Are Your Reps Chasing the Wrong Leads?

I haven’t had a professional haircut in more than 5 years. (My wife says, “You don’t need to tell anyone that, it’s quite obvious”.)  A few years ago I was looking at some old high school pictures and thought it would be cool to grow my hair long again.

So I did.

Years later, after my wife told me I was starting to resemble crazy Uncle Harry, I bought Oster clippers , watched a few Youtube videos and and buzzed my hair off. I repeat this process every year or so. My low maintenance haircuts save me money, time and from having to make small talk with stylists.*

This is why I’m not a good lead for the local Hair Cuttery, SuperCuts, Great Clips and other places that bombard me with mailings, coupons, and solicitations.

I wouldn’t become a customer even if the service was free.


Are Your Reps Pitching the Wrong Prospects?

Chances are your Sales Reps have logged many hours working leads that never converted into sales.

  • Some never responded to your prospecting calls and emails.
  • Some accepted your call, expressed lukewarm interest, and then went dark.
  • Some attended a sales meeting or demo, but never made a purchase.

There is one thing these prospects all have in common:

They were never going to buy from you.


Your job, as the Sales Manager, is to help your Reps develop a consistent, reliable process to identify which leads are most likely to convert into sales.

Rarely is this process as simple as sorting through a list and targeting people with specific titles or relying on a marketing lead score.

These can be a starting point, but like everything else we’ve discussed, it requires hard work to  get the best results.

Below are two examples of how my teams figured out how to identify prospects who were most likely to buy.


Case Study #1:  Cherry-Pick the Best Leads. 

When my team sold XenServer software, we received thousands of leads each month.

They generally fell into these 3 groups:

  1. People who downloaded a whitepaper
  2. People who attended a general marketing webinar
  3. People who downloaded free trial software

For the first several months, we worked every single lead. We called them, emailed them, left creative voicemails and made at least 12 attempts to setup a demo call before moving on.

All Leads Are Not Equal.  After we had worked several thousand leads and had hundreds of conversations, some patterns became evident.

The best leads were the people who downloaded our trial software. These were the only leads that converted to a sale within a Quarter.

People who downloaded white papers usually had no idea who we were or what Xenserver was. Many didn’t remember downloading a white paper. If they did remember, they told us, “I was only doing some research to educate myself.”

Attendees of marketing webinars were never interested in buying unless they also downloaded the trial software.

From this it was easy to conclude we should focus on trial downloaders.


Photo by Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash

The Best of the Best. But even then, not all trial users were good prospects.

When a prospect listed his title as “consultant” or “student” or used a gmail address or had 1 server, he NEVER bought. He’d be quite willing and eager to talk to us. He enjoyed attending sales presentations and asking lots of technical questions. He just NEVER bought.

The people who gave incomplete contact info or bogus info also never bought – even when we were able to track them down and pitch them.

The trial users who came from midsized companies, had 10+ servers, and included their name, company, phone number and company email address on the download form were our best prospects.

You would think then that the entire sales team would quite logically focus on working only the best trial prospects.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, after about 3 months of selling, a natural separation occurred on the team:

The reps who sold the most would “cherry-pick” and work only their best leads. They had lower call volumes but always had a full schedule of meetings and demos. They also had the largest pipelines and the best close rates. These reps would scan through their leads to identify which ones to focus on. The rest received a quick, generic email response and at most, one phone call.

The reps who sold the least would work every lead in the order it arrived. They had high call volumes and left a ton of voicemails but usually fell short of their sales targets. They worked every lead with equal intensity.

As soon as I realized this, I taught the low performers how to identify their best leads and coached them to focus their efforts here. Within a few weeks, everyone saw improved pipelines and close rates.

I wish I could report that we developed an automated system to weed out the low quality prospects and only assign the high quality trial users to my Reps. We didn’t. The process was mostly manual. Plus, Marketing and other Executives did not agree with my Sales team’s approach. They felt all leads should be worked thoroughly.

Many people look down their noses at reps who “cherry-pick” the best leads or feel that these Reps are leaving “money on the table”. If you feel this way, I urge you to look carefully at your team’s results and reconsider which metrics are most important.

Your best performing reps will almost always cherry-pick — you just might not be aware of it.


Case Study #2 – Focus on the Usage

A few years later, I took over a different sales team that was struggling.

The business model relied on using Google AdWords to drive users to our website to download a free 30 day trial of the software.

These trial users were assigned my team of 10 Reps who would then attempt to convert them to fully paid users.

Over the previous 3 quarters, the number of trial downloads was consistent, but sales revenues had dropped.

After studying the data, I discovered that 2 reps were consistently outperforming the rest.

I interviewed all of the reps on their sales process. Then I sat with each of them in their cubes for several hours watching them work and listening in on their calls.

There were two key differences between the top reps and the rest of the team.

  1. The top reps did not work all of their leads equally. They would email everyone using a series of standard templates, but only called the trial users whose accounts showed they were actively using the product.
  2. The top reps aggressively pursued the leads they identified as “hot”.  If a trial user had significant or repeated usage, if they came from a recognizable company, or if they signed up for multiple trial accounts the top reps identified them as a “hot prospect”. Hot prospects were then worked aggressively with calls, emails, LinkedIn research, etc.

The other 8 reps worked all of their leads equally. They used a combination of email, voicemail and phone calls. These Reps had good months and bad months but couldn’t correlate their results to anything but “luck”.

Over the next 3 months, we shifted the approach so that all of the reps were segmenting their leads, identifying the “hot prospects” by usage, and focusing their attention on them.

This, coupled with a few weeks of intensive call coaching, 1:1s, and replacing a few Sales Reps who were unwilling to adapt resulted in reversing the declining sales trend within 3 months.

A side benefit was that the reps learned how to manage their pipelines, forecast more reliably and understand their business better.


Wrapping it Up

Almost all of my consulting clients hire me to help them increase sales, improve their sales processes or enable them to grow their business.

They have concerns about lead volume, lead conversion and Sales Rep effort.

I like to tell my consulting clients that there’s a lot we will figure out after making a few thousand calls and having a few hundred conversations with prospects — just like we did in the examples above.

If you are having lead conversion problems, I encourage you to follow the steps outlined above and see if it helps.


As always, if you or someone you know needs help with your sales team contact me here. I’d love to hear from you. 


*If you want a really cheap and short haircut, I’m happy to oblige. 


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