Generating Sales Leads: What’s Working Now?

There’s an enduring stereotype about salespeople.

You will have seen some version of the slick used car salesperson, the one who aggressively pushes the sale and has few scruples when it comes to misleading unsuspecting customers about the true nature of the product.

Stereotypes like this probably play some role in the strong aversion many people have to the word “sales” or to the idea of talking to a salesperson. The fact is, while the used car salesperson image may have been common in the “Mad Men” era of sales and marketing, today things are different.

Today, companies need to adapt to the changing nature of sales and look for ways to entice the modern business or consumer to engage with them on their terms.

When it comes to generating sales leads, you must know what has changed and what is working now:

The changing role of sales

Take a moment to think about your own preferences when it comes to discovering and assessing new products or services. If you’re like other people, you probably prefer to figure out as much as you can on your own, before asking any questions of the company.

Why wouldn’t you? Just about every brand that exists is now providing information online, from pricing to feature comparisons to customer testimonials to help docs and training videos. More and more people prefer to find information for themselves and seek social proof that the product or service works for others rather than taking the word of a salesperson.

We have little patience for cold calls or for pushy emails. Millions of people have registered mobile and landline numbers with the TPS to avoid nuisance phone calls. We are in a world where the customer now has more power to choose what to tune in or to tune out.

Here’s how former Hubspot Head of Sales, Mike Roberge puts it:

“Hiring aggressive sales people flies in the face of what modern buyers prefer. And if all we’re going to do is pitch what a prospect can read on our website, that adds zero value.”

The role of the salesperson has changed and the pushy “always be closing” type will probably find that their close rates remain low. The customer doesn’t want you to “sell me this pen”, they want to take the pen and try it out for themselves first.

Try before you buy

The idea of “try before you buy” isn’t a new one, but its application is being used across an increasing number of business types. Particularly with online and software businesses, customers are demanding the ability to experience your product or service before they buy.

“Getting people to experience your product, to experience your brand, and to see what being a customer feels like before ever having to spend a dime — that’s the future of sales. And it’s a model Ikea has been using for years: Let people test out the product themselves and let them figure out if it’s a good fit. The role of sales shouldn’t be to force people into a purchase, it should be to help them every step of the way.” – David Cancel.

That idea of customer centricity is a key theme in today’s sales teams. The old ways of pushing the product are giving way to understanding the unique context of the buyer and delivering a more personalised experience.

Salesforce’s State of Sales Report reveals that customer experience is now the top sales benchmark for teams. Those sales teams are now aspiring to goals, such as increasing retention through deeper relationships, becoming trusted advisors to customers and providing customers with a more personalised experience.

The company is taking on the role of an educator and provider of a great experience for customers, which often begins long before they get into contact with sales.

Automated prospecting

“70% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a buyer even reaches out to sales.” – SiriusDecisions

The buyer’s journey now treads a different path to past sales experiences. This means that sales teams and marketers need to adjust their strategies to be part of that first 70% of the journey. There’s a good chance that buyers have already gone through the “awareness” stage of the journey, they’ve possibly even got through most of the “consideration” stage, which means their first personal contact with sales might be at the “decision” stage.

Source: Hubspot

Sales teams need good automated processes in place to help guide that first 70% of the journey. For example, 72% of buyers will turn to Google for research, so it is important that the company has content that answers buyer concerns and is available for those searches.

When potential customers read that content, the company needs a way to capture the customer’s information. This is where there will usually be some kind of enticing lead magnet – a free offer or download in return for an email address.

Marketing automation is creeping into sales too, with the lines between sales and marketing teams becoming increasingly blurred. Sales can now send out automated prospecting emails or nurturing email sequences and create an entire sales engine based on their knowledge of their buyer personas and the elements of their journey.

Email lists get segmented according to what the customer opened, what they’ve shown interest in or how they came onto the list. While automation still lacks the ability to achieve a high degree personalisation, segmentation based on customer actions ensures that communications can be targeted, yet still free up time in the sales team for other activities.

