Leveraging Unqualified Leads
Written by: Ryan Flannagan
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Chapter 22: Leveraging Unqualified Leads

 

“Now is where we talk about what to do with all those unqualified leads,” I said.

 “That’s easy,” said Chuck “Dump ‘em. They’re a waste of time and resources.”

 “Nope,” I said.

 “What?” said Chuck

 “Whatever are you talking about?” asked Carole.

 “Have you ever been to a car lot and had a salesman snub you because you weren’t interested in a high-ticket auto?”

 “It’s been a while, but yes.”

 “Or had a waiter or bartender give you bad service because they thought you weren’t going to tip?

“Yes,” said Chuck and Carole together.”

 Carole went on, “This one time I got snark from a saleslady at a nice dress shop because I came in wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

“Okay,” I said. “When you talk about those businesses later, what do you say about them?” 

“Oh,” said Chuck.

“Some of those unqualified buyers can be the best drivers of your community.”

“Tell me more,” said Chuck.

You’ve had the same kinds of experiences I just talked about with Chuck and Carole. You never want to be that car lot, boutique or server. Remaining warm and welcoming with your unqualified leads is good karma. It’s also smart business.

Three Reasons Not To Ignore Unqualified Leads

Unqualified leads might not buy today, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you grow your business. In my experience, I’ve found this is true for three reasons.

Not now doesn’t mean not ever. Each lead had some reason for contacting you, even if it wasn’t to make a purchase that day. If you establish yourself as a friendly and helpful expert now, you’ll be the first vendor called when a lead becomes qualified.

This is a long-term game, but pays off surprisingly well. A few of the unqualified leads who fit into this category include:

  • Students preparing to enter the industry. They’ll use your stuff for papers, and later remember you when they’re in a position to buy.
  • Lower-level employees and gatekeepers. They might be tasked with research or report to people who do make decisions. Though you may never do business with them, they will influence the people you will do business with.
  • Up-and-comers. These folks might not be buyers today, but you can bet they’ll be buyers down the road. And they’ll remember who was cool to them “back in the day.”

You never know who people know. This particular lead might not be ready to buy, but may influence somebody who is. If they feel slighted by you, they will mention that. If you treat them well, they’ll mention that too.

Anybody who has tried to date somebody who was friends with somebody who didn’t like them knows the pain of making this mistake. In B2B sales, this particularly applies to:

  • Office managers, personal assistants, and minions. The ultimate buyer of your product will often send somebody to make first contact. They are often fiercely protective of these team members, and you blow one off at your peril.
  • Friends and family. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but if a CEO’s kid has a bad experience with you, you can kiss that CEO’s business goodbye.
  • Colleagues and rivals. At this stage in your career, you’ve participated in at least one industry conference or get-together where everybody dissed a particular vendor. Blowing off unqualified leads is a good way to become the dissed vendor in question.

Advocates aren’t always customers. Many unqualified leads are simply interested in the space where you do business: They are hobbyists and professionals without buying power. These people talk in real life and online with other enthusiasts. If they feel valued and given value by you, they will spread the word.

Look at the list for “not now doesn’t mean not ever” for the sort of folks who often fall into this category. Add to it retirees and hobbyists. Those two categories are some of the most passionate people in any industry, and often become thought leaders themselves. They can generate millions in sales without ever making a purchase themselves.

Qualified But Unwanted Leads

There’s another category of leads and customers nobody likes to talk about, but everybody knows is out there: people who might do business with you, but who you don’t want to do business with.

Toxic, unwanted leads and clients come in all shapes and sizes, but they often share a few key traits or behaviors:

  • Ignoring your advice (especially if they gripe about the results afterward)
  • Constant complaints about small issues or factors that are universal across the industry
  • Micromanaging you into making decisions that aren’t right for the product or brand
  • Being unresponsive or indecisive
  • Not respecting your staff, time, or expertise
  • Consistently paying late or trying to renegotiate contracts
  • Costing more in time and labor than their business justifies

You should run screaming from these leads, and gently fire them if they are already clients. At best, they will take time away from more profitable and less stress-inducing clients. At worst, their toxic attitude will poison parts of your own company culture.

Or, you can go big and apply a trick one of our chief strategists first used while working for Home Depot.

He identified the bottom 10% of their B2B clients. The ones who always complained, returned stuff all the time, paid their accounts late, and generally caused more trouble than they were worth.

Then he contacted each of them and recommended they do business with Lowe’s.

This is evil genius level maneuvering. Take those unwanted clients and leads, and give them to your competitors. Some of them will be a better match for that company culture, and the others will give you a meaningful, if slightly dastardly, advantage.

Before good automation and email, it was often too costly to nurture your relationship with these unqualified leads. It simply took too many resources to hand-manage everything and print the correspondence.

Today, though, things are very different. You can keep the unqualified leads on your books indefinitely and communicate with them essentially for free. As each brings you business of one sort of another, they become a source of free money.

And everybody likes free money.

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