I was coaching the CEO of a start-up company who told me her biggest problem was that she had been to a trade show and had 600 leads to follow up. She was overwhelmed, mainly because she had fired her only salesperson and had to handle the followup on her own.
We agreed immediately that it was impossible for her to followup 600 leads personally, so we decided to work on what to do instead. I think her problem illustrates a couple of tough issues that face almost every small company – and that have the potential to seriously impact sales if they aren’t handled well.
First, she doesn’t have 600 leads – she has 600 names. This might seem like semantic nit-picking, but it’s an important point. A lead has passed through some checkoffs that make it worth the time and energy it takes to do some form of personalized followup. Checkoffs might be “In the geography we can reasonably cover” or “Fits in our market segment sweet spot” or “Has made a request for a white paper.” It’s essential to understand that if this person doesn’t have the required checkoffs, all you have is a name. So the first filter of these 600 “leads” was to eliminate the “names” from the list of personal followups she was going to do over the next week or two.
Second, out of the 600, there were a significant number that she recognized as important prospects – companies that she knew she wanted to do business with. These companies already passed the market segment sweet spot filter. She also recognized that there were a couple of classes of these prospects – those that were small enough that she thought she could close them quickly, and larger companies that she felt would require extended sales cycles. So she was able to quickly focus on two followup strategies, and the number of these prospects was both small enough for her to make initial contacts within a week or two, and large enough that it seemed she could make her target sales number by concentrating on this list.
So by understanding the difference between leads and names, and by focusing on her market segment “sweet spot,” she was quickly able to transform a list of 600 names into a manageable set of about 75 real leads to followup. Her chances of success have increased significantly because she won’t be wasting time on low-probablilty names, and can devote her attention to understanding and solving the problems her high-probability leads have.
This kind of focus on the prospects that are most likely to buy is essential in any small company – you have limited sales resources and if you’re going to be successful and grow, you have to use those resources efficiently as well as effectively. If you close deals with your targeted prospects, many of the 575 names you leave behind for now will become real leads and prospects later – if you don’t close deals, they will disappear.