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When I speak, I hand out three scratch-off lottery tickets to illustrate why sales leads are like scratch-off lottery tickets.

The tickets I distribute cost $5 and have the potential to instantly pay off up to $100,000 for the winning combination of numbers. I tell the people holding a ticket not to scratch off the wax until I give the signal.  Then I'll ask each person in turn: "How much is your lottery ticket worth?"

Recently Alan was in my audience and I asked him the same question. Alan responded with the same answer I invariably get. The ticket is worth $5.

I said “No, that is how much I paid for it, but that is not how much it is worth. How much is it worth?"

“Uh, well,” Alan turns the ticket over in his hard reads the front and back of the card. "$100,000. It says I can win $100,000."

"That’s true, it has the potential to be worth $100,000. But how much is your card, the one you are holding in your hand, actually worth?"

“I don't know.”

"Why not?"

“Because I have to scratch off the wax to find out whether I have won. And how much.”

Which is exactly the point. There is nothing on the front or back of the ticket that gives any clue about the specific size of the prize he will win. Until Alan engages with the lottery ticket, until he takes an affirmative action to scrape off the wax and learn what it is worth, he won't know whether he won and how much.

The Power of Potential

What does the lottery ticket hold? Potential.

That is a magical word for sales people. After all, as salespeople, we know there are no such things as guaranteed winners. All we are looking for is potential. Give me new sales opportunities with potential and I will convert some fraction those into orders. Are all lottery tickets winners? Absolutely not. Nor will all sales leads turn into qualified prospects.

You just want there to be potential before you invest your limited sales time in pursuing it. How do you determine the potential? Scratch the wax off the front. Pick up the phone and make a call (do your research first!). Send an email. Respond just as the lead wants you to. 

Studies have shown that anywhere from 40-80% of sales leads are never followed up by sales. Let's take a round number like 50% to make the math easier in my example. There are $24 billion worth of scratch off lottery tickets sold in the US every year. Does anyone believe, for even just a minute, that 50% of those tickets, some $12 billion worth of tickets, are sitting unscratched somewhere? That lying around in your sock drawer at home, lost under the driver's seat in your car and buried under piles of papers in the top left-hand drawer of your desk at work, are $12 billion worth of unscratched lottery tickets?

Of course not!

People don't even get out of the convenience store where they purchased the ticket before they are scraping off the wax with the edge of a quarter, the tip of their thumbnail or the point of their house key. Why? To unlock the winning potential of the ticket.

The Unscratched Lottery Ticket Never Pays a Prize

Why aren't you treating sales leads the same way? Why don’t you have the same sense of urgency to learn more about a sales lead that might have the potential to be a customer? Or the potential to become a repeat customer generating a steady flow of recurring revenue month after month? Or the potential to become a reference account that will create additional sales leads for you?

Picture a scenario in your mind where a sales person, let’s call her Max, walks into her local convenience store and purchases ten $2 scratch-off lottery tickets. If Max were to treat her lottery tickets like an average sales person treats their sales leads, she would randomly choose five of the tickets and throw them away before scratching off the wax to see if she’d won. Let’s see a show of hands. Who thinks Max would actually throw away 50% of her tickets? Me neither.

A sales lead is just like a scratch off lottery ticket. It has potential. It may not even end up being a prospect. But you will never know the true value and worth of a lead until you take some action and engage with it. After all, the unscratched lottery ticket never pays a prize.

Andy Paul is author of the award-winning book, Zero-Time Selling: 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company's Sales. A leading sales process expert and noted speaker, Andy works with B2B sales teams of all sizes and shapes to teach them how to Sell with Maximum Impact in the Least Time. Sign up for a weekly digest of valuable selling tips, “The Speed of Selling.” For assistance with your sales processes, contact andy@zerotimeselling.com.