agreement on this? I think we're pretty far apart on our positions today.
Ed: Well, it's not the first time we've been far apart on a topic, but we've got a pretty good track record of figuring out some sort of a middle ground. I mean, I would say context is really important. I mean, you hint at something that often never gets talked about. What's a lead? I mean is a lead somebody that comes to your site? Is it somebody that's converting and giving you an email address? Is it somebody that's taken a certain recipe of action, visited the pricing page or three pages within a week or come back seven times or followed up on an email or consumed some content? There's lots of different ways you could put that recipe together. Maybe it's somebody with certain profile characteristics, the right job, the right company size, right job title, or it could be ultimately somebody that raises their hand and says, "Hey, I want to talk to somebody," whether that's by chat or submitting a form.
There's also a question of philosophic alignment. Are you there, do you see your role as stuffing leads into the funnel to then hand them off, throw them over the wall to salespeople and say that you've satisfied your performance metric? Or are you a company that believes that you can help prospects and customers improve their business with insights and turn very early stage awareness kinds of what we in marketing may call leads but in sales they call unqualified and later turn them into prospects?
Also, what does the field sales team look like? Do you run your field sales through sales channel? Is it through direct employees? Are they commissioned, salary? How are they incented to manage territory and account in addition to contacts and projects? Are they capable of even nurturing and properly qualifying leads? Or are they following a very strict sort of a band approach, and if they can't check all those boxes they're not even going to follow up on them? How robust is the system for nurturing prospects?
I mean, if you get early-stage leads that are very good potentially long-term assets but take some time to develop, do you have systems in place to do that or do you just discard them? I mean, I guess behind all that is I think a fundamentally really important question that you asked, should you even be contacting somebody? I mean that's a good point.
John: Yeah, and I think as we start working towards agreement that the one thing we always talk about is solving for the buyer. That's where I would start. What does the buyer want? Why did the buyer visit the website in the first place? What are they looking for? You should ask yourself questions like what is the purpose of that person's visit in conversion? Was it to download something, or learn more about you and your products, or maybe just go to school on the information you publish? Does this person even want to be contacted, and if so, what tells are there that you can read to see whether that might be the case? What kind of behavior would they take that would indicate, other than a direct request that would indicate that they want a contact? And if so, by what? By phone? By email? By chat? What options are available?
Or do we really believe that we have some insights already, and that would probably not apply to a first-time visitor but to someone who's come back multiple times. Do we have data that back up our impression that these people are ready for some sort of contact? And if so, what are those criteria? So if the answer to both of those questions is yes, then yeah, I would say we probably need to reach out. Then it's really a question of who's going to do the reaching as we talked about earlier. But if they're both no, then leave them alone, let them find their way through the [inaudible 00:06:11], let them explore your website. Make sure everything is helpful and relevant to what their interests are on the website and social media and everywhere else.
But then the key thing here is if it's appropriate to reach out, it should be by the right person in your organization. So if it's a technical question, they should be talking to customer service or someone in products. If they have business questions like product fit or pricing, then by all means talk to field sales, talk to somebody who would likely be in the field delivering the product and helping you out with the issues. If it's a question about the company or people in the company, maybe that question goes to PR or investor relations. Again, it really depends on the relevance of the context of the questions that they have. What do you think about that approach?
Ed: I guess I would ask you in turn two questions. I mean, I don't completely disagree, I don't completely agree, but I would ask you how would you respond then? There's so much research out there that shows that it's critically important that the first follow-up happened within three minutes or five minutes or some sort of a number, and that really determines ultimately the success of converting that lead into a customer over time. The second is you described that perfect scenario where there's a continuum of customer facing departments that all integrate and work well together. But we know as we've talked about many times that's not the reality yet. So if you don't have the luxury of so directing the inquiry in such a nuanced way, I mean, who is the first touch then?
