While it might be tempting to follow up with every company that expresses some interest in your product or service, it may be beneficial to remember that there's only so much time in the day.
It took me a while to understand that time and effort spent making contacts that are essentially pointless in value to my business are a waste of resources. Over the past month, I've had to deal with several of these leads that have come in the door. It's a letdown when nothing happens and you've put your time, energy and money into partnering with them.
Of course, this shouldn’t deter you from going after the sales leads you believe that you do need—after all, you can’t have a B2B situation without one of the Bs. Here are a few tips I've learned over the past year to keep myself focused on only the leads that'll close.
Be aware of lukewarm potential clients.
With automated sales leads generated through marketing such as pay-per-click advertising, you may get responses from companies that have an abstract idea of what they're looking for, but would take hours on the phone to win over. However, it’s never fun when one person is more into the relationship than the other.
The person on the phone could just be looking for information before they start shopping around to your competitors, or they may be looking for advice within your specialty without a committed intent on buying. Rather than giving general advice on why your service or product may be good for their business, in an initial conversation with a potential client, you may want to try and get to know the person you’re talking to and figure out why your service or product might be a good fit for their business.
I've found it helpful to establish empathy and authority right from the start. This way, you can ask better questions and get at the more difficult, straightforward answers. You may find that the company you're talking to doesn't really know what it needs—or its needs may not match up with what your company does (in which case, don’t bother following up). However, there may also be a chance that you will see a potential or something you can quickly ramp up with your own product or service that will easily match a need.
Another thing my company does is produce guides, which are a driving force for our leads. Most customers who come through these guides turn into customers. Create guides worth reading and that build up trust. Once a customer has your trust, they may purchase anything from you.
A deal takes nuanced information.
To figure out the kinds of sales leads you would benefit from, you need to ask the right questions. However, I've found that because I'm typically direct, some of my questions put the potential customer on the defensive.
B2B companies want to know if the customer is ready to make an immediate deal, and whether they have a large enough budget for the product or service you're providing. But simple yes or no questions might exclude a lot of other valuable information. Your potential customer may have irreconcilable expectations for what your product will offer, or they may demand more features than they’re willing to pay for.
When it comes to gauging whether or not your potential customer is worth pursuing, you'll want to find out early on exactly what they’re looking for and expecting, and what they’re willing to pay. They may thank you for your efficiency, though you should try to remember not to be too abrupt as to appear rude.
Know who you want.
Part of building your business can be getting to know the ideal customers that would benefit from what you’re offering. This may require the skills of social outreach.
One tactic I've found beneficial: There's power in getting involved in the right communities. Go to meetups and enjoy the atmosphere, the people and what you're learning. Just don't be desperate about finding the right customer immediately at a meetup. Join relevant Facebook and LinkedIn groups, and go to entrepreneurial events.
However, this needn’t be exhaustive, especially if you stick within your specific niche. When I became really clear about the type of customer I could help the most, by the time I met that customer, I knew it. Get to a point where you already know exactly what type of company you want to be courting for your product or service and those that wouldn’t benefit at all from your help.
When you start generating leads, keep in mind your personal qualifications. Don’t be tempted to compromise on your goals. Work your networks to the best of your ability, and soon, your ideal customers may be so familiar with you that they’ll be chasing you for deals.
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A version of this article was originally published on February 22, 2016.