Leads: Orphans at the Doorstep?

by Stephen Fowler, President, PERCS

Businesses invest countless hours and dollars to identify, target and educate their customers. Ultimately though all leads emerge as foundlings left at the doorstep of the sales funnel. They are left waiting to be adopted, nourished, and finally molded into our customer. Orphan leads should be potential or repeat customers. They are the key to our business success.

In the sales funnel, leads are heaped into the pipeline to be organized, sorted, qualified, contacted, and transformed into strong, profitable customers. The process is not always quick and obvious, nor are the performers clearly identified, prepared and responsive.

It’s no wonder that lead management and follow-up are treated cavalierly and as a “hot potato.” Ownership by the factory? Ownership by the sales team? Throughout my career, I have sat at the business “roundtable,” in the chairs of marketing manager, then sales director, later general manager, changing to independent sales rep, and finally sales agency owner. In each chair at the table, I only had one pressing thought: how to quickly qualify the pedigree and the value of opportunity of each lead; then how to take action to cultivate their development into a lasting sale.

From each chair at the table, I would hear different explanations why leads were someone else’s job! The factory always argued that the representatives were the sales arm and should be held responsible and accountable for them — no matter how chilly or cold or comatose those leads might be. Sales agents otherwise countered that they were “the” sales closers and should not be worrying about — nor wasting their valuable time — on literature collectors, or even potential spies.

Too many fingers were pointing at someone else; and not enough pointing backward at themselves — everyone seated at the table was accountable. Each, however, used their own narrow job assumptions to evade and sidestep the solution. Collaboration was key. All parties must accept custody and parentage, and organize all the strays and orphans productively.

For the sales funnel to work, non-value leads have to be identified and eliminated. A clear, transparent process is crucial. For the sales funnel to work, each person at the table must honestly represent not only their interests, but the extent and details of their relationships. Factories have to admit that there are literature collectors and some leads that have no potential value. Sales agents have to admit that while they may know many customers/firms in their territory, they are not close to knowing them all.

The essential realization is that three “lead” classes remain — once collectors and marginals are eliminated.

  1. Customer-leads that we “know” and they “know” us. (How best to handle? See the article by Graham Kilshaw in the December 2019 issue Agency Sales magazine.)
  2. Customer-leads that we might be aware of but with whom we are not actively engaged. (Action required! Contact, engage, and move forward).
  3. Customer-leads we don’t know, and more than likely they don’t really know us either. (Planning and strategy essential!)

Back at the table, with all the team realistically engaged in the classification above, we can divvy up the orphans to the people who should be accountable for them. Elsewhere in this Agency Sales issue you’ll read about a process to maximize interaction with a “known” group of customers. Leads from well-established and well-known customers or firms would be handled by the factory augmented by the field agency on an ongoing sales and marketing process.

However, the second two groups need more direct interactions. Sales agents must scan the lists, adding names and attributes for Class I treatment. Class II & III treatments will be more focused and intense with email programs, phone follow-up by either factory or field, involvement in webinars, trade shows, and — when appropriate — sales appointments. They demand the “full story” approach covering the factory and sales agents’ capabilities. Only then can those orphans become fully part of the family.

Stephen Fowler is president of Process Equipment Resources & Consulting Services, Inc. (PERCS), located in Bridgewater, New Jersey. PERCS provides sales, engineering and business consulting services to equipment manufacturers, rep agencies and their direct customers. Before PERCS, Fowler was an executive at a major process equipment manufacturer, and then owned a four state, multi-product rotating equipment agency in the Northeast. Fowler has actively participated in MANA chapters, the Chemical Engineers Sales Association (CESEA), and technical groups such as AICHE (chemical), ISPE (bio and pharmaceutical), and WEFTEC (water and wastewater), representing all phases of the process industry.