Chapter 21: Leads and the Art of the Close
So far, so good. You’ve built a small empire of pay-per-click campaigns, social media blitzes, and search-friendly content so the world will beat its path to your website…
….where they found a heapin’ helpin’ of excellent content tailored to their needs, complete with a sharply designed and compelling offer and call to action…
…and somebody accepted your offer. You now have the contact information for somebody interested enough in what you do to give valuable information to know more about what you know.
The classic noir movie The Way of the Gun includes the line “The greatest distance between two points is a kidnapper and his money.” They’re close to right, but really the prize goes to the distance between a lead and a customer. Here’s a sad truth of the sales game, even when your sales are rigged with strong inbound content:
This is one of the drawbacks of the inbound marketing method. With contact us marketing, 57% of people who actually make contact with a company have already made up their minds that they are (a) inclined to buy and (b) ready to do business with that vendor. That made it easier to close a higher percentage of sales.
Modern inbound marketing makes the first contact with a potential client far earlier in the Buyer’s Journey process…long before a buying decision has been made. This earlier acquisition is as much of a game-changer to the lead nurturing and close process as the Internet was to Attraction.
How It Was
The traditional model of focusing on a lead ran through three steps:
An interested lead would either call in directly to the sales department or fill out a form requesting a call. In both cases, that commitment was deeper than that of giving an email address in exchange for some reading material. Salespeople from that era began the process with a lead who was closer to buying.
The next stage was a discussion, in which the salesperson built rapport, answered questions, offered discounts, presold, made (often empty) promises, tested closes and generally spent time nurturing a lead. This discussion might have taken one call, or it might have taken several conversations including a few on-the-house dinners — depending on the potential value of the sale. The old-school model for the discussion phase was both better and worse than the modern method. It was better because leads didn’t have access to as much information, so a salesperson was in a position to make claims and promises a modern seller can’t. It was worse because it couldn’t be automated, so it was a lot more expensive than the lead nurturing discussion for a properly set up automated inbound content program.
The final stage of the old model for focusing on a lead was the sale. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and doesn’t change substantially from era to era. That said, there is one huge difference between sales then and sales now: in the Old Way, the sale was the end of the process. Modern sales require nurturing existing customers just as you would a lead.
How It Is
Inbound marketing has the same destination as old school, interruptive marketing. It even includes the same stages:
But the route is different, which means if you try using traditional sales systems you’ll end up in the wrong place. To get where you need to be, you need to follow a different map:
This is the most important part of understanding how to manage leads in an inbound marketing system. Inbound leads have a 1% to 10% close rate on average, depending on industry and how a company handles their sales cycle. This is not because inbound sales are less effective. It’s because inbound sales hook a potential buyer much earlier in the Buyer’s Journey than older sales structures.
Why hook people so much earlier in the process, at a time they may not be even close to ready to buy? Because research shows that 35 to 50% of sales go to the vendor customer contacts first. Put another way, no matter how far from buying somebody might be when they access your online content when they do buy they’re going to buy from you…
…if your online content is memorable and powerful enough for a reader to remember you when they’re ready to buy. This means the first job of your online content is to hook and groom readers for later interaction with your sales team.
Because of what we just talked about, having your sales team contact everybody who viewed your page would waste company resources and frustrate your salespeople. Before that first contact happens, you must leverage one of the hidden superpowers of well-executed digital marketing.
Remember a few chapters ago when we described your company website as the best salesperson in your company? This stage is why.
A well-designed, well-executed inbound marketing system guides buyers from casual interest to ready-to-buy before your human salespeople ever make contact.
It does that automatically, 24 hours per day while costing you nothing for all the extra hours. Sure, it’s not free to set up, but once the system’s in place the actual cost per qualified, interested lead is negligible.
That well-designed, well-executed system performs that impressive task by doing the following things:
- Capturing the attention of casually interested readers with high-value content
- Guide the reader to further information automatically via calls to action and internal links
- Identifies where the reader is in the Buyer’s Journey
- Assesses whether or not a lead is qualified
- Leads qualified, interested buyers to an offer that delivers value and triggers contact from your human sales staff
This automated system lets your salespeople work smart instead of hard. If they had to contact everybody who visited your site, their sales figures would embarrass them. More importantly, they wouldn’t have time to give your qualified leads the attention they need and deserve. By letting your automated inbound marketing system sort its visitors, you let your sales team call only the leads that are likely to result in a sale.
In a solid inbound system, discussion happens in two parts.
The part you’re familiar with, which happens second chronologically, is the discussion between a live sales representative and the lead. You’ve seen enough of this on Mad Men that we don’t have to describe it in more detail here.
The other part happens (again) automatically, via an email lead nurturing system. We’ll talk more about that in another chapter — it’s so important it deserves its own treatment. Meanwhile, remember that the sales discussion in strong digital marketing is automated and analyzed. By 2020, 85% of the client-business relationship before the sale will be handled completely online. Only in the final stages of the Buyer’s Journey do potential customers talk with your sales staff.
This last stage is the least changed part of the sales process as compared to what it was during the Bad Old Days. A sales rep gets in touch with an interested buyer, and the two of them talk until a deal gets made (or doesn’t). How to manage this conversation is an art all of its own, with plenty of books and videos out by strong experts on the topic.
Here, we’ll just touch on the three key differences thought leadership/inbound marketing makes for sales in the 21st century:
It refines lead generation. Your sales team will meet with only the most interested and qualified leads, meaning a higher close rate per sales attempt and lower cost per sale. By the time a client contacts you, he’s been educated by your lead nurturing content and considers you and advisor, if not a trusted friend.
It helps build the perfect RFP in business-to-business sales. The process leads a potential buyer through all of the key considerations for purchasing what you sell, then guides her through writing a request for proposals from you that best matches your strengths and process.
It continuously builds a relationship between you and the buyer producing a mentor-student relationship rather than a salesman-mark relationship. This familiarity and trust decrease the threat of a potential customer going to the competition and how to most effectively direct your team to take advantage of these changes.