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by on in B2B Marketing, Content Marketing

You know that your SQLs (Sales Qualified Leads) are where the money is hiding in your leads list. But how to follow up with this elusive group of prospects who are almost, but not quite, ready to buy?

There are two types of Sales Qualified Leads in most marketing automation systems. Opportunities – people who have requested contact from a sales person. And SQLs – people who have demonstrated by their behaviour on your website that they are actively considering your company but have not yet reached out to sales.


How you follow up will be different for each type.

Opportunities demand immediate attention. Statistics show that the faster you respond, the more likely you’ll make contact and close the sale. Make it a habit to respond to opportunities the same day that you receive them. Often the best approach is to quickly thank the contact for their interest and suggest scheduling a telephone call or appointment to discuss their needs. You can set up an email template for this type of message in your CRM system, in which case the response takes only seconds and can even be sent on your behalf by a member of your sales support team. If you have the time, and happen to be at your desk when the inbound lead notification pops up, pick up the telephone and make a call right away.

SQLs that are further up in the funnel require more finesse in your response. Often they are looking for reasons to disqualify you as a vendor and hoping to go a little further along the buying path without engaging a sales person. This is also where most opportunities are lost due to inadequate follow up. The most successful inbound sales people have a solid system to maintain contact with these leads and they work closely with the marketing team to make sure each lead is contacted just enough to maintain interest, not so often as to be annoyed.


Here are our secrets to perfect SQL follow up systems:

Keep an active list of SQL’s as part of your day to day activities. This is your inbound prospecting goldmine. Take time to get to know the players and their companies. Spend some time on the website to understand the business they’re in so that you’re prepared when you do connect.

Once you’ve taken care of the “A” items (responded to quote requests and immediate sales opportunities), it’s time to actively attempt to connect with each of your SQLs. Start by:

  • Following up directly with the lead to offer additional value related to the items on your web site that you know they have engaged with.
  • Finding the lead’s LinkedIn profile and join groups they’re active in where you can add value to the discussions they engage with.
  • Attending real-world networking events where you expect they may be and introduce yourself when opportunity arises.
  • Asking for connections you have in common to make an introduction.
  • Any other way you can think of to make the initial connection.

When the connection is made with an SQL, your focus is on service not selling. Reach out and share recent content your company has published that they may find useful. Congratulate them on accomplishments when appropriate, or invite them to events your company is hosting. In the pre-internet world, this nurturing often took the form of mailing press clippings or articles or dropping in to say hello.

Your goal is to develop a relationship that’s based on something more substantial than “let me sell you my widgets” so that when the project is imminent, you’ve got the inside track. Keep an eye out for signals coming from your marketing automation system that something has changed and make a point of following up at key times for an update. The key is to keep the conversation focused on the prospect’s interests while keeping your own radar on high alert for invitations to initiate a sales discussion.


What Does Follow Up Sound Like?

Let’s focus on the SQLs. You already know how to respond to a direct sales inquiry or you wouldn’t be in sales!

Follow Up Example | Lead has engaged with case studies or company specific information like a pricing page.


Hi John, it’s Randy here from Acme Widget company. I noticed that you downloaded a case study about our success with ABC Co. What was it you were hoping to learn from their story and do you have any questions that I could answer for you?


Your goal is to help the prospect answer the questions that prompted them to download that case study. In the process, you’ll uncover clues to their pains and can find the buying signals that let you know if a real opportunity is imminent. If you can engage this prospect on the phone, you’ll get further than emails because you can probe for much better information, so don’t be afraid to dial.


Follow Up Example | Lead has downloaded product or service specific content.


Hi Karen. I noticed that you downloaded our tip sheet on extending the life of your widgets. Were there specific issues with life-cycle that you working to improve? Worn out widgets are a common problem in [your industry] and I thought you might also enjoy our guide to widget materials, that walks you through which types are best suited for your particular environment. If you’d like this guide, you can download it here. [link]


Your goal is to get the prospect to view you as a trusted source of information, to probe for the pain signals that might indicate a buying opportunity, and to engage in conversation about their needs. You’re paying attention to the information they respond to, and reacting appropriately. Plus, if you do happen to run across an inbound lead at a networking event, wouldn’t you love to be able to walk across the floor, extend your hand, and say “Karen? I’m Randy from Acme Widget company. I wanted to introduce myself personally and make sure you were able to download that widget materials guide?”


Inbound or Outbound, All Selling Starts With a Conversation

Marketing automation systems and CRMs serve a very important purpose – they help to close the chasm between what marketing knows about a prospect and what sales needs to know to close the deal. They also help good salespeople to avoid wasting time chasing leads that are nowhere near ready to buy.

Marketing automation will make you more efficient, but it is unlikely that it will ever replace the human sales person. At least not as long as we’re selling to human buyers.

At the end of the day, your ability to make the final connection with a lead, identify their needs, and offer an attractive solution is what will make the difference between opportunities lost and opportunities won. Yes, there are exceptions to that rule. But they are few and far between.


Looking for help to implement a culture of inbound selling in your business? Ask about our Managed Marketing Automation service – an affordable, all-in-one solution that includes your CRM system, your marketing automation software, and the execution support your company needs to close more leads for one monthly fee. You might also like this post on hiring the right staff for inbound sales or business development.


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