Sales excellence begins at the beginning – identifying leads

Lead identification

In today’s competitive markets, companies cannot rely on Marketing as the sole source of leads – Sales needs to be in the game.

When Sales joins the contest, they must come equipped with a plan of action. Sales leadership needs to answer at least the following questions:

  • What priority will be placed on providing leads?
  • Do our technical and support team members have a role to play, if so has that been communicated?
  • Do the sales reps know their level of responsibility for developing leads and are they held accountable, if not how do we correct that?

Many companies hold their sales team accountable for lead identification and have provided the training to help them get it right.  For those who are less far along and are looking to do a better job, here are some best practices for identifying new business.

  • Mutual benefits are the most frequent outcome. Obtaining a reference is sometimes viewed as self-serving and even inappropriate so some sales reps feel uncomfortable asking for one.   When the reference is for someone in another division they are often hesitant because they don’t have ultimate control and they don’t want things to get messed up.

However, all that is seldom the situation.  In most case, references turn into an interaction that is positive or a project that is highly successful.  This means the person providing the reference benefits as much as the person receiving it.

  • Timing matters. For example, if a solution has just been implemented or a project has just been completed and you are getting positive feedback on the work, asking your customer contact if someone else in the organization could benefit from correlated types of efforts is likely to be well received.

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.

  • Departmental moves. A typical customer scenario that is an excellent source for lead identification is when a customer with whom you have worked moves to another department inside the same organization.  The move can provide either a lead you can develop or a lead you could pass on to a colleague in another division of company.  In either case you are identifying a potential lead and maintaining the customer relationship.
  • New job – new company. Top performers are particularly good at keeping track of customers that move to a new company.  If you have worked successfully with a customer and they take a position at another company, this is an ideal source for identifying new leads.  The “frosting on the cake” is they often have taken a higher position.  Top performers go out of their way to keep track of customers as they move from one organization to another.

One of the traps in major account selling is pursuing bad business which is what tends to happen if leads are in short supply.  All members of the sales team from the account executives to the technical support staff can help identify leads.  The caveat is their responsibility must be delineated and the front-line managers must provide guidance.

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©2013 Sales Horizons, LLC

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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