2 Timely Tips for Improving Your Lead Conversion Rate

Everyone I speak to about K-12 sales and marketing this shares my opinion — lead conversion is the Holy Grail. Before I make some suggestions, I to provide some context for the tips and advice that follows.

The first is what I’m defining as “lead conversion” since this phrase can mean different things to different people in sales and marketing.  Most of the suggestions that follow are about moving a lead through the sales process so it results in a purchase.  Lead conversion is a big topic, and there is a lot of attention these days around landing page optimization that causes a respondent to become a lead.  How to optimize your landing pages to achieve better conversions to the next step in your marketing or sales process is a whole topic unto itself. This article is about the bigger picture of what really matters most, which is how to hone your processes so you can drive revenue. 

I’m also making an assumption that your organization recognizes the importance of investing to promote its products and services through a variety of methods to generate leads.  There is a lot of great advice available to help you capture more leads. The SellingToSchools web site is packed with tips and advice.  But just having more leads isn’t necessarily a good thing.  What you want to do is to invest in generating higher quality leads and then convert more of them into sales.

I also want to be sure you understand that those of you who are selling a high-ticket product best apply most of my suggestions. My expertise is selling and marketing high-end solutions to schools — especially technology products and services.  If you sell low-priced products to teachers, the kind your would buy with a credit card through a catalog, I trust you can still find a nugget or two as well.

Finally, you are an exceptionally smart, motivated professional or you wouldn’t be attending webinars or reading this article. I’ll bet you already know and use some of the techniques that follow.  But early in the calendar year is the time of when many of us make resolutions to do a better job of applying what we already know — so here we go.  I encourage you to pick one or two things to try out and then monitor your results — focus is the key thing along with the mantra of constant, incremental improvement.

Let’s face it, when your conversion rates fall and hitting your sales goal is unlikely, the most common reaction is to start discounting.  But we all know that cutting price is a slippery slope. So I’m going to offer some tips for you to focus your attention on improving your lead conversion success without cutting your prices and margins.  

Tip #1: Update Your Lead Management Process and Systems

I have a few suggestions to make this happen. You need to take steps to improve both the quantity and quality of the leads that are coming into your lead management system.  In order to turn more leads into sales, put some immediate attention on your lead management process and systems, and consider updating both, and do it now. 

For example, I assume your organization uses a CRM system.  But when I talk about systems, I’m talking about both your sales and marketing processes and your CRM system — something like Salesforce.com.  You simply can’t improve your conversion rates without regularly honing your systems. As they say, the best way to ensure the same results is to continue to do the same thing. 

So here’s a question  — when was the last time you looked closely at your CRM to see if it is doing the job?  If someone with CRM expertise and sales process savvy hasn’t examined yours recently, it is probably time for a tune up.

A reminder for all of us about lead management is this.  Improving lead conversion isn’t just about quantity- it’s also about quality. As I said a minute ago, you need more high quality leads, not just more leads — to meet your sales goals. Use some of the ideas offered up to improve the volume of leads coming in. Then focus on quality.

I’ve been pulled into many sales consulting projects with organizations where revenue is falling short of the goal, and there are real concerns. And many times when I look under the hood, I find that the sales team is being asked to do almost anything BUT sell.  The marketing staff sends the sales reps plenty of new leads but expects the sales reps to then hunt through them to find real prospects. 

So, let’s say they find 5 good prospects out of 100 new leads — that’s a 95% failure rate.  I can tell you, as a former sales rep and sales manager myself, with that kind of disappointing hit rate, I ignored leads coming from marketing campaigns because I wasted too much time and I was on the hot seat to produce sales.  Working a pile of bad leads is painful — and who wants to come to work and fail all the time?  

So, what’s the answer?  Here’s one you could try out.

The first place to look is the front-end marketing process and being sure you are following best practices in list selections and the creative aspects of designing your campaign. This includes steps to improve landing page conversions for any campaigns that drive people to a URL. Then, adding some additional marketing processes designed to prioritize and filter leads will make them really valuable for driving sales. I find that a lot of marketing folks cringe at this idea, because they think it’s not their job to qualify leads. Well, I think it is.

