Are you a sales lead squatter?

I recently read comments on a discussion board from a salesperson who complained that he and his team were being laid off partly because senior “lazy” salespeople were sitting on good leads for too long. In addition, another sales office might be shut down soon.

His argument was that if the senior salespeople cannot convert leads into sales by a certain time period, they should transfer those leads over to junior salespeople who may have a better chance of converting them. He further argued that junior salespeople are more hungry and motivated to close good leads because they don’t have large pipelines to cushion themselves when meeting quota.

Are you a sales lead squatter?Squatting on good leads has always been a touchy subject in sales. On the one hand, you want to be fair to salespeople and give them enough time to work the leads. Depending on the industry you are in, it can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to two years before you can convert a lead into an order.  On the other hand, if you suspect that a salesperson isn’t putting enough time and effort into working the lead, and you feel you could do better, what should you do?

While you can privately complain to others, the best approach is to discuss the issue with your sales manager. But you don’t want to appear greedy or bad mouth your colleague. Instead, you want to take a more “we need to work as a team” or “we need to do what’s right for the company” approach. Maybe offer some suggestions on how you would approach the non-responsive lead. Chances are if your manager is smart, he probably is already aware that there may be a problem. But if you don’t complain, he may not move quickly to resolve the issue.

Why? Because most managers know how sensitive lead transfers can be. It takes a certain amount of deftness and diplomacy to remove leads from one salesperson to transfer them to others. I’ve seen fights and arguments break out on this very issue. In fact, I’ve seen salespeople quit on this very issue.

While this problem can be handled on a case-by-case basis, the best way to avoid sitting on good leads too long is to set some ground rules from the very beginning. This way everyone knows up front what is expected of them, and what benchmarks they need to achieve in order to keep their leads.

The ground rules could include the following –

1). Number of attempts – while I don’t believe that sales is a process or a numbers game, you would expect a salesperson to make anywhere from 6 to 8 attempts, i.e., phone calls, emails, voice mail and maybe even a customized direct marketing piece. Again, depending on the industry you are in, the attempts could stretch out for weeks, if not months, before a good lead is transferred to someone else, or goes into the dormant file for a while.

2). Has contact been made? – If after x-number of attempts and time goes by, the salesperson hasn’t reached the decision maker (or even knows who the decision maker is), then maybe it’s time to hand it off to someone else. In exchange, give the salesperson some other qualified leads to pursue.

3). Contact has been made, but you’re not getting anywhere – Let’s say the salesperson has made contact with the decision maker, but an order hasn’t been placed. For whatever reason, the decision maker isn’t budging, and no end appears in sight. The salesperson has been sitting on the lead for months (if not years). At this stage, it’s usually better to have the sales manager step in and work closely with the salesperson rather than yank the lead from him. Simply handing the lead off to someone else may undermine your efforts, and force your company to start from square one. Once your manager has reviewed the situation, he can better determine who and how the lead should be managed.

a helping hand in sales4). You know someone who could help – If a salesperson has been sitting on a good lead for a while, and you know of a contact who can help you reach the decision maker, what should you do? In that situation, it may be better to hand off the lead to you. Sometimes, the salesperson sitting on the lead may be grateful that you’re taking over because it means he can focus on more productive leads. In addition, he may appreciate your efforts because he doesn’t want to look bad to his sales manager for not closing the sale. Sure, he may have some initial resentment towards you, but eventually, he may see you as being his white knight rescuing him from a bad situation.

Besides laying out some ground rules, another approach to avoid lead squatting to is hold regular pipeline meetings to review leads and accounts. Usually, pipeline meetings are held once a week. Come to your pipeline prepared. Don’t be defensive. Tell your manager upfront if you are having problems with specific leads or accounts. Ask him for his advice – after all, he’s the manager!

If you know you’re not getting anywhere with a lead, and you’ve tried everything you can, recommend that the account is transferred to someone else. While some may consider this a show of weakness, in reality, most good managers will see this as a sign of strength and maturity on your part. Better to cut your losses early than let them linger on to have your competitors pluck your sale from the company.

Remember, your leads and accounts don’t belong to you. They belong to your employer. Like it or not, your employer sometimes needs to make unpopular decisions that may not appear to be in your best interest, but what is in the best interest of the company as a whole.

Better to hand off unproductive leads to others than lose your job because the company isn’t generating enough sales. Exercising good judgment is better than squatting.

Note: If you like my post, please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

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