Over the years we‘ve heard some sales people note –“I like selling and I’m pretty good at it – except for that lead identification piece.” Well, unless you’re working at an Apple store every one must master lead identification if they want to be a consistent top performer.
In B2B sales the reputation of the company and the work of Marketing can be a big help, but in the end, a substantial part of lead identification rests with the sales team.
As to best practices, the specific market and type of sale matter. How sales people do lead identification when selling for a company engaged in small transactional sales differs from how it works if they were working for a large company involved in multiple relationships and repeat business with their customers
For this blog, let’s focus on the large B2B sale and examine specific situation where the objective is to develop new business with an existing customer. In the way of recognition, we would like give a tip of the hat to our colleague Mike Smith of Ohio State University who helped us develop these ideas.
In the large B2B market, there are three potential sources for identifying leads for new business opportunities with existing customer contacts: existing customer contacts. colleagues – such as a member of a sales team from another division of your company that has or is working with the customer, and an industry partner.
Customer contacts. When obtaining a reference from an existing customer contact there is a balancing act to keep in mind. Your greatest potential lies with securing leads for additional work with other divisions of the existing customer and/or more work with the existing division. However, you also have to maintain and build the relationship with the existing customer contact. Some points to keep in mind:
- Mutual benefits are the most frequent outcome. Obtaining a reference is sometimes viewed as self-serving or even risky; however, that is seldom the situation. In most cases, references turn into an interaction that is positive or a project that is highly successful. This means the person providing the reference benefits, too.
- Timing matters. For example, if an implementation has just been completed and you are getting positive feedback on the work, asking if someone else could benefit from this type of effort is a request that meets the requirements for achieving the desired dual objective.
On the other hand, it is possible to imagine scenarios where asking for a reference might be more difficult. So, a best practice for optimizing customer referencing is planning ahead. Ask for a reference or for the right to ask for a future reference when the situation and timing is right.
- Keep track of customers. A typical customer scenario in a major company that is a source for lead identification is where a customer with whom you have conducted a successful engagement moves to another department. Depending on the nature of the customer’s new assignment, this situation provides either a lead you can develop or a lead you could pass on to a colleague in another division. In either case you are identifying a potential lead and maintaining the customer relationship. This is an ideal scenario.
Colleagues. This is one of those best practices that everyone knows but often fails to do. In a large complex sale environment it is often the case that the customer has relationships with other sales teams from your organization working with other divisions of the customer.
Depending on history with the customer, the potential for lead identification is substantial. Because of a previous implementation, a sales person, technical support staffer, or sales manager from another division of your company may know a customer who has an interest in an area directly related to your product portfolio.
Industry partners. Particularly in some industries such as consulting and government contracting industry partner are a lead source. The objective is to uncover the lead rather than getting it from someone else, but sometimes it may not happen that way. Often a partner will have served as a subcontractor in the past or visa versa. Therefore, a direct work history can be leveraged that makes obtaining a lead more feasible and provides the required background information about the partner necessary to take the first steps toward qualifying the lead.
A final note. An important implication for selling in this large B2B complex sales market is everyone with your company has some responsibility for lead identification – not just the sales people. Everyone from your company engaged with the customer – including the technical people doing the work have a part to play. For some companies this “everyone has responsibility for generating leads” constitutes a shift in expectations.
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©2011 Sales Horizons, LLC