Some people collect stamps, some collect coins. The salespeople I spoke to at a recent technology trade show must think I collect PowerPoint presentations and Adobe attachments. In every initial follow up phone call I received—bar none—the contact center representative offered to send me sales literature. When were they planning to ask me about my product need?
I don’t know the answer, but it’s odd that even the most basic qualification questions aren’t asked in the first call. Here’s a typical exchange:
Caller: Hi. This is Joe Jones from XYZ Technologies. I’m following up because you stopped by our booth at the FOSE Trade Show in Washington last month.
Me: Yes I did. I remember a little about your product. It’s a tool for searching databases for specific text information. I visited with a number of companies—I don’t remember much else about XYZ.
Caller: Well, we wanted to know if there’s any additional information you would like. We have some case studies we can email to you. Also, we’re holding a Web seminar next week about our just-released Optimized Search Algorithm. I can send you a link so you can sign up.
Me: I can’t think of a specific need right away, but if you want to send me an email with your company’s website information, I’ll look at your site. If there’s a specific need that matches up, I can get in touch.
Caller: Sure. I’ll include the link. Once you receive it, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call me.
We sign off the call and I go on my way, and Joe goes on his. As promised, he sends his email that day. It’s still unopened in my inbox.
The lost opportunity? Even though Joe took the time to reach me, he still has no idea whether his company is valuable to me—or whether I’m valuable to his company. Is there an unwritten rule in Contact-center Land that it’s uncouth to broach the “Q-word”—am I qualified? Or, are humans simply wired to offer marketing material without expecting anything in return?
I’ve worked with more than a few companies that describe a qualified lead in broad terms. Everything from a trade show attendee who signs up for a web seminar, to a prospect with whom they have held an in-depth discussion, and whose needs they think they can fulfill. That’s a wide strike zone, and if I were on the sales force, I’d be understandably jaded every time an email message with “URGENT—New Lead” on the subject line vibrated into my Blackberry.
Why don’t companies capture qualification information early in the contact cycle? Is it because the contact center is measured on how many calls are made, how quickly they’re made, and how many “qualified” opportunities contact center reps pass to Sales? Or is it because what makes a prospect qualified is murky or poorly understood to begin with? Nicholas Carr, in his excellent book The Big Switch quotes George Dyson, a technology historian, as saying “finding an answer is easier than defining the question. It’s easier to draw something that looks like a cat, for instance, than to describe what, exactly, makes something look like a cat.”
Similarly, is it easier to slog down a pothole-filled sales road with a prospect, rather than understanding what, exactly, makes a prospect qualified? Whatever the answers, companies that don’t qualify leads early risk valuable resources on activities that are unlikely to bear fruit. Conversely, the companies that are adept at discovering a prospect “diamond in the rough” possess a huge advantage over competitors standing around the “we’ll-send-you-some-literature” starting gate. Why? They have lower sales risk and faster speed of sales execution. Better lead qualification enables a sales organization to step on the sales process accelerator.
What does qualified mean to me? Here are my top questions:
Solution fit: Does my solution provide an outcome that my prospect values?
Access: Am I able to hold a dialog with people who are influential and have the ability to decide whether to purchase my product?
Financial Resources: Does my prospect have the capability to pay me what I am likely to charge for my product or service?
Timeframe: Is my prospect motivated to purchase from me within a timeframe that matches my planning horizon?
I know. If your product or service is complex, these can be deep questions for a first-time follow-up call. The answers—if you can get them—often aren’t easy to populate into CRM system check boxes, and some believe that it still takes the judgment of an experienced salesperson to understand the qualification nuances. But even if it’s difficult to uncover definite “yes” answers to these questions, isn’t it valuable to at least uncover definite “no’s”? For example, what would it mean if you could subtract from your lead pipeline all prospects that definitely don’t need your solution?
A contact center won’t be able to uncover every risk, but unless sending marketing literature is its primary goal, the point of first contact is the best place to begin the vetting process.