The fact is, there are methods you can use to sort leads quickly, those leads that might come in from a form field on a landing page, or even from a trade show exhibit, so you can populate your CRM system with the good stuff and earn the attention of the sales reps.

In working with my clients, I’ve found that you can use surveys and email to sort out the tire kickers from the serious prospects. You can also use these to provide supporting information to streamline the sales process — but you have to do this wisely and with a dedicated marketing resource and integrate this into your systems.

What I hope you’ll remind yourself each day is that it is a waste of time for your sales team — it costs a lot of productivity — for them to sift through hundreds of leads looking for a few good ones. So, please resolve this year to end the battle between sales and marketing over lead quality.  First, reach consensus on a definition of what a good lead is, and then tighten up on the front end of your marketing and sales process to be sure that your sales people can focus their time on good leads — those leads that will convert the quickest.

Increase the frequency and quality of contact with active prospects/opportunities

Now for the second point.  Let’s assume you’ve improved conversion rates on your landing pages and at your trade show booths and you have improved the quality of the leads coming into your CRM system.  I’m also advocating that you increase not only the frequency in which you contact the most qualified leads, but the quality of the contacts.  I’d ask you to consider your own buying experiences and how annoying most of them are. 

I’m amazed at the junk I get — either voice messages or email — that convinces me that the people who are pursuing me as a customer don’t have a clue.  I know that most sales reps and marketing staff move fast and furious through a pipeline and the contacts they make by email or phone tend to be for their benefit more than for their prospective customer.  I know because I’ve done it myself as a sales or marketing manager.

So here’s the thing. Every time you make a contact of any type, whether by email or phone, focus your energy on offering something of value to the prospect that boosts their belief that you and your company offer the best solution to meet their needs. And it better be relevant to their situation.  I’m talking about offering some news or insight that they will care about that also positions you as their valued consultant and advocate, not as a pesky sales person interrupting their day to make a sales pitch about your product. 

Be respectful and develop and maintain those relationships. Remember, the R in CRM stands for Relationship and Respect. The focus of every call or email contact you make has to be on them, not you. Making this happen is not just a matter for the sales guys. This type of prospect nurturing and the offers I’m suggesting have to be mapped out as part of the entire customer acquisition process and it involves both marketing and sales brain lock and a corporate commitment to customer-centric marketing.

Make “win/loss” analysis and adjustments consistent and ingrained

Next I want to suggest something that is uncommon in my experience working with many companies over the years, and is often considered too time consuming or not relevant.  

If your marketing and sales organization doesn’t do win/loss analysis — and I mean as a regular process — then this could be the best thing you do to improve your lead conversion rate.  What I’m talking about is not just finding out why you lost a deal when the customer decides to go with your competitor.  What I’m talking about is finding out why leads are not progressing through the entire lead capture and sales process and why you are not converting prospects to customers as quickly and as often as you would like.  

Every poor response rate, landing page bail out, sales stall, every stop or hesitation along the way, every poor quality lead is a loss to you and your company, not a win. Do you really understand why leads are not converting, why they stall out and why they don’t turn into sales?

I’m calling this “ingrained” win/loss.  Everyone in the sales and marketing organization needs to deeply understand the reasons why — and when — your process is losing ground, not just why you are losing sales. I have two more quick ideas about improving your lead conversion rates.

  1. Implement and/or adjust the stage management descriptions and/or metrics in your CRM to get a smoother flow and more consistent outcome for leads.

  2. Tighten up your sales management and coaching processes to improve the reliability of your sales forecast.

Sales and marketing management processes in our industry generally fall short of what they need to be.  Great managers are not just great marketing and creative types or good sales people or coaches.  They also are also focused when it comes to using analytics and CRM systems and understanding how to make adjustments in the metrics in campaigns and stage descriptions for the sales process. 

