Business leaders and sales and marketing teams work hard to find and engage new prospects and keep existing customers happy. Sometimes teams are so busy creating campaigns and pursuing their top accounts that other highly qualified leads slip through the cracks. Engaging and maintaining contact with warm prospects that need more time or education to make a decision is essential for sales pipeline growth and sustainability.
To help explain how to get started developing a warm lead follow-up program to convert more low-hanging fruit into real sales opportunities, I interviewed Shannon Mulligan, Owner of Vast Results, a virtual sales team. Her team helps organizations create and implement professional and consistent follow-up campaigns.
What is a warm lead?
Krista: We’re all familiar with what a cold lead is: a prospect that has no idea who you are. Simply put, a warm lead is a potential customer that knows who you are and has engaged with your company in some way. From a marketing perspective, a lead is considered warm when they engage with a company’s marketing efforts via:
- Website visits or form submissions
- Email marketing clicks or opens
- Social media engagement
- And more digital engagement metrics
Shannon, so glad to have you here, my friend! Can you tell us what a warm lead is from a sales perspective?
Shannon: Happy to be here, Krista. Digitally engaged prospects are important to include in a warm lead follow-up program. When we develop warm leads lists for our customers, we also look for contacts that fall into one of the following four categories:
- Qualified prospect they’ve talked to in the past but didn’t buy
- Stalled proposals
- Lost proposals
- People who left their current company and went to a new company
There are valid reasons that can inhibit a sellers’ ability to move a prospect forward in the sales cycle. Competing priorities, internal and external politics, industry trends, economic issues, natural disasters, and a myriad of other reasons can turn a potentially good customer cold – at least for the time being.
It’s easier to keep an existing relationship than build a new one, so our programs are designed to assist sellers in maintaining relationships over time. When done well, some of those prospects will inevitably convert back into a sales opportunity.
What holds sales and marketing back from doing warm lead follow-up?
Krista: Following up with warm leads seems like a no-brainer, but it’s very common for companies to stop doing it if they don’t convert quickly into a sales opportunity. Here are a few reasons why marketers stop reaching out to potential customers:
- No plan & lack of alignment with sales: It’s easy for marketers to come up with ideas to engage potential customers, but often, that’s where their planning stops. There’s no agreement with sales about the process for following up.
- Dirty data & weak CRM policies: Data entry is the Achilles heel for salespeople and marketers. Making sure CRM data is clean, valid, and accurate can be tedious and boring, but it is critical. Without clear instructions and policies on how to use the CRM, contacts that should be followed up with end up getting lost in the shuffle.
- Poor email deliverability: Not maintaining email deliverability can prevent communications from ever reaching warm leads. You can create and send the best and most engaging information in the world, and they will never see it.
Shannon, from your experience, what do you think holds sellers back from following up on warm leads?
Shannon: On the surface, it can seem like warm lead follow-up is an essential part of a salesperson’s job. It is, but here are three main reasons why it often gets put on the back burner:
- Time: Sales plans, reports, appointments, proposals, and deal management is a full-time sales job in and of itself. Not only is it tough to switch back and forth between prospecting mode and sales mode – they require different approaches and skillsets. It can be very challenging to find time to do both functions optimally.
- Tools: Sometimes, organizations don’t have the tools, systems, or processes in place to effectively follow up with warm leads. This issue aligns with what you talked about, Krista – no plan, dirty data, and weak CRM policies can make it difficult or impossible to figure out who to follow up with and what to say to them to keep them engaged.
- Negative Self-Talk: It can feel awkward and uncomfortable to reach out to someone you haven’t talked to before. And it’s easy to brush off someone who may have declined your offering in the past or assume someone isn’t interested because they didn’t respond to a few outreach attempts. Negative self-talk can prevent salespeople from taking the steps required to reach out to prospects that aren’t in the decision stage of the sales process (looking for a solution now).
What are the benefits of implementing a warm lead follow-up program?
Krista: There’s no denying that creating an effective warm lead follow-up program is an investment of time, money, and resources. If you’re not doing it now, or know you need to up your game, is it worth the investment?
From a marketing perspective, part of the ROI will come from having a clean database with valid contacts that can be segmented appropriately. Sellers will be reviewing and updating contact records as they follow up on prospects that are engaging with your online presence. Accurate data is essential to understanding who is responding to your efforts and strategize about how to improve the process continuously.
Marketing campaigns are ham-stringed if we can’t pull lists and reports because of bad data. The last thing any good marker wants is to spend money on engaging a potential customer and then stop communicating with them. Every lead costs money, and it’s easier to convert people who already know you than to find new people.
From your perspective, Shannon, what are the benefits of investing in a follow-up strategy?
Shannon: I agree, Krista! When our clients have clear plans and processes for engaging new and mature warm leads, we find that they:
- Get more appointments
- Build a larger and more sustainable sales pipeline
- Shorten the sales cycle once an opportunity is created
- Have stronger, longer and more valuable relationships with customers
What is required to create a follow-up program?
Krista: Creating a warm lead follow-up program doesn’t have to be complicated, but it pays to be smart about how you set it up. Shannon, what do organizations need to have in place to run a program like this?
Shannon: Great question, Krista. Earlier, we talked about how a lack of planning, tools, and resources hold companies back from building and maintaining relationships with warm leads. There are eight requirements that they need to have in place to get started.
- CRM software: A database to store and organize contacts and deal information
- Sales process: A written plan for how to use the software
- Clean data: Valid contact information, properly tagged and organized
- Buyer persona: Clear definition of your ideal profitable customer and what constitutes a warm lead
- Lists: Reports of contacts that meet the criteria that indicate a warm lead for your organization
- Communication plan: An outline of the approach to connecting with warm leads, including cadence, methods, content, messaging, etc.
- Technology to identify website visitors and other digital engagement metrics (email, social, etc.)
- Sales technology tools that improve sales efficiencies such as automated templates, lead notification alerts, and meetings links.
Krista: What if an organization doesn’t have these things in place? How long does it usually take to get it set up?
Shannon: If an organization doesn’t have these foundational requirements in place, it’s time to get busy! You can’t effectively launch a follow-up program without them. Organizations need to be willing to make an up-front investment of time and money. You can hire an experienced company to help with the setup and implementation, or you can go it on your own.
The length of time to get it set up can vary greatly depending on what you currently have in place. For example, it will take a company without a CRM and data spread across spreadsheets a lot longer to build the foundation than a company that has a CRM and clean data. No matter where you are in the process, don’t get discouraged! Once you get a warm lead follow-up program in place, your company will be better off for it.
Krista: Thank you so much for the great information and advice, Shannon! It’s an excellent resource for organizations that are looking to create some quick wins and get more value from their sales and marketing initiatives.
Shannon: Thanks for having me, Krista. It’s my mission to help businesses succeed, so I’m glad to help when I can!