John: Right. Well, on your first point I've certainly seen that data too and it's around three years old, so I'm not sure that it's still valid, but even if it is, I still think it depends on the buyer's intent. Are they really considering a purchase? If so, yes, call them within five minutes. But I'll say a little bit more about that in a minute. If it's a customer service call, absolutely, get back to them right away. That's one of the worst things you can do, is put somebody on hold or email them tomorrow or whatever it is. Get back to them quickly on both of those counts. But what if it's a conversation about strategy and fit? Maybe what you do there is offer to schedule a longer call, so you can do some preparation.
Maybe you have a chat tool out there that allows them to schedule a call with you for 30 minutes tomorrow or the next day, and that's a win-win for both of you because you both have time to prepare for the call. It's at a more convenient time when you can really explore the subject. Not every five-minute thing fits, but some of them clearly do.
Then I think that your question about the process and hybrid teams and kind of merging silos together it's a tough one and it's very difficult to do. But if you're able to do it, one of the benefits of doing that is you can create this seamless process that really allows all the customer facing people to work together on the same data, they can see the same interaction that's going back and forth, they can review the data for meetings, they can bring people into meetings when it's needed to help support the call. There's a lot of benefit to working together as a team, but it goes just beyond the process itself.
I think it's not easy but I think what CEOs and people who have to commit to this process really need to think about is that benefit side. We've talked a lot about that in our other conversations and we'll probably talk about it some more.
Ed: Yeah, I think for sure. But underlying this, I mean, as my time spent in field sales and managing field sales and observing channel sales and consulting for companies that have direct field sales teams, and I mean, it's almost without exception field salespeople are by definition in the field chasing quota, they're may be managing channel, they may spend part of their time they'll argue about how much filling in expense reports and filling in call reports and forecasts and the crazy thing of course because in many cases they don't have CRM and their management can't just run those reports and see what's happening, so they're wasting their sales people's time doing it, or they're in meetings, I mean the bulk of their time it's spent driving or flying to and from meetings with customers and prospects.
Of course everyone's got mobile interfaces for their apps now, and you say it's easy to do, but by the time somebody rolls into a hotel room at night and they have a lead notification in their email but they get some dinner, they call home, they talk to their kids, they answer emails, they plan the following day, but guess what, that lead isn't … not only is it not getting called in five minutes, it's not getting a call until, it slides down in their inbox and they're taking care of projects and they get back to their office and then they're filling out the expense report and some of the stuff slips through the cracks. So even if you incent them properly and you hire the right people and you hold them accountable for territory management, in my experience the lead follow-up is poor. That's a fact.
In contrast, you put somebody at their desk in front of dual monitors with high-speed data in the office and all the tools at their fingertips, they've got a shot at it. They can open LinkedIn. They can research somebody. They can look at the company website. They can see in depth and the timeline what somebody's done in your website, and they've got that context to make the follow-up appropriately casual and conversational and immediate.
I guess the other thing that often is embedded in this kind of a discussion is the assumption that an inside person is a junior person. Just because they are tech savvy and a recent graduate but have no business experience, we're going to put them in an inside role, and I would say that there's no reason that has to be the case. I've seen amazing success where a very senior field salesperson gets tired of traveling all the time and says, “I love the company. I love the product. I love the projects I work on. I just am sick and tired of hotel rooms and I want to work inside,” and they can be amazing inside salespeople. The fact that somebody's inside doesn't mean that they have to be green behind the ears.
But here we are. We're kind of coming to that moment where we approach agreement and we both lose our steam with the argument. I'm wondering, it sounds almost like we're converging on something I've called kind of a concierge model for sales where what you're doing is selling in the way that's just exactly appropriate for what the buyer wants at that time, wherever they are in their buying journey and however they want to communicate. Is that you think a reasonable analogy for what you're envisioning as we talk about this?
