By Chris Beall,
In a narrow sense, the purpose of Sales as a function is to secure fresh revenue. It could be revenue from a new logo, a renewal, an upsell, or a cross-sell; but it is all just revenue, green and fresh and sliding deliciously into the company bank account.
By this standard, everything a salesperson does that does not contribute immediately to a revenue-producing transaction is waste. And one of the most wasteful activities is to meet with someone who is not qualified to enter a buy cycle now. The key is to dismiss the unqualified many as early as possible in order to engage deeply with the qualified few.
In the standard view, the unqualified many should be avoided by Sales altogether except for the briefest time investment required to determine they are, in fact, unqualified to enter a buy cycle now.
There are two problems with this narrow view in the world of modern B2B:
1. It is hard to figure out whether someone is truly qualified. Skill and discipline are needed, and often a level of trust must be established before a buyer will confess their true need, or lack thereof. As a result, the qualification process itself may fail, dismissing perfectly qualified buyers and sending them away — supposedly to Marketing for nurturing, but just as likely to one of your competitors. Let’s call this the “false negative problem.” The salesperson doesn’t even notice the loss, but the company experiences it in the form of reduced market share and revenue.
2. The most common cause of disqualification is bad timing. The potential buyer is intrinsically qualified — their company really needs your solution — but they are not ready to enter a buy cycle quite yet. They might need to wait for an existing contract to run its course, or they can’t make a move until their budget process is complete. Let’s call this “the timing problem.” The salesperson can’t afford to waste precious time waiting around and therefore sends the buyer back to Marketing as a lead to be nurtured, not to be spoken with again until that prospect has the good manners to re-engage as a “hand-raiser” who is worth talking to.
And in the meantime, since there was no relationship of trust established during the salesperson’s short initial phone call, those supposedly unqualified prospects may start looking elsewhere for a product or service that will meet their business’s needs once that contract expires or their budget is finalized.
As we say at ConnectAndSell, conversations matter.
From the company’s perspective, the false negative problem is a disaster: a perfectly good buyer has been sent to a competitor. The fact that no one noticed doesn’t make it less of a disaster. False negatives represent pure leakage of value. And hidden leaks, whether in potential deals or in a pipeline transporting expensive fuel, are the worst kind. Not only is value being relentlessly destroyed, but no one notices, and therefore no one does anything about it. It shows up on the company’s P&L as higher-than-necessary marketing costs. But who knew what was really necessary? So, the cost is eaten, and the business suffers.
From the company’s perspective, the timing problem also represents wasted opportunity. How is this? After all, the buyers with bad timing are all sent to Marketing for nurturing, where they will be “dripped upon” and socially engaged and persona-fied, tracked and tempted and lead-scored until, hopefully, they come back in their own sweet time, finally ready to buy.
Of course, it is possible that your competitors are all doing the same nurturing, probably based on assigning the same buyer the same persona. It is possible that your nurturing is simply the best. It is possible that your content is both insightful and unique. It is possible that you are winning the war for this buyer’s attention without ever having to waste time on another wasteful qualifying conversation.
The problem is that while you are busy nurturing, your fiercest competitor might be cheating. How? By actually having a conversation with the buyer while the timing is still bad. That one conversation will give your competitor information you don’t have. And it will start building a trusted advisor relationship that goes beyond blogs, white papers, tweets, and LinkedIn posts. So, when the buyer finally returns as a hand-raiser, you may find they are already holding hands with someone else.
When you do the math, the optimum solution is to go ahead and have regular conversations with your intrinsically qualified buyers. How do you know they are intrinsically qualified? Because it is the 21st century, and the answers to the big qualification questions are out on the internet for all to see. There may also be faint timing signals for all to see, but they are nothing compared to what you learn from a real conversation.
By simply having a real conversation with every intrinsically qualified buyer roughly every 90 days, you become that fierce competitor who is “cheating” by refusing to play the “me too” nurturing game by everyone else’s rules. You get access to that buyer’s real secrets — what they need, what’s driving them crazy, what they can and can’t do, and when.
Your competitor decides to save a few dollars and stick to inexpensive nurturing. You build a relationship. And when the timing is finally right for a deal, the prospect will go visit all the other sites and read all the other content. But you will be smiling, because you know who they will end up with. Because it turns out that the sales conversations are the ultimate content, and having those conversations is the ultimate nurturing. And winning is the ultimate reward.