Let’s talk about the unicorns of sales development: high-quality sales leads. They’re just like the amazing magical creature — equally admired and desired but unlike the unicorn, they exist. High-quality sales leads are the heart of our business at CIENCE — the very best we give our clients. And with awe and admiration, we finally highlight this subject to share everything we’ve learned about them and where to find them.
What is a Sales Lead?
In the B2B selling process, a sales lead is a decision maker (and her/his contact data) at a company that you hope will become your client. Potential buyers bear this title in mind mainly when they are in the top of a purchase funnel. This term, however, doesn’t have a strict definition or boundaries, and most sales experts understand it differently.
For the purposes of this article we’ll use “sales lead” to denote:
- The contact data of a decision maker obtained for the purpose of prospecting/lead generation
- The decision maker that your Sales Development Rep (SDR) contacts via email, phone and other channels of communication
- [Qualified Sales Lead] – A decision maker who became interested in your product/service and whom your sales development team identified as a good fit in accordance with a set of criteria.
Once the qualified sales lead is passed to a Sales Manager or Account Executive, it is called an Opportunity.
There are many sales leads out there. And not all of them are your potential buyers. Among those who might be interested in your product/service, some won’t buy for a number of reasons. Your goal is to keep the best potential customers and convert them efficiently.
Any sales process is basically a set of filtering stages — like panning for gold. To succeed, you need to control two key features of your incoming sales leads:
Both are of great importance. And there should not be an either/or choice between quality and quantity. Instead, you need a reasonable ratio between the two. This article will provide you with comprehensive insights into sales leads and their key features.
Sales Lead Quantity
An old proverb says: “A bird in the hand is worth two in a bush”. Maybe. But if you don’t have birds in your bushes, how will you get one into your hand once you need it?
Quantity of leads remains an important indicator because it strongly regulates the scalability of sales. For example, if 100 high-quality leads convert into one appointment, then reaching out to 200 high-quality leads should give you 2 appointments.
Scalability is one of the key tools for your business growth. Once you’ve built a consistent and predictable sales development process that seamlessly feeds your account executives with qualified leads (appointments), you can expand by hiring more SDRs, searching for more sales leads, and reaching out to them.
There’s another aspect of this problem, though, and few companies pay attention to it.
The quantity of sales leads you can get is ultimately limited by your Ideal Customer Profile, which regulates the quality of leads by providing a list of criteria to filter out bad-fit prospects. The less specific your ICP and the more generalized your requirements are, the more leads you’ll find at the end of the day.
In the B2B extreme case, the number of sales leads equals the total number of all decision-makers in all companies. Or even worse – sending emails to as many possible email addresses you have, hoping to get an answer — which is a classic tactic of a spammer.
At another extreme, your contact list will contain only one account. Potentially a single person working at that one company, in one industry, in one geographical location, with a particular title and a certain number of employees. In other words, your set of criteria will limit the list to only one sales lead.
Even worse… You can create an ICP with a set of criteria that doesn’t match any employee/company. Then you’ll have zero leads.
Take a closer look at the Ideal Customer Profile
Here’s an example: there’s only one entity in the US that sells “super-realistic” Martian simulant soil – UCF (it turns out that there’s also a provider of “not-so-realistic” Martian Dirt).
If you want to find a company that sells real dirt from real Mars (the 4th planet from the Sun next to the Asteroid Belt), you will fail. Sorry!
Obviously, both extremes are nonsense. Using them will be unproductive for your lead generation activities. However, these examples make it easy to understand how your ICP regulates the number of prospects you can get by means of sales research.
Compare these two ICPs:
So, for ICP 1, you get approximately 100,000 companies and >500K leads.
For ICP 2, we changed only 2 criteria (location, title) — limiting the search to 4 states (that have few IT companies). This alteration has changed the number of leads dramatically to a Total Addressable Market (TAM) of 1186. You can limit this number even more by specifying the size and revenues and adding special requirements (e.g., the companies’ offices must be located in specific zip codes).
Total Addressable Market
When planning your sales development activities, you need to calculate Sales Lead Quantity to make predictions on revenues and scalability.
For these purposes, we suggest using Total Addressable Market — an approximate maximal number of leads that match your ICP. For very specific Ideal Customer Profiles, it’s really hard to predict the TAM in this case, so one of the best ways to find out is to order the creation of a contact data list from a B2B Lead Generation Company.