Sales automation tools, such as Outreach.io, Toutapp, Salesloft Prospector, Leadfuze, Quickmail, Sendbloom and Persistiq, have all popped up as solutions to allow sales teams to manage automated functions and scale communications. This scalability is another important feature of modern-day sales as teams can reach more people in much less time than ever before.

Leveraging technology is the smart thing to do. As Salesforce’s State of Sales Report says:

“High-performing sales teams use technology to accelerate sales processes and free up time to sell, using nearly 3x more functionality than underperforming teams. Top performers are nearly 8x more likely than underperformers to be heavy tech adopters, showing winning teams’ proclivity to optimize every part of the process.”

Sales team roles involve maximising the efficacy of technology use, then taking over where technology leaves off to deliver the personalised solutions customers are demanding.

You can take a look at some of the more popular technology solutions by visiting our tools area.

What is working now?

Where does all of this leave outbound prospecting? You could say that it involves more of a “pull” factor rather than the traditional “push” of the salesperson. Outbound prospecting is still a very valid task but may now involve more educating of the prospect, helping them to get to know the brand and to understand that a solution exists to their problem.

Sell the problem, not the solution

There are many instances where the customer might not even be aware there is a problem. In these cases, your job will be to educate them about the problem so that they are aware of why a solution is necessary.

As Seth Godin has said; “No business buys a solution for a problem they don’t have.”

The challenge for both sales and marketing is to sell the problem first, before diving into the features and benefits of the solution. Do this by creating value for the customer, educating them and perhaps even introducing them to your expert solutions via a side product.

Experimentation is key

One of the major advantages that sales teams are enjoying now is the freedom to experiment and to quickly pivot when strategies are not working so well.

Sales is one area of the business that is easily quantifiable, so this lends itself well to experimenting with different techniques and tools. No two sales teams will find the exact same combination of techniques work well for them, so it’s important to take the opportunity to test things out. For example, here are some ideas teams can experiment with:

  • Outreach techniques
  • Perfecting your sales pitch (we have a set of email templates that can be used for testing here)
  • Segmentation and demographics
  • Automation vs. manual techniques and different formats of each

As far as strategy for your experiments, here is what Mark Roberge has to say:

“Experimentation is the key to learning, growing and evolving your strategy. That said, be smart about it. Only run one experiment at a time (you don’t want too many variables, or to contaminate your data). Collect all the information you can, and take the time to properly analyse it. Be sure that you have defined what both success and failure look like for each experiment. This ensures that you will walk away from each trial with a result and an increased understanding of what you were testing.”

Monitor those analytics

Analytics and the accurate monitoring of results naturally ties in here. Top performing teams are monitoring, measuring and looking for the opportunities to make improvements. They’re also finding new measures to improve performance that aren’t necessarily being used by others.

Consider this from Jason Lemkin:

“Everyone measures dollars/rep — that’s basic Salesforce 101. What less people do unless they have sophisticated sales ops is carefully measure how effective each rep is at closing the leads they get. I.e., closed dollars/lead by sales rep as well as by lead type and category. By doing so, we quickly learned that sending an SMB rep more than 150 leads/month, and sending a “run-rate” rep more than 100 leads/month, lead to a dramatic fall off in $$$/yield to the company. Yes, beyond 150/100 leads per month the reps would close more, but not that much more. They were not only too busy, but they were neglecting the lower quality leads — human nature when you have surplus.”

How the lead is being closed is another important factor to monitor and experiment with. For example, many companies still find that, despite all of their online advertising and promotion through various channels, more of their sales close over the phone, or even through a visit in-person. This is especially true when selling large, enterprise packages.

Regardless of the technique, a key characteristic of today’s top-performing sales teams is that they use the technology available to them to monitor, measure and improve.

Conclusion

This has been just a brief touch on some key areas that are working for generating sales leads now. Sales has become less about “the big push” and more about helping to educate buyers throughout the journey, with the aim being the sale close to be a natural conclusion.

From personal experience, we have found running regular webinars and product demonstrations to be valuable educational techniques leading to sales. Customers get something close to a one-on-one experience, but without the pressure of a sales call.

If you’re ready to move forward with improving your sales strategies and lead generation, explore some of our sales resources.

Stuart Brameld

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