Things were simple back in the day, before LinkedIn, before email and the Internet. A team of lead generation people to call prospects and field sales people to meet and sell. Everything necessary to grow your client list. Well-trained sales people in those highly skilled areas could deliver great results.
Granted, it wasn’t perfect – even back then lead qualification was the bone of contention. Outbound sales comes with drawbacks. You have to pound the road and accept that most meetings will be ‘wasted’ time because, in the end, the prospect won’t buy. But it’s all part of the investment. At least you can console (convince?) yourself that you can minimise the cost by hiring (and training) good rapport builders, commercially savvy enough to judge whether it’s worth the time to meet.
Of course nowadays the consensus dictates that you’d be mad to rely on calling alone to generate leads. For years now buyers have bought differently, self-serving their information needs online until much farther through the sales funnel. But that’s not the only problem. The sheer noise in any market now makes standing out challenging. Prospects are getting 20, 30, 40 emails a day, all in the same format, and accessing senior buyers on the phone becomes more difficult every day as blue-chips close their switchboards and decision makers retreat behind their voicemails.
What does this have to do with whether it’s worth doing cold first meetings?
If your sales process is to do something to generate a lead which turns into a meeting then by the time you get to that first meeting, most communication will have been electronic. Email and chat apps are great for efficiency but not so much for human interaction. When you sit down with the prospect, it may well be the first human conversation the prospect has had with someone from your company. I would be willing to bet that the prospect has spent far less time, on the average, conversing with one of your people than 20 years ago. This means when you walk in they’re usually less engaged.
Evaluating a lead by qualifying it against standard criteria and scoring systems is helpful. All of the soft stuff only really comes out when you have a good chat with someone.
Even back in the traditional model’s heyday, converting over 50% of outbound leads was motoring. Nowadays it’s harder to achieve a good conversion rate because you spend a lot of your time in that cold first meeting on the getting-to-know you stuff – showing that you can be trusted and that you know your stuff – before the prospect will tell you what they need and what’s stopping them getting it.
So what’s the solution?
In a nutshell, don’t do cold meetings. Your customer needs to be able to judge whether they can trust you and whether they can work with you. If you try to sell to them while they do that, without them having got to know you, it’s not going to work. Sales people need to find a way to have one-to-one time with prospects before meeting them. In this day and age, this isn’t exactly difficult to do. Conference calls, Google Hangouts, Skype, Webex – nobody can say we don’t have enough ways to communicate with one another.
We find that doing a conference call – 30 minutes with the prospect to talk through their aims and challenges, always with a senior person from our side – works wonders. We can have an honest conversation about what the customer needs and whether we can help. You need to handle these calls in the right way to get the best outcome. It becomes clear during the call whether it’s worth meeting, so you only meet those where it is. The pros of doing this far outweigh the cons. Prospects appreciate you not wasting their time and of course those that you do meet buy in so much more. This does mean you go to less meetings (and save time and money doing so). You do go to have a much greater chance of converting the ones you attend though.
To find out more about this and other ways to improve your sales and marketing, get in touch with us.