If your Total Addressable Market is approximately 200,000 companies, buying a list of 2,000,000 leads doesn’t sound like a good outreach strategy. First, you’re overpaying by ten times as much as you need to. Second, it’ll take too long to work even if done properly. Lastly, any list naturally decays at 2-7% monthly (thanks to prospects naturally changing jobs, firings, retirements, or death). In our mythical example, this would mean at least ~430K of those 2M contacts will be invalid within a year. I’ll explain why in the next chapter of the blog.
We suggest first using NAICS data for US companies. Here’s an example of information you can get:
A short glance at the table above is enough to understand that, if you want to reach out to companies with $1B+ in revenues (regardless of industry or any other criterion), your ICP will be limited to 3,847 firms in America. Not bad!
The Quantity of Qualified Sales Leads
In modern sales processes, before leads get on your account exec’s plate, they are processed by SDRs (alternatively called BDRs). This process is called outbound prospecting or sales development and its key goal is to save time for your execs and properly specialize your sales team’s structure.
There are many factors beyond your control that might make a lead refuse to set an appointment with your company:
- They see no value in your offer
- They have more important problems at the moment
- They have no budget
- They use a similar product/service and are satisfied
- They haven’t seen or opened your email/didn’t answer your phone call/didn’t read your message on a social network
- They have no desire to think about your solution to their problem
- They simply don’t want to change, because it’s scary or resource-demanding
- They are prohibited from adopting a new solution
As a result, many of the conversations you initiate never get past the first message. That’s why this process likens to gold panning. You need to put a lot of effort in before you get your first appointment.
In total, there will be fewer qualified leads than leads generated. However, it should never stop anyone from reaching out to prospects and starting new conversations day after day, month after month. This work will eventually bring new clients to your company.
As you can see, lead quantity and Total Addressable Market are important parameters that you need to take into account when planning your outreach campaign. Now let’s talk about…
Sales Lead Quality
We’ve already discussed it a bit in a previous section of the post. Now it’s time to elaborate on it. What is the sales lead quality?
We’d say that it is a set of required lead features that facilitate a sale:
- Fit with your product/service (on paper)
- Ability to execute your sales process (from sales research/lead gen to deal closure) and
- Post-purchase customer growth and expansion.
The latter is of great importance because an easily closed deal doesn’t guarantee a happy client. And a happy client should be the ultimate goal of any company — because of churn risk, bad reputation, and a whole list of unthinkable outcomes…
Controlling lead quality at the beginning of the sales process can help avoid problems with churn and bad reviews on public sites like Clutch in the post-purchase phase. Needless to say that it addresses the issue only to a certain extent — if you have poor customer service and experience, no sales technique can help fix that.
Remember the mega-list we mentioned above? Theoretically, it is possible to build a global decision-makers’ database (which contains approximately several billion entries). At least it’ll be easier to sift through than an infinite monkey theorem or predicting the position of each grain of sand in a container shifted at random.
But there’s a couple of reasons why it’s not a good idea (please keep in mind that we’re discussing only B2B companies).
What if we never segmented our contact lists?
Let’s play an imaginative RPG game. You are an entrepreneur and your company is a start-up. Your “quest” is to increase your sales with the purchased mega-list of contacts mentioned above.
You can use your own company for this game or enjoy the story based on our clients’ experience.
Here are the conditions:
You have a biotechnology company that produces a unique product enabling faster DNA sequencing. Since you’ve just licensed the technology on which your product is based, you don’t have many experts in your industry who know about your company and how it can help them.
The very essence of your product implies that your customers will be various research facilities (e.g., studying viruses), forensics institutions, and hospitals. You’ve earned your first customers from your employees’ networks and conferences dedicated to DNA sequencing — although most people simply walked past your booth.
You’ve studied your customers and found out that your product works best for forensic organizations, hospitals, and institutions that study viruses and bacteria. You’ve also talked with other companies that use DNA sequencing (e.g., vaccine developers) but your product doesn’t fit them.
Your product is basically a kit consisting of 15 items that decrease the time it takes to sequence while retaining the accuracy of competing methods. It is also easier to use and much cheaper. And while you believe that it fits all the researchers out there, the response of larger companies at the conference is quite clear:
- “Big Pharma” has long-term contracts with your competitors. So come back in a year or two.
- “The kit format” doesn’t fit their internal working processes and routines.
- They need a certain amount of items produced and delivered on a monthly basis — a quantity you can’t provide at the moment.
- Price isn’t the major concern for large companies. They need to see your technology in action for a couple of years.
That’s how you find out your kits are great for:
- Mid-sized research labs (because the kit format fits well into their processes).
