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Stop wasting sales' time! It makes no sense for your sales team to waste time trying to sell to a lead that is not going to buy. So you need to know which leads are most likely to turn into real money and how to generate more of them. 

Most businesses, especially small businesses, have limited resources in terms of time, money and people – particularly on the sales side. From that limited resource they need to make enough sales to maintain and grow the business. 

So logically, maximising the number of leads that are likely to turn into real business makes sense. Then, prioritising the leads from the most likely to convert to the least likely, helps maximise the return on your efforts. 

Here are 5 ways SMEs can improve lead generation to ensure the resulting leads are more qualified and more likely to turn into deals.

1. Align your sales and marketing teams and goals 

The marketing team's role is to generate sales-ready leads for the sales team whose job is then to close the deals. To make sure you are getting the most "ready to buy" leads, both your inbound and outbound marketing relies on targeting the right kind of prospects. The only way to be able to do this well is by ensuring that your marketing and sales teams are aligned. Core to sales and marketing alignment is making sure the teams communicate well and are engaged in each other's strategies and processes.

Firstly, you need to define what the ideal lead looks like. How can you generate qualified leads if you haven't defined what a qualified lead is? To do this sales need to specify exactly what detail they need to consider a lead to be good quality. You can also use this criteria to score leads. 

Everybody needs to be using the same buyer profiles and personas. In many companies the marketing team has constructed their own set and the sales team another, which may overlap in some places but otherwise not. The sales team are the experts on knowing what kind of buyer currently gives them business, where the long-term and profitable relationships come from and the type of buyer who presents problems and challenges and should be avoided where possible. The marketing team could offer insights into where other similar kinds of prospects could be found. Shared buyer profiles should be created from this shared knowledge and experience between teams.

Aligned buyer profiles and goals concentrate the minds of the marketing team on creating campaigns aimed at finding this kind of prospect. A tightly-focussed campaign may result in fewer leads overall, but if this then turns into more business it can be much more valuable to you. Quality rather than quantity can make a distinct difference to your bottom line.

2. Make data-driven decisions to improve productivity

Most businesses have a wealth of historical information which they need to mine to avoid wasting time and to improve sales team productivity. Historical data can help improve your lead scoring. By understanding how likely a prospect is to convert based on a particular kind of interest, behaviour or action, you can score them accordingly and prioritise the leads for sales. 

So, for example, if you see that companies who have indicated that they have a budget of £X are very likely (or unlikely) to buy your product, you can score and prioritise the leads accordingly.

Your past experience, along with some analytics, should give you clear indications of the likelihood that a customer will convert based on their behaviours. Somebody who has downloaded an ebook might be at the top of the funnel whereas somebody that asked to be contacted on your pricing page is more likely to be ready to buy. This knowledge drives efficiencies, the data can also help you create better buyer profiles to target and more importantly drive better quality lead generation.

3. Spend your budget wisely

The spray gun approach to marketing is a waste of money. To generate qualified leads you need to focus carefully on your target markets and prospects and learn from what has worked for you in the past. Every campaign should be carefully monitored – and leads need to be tracked all the way through the sales process. All the likes and shares in the world will mean nothing unless they eventually turn into sales.

If you don't understand how your campaigns translate into sales, you can't work out the return on investment (ROI) on your marketing spend. Is it worth the money, or could that cash be better spent elsewhere? Obviously, if you're a small business, and budget is tight ,you're going to want to bootstrap things focus on low cost lead generation methods rather than expensive marketing campaigns.

You should also consider how you spend money on staffing and systems. Are key people spending valuable time doing low-level jobs that could be automated – such as sending follow up emails. Would automating these processes free up people to think and act at a strategic level? Could you cut costs by reducing the time and effort spent on processes? 

By tracking your campaigns, and the tasks your employees are spending the most time on, you’ll quickly be able to see what’s working and what’s not. That can then guide your budget plans, you can ensure you’re spending in the right places and guess what? Better quality leads as a result. Investing in marketing automation can also improve your lead generation by automating them repetitive tasks, nurturing leads through the funnel until they're sales-ready and by giving marketing more time to focus on the bigger picture.

 

4. Understand and improve your customer journey

The customer journey is the series of touchpoints a customer moves through, building from awareness to engagement and purchase. Mapping out this customer journey and understanding how customers go through the sales process can help make sure you give them the right kind of information to help build a business case or deal with objections at the right time. 

Being aware of the various touchpoints of the customer journey can help you realise if your sales and marketing materials or website need improving anywhere – for instance, if you see people continuously dropping out of the funnel at the same point. There may be some issue that you are failing to address with information or reassurance – or maybe you are not dealing with an enquiry and follow up quickly enough compared with your competitors.

Likewise, if you are getting lots of people through to a certain point but the vast majority never buy, you may be wasting time following those leads. You might want to see if there is a way of further qualifying the leads, for example adding an extra field for a job title or size of company on a white paper or download.

Speeding up the velocity of potential customers moving through from inquiry to sale in the shortest time improves results – you can sell more in the same timeframe. Understanding your prospects’ needs and wants during their customer journey gives you insights that can help speed up the process for some sales.

5. Test and keep testing then act on the results

Business has moved on – sales and marketing teams can no longer rely on gut instinct to tell them what works. The digital arena allows you to track and measure more easily and quickly – so you can keep seeing if you can improve what works for you. 

Most marketing and sales teams can gain real benefits to their strategies by testing. Almost any variable can be tested, from sending emails at different times of the day, or days of the week, to how frequently to send marketing messages, to the kinds of messages that get the best click through or share rates, or whether leading on price points or offers helps.

But remember, sometimes a high click through rate may be a false positive. You could flood your sales team with leads but they might be lower quality and less likely to convert. This is why when you’re testing and optimising you need take the next step and track what is turning into sales.

Don't forget, just because something works well now it won't necessarily stay that way. Technology changes – just look at the rapid rise of mobile. And buying habits evolve over time - markets mature, new competition enters the arena. So you need to keep testing new things and learning from the results, optimising further then retesting and feeding all the results into your sales and marketing efforts.

Stop wasting time… 

Generating leads is easy, generating qualified leads is much harder, but it doesn’t have to be. Small businesses need to make the most of every pound and every minute in order to be successful. By ensuring you foster a collaborative and aligned culture and leverage technology and data you can vastly improve the your lead quality and help grow your sales. And if you're a salesperson, don't wait around on marketing, there are sales lead generation techniques you can be using too.

For more top tips and ways to grow your small business, help yourself to a free download of this guide: Top 25 Tips for Growing Your Business in 2016