Businesses spend a lot of time worrying over their sales processes and they are absolutely right to do so. But what happens once you convert the impression to a lead? In a client-based business, what happens after they’ve ‘opted in’ will make or break your entire operation.

“Not so!” you say. Your sales funnel is on lock; you’re gathering leads through social media, direct email, search engines, advertising and promotions, and referrals. Once you have them, you can market to them forever.

What Sunshine Coast entrepreneur Mark McRae asks is, “Why would you want to? If you think your goal is to get them in a funnel and just keep flinging sales messages at them, you’re asking the wrong questions,” says Mark.

Questions – the right ones – have been at the core of his companies’ successes for nearly two decades. The energetic CEO advises other companies, including Fortune 500s, on how to streamline their processes, while always keeping the end-game in mind.

“The goal – the 100,000-foot view – isn’t to retain a lead. It is to convert the lead into a paid client, and retain them.”

It’s not about you

If your existing lead generation process is netting you the kind of leads you want but you aren’t seeing the conversion you anticipate, chances are that you have not laid the groundwork for the prospect to say, “Yes!” and convert from prospect to client.

According to Mark, the important thing to remember is that they want you to convert them, if you can give them what they need. Remaining focused on the customer’s needs, and helping the customer articulate exactly what those needs are, are among the most important steps in turning a lead into a client. Once you get in the room (or on the call) with the decision maker, it is all about them.

Lay a strong foundation

You may think the best way to find out what the customer needs is to ask them. Sometimes that works, but you might be surprised to find out how many successful businesspeople cannot fully articulate what they want, why they want it, or how they might go about getting it.

Messaging, from the beginning of your sales funnel to the face-to-face meeting, should be about engaging the prospect in a conversation. Everyone is trying to sell them ‘the solution’. By opening a dialogue with them instead, you are already creating momentum for pulling away from the pack.

Do you need to ‘sell’ them? Yes, a little. But if you’ve got the goods (proof, percentage improvements, endorsements, or even guarantees) you won’t have to hit them over the head for them to understand that you are very good at what you do.

By opening a conversation, you find out where the customer’s head is at and what is troubling them most about what’s working and not working in their structure.

These kinds of regular queries are evident in Mark’s marketing machine in various businesses. His firms employ detailed customer surveys, photo contests, giveaways, and have teams on call 24/70 to converse with customers anywhere in the world to meet their needs.

Those kinds of surveys are blunt instruments in any lead conversion process. What they do, however, is create a sense of familiarity – of engagement with the prospect – that sets up everything that comes after. When they enter a contest or respond to a survey, they are in effect giving you the first strong “Yes!” of the conversion process.

Before you ‘get in the room’

You can’t get the big yes if you don’t get in the room, and it is tempting to rush headlong into a meeting as soon as you can. However, Mark cautions entrepreneurs to prepare at least a basic strategy.

“80 per cent of all businesses fail because
of improper planning,” says Mark.

  • Who will be the lead team member to fulfil the contract?
  • How many people will dedicate how much time and manpower to this particular client?
  • How much will you be asked to bring to the table to help them in exchange for their signature on the dotted line and a cheque?

Knowing your answers to most of these questions changes the balance of power before you even walk in the door.

You will have to dedicate time, expertise and resources to take on this client, and you are there on a fact- finding mission. That shifts your internal perception of the meeting, so that your confidence and demeanor change from ‘asking’ to ‘assessing’.

If you feel your services and their needs are not a good fit, understanding that while you might like them, you don’t need them, makes it much easier for you to accurately gauge your side of the equation.

Most businesses are advised to think that as long as you have a client questionnaire to assess the prospect’s needs, that you counter by offering your personal answers to perceived weaknesses in their processes, you’re doing it right. It was the standard, and if that’s how you’re doing things, it’s probably why you’re reading now.

Instead ‘get active!’

Instead of a sheaf of documents and a canned presentation, Mark advises you to “get active” with your decision maker.

You may have technology there and use it to demonstrate from time to time, but where the rubber meets the road in Mark’s process is in mapping.

Instead of just a laptop, bring along a whiteboard or a large size pad of paper and a marker. It doesn’t matter if you can draw or print well, what matters is you are going to actively engage your prospect in designing their own plan of action.

The best way to manage the room is to set yourself up near a corner of the table and invite the decision maker to take the seat at the other side of the corner. That way you’re in a collaborative space. If you need to use a presentation board or pad on a tripod, invite the decision maker to sit right at the front of the table, facing you, eliminating the barrier altogether.

In a virtual meeting environment, it is worth investing in visual conferencing software like Go To Meeting, using free software like Skype, where you can show your notepad on webcam, or sharing your screen and drawing out the plan on a virtual whiteboard.

What matters is you are going to actively engage your prospect in designing their own plan of action.

The prospect creates the blueprint

This active information gathering makes the prospect feel that they designed the solution. Because it’s their blueprint on the table when you’re done, they have pride of ownership and buy into the ideas you provide.

By maintaining an active process with the potential client, you change their emotional and mental state, so they are already saying yes to you during the process, priming the pump for the ‘big yes”.

Mark approaches his clients the same way he approaches his employees. “If I can give them what they most want, what they need, they will give me what I need,” he says.

What you’re after now is the lead’s story: a snapshot of where they are now, a vision of where they want to be, and the process they’ve used to get to where they are today. Your personality or the variety of business you are in may alter the questions a bit, but if you ask the basics and follow up correctly, you will start eliciting agreements. Your questions should always be informational, not yes or no — at least at this stage. Instead of “Do you know your gross sales for last year? Last month?” ask, “What were your gross sales last year?”.

You’ll get a very clear picture of how much your prospect knows about how their business operates and what it takes to be successful. If they can’t answer, you may either decide to rejoice or to run away because they have just shown you one of the biggest issues in their efforts is a lack of engagement.

As you ask each question, box it out on your map and write the answers below. If something occurs to you about a solution, make a note of it so you can come back to it. Remember, it’s about the prospect and their needs, not about you and your solutions yet. Periodically, you want to ask for confirmation that you have the numbers, or your understanding of their process, right. It’s their first chance to start saying yes.

Process

You do the same kind of map to answer the questions surrounding, “Tell me about your process”. Whether it’s a sales funnel or manufacturing, process is process, and since you’re an expert in what they need, as they talk (and you continue to map), you will find inevitable holes in their chain. Just note them on the map, do not talk about them yet.

Follow up with specifics. If they say, “Well, the customer comes in, and we sell them plastic flamingoes”. Ask, “And how did they know you sell flamingoes? Where are those ads placed? How did you decide to allocate advertising to television instead of online?” and any other relevant questions until you have unpacked the process on your map.

More questions…

If you have determined this lead may be a good potential fit as a client, this is where your game shifts subtly. If you do it well, it seems like the same level of information gathering you’ve already spent a few minutes mapping. Because you are an expert, you have likely identified several spots in their processes that with just a small tweak could improve their whole operation. It’s important to remember that just like you, your prospect is focused on increasing the bottom line and doing more and better with less. So this is where you start getting the prospect to see themselves as a partner in the process, not someone to be sold something.

Follow the map to close the client

Remember all the notes you wrote beside elements where you knew your expertise could help the customer? This is when you start pulling those tools out of your toolkit. Go back to each stage of the map and start discussing the solutions you could provide, but again, in question form. For example, “If you were able to sell 250 more flamingoes a month, based on your figures, wouldn’t that increase your gross by 25 per cent a year?”

Notice this question is designed to elicit a yes. If the prospect starts saying no here, there’s a disconnect, and you may want to reassess whether you want them as a client. They don’t have to agree to everything you suggest either. Remember, you’re fact-finding. You only need to implement one or two of the items you identified to help them increase their bottom line. If you have specialties, be sure during this phase to discuss how they’d fit into the process, again by asking questions.

Recap all of your potential solutions and ask for confirmation as you go.

According to Mark, when you close with this mapping method, you are already in position as the authority who just showed them how they could up their gross profits by 35 per cent or more a year. Use that authority to assume they are signing on with you and start talking about how to implement your business relationship. You can ask outright if you would like, or practice what is called the assumptive close, where you give them a concrete expectation of your next contact time, give them homework and a due date (next meeting), and remind them of the goal.

Most of the world’s top businessmen who have to sell anything, rely on a similar method because it has shown as much as an 80 per cent success rate. If a prospect throws his hands up and objects at this stage of the game, you can either handle the objection, or not.

So, let me ask you a question. If you implemented Mark’s active conversion strategy, could you increase your lead conversion to as much as 80 per cent?

You’ve got ’em, now keep ’em

When you finalise a deal, you may feel like you’ve scaled Everest, and could be tempted to let the client relationship unfold organically. While every business relationship has its own personality, the end game remains constant and as the newly crowned expert in your client’s eyes, you cannot afford to drop the ball.

“How you onboard a client, the way you bring them into your organisational environment, can break or make your relationship for life,” says Mark.

As Eric Pratt said in a recent Hubspot article, “Failing to properly onboard new clients has consequences that can ripple through the life of the engagement. Without the proper plan in place, execution becomes misguided, and the campaign has no direction. A campaign without clear direction and complete buy-in on both sides doesn’t stand much of a chance”.

One of the great things about Mark’s active approach is that he eliminates almost two-thirds of the average firm’s onboarding issues in the initial client pitch. Using the active approach, you already know a great deal about the client’s assets, current situation, structure, and what existing processes they are already using.

Here are the basics of what you need to clarify with a client before you begin implementing your campaign or
procedures:

  • Clear expectations regarding deliverables, creatives, billing, payment and execution.
  • Complete access to whatever internals the client has that you need to work with.
  • An accurate accounting of the figures and access to who is responsible for them.
  • A point person, for both teams. It might be you and the client, or it might be your lieutenants. However you structure it, both teams need to know who is accountable on either side.

Once everyone has said hello and you’ve run through the objectives, break down interim and long-term goals, and then get out of the meeting and onto the work!

Build your team and give them wings

You may not have a deep bench when it comes to building your team, but if you are fortunate enough to have a decently sized staff , make sure you line up your team based on temperament. Rapport is almost more important than the work at this stage of the game. If your team and the client get along, you can surmount almost any issue.

Give your team time to get on board, and give them all the background information they need to do so. Depending on the type of work, that could be a day or a month, but make sure your creatives and problem solvers have time to wrap their brains around the problems and come up with ways to solve them.

Schedule a team meeting with both sides. Since they’ve had lots of preparation time, you are much more assured of presenting your client with a whole fleet of competent experts instead of a top-down firm where there’s only one person ‘in the know’.

Like the meeting with the decision maker, this meeting should be carefully structured and should be no more than an hour. Once everyone has said hello and you’ve run through the objectives, break down interim and long-term goals, and then get out of the meeting and onto the work!

Meet every interim goal either ahead of deadline or under budget if you can manage it, and communicate any deviation and adjustments that need to be made as soon as possible.

Mark operates most of his firms in the online world, and as he says, “A week is like a year in internet time”. So communication is king from this point on. Be transparent and complete, every step of the way.

You should schedule client follow-up calls at least every 30 days, where you walk the client through the map to show where you are in the process and adjust as needed.

If you follow Mark’s active engagement model, you should see an immediate impact in your conversion rates.

MARK MCRAE
PHONE: (07) 54529 849
WWW.MARKMCRAE.COM