- Hospitals and forensics (where cost-saving is a matter of priority, as well as the speed of sequencing)
Wrapping up, the specific details of your product/service limit the number of companies that see the real value of your DNA sequencing kits.
However, you have a list of B2B leads from all over the world. Let’s assume you can limit it to US-based companies only. That’s still too many people to process as there are about 18M businesses in the United States. If you reach out only to 1 decision maker from each firm, there still will be 18M leads.
Some Easy Math Behind Outreach
You have one SDR. The optimal number of prospects an SDR can process in the course of one day doesn’t exceed 60. Let’s say your rep sends 50 emails per day. This means that you will work around 1,100 leads during one month (50*22 working days). By the end of the year, you’ll work 13,200 leads.
Now, it’s easy to calculate in how many years one SDR will complete the outreach to 18M prospects in your list – 1,363. If only we could live so long…
Here’s another calculation to consider. In reality, the capacity of your ICP is, for example, about 10,000 companies (let’s assume you’re lucky to have so many research facilities). This means that 1 in 1,800 businesses in your 18M list is your potential buyer (the rest aren’t).
And this literally means that your SDR will be sending emails to firms that aren’t interested in your product for 1.5 months before coming across a good-fit (which still doesn’t guarantee a purchase). Ultimately, your rep will bring you around 7 leads per year.
There are two ways you can increase the number of leads processed per day. However, both will have severe consequences. First, you can increase the number of emails sent per day. And this will put you on spam lists quickly.
Second, you can hire one more SDR. However, you shouldn’t forget that an average SDR will cost you over $120K annually. Spending that amount of money on 7 high-quality leads per year isn’t the best idea when you don’t close $1M deals with one prospect. You sell office DNA sequencing kits, remember?
If you thought you couldn’t fail more
Finally, there’s one more thing that will make your outreach even more unsuccessful. And that is messaging.
In Leo Tolstoy’s epic book War and Peace, when describing the death of Andrei Bolkonsky, the famous author emphasizes that “to love everybody is to love no one”.
Later the same thought was expressed in the works of Oscar Wilde and Ayn Rand — and given the fact that all three writers couldn’t differ more both in style and ideology, the idea seems pretty reasonable.
Applied to the email outreach it might sound like:
When you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one.
Basically, when you try to apply general messaging meant for unsegmented outreach, it will be targeted to nobody.
Here’s an example:
*Disclaimer: This letter is based on my own personal experience receiving thousands of similar emails over the years. Any similarity with an existing outreach campaign is coincidental, though the environmental facts are accurate.
So what’s the problem with the second letter? It’s truthful and good for the planet’s well-being. And if you add a pretty picture, you’ll get an appealing… advertisement.
Alas, that’s exactly what’s wrong with it. A business-to-business conversation should by no means look like an advertisement or your website content. Because you can’t talk with a commercial – even if it’s worth Cannes Lions. And you can’t buy from it. You still need a human.
Next, you mostly write to managers, heads of departments, and C-level titles. There’s little chance that there’s a place on their plate for such a long letter. Finally, nobody likes ads and everyone has techniques to avoid them.
For me, as a millennial who literally grew up in an ad-saturated environment and who remembers the Internet of the 2000s (when the content of a web page was surrounded by several rows of banners), I don’t need an ad-blocker to not see/perceive an advertisement.
In fact, I have an inbuilt ad-blocker in my mind. Most of us have it, especially Millennials. And an increasing number of us are becoming decision makers. That’s why when we receive an email that doesn’t look like our friend’s letter, the internalized ad blocker turns on and we emotionally unsubscribe.
That’s why, even if your message hits the email box of your perfect-fit decision maker, it won’t hit their heart. Thus, they’re unlikely to convert into sales opportunities. And you won’t achieve your goal.
Unsegmented mass outreach is inefficient in regards to time, money and lead conversion. To improve the outcomes of your lead generation, you need to get high-quality material to work with, i.e. your leads.
This requires a number of criteria, i.e. your Ideal Customer Profile — to limit the number of prospects you reach out to. You need to leave only those who are likely to make a purchase from your company. Therefore:
Lead quality is the correspondence of your lead to your ICP.
However, there’s more to it.
Remember that hardworking SDR who was processing that mega list of 18B contacts? One year has passed since Mr. Alonso Quixano began this epic venture and 1486 years are still ahead of him.
Like noble Don Quixote, our hero(ine) is mindlessly sending emails and making phone calls day after day. Let’s leave him by his windmills and turn our sight to the ones that he is targeting.
