For anyone involved in B2B lead generation, it’s always good to think about what you can do to get the most out of each interaction with a prospect. Sometimes you just need to think outside the box, especially when faced with challenging campaigns.
One way to do that is to gather business intelligence, or as we often call it at Acadia, “BI.” The term business intelligence is sometimes used to describe the software that companies use to gather data for competitive intelligence and analytics. While we’re after that competitive edge here, I’m going to focus on gathering intelligence through person-to-person conversations in this blog.
Editor's note: this blog was originally published in April 2014 and has been revised and updated in September 2020 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Ask probing questions …
Any sales rep should strive to gather BI by probing for information regardless of whether or not the prospect becomes a qualified lead. In fact, sometimes missing the lead is when BI is most useful.
Here’s the trap - you hear rejection from the prospect, you thank them for their time, and you hang up. Instead of ending the call at that moment, try asking some exploratory questions about why the prospect was not interested, for example:
Why did you choose to go with your current vendor?
Do you know when you may consider new capital expenditures in the future?
Are decisions about new equipment made at your location or your corporate office?
Do you handle [insert the task you’re calling about] in-house or do you outsource? How is that going?
So what I hear you saying is [reflect their comment back to them] – is that accurate?
You never know what you may learn until you simply ask. Questions like these and others may reveal additional context, challenges, or unanticipated opportunities for your company. You might also end up with names of competitors or products to research, or a deeper understanding of the prospect’s industry. Asking probing questions is just as important as asking for a referral if you don’t connect with the right person in the organization on the first try (but that’s a topic for another post).
Another potential benefit of asking clarifying questions is that a non-lead may convert to a lead. Yes really! In some cases, you may find that the contact had misunderstood or not fully realized what you were proposing. For example, the Sales Manager on the other end of the phone may not have realized you were offering a free, no-obligation, on-site production line audit. When he realizes it’s free (after you ask for his reason for saying no), he jumps on it. If the once-confused prospect now completely understands why you called, the conversation may turn around!
… and listen to the answers!
Listening to a prospect’s responses and is just as important as asking questions. Your reply should indicate to them that you were listening, not just moving on to the next question on your script. For one thing, it shows them you’re engaged in the conversation and genuinely curious about their needs. The interest you show encourages them to share more.
Even if you can’t address them or your offer is just not a good fit, you might gain insights to tweak your pitch for next time, or discover new questions to work into your very next conversation. Always make notes about trends you hear in people’s comments and responses so you can refine and tailor your sales strategy.
In another example, suppose you’re asking a prospect about a proprietary tool or process your company offers, and they say no. You remember to ask them a follow up question: how are they currently handling that need? The prospect’s response shows they actually do not have a sufficient solution in place. By asking, letting the prospect answer, and listening to their response, you gain an opportunity to educate them about your capabilities in a highly relevant way, which just might lead them to your solution.
The 19th Century Scottish journalist Samuel Smiles once said, “we learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do.” Remember this the next time a prospect doesn’t become a lead – it’s not a loss, it’s an opportunity to ask questions and listen for the business intelligence in the answers.
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