As I suggested earlier in this article, a CRM tune-up involves taking a close look at the stages and considering modifying them if what you’ve been doing isn’t getting the job done.  When I talk about getting the job done, I’m talking about making quota.  If your sales are falling short, there are likely front end lead quality issues and forecasting issues. Better forecasting and improved lead conversion go hand in hand. Coaching and asking questions about specific leads anywhere in the system is part of the marketing and sales manager’s work, but so is tightening up the lead stages.

There’s a great new article about this with terrific advice on the SellingToSchools web site written by Curt Hewers, who is one of the smartest guys around when it comes to CRM and lead management.  I suggest you read How to Use Your CRM to Deliver Revenue During Tough Economic Times and share it with your management team.

Tip #2: Align your marketing and sales process to the customer’s buying process. 

Good sales and marketing organizations understand their marketing and sales process and work to improve it.  Great sales organizations understand their customer’s buying process and work to make it go more smoothly. You need to work harder and smarter to remove the barriers that slow down or stop lead conversion. It’s all about getting your marketing and sales process in sync with the customer’s buying process.

Let’s take a look at the diagram below. It represents the type of decision-making process I have experienced with school administrators who are making buying decisions. You see that there are several stages, and between each stage there may be barriers that slow things down or in some cases bring things to a grinding halt at the customer’s side.

What you experience is poor response rates, lackluster landing page conversions, bottlenecks that make your sales cycles drag on, or as problems in converting leads, or even worse, issues that cause you to lose sales.

The key here is to understand why these things are going on from the customers’ view.  Too many organizations focus their attention internally, assuming that the people writing the copy or designing the web pages are missing the boat, or that sales reps aren’t doing their job, or doing it with enough intensity. I suggest looking outward first for answers.

So, with that in mind, let’s look an overlay of the process from the buyers’ view in a similar illustration below:

You’ll notice that the stages have names that imply what’s going on with your sales process — and what your prospects might need from you to say YES to moving to the next step and to ultimately place an order with you and then becoming a loyal, repeat customer.

The job of the marketing staff is to deeply understand their buyer’s decision-making process and to know what they need at every step to make it easier for them to make a buying decision. The other job of the marketing department related to this is to create the tools and resources to remove every barrier so lead conversion is faster and smoother.  That begins with the web site and landing pages in particular.

The job of the sales rep is to understand when and how to use the tools and resources, once the engagement process begins, and to give feedback to the marketing department if there are tools missing or if the tools are not right for the job.  This gets back to the ingrained win/loss.  The losses are due to missing or ineffective resources and tools most of the time.  Lost time, lost sales, lost momentum, lost employees, and in some cases, lost companies are what we see on the education market landscape.

I hope that you don’t end up with lead conversion road kill this year.  In closing, I would ask you to focus on one or two of the things I have suggested and then let me know what happens, because I, like you, are looking to convert all of you into customers!

And please do yourself a favor and tap into the incredible advice archive at SellingToSchools.com that is packed with great information for better marketing success and to boost your sales – and it’s free.  If you are a marketing professional, then you’ll find a pile of valuable, free practical tips and advice in the Get More Leads section of the Advice area.  If your interest is mainly sales, then there are some great suggestions from some of the best salespeople in the school market archived in the section Close More Sales, also in the Advice area. Access all from the main menu — just click on the ADVICE button and open up a treasure chest of incredible advice — hundreds of years of front-line tips from the most experienced and successful people in the K-12 market.  Tell your friends about this valuable resource and please sign up to receive just the marketing and/or sales news and advice you want to receive.  It’s YOUR site and it’s free.  Why not take advantage of this success-boosting resource?

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About the Author

Glen McCandless is president of Focus Marketing Inc., a business development firm that specializes in the educational technology market. Glen has over 25 years of experience helping companies efficiently and effectively sell and market technology products and services to K-12 and higher education buyers. For more information, please contact sts-info@agile-ed.com.

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