Dr. Aldonza Lorenzo, 31 y.o., the promising cancer therapist working in a hospital with a DNA sequencing lab, has just married a man with a perfect British accent and UK residency. Luckily, she’s been invited to participate in a new research effort in Oxford, UK, where the newly-married couple moved last week. Amanda Lake, the system administrator at Dr. Lorenzo’s firm, has just deleted her mailbox for good.
Mail Delivery Failed: Returning Message to Sender
There’s been a lot of such messages lately in Alonso’s mailbox. And there will be even more. People get fired or decide to leave. Companies stop operating, merge, or are acquired by other firms (thus resulting in the change of the email domain name).
That’s the law of life. The day will come when all emails will be returned to sender.
There’s a term for this percentage of undelivered messages — “bounce rate.”
If you want to keep email marketing outreach healthy, your bounce rate should be kept below 7%. However, getting to such a low level at any kind of volume is nearly impossible through traditional lead generation means. To demonstrate the pitfalls that await sales lead outreach, we’re going to look at the lead list or CRM decay one year after contacts are created.
It sounds obvious, but those in the business of list-buying or list-building (also known as data subscription providers), know that change is the only constant. Building a highly targeted lead list that matches a given Ideal Customer Profile is hard enough on its own — and we’ve covered how CIENCE does this in other posts. Perhaps an even bigger concern is where in the lifecycle any list may be when you begin to work on it.
Every day any list of contacts gets a little bit more outdated. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Baby Boomers (the predominant C-levels at most companies) had 1.7 jobs on average during 2009-2014. This means they changed their job every 3 years on average.
The average tenure of an American citizen in a job is 4.2 years (50.4 Months) in 2018 (similar to 2016, but less than 2014). This means that for a population of 1,000, every month 19.84 people change their jobs.
The tenure is however different for various occupations:
A job change isn’t the only reason for list decay. Some people leave the labor force (retirement, disability, family care, education, etc.):
Finally, and unfortunately, there’s also death — 8.4 per 1000 people in the US in 2016 according to World Bank collection of development indicators.
As a result of all these changes, this is what will be happening with the accuracy of any mega-list over time:
We used the 3% list accuracy decay and the initial accuracy of 100% (which is hardly ever the case) for this graph.
In 2019, however, no SDR will get to the 10th month with the send-out for this list. And the reason is he’ll get to spam by month 5 or even earlier.
A high-quality lead is a lead that has a high probability to make a purchase of your product/service.
Therefore, low-quality leads are:
The lead has no need of your product/service (and never had and never will) because your offer is completely irrelevant to them. Apart from feeling lots of negative emotions towards your brand, the person can do two things: delete your message or send it to spam in just one click.
The latter has dramatic consequences if your lead uses such mail services as Google, Microsoft, Mainetworks, etc. Your domain’s reputation will be damaged.
The more irrelevant leads you have, the more letters will get to spam. As a result, your domain reputation will decrease. The more it decreases, the higher the probability that your emails (sent from your domain) will be automatically sent to spam by the mail service. In the end, nobody will find out about your product/service because nobody will read your letters (because nobody opens spam letters).
- Non-existent (outdated or incorrect).
Emails sent to these leads are usually bounced (delivery failure). This is bad too. Microsoft, Google, and other mail services register such events and treat companies that make send-outs to non-existent leads as mass-spammers.
The domain names from which emails are sent to multiple non-existent mailboxes get to spam list in no time.
In both cases, leaving the spam list is very difficult.
In the best-case scenario, your domain will be punished by the mail service for a certain period of time. In this event, you’ll simply have to wait. Your company will lose time and thus money.
Apart from this, it can also impact your SEO. All Google services are interconnected; once you get deep into spam, the world’s most used Search Engine stops showing your web pages on its SERPs. And all the efforts/money your SEO manager has invested in your company’s discoverability on the web are wasted.
How to get to spam:
- Create spammy letter content
- Make the incorrect settings for policies, authentification, etc. for your domain.
- Use low-quality leads.
There are tons of rules that regulate email send-outs — from adopted laws to internal policies of mail services. In fact, you need to work in this area to know every aspect, and what’s even more important — you should keep track of all the updates and how they impact your send-out.
More often than not, companies begin outbound prospecting having no idea about these rules and get into spam pretty quickly — simply for incorrectly written emails or because a list purchased from a platform was outdated or because their IT manager doesn’t know all the nuances of domain settings.
The good news is you won’t get “deep into spam” all at once. Here’s an example. Company has 1,000 employees and Mr. Green gets a virus on his computer that steals his credentials and sends spam on his behalf to 1,000 people.
