Rescuing Sales Rejected Leads

In an earlier post we discussed the importance of paying attention to warm or less-than-perfect leads that could result in sales if pursued with additional insight and diligence. In this post we want to take an in-depth look at the process of handling one particular type of imperfect lead: Sales rejected leads (SRLs). Each SRL represents an investment of resources and time, so it’s important to understand if we can improve the overall ROI by converting a portion of them to sales at a later time. Some will argue that the extra effort represents throwing good money after bad; and finite resources are better applied to exploiting fresh leads with higher potential. This view of course assumes that your demand generation machine is cranking out new opportunities reliably.

Rescuing Sales Rejected Leads

The naysayers may be correct at times. It’s impossible to offer a general guideline because so much depends on context and factors (e.g., industry, product type, average deal size, average sales cycle duration). Like so many other aspects of marketing automation and sales, you can’t answer these questions or fix problems until you dig deeper by collecting data, taking measurements and analyzing results.

It’s tempting to launch into a discussion of marketing automation and CRM platform capabilities that support SRLs, but let’s step back momentarily to understand what’s needed from a process perspective.

At the time a sales rep concludes that a lead is no longer viable, we need to capture important information for future analysis or to trigger follow-up actions:

  • Why did this happen? Most of us are familiar with the typical reasons (e.g., competitor won, timing problem, budget problem, needs more nurturing or solution not needed).But more details are needed to fully understand the barrier(s) to a sale. Was it really an issue on the prospect’s side? Or could it be a problem with our product or our selling process? An ineffective rep? We might need to go beyond the rep’s perceptions by doing some form of customer debriefing. Are voluntary online follow-up surveys (inexpensive) useful? Should neutral third-parties (expensive) contact them to have a conversation? Marketers will need to determine if the extra cost to collect, store and analyze these details is worthwhile.
  • What is the future potential of that lead? What are appropriate next steps? What are the rep’s recommendations? The rep is closest to the customer, so we need to tap into that knowledge and convert it to data. The feedback might ultimately lead us to conclude that it’s less about barriers to conversion than it is about optimizing scoring algorithms and improving qualification processes.
  • Is there a follow-up date? Sometimes the problem and solution are obvious and don’t require any analysis. If an enthusiastic prospect has a timing problem (e.g., currently no budget), then the rep should simply indicate the next follow-up date. No other special treatment for those leads is required, other than staying in touch via the usual nurturing mechanisms.

Organizing and interpreting the data on the demand generation side will require substantial effort. We can’t say that these activities will be cost effective for all companies. Some organizations will simply throw all SRLs (minus the “never contact me again” variety) into the nurturing bucket without additional attention to see what percolates to the surface over time. That may indeed be the right approach for certain businesses.

On the other hand, if you have the means to do so, your interests will be best served by categorizing the SRLs and managing them according to each group’s unique needs. This could mean, for example, specific nurturing programs tuned to particular SRL types. Moreover, the entire lifecycle of an SRL needs to be tracked to understand if the rates of subsequent conversions to sales justify the incremental effort.

The marketers responsible for demand generation will need to weigh the costs and benefits associated with the following decisions:

  • Should the current scoring algorithm(s) be modified? Are more of them needed?
  • Should there be different scoring algorithms for different types of focused campaigns? But more to the point: Should there be separate campaigns and different scoring algorithms for each type of SRL? What’s the right level of granularity for managing SRLs?
  • Is it more cost effective to reset the score on SRLs to zero and force them through the same qualification and scoring process again?

Lest anyone miss the fundamental points of this discussion, let’s highlight the core concepts you undoubtedly know well: Segmentation, closed loops, testing, metrics and process improvements. Conversions to sales are always the immediate concern, but over time you’ll want to think about how to improve the end-to-end process. We love analyzing data and segmenting prospects, but each business needs to find its own point(s) of diminishing returns for the required time and effort.

Now, back to marketing automation and CRM platforms …

None of what was described above is possible without automation. All such platforms come with out-of-the-box defaults and suggested configurations. They are useful and important for getting started, particularly if you lack prior experience with such tools. But those choices may not offer the level of detail and sophistication you may need to manage SRLs. Fortunately, most of the vendors understand this challenge and make provisions for customizations (e.g., adding new data fields). This flexibility extends to interfaces between systems.

The essentials for SRLs boil down to this: You need to be able to capture and store the rep’s knowledge as discrete data in the CRM platform. When those leads return to the marketing automation platform, they need to carry that data. The marketing automation platform needs to store the data, which in turn will drive processes, trigger workflows and yield metrics.

One more hint: You might want to collect data about successes (conversions to sales) as well as failures. It’s hard to address failures if you don’t fully understand the reasons for success. The bigger picture is important.

Finally, don’t assume that these platforms and interfaces – even when optimized – will make your life easier or reduce the SRL workload.In fact, the opposite will probably be true: You and your team will be busier than ever because you’ll have unprecedented opportunities to understand sales barriers and to implement solutions to overcome them.

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