What Is a Lead? (Hint: You’re Thinking About It Wrong)

If you’re new to sales or marketing, you may be asking yourself, “What is a lead?”

In this article, you’ll learn what a lead is, how to start working a new lead, and how to reach out to qualified leads.

Let’s get started, shall we?

What Is a Lead?

The start of a potential sales process is a lead, and there are many ways to obtain leads as there are stars in the sky. But from what I’ve seen, most sales reps are wrong about what IS and ISN’T a lead.

Here’s what you need to know…

In B2B sales, your lead is not a person — it is a company.

We need to transform our thinking about the sales prospecting process to focus our efforts on companies instead of individual people.

Why? Well, there are likely many people in a given company who could benefit from your product or service. So it doesn’t make sense to just go after one person. Instead, take an account-based sales approach.

Find several contacts within each target account who see value in your product or service, and engage each of them. This will not only strengthen your foothold in the account, but it also mimics the way people buy today.

According to Gartner, an average of 5.4 stakeholders are now involved in each B2B sales deal.

Just make sure to tailor your approach to each contact. No two people are the same. Would you approach a conversation the same way with every one of your friends? Probably not, because each has different perspectives, tastes, and feelings. So you interact with them differently. Think about this when you engage your contacts.

How to Start Working a New Lead

Now that we’re on the same page about the definition of a lead, let’s talk about how to start working it (another stumbling point for most salespeople).

First, research the company to make sure they’re a good fit for your product or service. The process for doing this is called Lead Qualification, and it’s where you gauge the probability of them becoming a long-term customer.

If they are, you’ll continue working with them. If not, you’ll disqualify them and move on.

Compare the organization to your ideal customer profile, or, if you don’t have a persona in place, your most successful clients.

It’s not good enough to just say, “Sure, I bet they could use what I sell.” Challenge yourself to answer the question, “Why?”

Why could they use what you sell? What pain points do they have that your product or service could mitigate? What opportunity do they have that you could help them capitalize on?

Here’s a good litmus test to determine whether or not you should pursue a lead. I ask myself the following two questions before reaching out to a prospect:

  1. Why am I working this lead?
  2. How can I help them?

If you have solid answers to both questions based on the buyer’s characteristics and/or circumstances (not your emotions or preferences), proceed. If not? Don’t.

How to Reach Out to Qualified Leads

Once you’ve determined you’ve got a quality lead, your next task is to find a relevant reason to reach out.

Use your research to start a conversation that will matter to the buyer at this particular moment in time. That conversation can take place in a phone call, an email, or a social media post. The key is to time it to be welcome to your lead, and not seen as an interruption or unwelcome sales pitch.

How do you get the timing right?

You’re looking for a “trigger event” that creates a natural opening for reaching out. And you do that by following your lead closely enough to see those openings when they arise.

To be prepared for outreach opportunities, take the following steps with each lead:

  • Follow each company contact as well as the organization on LinkedIn.
  • Create a Google Alert for the company.
  • Follow the company on AngelList and Crunchbase.
  • Create a dedicated private Twitter list for all contacts and the company.
  • Subscribe to the company’s blog (if applicable).

By keeping tabs on the companies formal communications and social media posts, you’ll get a good feel for their personality, the conversations they’re having, the topics they’re engaging with, and more.

Your job is to find the intersection between those conversations/topics and your own product/company. Those points of intersection are where you’ll find a reason to reach out.

Once you have your reason, all that’s left to do is make that initial call or email.

Bottom Line

Leads are precious. It’s important to not waste them by giving up too soon. Personally, I don’t give up on a lead until I get a definitive “yes” or “no.”

When prospecting, your job is to get your contacts to say one of two things:

  • “Yes, I’d like to talk more”
  • “No, I do not want to meet, and this is why.”

Until you get a clear response one way or the other, your job is not done.

To be better than the other sales reps out there, you need to think differently about how you will get to your number. It is not always about quantity but the quality of leads in your name. Strive to identify quality companies to contact, and then broaden your reach by engaging multiple contacts within those organizations.

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