Google sends the notification or blocks the account. The company’s system administrator must quickly neutralize this problem in this case.
That’s why you won’t be punished hard by Google or other email services at once. Your domain’s bad reputation will be built step by step. So, if you accidentally get a spam event or two, it won’t affect your domain too much. Furthermore, some minor events won’t be reported to you (because nobody in Google is obliged to do so). However, at some point of time a major event can happen and be registered (unreported too).
It’s pretty similar to a snowball that rolls down a hill.
Under Murphy’s law, the punishment will take place unexpectedly in the worst moment ever: all your emails are in spam for several months and your domain reputation is a disaster.
And on top of it all, a cherry on the cake is the cooperation of most mail services (despite their competition over users) as well as the CRMs and other email-related platforms. All these services exchange information about the violators of antispam rules, because once the latter is shut down in Google, they’ll use Outlook or others (and vice versa).
Thus, getting to spam in one service will most likely bring you to spam everywhere.
In this event, you’ll need to address every mail service in order to get out of spam. At least some of them have the support and you have an opportunity to talk to real humans and explain yourself.
Companies like Barracuda or Sorbs make automatic spam list. Appealing to them is useless. If you got on their list they’ll make you wait for a month or more.
That’s why, in most cases, all the services register you as a spammer automatically and at the same time. Afterward, you’ll have to undergo individual procedures of leaving the spam list at every service (and each has different policies for getting off its list). So the way out is long and very difficult.
Antispam policies and rules are the results of the twenty-year-long “arms race” between spammers and email services. Getting to spam is not magical or irrational or random. Antispam activities are based on pure math. And knowing these algorithms can save your send-out, your domain, and ultimately your business.
Luckily for CIENCE clients, our Deliverability Manager Vasiliy Leschuk knows how to keep domains healthy.
Wrapping up, this gives us an idea of the second important parameter for sales lead quality — up-to-dateness. The “fresher” the lead, the better, and the higher the chance that he or she will get your email.
In the best-case scenario, you generate a lead and you immediately reach out to that person.
The previous example (with untimely outreach issues) was built on a sheer assumption that every single data entry on the list is correct. Unfortunately, that’s hard to implement for such big lists — and even harder for the specific ICPs.
It’s strange that in our digital era, there’s still a problem with data correctness. However, when it comes to lead generation, it’s state of the art. And it creates an extensive need for companies like CIENCE.
One mistake in an email address results in message delivery failure. One mistake in a name makes your letter seems rude. One mistake in a telephone number will cost your SDR’s time. And so on, and so forth.
Incorrect data is a sales opportunity lost.
If your Total Addressable Market is huge — let’s assume you target US companies with annual revenues of less than $500K (and that’s the only criteria of your ICP) — even several hundred incorrect data entries don’t affect your outreach significantly. You’ll still have more than you can process in your lifetime as there are 12M+ companies that match your ICP.
If you target companies that enjoy $1B+ annual revenue, the Total Addressable Market is tiny (slightly over 3K). And each lead is worth its weight in gold. Furthermore, your sales process will likely be very different from that of $500K strata. You can sign $2M deal with them. However, it’ll take months or years to achieve. So, losing even one lead due to poor data can cost you a contract.
It doesn’t, however, mean that you can disregard the data correctness if you work with a large Total Addressable Market. Remember that every letter you send or phone call you make is an introduction to your company. Think about what impression you want to make.
Lead quality has three important parameters:
- Correspondence to your Ideal Customer Profile
Keeping all of them at the top level will enable you to get your high-quality leads. As a result, your sales pipeline will get a “healthy nutrition” and at the end of the day you will have more happy clients; provided your product/service and customer experience are as good as your leads.
The Quality of Qualified leads
So, your prospect ends up on a sales meeting and then…
Similarly to the poor lawyer in this amazing Sci-Fi short, your seemingly qualified lead has no idea how he got there and what this is all about. It might’ve worked in the 1990s: a shark salesperson imposing an unwanted deal. But it’s 2019 and even “the worst lawyer on planet Earth can strike back.”
That’s an example of a poor lead quality at the discovery stage of your sales funnel. Here’s one more.
Henry is a new SDR at a company. He reaches out to Sally, the CEO of Company X — a really good fit firm. Unfortunately, yesterday the single mom of 3 found out that the babysitter of her toddler twins is unvaccinated and fired her.
Today Sally is trying not to go nuts, because her designer broke an arm and a deadline, her most important customer threatens to terminate the contract, the twins are running around the house with dirty diapers on their head and the oatmeal is on fire. Bad timing for Henry, the SDR.
