My customer was grousing, "It isn't fair to call our buyer prospects liars, they don't tell us much about themselves. Our salespeople say these buyer prospects are not qualified, so they must be lying."
I replied, "It isn't that buyer is lying about their needs. They just don't feel compelled to tell you the truth. Maybe you haven't asked your questions the right way."
There are five sure-fire ways to get a buyer to share their buying intentions. If you use these procedures to get a buyer to reveal themselves, your marketing efforts will be fruitful, salespeople will love you, and your prospects will appreciate how much you understand their needs.
1. Steal Your Salespeople's Best Questions
Other than need, desire, time frame and budget, if you don't know what questions to ask your prospective buyer, ask your salespeople. They've learned the questions that separate the serious buyer from the tire-kicker, namely those who want a solution but don't have the money or the authority to buy.
2. Pose the Questions - Don't Be Timid
Most marketers either don't ask any questions of a buyer, or they ask too many. Whether in a reply card, splash pages on the Web or a trade show lead form, inexperienced marketers usually make the following mistakes:
They think they're getting too personal when they ask a buyer questions.
They ask only how soon someone will buy, because nothing else matters to the salespeople.
They ask a buyer too many questions at one time.
These errors are all equally bad. If you fail to ask a buyer questions, you're doomed to ignorance. Asking only about budget and time frame invites a prospective buyer to lie. Asking too many questions on a reply card or a splash page, requiring a prospective buyer to scroll down three times to answer every question, also dooms you to failure. The potential buyer may get aggravated and click through.
3. Build Profiles Over Time
The best profiles are the result of mutual sharing. The potential buyer wants a product or service and is willing to share information, such as the number of companies his or her company owns, their application, customers served, failure of their current vendor or product, etc. You can't ask all these questions up front, but you can ask two or three at each prospective buyer. For instance:
Begin by asking three to six profile questions with your first contact (Web or business reply card).
Ask one or two more questions during follow-up contacts (i.e., on Web splash pages, via phone or at trade shows).
Another question or two can be asked in e-mail returns.
Lastly, ask one or two questions of a buyer when they subscribe to an online or printed newsletter.
Don't be greedy and try to obtain all the information from the prospective buyer in one BRC (business reply card) or splash page. If you are going to make the sale, it will take three to six touches (sales calls, phone calls and e-mails) to do it. Be patient but persistent.
4. Send Literature to Those Who Deserve It
A marketing director once said to me, "If I sent literature to everyone who asked for it, I wouldn't have the money to generate more leads."
This person's products sell for more than $10,000, so a $1.50 brochure and a $2 fulfillment cost should be within the budget.
The point is that 45 percent of the prospective buyers who inquire will buy your product or a competitor of yours within 12 months. If you're stingy and don't send literature, you're inviting a competitor to better serve the prospective buyer. I say send to everyone who inquires. There are exceptions for low-priced products available on the Web via a retail outlet. Certainly, if your product costs $100, you can't afford to spend $4 to $6 on printing and mailing per fulfillment package.
5. Use a Scoring System
Once you get the answers to your questions from a prospective buyer, salespeople will ask you to score and categorize your prospects. Scoring is good for both the marketing and sales efforts. For salespeople, scoring means they get the "immediate-need" or "hot" inquirers. Those who aren't in the throes of a final decision are often held off for nurturing by an inside sales group or even an outside telesales company. For the marketing department, scoring means it can customize communications to prospective buyers based on score results.
The weakness of many scoring systems is that the screening process is set too tightly, and a prospective buyer is screened out, because the person doesn't plan to buy within three to six months. To solve some of these complaints, I recommend:
choosing a scoring system that, due to design, dictates who (sales or marketing) will pursue a buyer in a specified period of time;
making all potential buyers visible to all salespeople as soon as possible.
Following is an example of a good scoring system:
AA for Qualified: 20+ points, you must call within 24 hours;
A for Hot: 10-19 points, call within three days;
B for Warm: 5-10 points, call within 10 days;
C for Cold (not dead); 4 points or less, no further action needed right now.
Answers to questions such as those below can drive the point values:
Need? Less than 3 months = 20 points; 3-6 months = 15 points; 6-12 months = 10 points
Decision-Maker? 5 points
Have budget? 10 points
Currently using a competitive product? ___ Yes (5 points); ___ No (3 points)
Number of units desired. ___ <100 (2 points); ___ >100 (5 points)
It is the combination of answers to these questions that determines whether a lead is a qualified buyer or a cold inquirer.
These five procedures are easy to implement and are replicable across product lines. Ask salespeople what they need to know about a buyer, ask your qualifying questions, build profiles, send literature and use a scoring system. It's easy and rewarding.