What to Do With a Qualified Lead
Okay, you’ve hunkered down at your laptop on the business wires. You’ve paid particular attention to your niche industries. You’ve combed through The Book of Lists and separated the wheat from the chaff. You’ve subscribed to and tracked the trade pubs in your focus categories. This does NOT mean Adweek, Ad Age or the other advertising trade pubs. Instead, I am referring to Restaurant News, if you are focusing on the dining category or retailwire.com if you are chasing Big Boxes. And, finally, a tactic I am quite fond of, you have attended trade shows/conventions in your sweet spot industries (what a great opportunity to canvas an entire category — like a all-star summer camp for a basketball recruiter). You evaluate, qualify and prioritize your list of leads — now what? This is usually the juncture where paralysis sets in.
Moving on a qualified lead is a lot like dating (which ironically, I was never very good at). There is an unwritten protocol, a decorum. This is my attempt at writing said unwritten protocol. Here’s 6 Things to Avoid in the dating/qualified prospect outreach process. (Let’s have some fun with this).
1. The Wichita Lineman — Avoid repeated phone calls. There’s a fine line between stalking a qualified lead and nurturing a potential relationship. Constant calling is a sure-fire way to get your calls screened out. Instead, deploy a holistic communications strategy; including emails, direct mail, hand-written notes and modest gifts (I like to send food, like sopressata, especially if it’s an Italian guy — everyone likes free food, if it’s good).
The great Jimmy Webb (MacArthur Park, Worst That Could Happen, By the Time I Get to Phoenix) wrote Wichita Lineman. It was first recorded by Glen Campbell in 1968 and ascended to #3 on the Billboard charts. (Jimmy Webb-Wichita Lineman)
2. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother — Don’t get too personal, especially with what you send out. I mean a little sopressata among paisanos is one thing; but bringing race, religion or politics into the mix (especially early in the sales cycle) is a no-no. Just because you read that your prospect is a member of the local Christian CEO Bible study, stay away from the John 3:16 stuff for now. And please, stay apolitical — there’s enough of that everywhere you turn. Finally, whatever you do, keep race entirely out of it (most minority CEO’s and Marketers are whiter than you’ll ever be). In short, don’t be smarmy. Instead, send your prospect tickets to a ballgame.
The Hollies were underrated hit makers (“Bus Stop”, “Long Cool Woman”). They were finally inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame this past March 2010 (what took them so long?). I love the way they harmonized. Some bits of trivia on He Ain’t Heavy and The Hollies: the song was actually first recorded by Neil Diamond, and was certain to be a huge hit on the heels of Cracklin’ Rosie — but the album’s release bogged down and the Hollies version hit the airwaves first and became gigantic. Also, guess who’s playing the piano? None other than a young Sir Elton John. Finally, the group took its name as an homage to Buddy Holly. (He Ain’t Heavy)
3. I Don’t Wanna Know (the reasons why) — No potential customer or partner wants to be viewed as a sales lead, qualified or otherwise. Avoid technobabble like, “I noticed you opened our last email and clicked all the way through”, or “thanks for visiting our web site recently”. It just feels gooey. Instead, tell them your sister attended their alma mater (it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a sister, at least that’s better than making the prospect feel like you’ve got them on the GooCam}.
Buckingham Nicks was one of my favorite bands. It’s not that they had a string of big hits — they didn’t until they became Fleetwood Mac. But the relationship between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks was touching. They loved and needed each other. They relied upon each other, in life and onstage. I liked their thing better than John & Yoko’s. It just felt more genuine to me. No trivia here, just a great song from a great relationship (Fleetwood Mac-I don’t want to know).
4. The Great Exaggerator — Does anything turn off people faster than some blowhard inflating their statistics or case studies? Or distorting sales numbers beyond belief (“same store sales went up 52% and brand recall hit 111%”). Instead, leave numerology out of the relationship entirely. It’s just a number and it doesn’t solve the prospect’s problem. Instead, give the credit to your client who trusted you with his business and acknowledge his courage.
Soul Asylum is a curious case for the ephemerality of the alternative music machine. They went from cult icons to mainstream hit makers in the 90’s. And then, with the advent of the internet as the primary server of pop, they vanished into the millenium; until they resurfaced in 2006 with a polished album of mature, adult rock n’ roll (talk about a triple oxymoron). Well, I liked it anyway. (Soul Asylum-Great Exaggerator)
5. Nowhere Man — “…doesn’t have a point of view/knows not where he’s going to./Isn’t he a bit like you and me?”. How many salesmen try to hit on this prospect? Hundreds? Try thousands, annually. You are just drone. Sales babble. An uninvited guest. Or worse, a gate-crasher. So you have 2 minutes to cut through the clutter. Telling the prospect what he already knows won’t cut it. Somehow, you need to make an impression. And you only have one chance to make a first impression. Be a personal brand. Have an informed, educated and insightful opinion. Stand for something so when you call back, he’ll think, “oh yeah, that’s the guy who…”
Don’t you wish we could just freeze-dry John Lennon, Brian Wilson and Bob Dylan in 1965? Those guys wrote songs then like it was an international competition, one trying to outdo the other. While not as adventurous as Strawberry Fields Forever or A Day in the Life; Nowhere Man remains perhaps Lennon’s most autobiographical work. It was the first Beatles song entirely devoid of romance or love. Everyone knows their version, which is sung in sublime three-part harmony. But my second favorite rendition is Paul Westerberg’s solo version, which can be found on the brilliant I Am Sam soundtrack. (Paul Westerberg-Nowhere Man)
6. Burning Questions — Every sales coach in the world preaches the power of the leading question…the closing question…the burning question. Is there anything more ingratiating than a salesman who calls you and asks a question ending with the word “correct” (you know, like “Mr. Palma, your investment portfolio is underperforming, correct?” I refuse to answer any question ending with “correct?”). Throw the old book out. Stop being presumptuous and borderline rude. It’s early in the sales cycle. The most incendiary question is, doubtlessly, “What is your budget?”. Think about it — you’re like a guy on the street (except you’re not even on the street, you’re on the phone) and you stop someone and ask, “Hey, how much money do you have?” “Can I have some? I’ll help you make more”. Instead, keep your early questions big picture, like: “What’s your vision short-term?”
Just for fun, 5 Questions to Avoid on a First Date:
- “Do you eat beef?” (ice water, menus)
- “Do you believe in the single-bullet theory?” (first drink: Single Malt scotch on the rocks — an ill-advised play on the word “single”)
- “Are they real?” (wine, with dinner)
- “Have you ever been to DUI school?” (more wine)
- “I’m going to Havana, you wanna go? (black coffee, 10 p.m.)
Nobody talks about Graham Parker, so I will. While his contemporaries, Springsteen and Costello went on to mega-stardom, he still loads out his own gear at NY-area club gigs. I always thought he had similar talent. Blame it on a simple twist of fate. Enjoy this clip from a Letterman appearance to promote his 1992 album, Burning Questions: