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How do I turn sales leads into prospects?

On the surface, generating leads is synonymous with a simple algebraic equation. You pinpoint candidates (or leads) that might benefit from your product or service and target them with effective outbound marketing strategies in hopes of reeling them in and closing the deal. So, let’s say you’ve done your work and created a lead list you feel good about — now what, you ask. Well, now it is a matter of taking your leads and turning them into prospects.

Lead vs. prospect

It’s easy to use the terms lead and prospect interchangeably, but they do have different meanings. It is vital to address the fact that leads differ from prospects. And while we will look at each term more in-depth momentarily, the most prominent contrast between the two comes down to the level of engagement.

A lead is a potential consumer who has provided some level of interest or desire to establish a communication channel with the brand potentially. This type of engagement is usually one-way. Think of an individual filling out a contact form on your website, responding to a cold email from you, or following your brand on social media platforms.

Your goal then becomes to convert this lead into a prospect, an individual who has proven to be an ideal candidate for the services or products you have to offer and has showcased intent to purchase.

How should you go about converting your leads to prospects?

Qualify leads

Your product or service aims to fulfill a need in your target consumers. Not all of your leads will necessarily have this need or be a fit candidate for your business’s offerings. It’s crucial to analyze and assess your leads and see if they qualify. You might do so by questioning your candidates via one-to-one communication or a survey to get a feel of who they are, their likes, dislikes, and if they’re currently utilizing products similar to yours. This is the part where you ask yourself if your lead fits the characteristics of your target audience and if they are the one in charge of purchasing your product or merely influencing the actual stakeholder.

Sales qualified lead (SQL)

This is a lead showcasing intent to purchase — they’ve usually interacted with your team and have been vetted in some way. Once your team has qualified that they have a goal to buy, they become an SQL, and your sales team can take a more hands-on approach. They have engaged with your brand, marketed to, and are now ready to complete the next step and close in on a sale.

Marketing qualified lead (MQL)

On the other hand, a qualified marketing lead is a lead that has engaged with your brand and, if nurtured correctly, could be swayed into making a purchase. However, they haven’t taken the complete step to signify intent to purchase. MQLs could convert to SQLs, but that depends on how well you nurture these leads.

Nurture leads

For qualified marketing lead to becoming a sales qualified lead, they have to be nurtured. By now, your lead has showcased some level of engagement, and thus, interest in your brand. But you have to tread cautiously to enable this individual to see your brand’s credibility and trust you to provide them with a service that meets them in the middle.

  • Targeted content: Work to understand your audience individually and allow your outbound marketing strategies to target them on a unique and personal level. Create and target your leads with content that identifies and touches upon who they are.
  • Please don’t limit yourself to one channel: With the rapid advancement of technology, it’s easy to reach your audience now more than ever. Maybe you’ll opt for email marketing, video marketing, influencer marketing, and social media, to name a few. The point here is that you attempt to reach your audience through various channels.
  • Don’t be shy: Reach out to your leads! We’ll touch upon it a little later, but reach out to your leads immediately after they showcase any form of engagement. Doing so puts you in a position to not only remain relevant and fresh in your lead’s mind but builds on this interest.
  • Personalize, personalize, personalize: Nobody wants an automated generic email that is spammed to everyone else. Opt for a personalized email, a tactic that has proven to withstand the test of time — and technology. Don’t rely on simply customizing the first and last name; personalize the type of messages you’re sending and their timing, based on data you’ve already collected about your customers.
  • Score your leads: Lead scoring is a tactic that allows you to determine which leads need to be followed up or nurtured more than others based on their actions on your platform.
  • Know how to identify when the right time is to hand off a lead from marketing to sales.

Set a communication cadence

When should you follow up? Immediately. The moment your client expresses some level of engagement should already set you up for your follow-up moment. The more time passes, the higher the probability that your client will be pulled in by a competitor or lose interest in your product.

After this, customize your communication cadence based on your segmenting. Different types of leads will have other communication preferences. You can estimate how often people want to hear from you based on how they interact with your content. For example, you can have different timing for people who have opened your message but not clicked on your link versus people who have clicked through.

Test and refine your strategy

One method of your strategy might work for one inbound flow of leads but not for others. Get into the habit of consistently testing and refining your process so that you can see which yields the best outcome—remaining focused on analyzing and assessing your numbers. You can establish goals that can then be fine-tuned further if they are not being met.

Don’t make these lead nurturing mistakes.

  • Waiting too long: We’ve already said it, but we’ll repeat it. The more you wait to engage with your leads, the more likely you set yourself up to lose a potential customer. A lead can show interest now but might be deterred from your product a few hours later or find a similar product offered by your competitors. Don’t set yourself up in a position to potentially miss out on good outcomes.
  • Inconsistent communication: Keep your leads fresh and in the know with your brand and services. Please don’t reach out only once and assume that it’s enough to drive them further down the pipeline and towards closing a sale.
  • Failing to follow-up altogether: You don’t need me to remind you, once again, to remind your lead of your product. But what’s worse than waiting too long? Not following up at all. Don’t fall prey to this fallacy — remind your lead of your product or service, keep your brand at the forefront of their minds.

Bottom line

Getting leads is a significant first step, but the real work comes when you nurture a lead into a prospect. After lead scoring, work on creating highly customized segments that allow you to deliver high-value, personalized messaging to your leads so you can nurture them to the point where they become genuine prospects.