Sally picks up the phone and talks to him but her thoughts are now focused on her dog who’s eating the diaper. She’s a polite woman, and so she answers “yes” to every question and echoes semi-automatically everything she hears. At the end of the call, she agrees to come to a meeting.
Henry feels that the woman he’s talking to is somewhat estranged. However, that tiny unsettling feeling is buried under the excitement of the first appointment set. He makes a new call to confirm the meeting a day before. Sally agrees but never comes. Otherwise, she comes and experiences the same confusion as the lawyer from the movie above.
The situation when your lead doesn’t understand the value of a sales meeting signifies that your outbound prospecting process failed to secure the quality of a qualified lead.
Obviously, Henry from our example couldn’t influence Sally’s involvement in the conversation because she was experiencing a multidimensional catastrophe. However, prospects are rarely having this kind of mess in their lives. So, it’s up to an SDR to find a personal approach to a particular lead.
Here’s one more example. Henry had set an appointment with a CEO, who was very enthusiastic about the offer. However, he forgot to inform his Account Executive about it. The prospect waited for 15 minutes. He was disappointed by the approach and left a comment on a social networking website. Not only did Henry’s company lose a prospective client, but they also had their reputation damaged.
Sales Lead Volume & Sales Intelligence
Before discussing how to generate the necessary quantity of leads and secure their quality, I’d like to provide a short insight into the volume.
Sales lead volume is the number of data entries about a single lead [necessary for a successful outreach].
Here’s an example of small-volume leads (I took some people from our own marketing team as an example):
As you can see, there are only 8 data entries for each prospect. This type of lead volume works well if you have a very specific ICP (for example, if you are only after B2B lead generation companies in California).
However, oftentimes, you will be looking for clients from different industries and different locations. Take a look at this list:
There are 19 entries here, and there’s a clear emphasis on social networks. By looking at this list we can suggest that the company that ordered it is going to primarily target prospects via social networks. Many of our clients request that we also provide links to the most recent posts of the prospects.
Alternatively one can assume that this list was ordered by an SMM outsourcing firm. One of the key criteria to put a business on this list was the lack of activity on social networking websites and small number of posts/followers/friends/connections.
So, why do you need to have so many data entries? Aren’t an email address, a phone number and a LinkedIn profile enough? Yes and No.
Yes — if you:
- target the smallest local businesses (with less than $500,000 revenues, 1-5 employees and lack of “digital footprint”)
- target larger companies but don’t have the modern B2B sales process
No — if you
- practice value-driven customer relations at each stage of your funnel (even at the top, when your client is still only a potential buyer).
The approach mentioned above requires a sales process that is customer-oriented from the very beginning. This means that you understand who your potential buyer is, who the decision makers are, and how you can help them improve with your product/service.
If you only know your product/service and company, you will only be able to produce the so-called me-message.
It’s easy to create the me-message, because you know your company and product very well.
The you-message is unique for every company. While most of your clients experience the same pain points, there are nuances, and of course tiny details (in them is the devil). Why not leverage them from the very beginning?
Here’s one more thing to consider. Your SDRs start conversations with complete strangers on a daily basis. It is similar to approaching an attractive person at a party — you have no idea what to talk about. Sales intelligence gives them a catchy topic for a conversation.
Furthermore, a well-built “you-conversation” with a prospect can provide additional data that an SDR passes to the sales managers along with a qualified lead. Let’s take an example of a sales conversation for the product enabling a faster DNA sequencing:
SDR: “Jim, I read your article on gene therapy of cancer on NCBI. I was really impressed. I think your team and you made a great advancement in this area”
Lead: “Thank you”
SDR: “I have a quick question on your work. Do you order gene sequencing from a lab or do you have your own?”
Lead: “We have a contract with a lab”
SDR: “Are you satisfied with quality and timing?”
Lead: “Frankly speaking, no. We aren’t satisfied with the partnership and we’re considering other options. It’s hard to find the quality-to-volume-to-time ratio”
SDR: “Have you ever thought of having your own lab?”
Lead: “We have one. We just don’t have the equipment.”
SDR: “And buying a new one?..”
Lead: “Yes, that requires budget”
SDR: “I agree. I’ve talked to many organizations like yours, and they faced the same problem.”
Lead: “Yeah… saving lives costs a pretty penny. Even if it’s a child’s life”
SDR: “If I told you there’s a possibility to reduce costs (while keeping the quality—and most importantly time), would you be interested in listening?”
