The Dirty Little Secret of Lead Generation: How You Can Clean It Up

Blog108_MeetFavorable-Conditions-1Leads are the soft currency of professional selling. Leads are filled with potential and opportunity, with hard dollars and profit. As a salesperson or the manager of salespeople, you carry the responsibility to work your leads rapidly, confidently.

Let’s do a simple anatomy exercise on the typical marketing lead. The brain of the lead is not developed. Its heart not qualified. Its nervous system cannot generate a valid business reason or formulate a buying concept at this point. It is a bundle a raw DNA material waiting to be born─filled with the possibility of a sale.

At some point, a competent salesperson will follow-up and attempt to take the lead to the next level. He or she may pick up the phone, write an email, schedule a meeting. The marketing team may funnel more permission-based content to the lead or direct a variety of offline marketing techniques in an effort to mature the lead to a consideration or even preference stage.

In the world of marketing and sales, lead generation and lead management have risen to a high art, attracting the thinking of the best minds in the business. Google the terms lead generation or lead management and you’ll be served up 56 million and 69 million search results respectively.

But lead generation carries a dreadful secret.

According to 2012 study conducted by Inside Sales Inc. and covered in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and articles, 71 percent of Internet leads are never followed up! What’s more, those leads that are followed up on, “the salesperson who does call, only makes 1.3 call attempts before giving up and moving on.”

Can you imagine the untold millions of dollars in lost opportunity this fact represents?

The secret gets darker yet.

Companies don’t respond to Internet leads fast enough. In fact, the same study points out that the average salesperson takes 46 hours and 53 minutes to pick up the phone and respond to a lead.

If we apply this response virus to our profession, we have to say we don’t follow up on the bulk of our leads. And when we do, we take our time. Then we give up after barely more than one attempt. Can this be true?

Yes, this dreadful reality is true. As part of the study, more than 10,000 companies in fifteen different “secret shopper” studies over the last five years, were tested and data aggregated. Secret shoppers filled in a lead form on a company’s website with a real phone number and email address and response time was carefully tracked.

Wasted Marketing Spend

Ken Krogue of conducted on-house research to test his company’s sales practices and discovered only 27 percent of leads ever get contacted. He claims that with “awareness, best practices and technology;” companies can up this rate to an astounding 92 percent.

Do CEOs know that of the massive marketing spend approved to generate leads, only 29 percent of the leads are spoken to?  Whole industries have sprung up to handle lead conversion. What if we focused on the top of the funnel more? Krogue calculates an increase from 27 to 92 percent is an increase of 341 percent lift in results if we’d simply respond immediately and persistently to our leads.

What is meant by responding “immediately” to an inbound lead from the Internet? How quickly does the lead run cold?  Quickly. “The odds of contacting a lead if called in 5 minutes are 100 times higher versus 30 minutes. The odds of qualifying a leads if a called in 5 minutes are 21 times higher versus 30 minutes.” See chart below.  46 hours and 53 minutes is a lifetime in Internet time.

Graph from original research from Dr. James Oldroyd and showing response time by 5 min. increments leading to leads becoming contacted.

Graph from original research from Dr. James Oldroyd and showing response time by 5 min. increments leading to leads becoming contacted.

The research also reveals that oftimes it takes hours, even days for the lead to get routed to the right salesperson. This problem is a clear opportunity to increase sales. Make sure your policies and processes are geared to expediency of lead handling. Then the dollars you’re spending on lead nurturing and conversion have half a chance of paying off.

The Proper Follow-Up

Let’s take a look at the proper follow up when a prospect takes an action on your website, identifying himself as a lead. As discussed above, follow up within minutes if preferable to letting the lead languish for days. Incidentally, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days to call if you want to contact someone; 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. are the best times to call to contact a lead; 8 – 9 a.m. and 4 – 5 p.m. are the best times to call to qualify a lead or set an appointment.

Here’s where the big mistakes emerge. Most salespeople want to follow up by making an initial call, identifying themselves, and immediately looking to diagnose the prospect’s problem by connecting their solution as the best fit. After all, they did download something so they must have some pain, right? Even worse, the sales professional jumps right into the proverbial “Let me tell you about our company and what we do.” This declaration will turn off your prospect almost immediately.

Instead, as we often discuss in my blog, you need to step back and understand the prospect’s concept or vision for a solution. Because she downloaded a white paper on one subject doesn’t mean that is where her issue lies.

Don’t begin with a sales pitch, rather offer more content that is similar to the content in which the prospect already expressed. Stay away from the traditional, “Hey I saw you attended our webinar or I noticed you downloaded our whitepaper, can we share some of our experiences with you?” It doesn’t work.

Blog108_MeetFavorable-Conditions-3When making the initial call, offer to schedule a brief 15 to 20-minute conversation with the prospect to provide more detail about the content he showed interest in. It is critical that you maintain a teaching/helping posture here, as the prospect may, in fact, not be thinking about buying anything at this time.Much like catching fish, if you start trying to reel them in too fast, you may lose them forever.

Your job is to begin gaining your prospect’s confidence and trust and to establish yourself as a subject matter expert. Trust that your chances of turning that conversation into a meeting will increase.

It’s important to understand that it isn’t until the second or third content-sharing touch point that the prospect begins to trust you and sees value in what you bring to his situation. He will begin to lower his protective barriers and open up to other conversations with you. This scenario will rarely happen on the first call. The objective of the first call should be to understand his issues and to help him form a vision or concept for a solution.

