You convinced a potential customer to download content from your website. Then another, and another. You developed a list. Your sales lead follow-up best practice probably includes a drip email sequence — follow-ups enticing prospects to engage. You “add value.” You educate, nurture. So how many conversations with buyers result? Not many in most cases.
Let’s examine why this happens and discover what to do instead.
$75,000 per ‘Lead’
“I spent $75,000 last year on an outbound demand generation program that yielded a less than a one percent response rate,” said a recent student of mine. His title is Director of Customer Success at a boutique IT solution provider. We’ll call him Craig to protect his identity.
“The program included LinkedIn Sponsored InMail with ‘compelling value props,’ advertising on syndicated channels, and email campaigns. I followed the advice of gurus who came highly recommended. In the end (when all the money was spent) they had no idea how to attract prospects to my company.”
“Something is broke. You willing to schedule a call, Jeff? I want to understand exactly what it will take to generate interest with valid prospects.”
I took the call. Craig needed to make a business case for 8 weeks of coaching with me and a small group of peers.
A Best Practice That Isn’t
Craig’s $75,000 budget targeted 3,900 leads and received one response stating, “We’ll forward you to the appropriate contact in our company.” Sound familiar?
The culprit: A best practice that isn’t. It’s worst, in fact.
Follow-up email sequences sent to inbound leads usually fail to induce conversations with prospects. Because most are built on an outdated best practice. Follow-up sequences usually involve:
- Dripping content and hoping a message resonates;
- educating customers using content;
- staying on prospects’ radar (when they’re ready to buy they think of you);
- making biased calls to action rather than neutral provocations.
Fail, fail, fail, fail. Especially when you’re selling enterprise B2B solutions. The objective isn’t to resonate, engage, educate or stay on the radar. It’s to start neutral conversations with clients.
The goal is starting conversations that might lead to an eventual purchase — but also might not. This is what makes the conversation neutral to a sales outcome you’re seeking.
This is what makes conversations effective.
Here’s the rub: Biased calls to action are marketing constructs. Lately, leads are responding less to biased forms of copywriting — more to neutral provocations.
Clients are responding less to lead follow-up emails telling them what you want them to do. They’re responding more to messages provoking thoughts about their challenge.
Get Into the Conversation
The earlier you get into a conversation the better. The longer your sales cycle, the more gained when invited to speak with clients, early-on. This positions you as a value-added guide. Easier said than done.
“I need a quality pipeline of new sales leads,” said Craig in a recent email to me. “But here’s the thing, Jeff. I do not want to be perceived as a non-value add resource to anyone.”
“I’m reluctant to put a big effort behind email prospecting. Unless I understand how to translate what makes a compelling email into the written word … words that my prospects find compelling … I would rather wait to reach out.”
“My goal is simple: Create new relationships with my target audience so I can determine if I can help them. Premise: Companies need trusted advisers to help solve problems. I get that.”
Up until that point, Craig had been “adding value” in emails. The problem with adding value is best summarized this way. Adding value:
- is mostly (in practice) talking at customers, not provoking them to talk with you;
- often amounts to pushing educational information that may-or-may-not resonate — at risk of irritating prospects and blending in with the scenery.
Adding value, quite often, ends up being pushing, not pulling. Adding value gives prospects a flavor of what you’re all about: You’re just like everyone else … trying to educate, stay on-the-radar and persuade rather than get into the doggone conversation!
Bias and Persuasion in Your Follow-Up
The best way to get you on a better path is to illustrate with Craig’s case. Here is a look at how his original email began:
Hi [First Name],
Are you aware of the high cost of moving data around your enterprise?
The problem with this opening is classic: The first sentence is a yes/no question. This gives you a 50/50 chance of instant deletion. The sentence is also biased to the response “no, I’m not aware.”
This bias doesn’t aim to help the prospect. Instead it’s designed to help the seller qualify anyone who hits reply.
This question makes customers who reply vulnerable to a sales pitch. Answering “I don’t know” (about a subject they should know about) makes them vulnerable and signals “marketing message ahead.”
It’s a tell. This question inadvertently sabotages you.
Instead, notice how the below questions are neutral. These encourage prospects to consider their situation (not answer in a way we hope for).
These questions are neutral to any specific answer the seller desires. Thus, they help customers “open up”, introspect and continue reading.
They often, on their own, provoke conversations.
The next sentence in Craig’s message is:
According to IBM, moving 1 terabyte of data each day from your mainframe to distributed servers consumes 16-18% of a customer’s MIPS and costs $10 million over a four-year period, not to mention the time lost by using traditional data movement methods.
This won’t work. Here’s why.
We tend to believe offering the right data, in the right way, to the right buyer will cause customers to engage in discussion … from cold. We tend to believe we have the important data (that clients need).
“Let me tell you about this problem … using this data … and explain to you why you need it.” That’s our mentality.
Trouble is, customers aren’t open, yet, to proof they need to consider change.
Flashing research doesn’t start discussions. In fact, it’s like screaming, “I know you won’t believe me if I tell you about a problem you have … so here’s a third party to explain it to you.”
Hardly a value add. It’s too biased toward your end goal.
Sharing research (from cold) doesn’t engage because customers are not open to being persuaded. (yet)
A Better Lead Follow-Up Practice
From cold, to follow-up to marketing qualified lead messages — biased messages, with calls to action, make customers feel vulnerable. Your follow-ups may be scaring customers off. Instead:
- write to help leads qualify out (get comfortable with “no”);
- when using questions make them neutral;
- provoke, avoid persuading.
Start by getting way out-of-the-box with lead follow-up email sequences. Question the “best practices.” Craft insanely different messages.
Here’s an example of how far out-of-the-box our student, Larry, went in his lead follow-up sequence. Larry sells mechanical prototyping services to organizations that often internalize the function.
Have a look at one of his messages:
What would cause you to consider a different way to develop prototypes?
Here is another provocation — based on an issue affecting many of Larry’s prospects. Many of his targets have a reason to suspect prototyping via their factory contractor is not optimal.
Do you have reason to suspect your factory is causing more engineering problems than solutions?
Yes, those are the entire email messages!
Notice how these questions are neutral. They encourage prospects to consider their situation (not answer in a way Larry desires).
These questions are neutral to an obvious answer Larry seeks … that would make the customer vulnerable to his advance. Thus, customers “open up,” introspect and continue reading.
What do you think of this lead follow up best practice? What’s your experience been?