Leads, leads, leads! Closing sales is all about the quality of the leads you acquire and how many of them you have.

In all my years of hiring, training, coaching and firing sales people, I’ve seen entry level sales people set company records and perennial quota busters crash and burn based on the leads they’re chasing.

In most businesses, sales leads come from at least two or three sources. Unfortunately, most sales people treat all leads the same.

That simple fact can be killing your sales reps and holding your company back from even greater heights.

All leads are not the same. Obviously, referrals from existing clients are more valuable in general than a name from the list of folks that signed up to win the free drawing in your trade show booth.

But what about a lead from your website? In many businesses where people visiting your site and filling out a form requesting info is not the most common source of leads, these “web leads” are treated as less valuable by the sales team. That’s in part due to the fact that a sales person will have more invested in obtaining a referral from their current client.

A web lead is actually one of the most valuable leads you could ever have in several ways!

A referral is someone that your current client believes could be interested in your products or services. The problem here is that your client probably is not the best judge of what makes a good prospect for you. They are also not likely to really know if their friend is actually in the market right now. They are more likely to just think that “they could use” your product or service.

A web lead on the other hand, has demonstrated their interest in your company by their own actions prior to your ever talking to them. They stopped doing what they do for a living to pull up Google and search for something related to your company. Depending on what your company offers, they probably weren’t just doing it for fun! Just by taking time to perform the search, they’ve demonstrated that they need something.

So, assuming that they have the money and authority to buy what you’re selling, then this is a great lead!

And there’s the rub… you may find that you get many web leads that really need and want your products and services but, they’re more of a potential user or beneficiary than the person the company has given the authority to decide and spend the money

This means you need to be aggressive about qualifying these leads early in the process. I’ve seen lots of businesses spend money on their web sites and search campaigns just to overload their sales reps with leads that can never spend a dime. The good news is that its easy to do. Many times, just adding an additional input box to your web form can filter out the “tire kickers”… like Title.

You’ll also find that the lead’s “buying cycle” can vary greatly. Some are looking for something NOW. Others are investigating options that they can add into their budget for next year.

Bottom line, you need to have methods to be sure that your reps are qualifying the leads properly up front and allocating their time toward the most qualified leads with the potential to buy in the short term.

That sounds like countless hours in sales meetings teaching all your reps the finer points of qualifying and follow up management right?

Good news! It can be extremely easy and time efficient to set up. More importantly, setting up a system to manage the qualification and follow up for incoming web leads can be like pouring rocket fuel in your sales engine.

Here’s a step by step guide:

  1. Get a contact management system in which ALL new leads from ALL sources can be added.
  2. If there will be more than 5 or 10 a day, be sure that when a web form is completed on your site, the lead is added to the contact management system automatically. Many vendors offer this capability at affordable prices.
  3. Track the search that was performed. Again, many vendors offer this capability. As above, if your sales rep knows the specific search phrase that was used, they are empowered to quickly and easily qualify and assist the lead.
  4. Add fields to your system that allow the sales rep to enter the answers to the top few qualifying questions directly into the database. Use standardized drop downs, etc. in order to keep data consistent and data entry fast.
  5. Create lead nurturing systems for the leads that don’t qualify. This is key! If your sales rep has an easy way to be sure non-qualified leads are “touched” on the appropriate schedule, they’re much more likely to “let go” and avoid spending too much time repeatedly chasing the same old leads.

With a system like this in place, you can be assured that you’ll be able to measure the return on your investment in your web leads. You’ll be able to track the results by search words and phrases and their level of qualification. This information is crucial in optimizing things in the campaign itself. You’ll also be able to ensure that your reps are pursuing only those “worthy” of their time. You may want them to continue to prospect by cold calling, asking for referrals and other methods. You need to know that your reps won’t be overwhelmed with non-qualified web leads so that they can continue these productive activities. Of course, a system like this can help you measure and optimize these other prospecting efforts too.

The bottom line is that you cannot manage what you can’t measure. One of the most amazing things about advertising on the Internet is how measurable the whole process is. Making sure to maintain the same level of measurability in the sales process allows you to compare all advertising and prospecting investments objectively. This lets you tune the engine to run at peak performance on the fuels you’re feeding it.