I recently had the good fortune of talking directly with two sales veterans, as part of a webinar hosted by the Sales Professionals of Ottawa The people on the call included Jim Carty, Sales Manager at Konica Minolta Business Solutions, Brian Boychuk, former EVP Business Development at WebTech Wireless and myself as moderator. We talked on the topic of sales leads for 45 minutes; here are some snippets.

Glenn Schmelzle: “A recent LinkedIn Poll conducted by the Sales Professionals of Ottawa found that 60% of reps receive a portion of their leads from marketing. Whose job is it to generate leads: sales, marketing or both?”

Jim Carty: “All too often, the reps are the people who are generating the first leads. Though they are supposed to be closing the business, they are the one out there developing the lead, simply because it’s their bread and butter that they’re looking for.”

GS: “Have you found that leads have changed over time? Have they gone through a metamorphosis, like the change shown in those famous Charles Atlas advertisements found in old comic books? I’m comparing prospects of yesteryear to the 98lb weakling, who didn’t have much power in the vendor-client relationship. Meanwhile I’d liken suppliers to ‘the Bully’ in the ads, using the strength of his product knowledge to keep the prospect under his control. The arrival of internet search has given prospects access to all the data they need to buy from suppliers, turning them from 98lb weaklings into musclemen, levelling the playing field between them and suppliers. So are you finding that leads are more informed today?”

BB: “Suppliers now feel pretty exposed…the direction is clear, the internet is playing that role.”

JC: “But clients may read up on a product on the Internet, sometimes to their own detriment. They come in and they have a preconceived notion of what they’re looking for. And now it’s often up to the sales rep to re-educate the person on what is available, what products can actually do, where the price point may or may not be and what’s available in any given environment. If a client says ‘these are my pains and I know that the solution you have looks like this, therefore give me information on [that solution].’ By jumping down that road and moving at the client’s pace, you’re not always doing your due diligence…. Sometimes it’s more important to slow down a prospect and ask ‘Have they addressed everything?'”

GS: “Do you have a uniform process for qualifying and handling leads? Do you treat all leads the same?”

JC: “Leads that come in as a referral, e.g. by a service technician who went to call on that client, are very different than cold leads.”

BB: “If a company has grown to where they use a sales force automation or CRM system, qualified leads should definitely be put in those systems.”

GS: “How long is the sales cycle from prospect to client? Is there a need to nurture leads over time?”

BB: “In Government it’s like a laundry cycle. you put the clothes in and then walk away, just checking periodically to ensure everything’s all right. In B2B, it’s about understanding [the customer] and what their key milestones are and what their process looks like. You want to keep an open dialogue and try to ascertain how much contact is warranted. So that’s a nurturing process which I think is an interesting area where marketing can help.”

GS: “What advice do you have for people who don’t have a lead process? What kind of reports should sales managers be asking for?”

sales leadsJC: “This can become such a quagmire when you start to look at forecasting, funnel management, lead tracking. There is so much that can be thrown into the pile that it can become very daunting… What are the key activities or key performance indicators? If you were able to track three or four of those on a regular basis, that would be far better than trying to look at tracking every metric that’s available.”

BB: “You need to report frequently enough that you’re catching things that change with the prospect…and react in time.”

JC: “Not only that, but when done right, you end up with a shorthand system that reps can use to tell management where deals are at.”

BB: “What you’re trying to do in sales reporting is to mirror what’s going on at your prospect’s shop. Your milestones should be built around their stages, like business casing and budgeting.”

GS: “What’s the payoff for a company that effectively handles its leads?”

BB: “When you have the right amount of reporting and the right support from other departments like customer service and marketing, that’s the holy grail of lead management. This helps [the sales rep] bring the sale to a close, because you’re getting all the right support, and management is getting feedback…in real time.”

GS: “Thanks very much, gentlemen, for your great insights into generating and managing leads.”