After you’ve established your desire to help and not sell, your prospect will begin to collaborate with you, share information about his company and feel comfortable enough to ask you questions. This point is also when you get to ask about the potential to move forward based on what you have learned about your prospect up to this point.

Any attempt to move the prospect into a sales-ready position prior to this point will cause more harm than good. As I say in my book MERGE, you need to slow down to succeed.

Slow Down to Succeed

In our approach, we teach that there are three distinct phases of the sales/buying process. The phases are Cognition Thinking, Divergent Thinking, Convergent Thinking. There are distinct and important decisions that the buyer must make within each phase. When the buyer is in Cognition Thinking, your focus needs to be on establishing:

  • The problem

  • The cause of the problem

  • The cost of the problem

  • The need to change

This phase is so important because the buyer is asking himself, “Do I have a problem, how big is it, and do I want to deal with it now. If so, who should I involve within my company in helping me better understand the problem and possible solutions?” If the buyer doesn’t see a clear need to change what he is doing, there is no need to go any further. Remember, prospects only buy when they are trying to fix, accomplish or avoid something.

The next phase, Divergent Thinking, is also about defining what’s required to solve the problem, and defining possible solutions. If the prospect has decided to change, you can now take that defined problem and collaboratively help him look at the possible solutions to solve his issue.

And the third phase, Convergent Thinking, focuses on zeroing in on the right solution. If the second phase is done correctly, the prospect will self-discover your solution as the best one for him.

But unless you help shape the concept or vision for the solution in the two previous phases, you could end up responding to an RFP.

Salespeople Out of Sync

In most traditional selling processes, the salesperson assumes that his prospect has a need for whatever he is selling, and he tries to manage the sales process so that the prospect acknowledges that need.

This out-of-sync issue presents itself in two troublesome ways:

  1. Because salespeople tend to be so solutions-focused, they strive to get to Divergent Thinking (where the focus is on comparing their solution) as quickly as possible and fail to create value or build the necessary weight to their business case;

  2. The nature of most sales and marketing systems positions the message to be relevant to the end of a buying process. By the time buyers reach out, they’re oriented to divergent or convergent thinking (where they are already comparing solutions), but the salesperson hasn’t participated in defining, diagnosing or assessing the problem. This means the buyer is focused on what the solution costs while the seller wants to focus on what the solution is worth.

In both cases, chaos, confusion and commoditization accelerates. The sales process gets bogged down, predictability evaporates, and sales costs grow, often to non-sustainable levels.

Solving the problem requires that you slow the sales process down. Whether you’re reaching out to the prospect or they’re reaching out to you, you must address each phase of the sale/buying process sequentially.

In the less common method, one that can bring differentiation, the salesperson doesn’t assume the need but instead searches for a fit between what the prospect may need and the solution her company can offer.

If a prospect calls you asking for a solution, ask him “What’s led you to believe you need that solution?  What problem are you trying to solve?  What’s led you to believe that this is your problem?”

For example, it’s not unusual that a prospect will reach out to me and ask about sales training.  It may go something like this:

Prospect:  Hi Bill.  One of my sales reps heard you speak at a conference and was telling me about the sales training you do. We’re getting the final details of our next sales meeting together, and I thought it would be a good idea to consider using someone like you for the event. Can you tell me about your program and how much it costs?  (Clearly, he believes he knows what his needs are to so readily enter a “what does it cost” conversation.)

Me:  Thanks for reaching out. I’m glad that your sales rep had positive things to say. I’m more than happy to tell you all about our sales methodologies and training; but before I do, can you tell me what goal you envision for the sales training?  (I know no one wants to buy training, they want a result. Training is about cost, results are about worth. In my experience, I also know that he probably doesn’t have a good answer for this question.)

Prospect:  Well, we’re looking to increase our sales revenues. (While this sounds like a result, it’s not. It’s vague and meaningless and will get us nowhere. In your sale process, prospects will use vague descriptions of their needs. You need to dig deeper.)

Me:  Not surprising.  I’m curious, what do you think is preventing you from getting more sales with your current approach?

Prospect:  That’s a good question.  I’m not real sure, but I know that my salespeople need to improve their closing skills.  We keep losing opportunities at the end of the sales process.

Now we’re on to creating his vision or concept of a solution.  It could be closing costs, lead generation, sales cycle time or any other issues, but now we’re defining the problem. In virtually every case (and this typical example highlights the fact) the prospect is focused on a symptom – not the problem!    And this is where I can pivot the conversation. I can begin asking questions about the symptom he has shared and highlight what’s causing the problem.

By slowing the process down, I gain significant control and predictability. I’m able to make my business case and clearly demonstrate if and why we are the best alternative. While it lengthens the time to get to a proposal, it also both increases the value of the proposal and the likelihood of success.

Given our discussion on the dirty little secret of leads and what you can do about it, I’d like to close with this revealing chart from Ascend2:


The 49 percent of companies listed above have not heard or read about the secret of wasted leads. Hopefully, they won’t shoot the messenger. My advice is blissfully simple advice in an overcomplicated sales world: Follow-up far more quickly, more often and at the right time and day. Your lead to conversion ratio will begin to shine like tomorrow’s sunrise.

See you on the upside,

For more information on how to simplify the complex sale, go to
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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