Lead: “I surely would”
SDR: “Well, our team headed by Dr. Reznik invented a new method of fast gene sequencing with a large throughput. It reduces the time and cost significantly. They published their study in NCBI last month.”
Lead: “Sounds interesting. Is that Eleonor Reznik?”
Lead: “I’ve read her article on sequencing. She’s a promising scientist”
SDR: “She is, Jim. And now, she works with us. The technology she and her team created is already helping healthcare organizations reduce the costs and improve the quality of gene treatment. We’ve partnered with several medical institutions across the US to start their own sequencing. And I think we can help you too”
Lead: “I don’t know…”
SDR: “I understand that such decisions aren’t made spontaneously. What if I sent you an email with the articles we published, and a case study of creating a lab Hospital like yours. And then you can discuss it in detail with Dr. Reznik and her team… She can give you some really valuable insight. Let’s say, next Tuesday”
The SDR sends the articles and a case study to Jim. In his email, she asks him about the possible budget and space for the lab equipment, the volume of daily work, and other technical details. By the time the appointment arrives, the company has collected enough sales intelligence to make a lucrative offer to Jim (who is already impressed by Dr. Reznik’s contribution to genomics).
As you can see there are three main stages of this prospecting conversation:
- Interrogation – Asking questions about the work, challenges and issues.
- Rapport – Showing empathy and understanding the prospect’s problems.
- Solution – Providing insight on how the issue can be solved.
Summing up, sales intelligence requires you to:
- Do the research (to find clients that match the ICP)
- Create a personalized message
- Talk to prospects and pass appointments on to Account Executives
During the discovery stage, Account Executives can use lead qualification methodologies to learn more about the prospect and gain valuable lead intelligence data.
Now that we’ve discussed in detail the importance of lead quantity, quality and intelligence, the key question is – how to get a sufficient number of high-quality leads?
This process has many terms:
- Lead generation
- Lead research
- Sales development
- Lead mining
They are all interchangeable.
There are two ways you can get leads into your sales funnel:
If you want to take away a profound insight into the difference between the two methods, please read this article. For the purposes of this article, you’ll just need to know the basics.
Outbound is when you go after the leads you want and initiate a conversation actively. For more information on how this type of lead generation is conducted, please read here. This article is dedicated to lead gen services. However, if you have enough dedication, time and money, you can build this process on your own.
There are several steps you’ll need to take:
1. Create an ICP (based on your existing clients or your assumption).
2. Plan your campaign:
- Assign the manager responsible for this process
- Format – appointment setting or lead qualification
- Timing (including SDR hiring, training and ramping)
- Tools (e.g. CRM)
- Supporting materials (e.g., videos)
- Methods of lead acquisition (see below item 5)
- Channels of the outreach
- Number of touches per lead
- Rate of touches
- Tools to be used
- Number of SDRs – remember that 1 rep takes up to 25% of managerial time
- Lead Quantity processed per day
- Daily-weekly-monthly actions for an SDR (e.g., what to do if a lead opened your email)
- Bonus system
- Assessment criteria
- Reporting format
3. Hire and train an SDR
4. Purchase software necessary for an SDR.
5. Obtain the list of contacts based on your ICP. There are several ways to do it:
- Purchase from a platform (software solution). Pros: cheap, you don’t have to invest time. Cons: out-of-date (information is updated every 3-6 months), you can’t be too specific with your ICP, the data is often incorrect. No sales intelligence.
- Hire lead gen specialist. Pros: the data will be up-to-date and correct. You can receive sales intelligence information. You can apply very specific ICPs. Cons: expensive (salary + tools), requires managerial control and training, time-consuming.
- Order a list from a lead gen company like CIENCE that uses both human intelligence and software. Pros: the leads are of the highest quality and contain sales intelligence, and your managers don’t waste their time on training and control. You can apply very specific ICPs. Cons: though it’s cheaper than in-house, it’s still more expensive than a platform.
6. Begin outreach.
7. Assess results in several weeks. Introduce changes, if necessary.
Although this process seems simple, there are tons of nuances that you need to take into account (e.g., account warm-up, email subject lines). However, with enough investment of time and money, you’ll be able to obtain results several months after beginning.
Basically inbound is any practice where you wait for leads passively. You create an environment (content, website, social network accounts, high ranking on major keywords on SERP, etc.) with entry points. Take a look at this example:
By clicking on this button you can book a sales meeting with one of our RSMs. Alternatively, you can talk to our amazing inbound SDR Helen:
Helen is one of the most experienced SDRs in our company. Because she used to work as outbound sales development rep she understands well CIENCE’s key services and lead generation methodology. She can explain in great detail how we can help your company improve the top of the sales funnel.
