How to Tell the Difference Between a Hot Lead and a Dud

Always make sure your prospects have an assignment. Without one, they aren't invested in the solution.

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By Joanne Black


This story originally appeared on Salesforce

We have a huge task. All salespeople are accountable for specific metrics. If we consistently underperform, we're out of a job. But that's our problem, not our buyers'.

Our clients don't care that we have goals to meet. They don't care that it's quarter-end or year-end. They care about making the best possible decisions for their businesses, and they're under tremendous pressure to get it right. Otherwise, they're out of a job.

Knowing this, how do we help prospects make the right decisions and still meet the numbers for which we're accountable? By making them accountable for moving the deal forward too.

Never leave a meeting without giving your buyer a task. As a sales VP I used to work for told me: "That's the best test for whether the person is serious about moving forward." Also confirm a timeframe and set expectations for what they'll receive from you.

Related: 3 Ways Your Startup Can Earn the Trust of Prospective Clients

Avoid this sad sales story.

Without assigning tasks to prospects, you have no way of knowing whether they're truly interested in what you're selling—or if they're just kicking tires and wasting your time.

Consider this common sales scenario: You conduct a great meeting with a prospect, engage in smart conversation, and exchange ideas. The sales prospect:

• Thanks you for the insights you provided
• Agrees that your solution meets the company's needs
• Engages in a preliminary discussion about pricing
• Asks you to prepare a proposal
• Goes so far as to discuss start dates for the project

You leave the sales meeting excited and confident that you have the deal. The customer gave you every buying signal you ever learned.So you write the proposal, review it with your team, include detailed pricing and timelines, and send it to the client with a well-crafted email.


You call, you email.

More silence.

You're dumbfounded. What went wrong? What happened to the great relationship you thought you had? Why won't your sales prospect return your messages? Maybe she got busy, went on vacation, changed roles within the company, or couldn't get approval and felt embarrassed to tell you. Maybe it's none of these.

Related: Reject the Tinder Approach to Sales and Your Business Will Thrive Happily Ever After

Assume nothing, plan for everything.

Assumptions are dangerous in sales. When you assume a deal is in the bag just because you had a great first meeting with a prospect, you get lazy about follow-up.

If you assume that you uncovered all of the prospect's needs, you also assume:

• The prospect understands the full impact your solution could have on his business
• The prospect has decision-making authority
• You know and understand the approval process
• The prospect understands your pricing

So what could you have done differently? How could you have prevented this crushing sales scenario? By holding yourself and the buyer accountable for ensuring everyone has what he or she needs to move forward. Here's how:

Prepare a Discussion Document, which summarizes the business issues, the ROI of your solution, and a pricing range

Schedule a time to review this document before you leave the meeting

You put a lot of thought and work into a Discussion Document or proposal. Don't ever agree to write one unless you have a follow-up meeting on the calendar.

Make your prospect your partner.

Bottom line: Never leave sales meetings with a list of things for you to do and nothing for your buyers to do. Everyone needs an assignment. Without one, your prospects aren't invested in the solution. You could ask them to provide you with materials to review, to conduct research, or to survey their internal teams. The nature of the task doesn't matter as much as the simple fact they're willing to invest time and energy into learning more about what you offer.

And, always, always, leave your meeting with another meeting scheduled. If a prospect is noncommittal, that should be a huge red flag that you have been too quick to jump to a proposed solution.

Related: Close Deals Faster With These 5 Steps

Joanne Black

Referral Sales Expert

Joanne Black is a referral sales expert, interim sales advisor, author and sales speaker.

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