In marketing complex financial products I’ve found that the biggest challenge at the lead qualification stage (the second one in the sales pipeline schema) is getting prospects to engage with a product. Without this, they won’t devote the time and bandwidth to understanding the product and how it can help them. And absent this engagement, there’s almost no way to get them through the qualification process.
Lead qualification: a crucial step in the sales pipeline
In sales-speak, to “qualify” a lead is to determine if an entity is a good prospect to buy the vendor’s products. If so, they become worthy of further investment, with the goal of continuing to advance them in the process to the point that they sign a contract. This is usually the first time a prospect meets anyone from the vendor. And as I discuss below, it’s also the first stage at which the prospect is required to invest time in the product. In my view at least, it’s a real make or break stage in the pipeline process.
How to qualify leads is an age-old problem for the sales profession, one that has spurred the creation of numerous frameworks to systematize and improve the process. As I noted in the post introducing this series on Using Strategic Content to Grow Sales of B2B Financial Products, a couple of the better known frameworks are BANT (in which to become a qualified lead a prospect must have the Budget, the Authority, the Need, and the Timing, i.e., an immediate requirement, to sign a contract) and MEDDIC (the same concept, but where the criteria are Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, and Champion).
Getting on the To Do list
Approaches such as BANT and MEDDIC look straightforward enough in a flow chart, but they ignore the crucial issue that I introduced above: in order for the qualification process to work, a lead must be ready to invest time and attention to learn about a vendor’s product, and to have the discussion with a sales representative. Even more daunting, they also must be willing to open up about their work, budgeting authority, and so on. None of this will happen unless a vendor can get the review of his product to the top of a prospect’s To Do list.
This can be a real challenge. Most professionals lead busy lives and juggle multiple priorities, and this has been made even worse by pandemic-related disruptions to everything from work routines to sales budgets.
Moreover, in large organizations purchase decisions involve multiple stakeholders. To be clear, the lead qualification stage usually involves just one or two key client contacts, so the need to get broad buy-in usually doesn’t kick in until later in the sales process But the effort involved in shepherding a purchase decision through a large corporate bureaucracy is never far from the contacts’ minds, and can contribute to the inertia sales professionals often encounter in trying to get focus on their product.
Sell the product’s benefits to clients, not its features
I’ve found that the best way to get prospects to engage at the lead qualification stage is to pound home how the product solves one or more key pain points for them. This, then, should be the focus of the strategic content. The material should also include a basic product description, but this is a secondary consideration. (As many readers will sense, I’m a firm believer in the principle of “selling the solution, not the product”.)
A final point concerns the length of the content. Since the prospects have yet to fully commit to investing the time and bandwidth to learn about a product, the communications should be fairly short, while still conveying substantive concepts and information. Around 1,000 words – which is about the length of this post – is a good sweet spot.
The right types of content
Three types of content play a role in engaging prospects. Of course, not all of them will be needed to secure the crucial meeting or call. Less is better – there’s no need to “talk past the sale.”
- Case studies (usually in blog post format). In the initial stage of the sales process effective posts are “written to the headlines” in order to attract attention and readership. Since we’ve now advanced to the second stage in the pipeline, meaning that the leads have shown at least a moderate level of interest in the product and its features, topical headline events should serve as reasons to feature the product’s ability to solve problems that are top of mind for clients.
- Product brochures. While shorter is better, I’ve found that it’s usually necessary to go to four pages in order to cover the products’ key client benefits and features, and to keep it from becoming too cramped in appearance. Each target market will require a dedicated brochure, in order to stress the benefits and features relevant to it.
- Presentation decks. A prospect will often request a copy of a presentation deck before a meeting, in order “to determine who should attend”. This is usually code for “I want to make sure that the meeting will be worthwhile for my colleagues and me”, so I recommend putting a lot of effort into the deck. Given the prospect’s limited level of commitment to the vendor’s product at this stage, the deck should contain no more than 10 to 12 pages of material (the deck you end up using at the meeting can be a bit longer – trust me, no one’s going to care). And like all strategic content for the lead qualification stage, it should focus on product solutions for the target market and the product’s features (in that order). It’s OK to include a “credentials” section about the vendor, but it should be no more than a page or two in length and emphasize the vendor’s record of delivering client solutions, rather than on boilerplate statements such as how long they’ve been in business. If a vendor wants to provide further background information, put it in an appendix at the end.
The next step
Let’s assume that things go well, meaning that the effort is successful in converting an unqualified lead to a qualified one. The lead then advances to the next stage in the sales pipeline, which I identify in the pipeline schema as “first follow-up”. This stage is absent from most pipeline descriptions, but I’ve found that putting in the extra effort involved with such follow-up further engages prospects and pays off in the form of higher contract closing rates. I will cover this in an upcoming post.