When it comes to digital inbound marketing, many companies experience the problem of marketing qualified leads passed to sales, as the latter isn’t always eager to accept what they get. In my opinion, the last word in this argument is always owned by sales.
There are several ways how inbound SDRs secure the quality of inbound leads. They are called lead scoring. Here’s how it done:
- Lead tracking software provides the contact data of the website visitors. By comparing the lead data (title, company size, industry, geography) to an ICP, you can tell if he or she is a good fit.
I visit many websites and read many blogs. However, on some, I’ll be considered a good-fit lead, while on others, I’ll be just another visitor.
I browse the Grammarly website and read a post dedicated to readability. I’m a good lead for them because I’m a copywriter at a US company. I write a lot, and I need a professional spell checker. I can ask my boss to buy me a subscription.
I visit the website of The Bridge Group to read their report. I’m not a good lead, because they’re a consulting company for inside sales. Although, we have many SDRs we have our own training process and outbound prospecting methodology. Plus, I’m not a decision maker.
- Lead tracking software analyses the behavior of a visitor on a website and assigns scores for particular actions. The more scores a lead gets, the more likely he or she will become a customer.
A person comes to our website from the Clutch page for lead generation companies. She visits our Solutions sections, downloads our Buying guide, checks the ROI calculator, and finally presses the button “Book Sales Meeting.” This is highly scored behavior (provided a person is C-level or assistant of a C-level or works as a manager in sales/lead generation/business development).
A visitor who went straight to our Jobs section and applied for a job won’t get high scores.
It’s up to you how you assign scores. However, in my opinion, in some cases, the behavior is less valuable compared to the lead data. The crisis of behaviorism has proven that human actions can’t be properly explained without the context and an insight into the “inner world” of your person.
It doesn’t matter how many selling pages of a website I visit and how many times I leave my email to download gated content. I won’t be a high-quality lead for the company that sells accounting services for German enterprises.
On the other hand, if our Chief Marketing Officer visits the main page of lead tracking software website and then get distracted by a sudden call. He’ll be a better lead than I am to a German accounting outsourcing firm.
So the rule of thumb is like this. You first define who your visitor is from an ICP correspondence standpoint. Then you analyze his/her behavior. And define the quality of your lead.
Lead Mining Speed
How fast can I get my leads? Obviously, inbound is a very long process (taking up to a year). Outbound is much shorter. But it’s still individual.
Lead mining speed depends on 3 things:
- The longevity of your sales process – if it lasts for 2 years, you can’t expect leads generated overnight.
- The difficulty of your ICP – CIENCE can help create/rebuild lead generation process to most companies regardless of their size or industry. However, a company that, for example, sells honey brewing equipment on large factories requires more deliberate research, especially if this equipment requires enough space to be installed The more difficult (specific) your ICP is the slower will your lead mining be.
- The number of data entries – each of them requires some time to find. An average lead that CIENCE finds for our clients has 17 data entries. Some have less. In such a case, the sales researcher will spend less time looking for information.
Lead Capture and Storing
The last but not least issue is the necessity to keep a record of the prospects that get into your funnel. As we mentioned above, each lead has many entries of data (e.g., name, company name, title, website, page on a social network, address, email, phone number, etc.).
On average, a lead researcher can process 40-60 leads per day (depending on the Total Addressable Market and difficulty). Inbound SDRs can handle more.
Anyway, this means that by the end of the month, for each SDR you’ll have approximately 1000 leads and thus 17,000 entries of data (+ you’ll need to keep track of the person’s actions, interactions with you, their status in your pipeline, etc.).
Needless to say, you need some unified method of managing such volumes of data.
Our suggestion here is as follows:
- A researcher should put down all leads in one single table unless you have different campaigns (in this case use the same document but different sheets). Google Spreadsheets are good because they can be easily shared.
- SDR can use the same spreadsheet for his or her work and create reporting on its basis (unless your CRM allows you to create the reporting on your campaign).
- You need to download leads into CRM to track the actions of each lead.
- The converted leads will then be easily “passed” to the sales manager, who can then escort the prospect to the purchase stage of the funnel (as well as upsell).
Sales leads are necessary for a business to operate and grow. Their key characteristics are quantity, quality, and volume. Sales leads can be obtained in 2 main ways: outbound or inbound through the process called lead mining. The quantity of leads requires the careful and diligent organization of their capture and storage.
You can feed your company with high-quality leads either by building the sales development process or by outsourcing it to lead generation companies like CIENCE.