John: It is, but I think you may have undersold the technology side a little bit. It's very important, it's, yes, there are other things that need to be done every day, but let me just dive into that a little bit, sort of clarify how the technology side really kind of makes the concierge model happen or at least enables it. Take a couple of examples, this idea of having too many leads to call that you mentioned. Most people would say, “Well, that's a good problem to have.” My view of it, my experience is that it creates as many problems as it solves, as you really don't know which lead to call first and what order to call them in, which one is really the most likely to be successful from a variety of different perspectives, for them of course, but also for your company. Wouldn't that be the one to call first and then have some sort of triage list, or send an email or whatever it is, have a variety of options for reaching out quickly and efficiently?
Well, there are quite a few tools out there nowadays that people use that are very effective at this, that sort of a combination again of marketing automation and CRM that help teams, assuming again that smart marketing and sales are not throwing weeds over the fence but are working together, but it helps them automate the process of triage prioritization. An example of that would be marketing campaign that really targets highly qualified leads and brings them in, so that you don't have to go through this lengthy step of bant to find out if a lead is worth talking to. And then prioritizing them based on the collective data and behaviors that they exhibit. And then automatically notifying just the right rep, how many times do the leads go to the wrong rep that really doesn't represent that product or represent that region or whatever it is. Then the leads delay it again. Just doing that can take care of some of that inefficiency.
Then there's the quality of the sales call that happens. How can we make a better call out of that? And if we can train any type of sales lead be or sales team member inside or out to make better use of the tools that they have to be able to look at the profile of a lead in CRM and know the context exactly of the inquiry that they made and what the intent of the buyer is, you can gauge a lot of those things from their behavior. That would enable you to do a few Google searches within that five minute window to see exactly what's up with this particular lead and have that challenger sale call so that you can at least in principle be that first person to add value that often wins these sales.
I mean those are the types of things that all of these people involved need to think about and get some experience, get some hands-on to see how it works, because a lot of times when they do that, they come around. Though if we could do that, all of a sudden our close rates and retention rates can start climbing through the roof, wouldn't you agree?
Ed: I think absolutely, and your point of technology, you're absolutely right, there's so much more that can be done with it. I've seen some neat cases of people using smart content, even fairly rudimentary algorithms using smart content that say if somebody spends, visits this category of products or service pages three times, then when we send the lead notification to the rep, let's not only tell them, "Hey, this is the conversion," but let's say, "Here's what we think they're interested in, here's some questions that we suggest you might ask to get further information." That's an easy way to kind of prime the pump with the reps too. But many work with this ‘80s approach, back when a lead meant somebody said, “Yes, I'm ready to buy something, I'm trying to decide between three vendors. Come and pitch me on your product.” If that's your perspective, then contacts which need to be nurtured as opposed to sold feel like they're unqualified.
It sounds like we're kind of getting to the point where we're agreeing that, yes, there's a right point in many cases to contact a prospect that may or may not be right after they convert could be based on some other indicators, but some decisions have to be made, and those decisions can be facilitated by technology and ultimately everyone says we're going to lose jobs to AI but not all the jobs because humans do things uniquely well. Well, there needs to be a human that understands people in industry and how they buy this product that can help facilitate that decision too about when and how to make that outreach.
John: Yeah, that's a good way of putting it. I think it's not so much about making the call right away and having field sales rep reach out. It's really about making the right decision at the right time for the buyer.
Ed: Yeah, and here we always seem to come careening back to the same point, it's about the buyer. That rascal is going to answer all the tough questions for us. Whenever we're trying to figure something out, if we just ask the buyer, the buyer's got the answer. But that brings us to the end. We wrap up this episode having again come to an agreement. Next time we're going to be actually talking about the difference between a sales pipeline and a sales funnel or maybe arguing about whether there's a difference or whether they're both still applicable.
John: Yeah, and here's a hint. I actually believe that at least one of those is obsolete, so we should have some fun talking about that next time.
Ed: All right, sounds good. I'm Ed, and together we're Common Sense for sales and marketing.
John: Take care.
Ed: Thanks John.