One of the most common mistakes that salespeople make is asking for the sale too soon. This usually happens because salespeople’s expectations don’t match the reality of what a sales lead really is.

Not all sales leads are created equal. At the moment when you get a new sales lead, whether it’s a referral from an existing customer or an inquiry through your website, that individual sales prospect might be at a lot of different points in the purchasing process.

Types of Leads

  • Researchers: These prospects are looking for more information for research purposes, but are not yet ready to talk in greater detail or make a purchase.
  • Tire Kickers: These prospects might definitely be interested in switching vendors or considering new options, but have not yet committed to a budget or set a timeline for making a purchase decision. They’re happy to learn more about your company but aren’t ready to get serious about buying from you.
  • Painful Procrastinators: These prospects might be in “pain” – they know that they need a new vendor or a new system or a new solution that you sell – but they are holding off on making a decision because they don’t feel that making a purchase is a high enough priority.

You can’t assume that the person on the other end of the phone conversation is as “ready” as you’d like them to be. Especially for complex B2B sales, very few leads are “sales ready.” Instead, sales leads need to be nurtured and qualified. You need to invest some time in building a relationship with the prospect, gaining their trust, and looking for ways to align your solution or service with the prospect’s needs – whether or not they openly state those needs in the first conversation.

Sales Lead Process

According to this survey from Marketing Sherpa, B2B sales leads can be described as going through a three-step process:

  • Inquiries become sales-ready leads (on average, only 38% of B2B inquiries convert to “sales leads”)
  • Sales-ready leads become qualified prospects (only 39% of sales leads become “qualified prospects)
  • Qualified prospects convert to sales (only 29% of prospects convert to sales)

This means that you might need to recalibrate your understanding of what it takes to convert a sales lead to a qualified prospect to a sale. It doesn’t happen immediately. Instead, you need to invest some time in the sales process.

Do's and Don'ts

When you pick up the phone for your first conversation with a new sales lead, here are some do’s and don’ts:

Don't say:

  • “I hear you’re in the market for a new solution.”
  • “So, it says here that you’re ready to switch vendors.” 

Don’t assume that the prospect is farther along in their buying process than they actually are – the prospect might need more time to research and evaluate their options. If you assume too much, the prospect will get defensive and will shut you out.

Instead, do say:

  • “How do you feel about your current (business processes that relate to the solution that you sell)?”
  •  “Tell me more about the business challenges you’re dealing with right now – why did you decide to contact our company/why did you decide to fill out our website form to ask for more information?” 

These are easy ways to start to build rapport with the client. Make the conversation about them and about their challenges. Listen. Build trust. Show them that you care and that you’re on their side – not trying to impose a sale upon them.

Be Patient

Even when you get a highly promising sales lead where you find out that the company is unhappy with their current solution or vendor, this doesn’t mean that the deal will close quickly. Often when a company has had a bad experience with a vendor, that company is going to do a lot more research and ask a lot of hard questions about implementation and ROI.

If your sales prospect is a business manager in charge of a certain department, business unit or functional operational process, they’re going to be held accountable for the outcomes of the solution you’re selling. When you’re selling to larger companies, the complexity only increases - because there are multiple stakeholders, decision makers, and departments affected by the solution you sell.

Even under “best case” scenarios, a complex B2B sales deal might take three to 18 months to work through the selling process. All of this adds up to a need to be patient. Keep working through your sales processm and at building relationships and establishing trust.

Not every sales lead is going to be the right fit for your solution or your company, but every sales lead has potential to turn into a longer conversation and a longer-term business relationship, if you can adjust your expectations.

About the author:

26d737eGregg Schwartz is the Vice President of Sales at Strategic Sales & Marketing, one of the industry-founding lead generation companies specializing in B2B major account sales lead generation, sales consulting and sales training. 



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