The damnedest thing about the Big Data revolution is that it took an age-old sales productivity problem and flipped it on its head nearly overnight.
After all, it wasn’t long ago when a stack of leads was NOT an easy thing to come by. If you were lucky, you inherited leads from someone else’s already-established book of business, perhaps if that person was retiring and you were taking over. If you weren’t so lucky, you had to make a string of never-ending cold calls, just trying to find the guy who knows a girl who knows a guy who knows a guy who might be interested in your product.
Obviously, those days are officially over.
Now we have databases, data marts, data warehouses and data lakes (which, despite sounding made up, are all real things) that have cascaded into veritable oceans of leads, for which there seems to be an endless horizon. In fact, salespeople have so many prospects at their fingertips nowadays that the leads all seem to melt together, making it difficult to differentiate – let alone prioritize – one prospect from the next.
What I’m going to outline today is that, there are indeed flotation devices in that ocean of leads to keep your head above water. Because the next time you go into your lead queue and see 3,000 cold prospects waiting for you (when you can only contact about 40 to 50 of them per day), you can avoid having a panic attack and drowning. Once you’ve dipped your toe in the water, there are four relatively simple factors that can help you navigate through your prospects and find the right ones to prioritize accordingly.
The Four Factors You’ll Discover:
→ Emails vs. Calls and Other Sales Activities
→ Factor 1: How Many Emails Have I Exchanged with This Prospect?
→ Factor 2: How Engaged is This Sales Prospect?
→ Factor 3: When Did I Last Follow Up with This Sales Prospect?
→ Factor 4: What Is My Probability of Sales Success with This Prospect?
→ How Do I Prioritize All of My Prospects Based on These Four Factors?
First, let’s set some ground rules. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to be zeroing in on email data alone to determine prospect priority. While I know emails aren’t the only form of sales activity (obviously, there are phone calls, text messages, and LinkedIn messaging, the last of which is becoming increasingly popular for “cold” sales), emails are perhaps the easiest data points to keep track of, and they are the most reliable when it comes to analysis.
While there are tools available that are making it easier to enter data from various sources into CRMs, and while certain industries indeed emphasize phone calls or face-to-face meetings above other methods, emails have become the predominant form of sales activity, accounting for roughly 80% of all sales communication, based on our own survey of Salesforce activities. And due to how much data they hold within them (in one convenient place), emails are the most reliable to analyze for prospect prioritization – and making sure salespeople follow up with the most sales-ready leads.
Sales Email Tracking
To start off, an email has an exact date and time stamp. It also records the sender of the message and all of its recipients. Plus, the conversation itself is literally written within the body of the email, so you can always revert back to an email thread later on to remind yourself about the context of the exchange. And unless you are a habitual deleter, all of the data is stored in your inbox and outbox.
Sales Phone Calls and CRM Input
So let’s compare that against phone calls, the other most voluminous method of sales activity. Calls do have date and timestamps, but those generally live within the company’s phone system itself, not where you actually record the call data, which is inside your CRM. And it is a nearly universal complaint among salespeople that the most annoying part of their job is recording their call data within their CRM, since it’s essentially typing out everything they just covered during the phone call and feels like a duplication of effort.
Assuming that a salesperson actually enters every single call they made into their CRM (and let’s face it, that’s unlikely), the salesperson would then have to type out a LOT of information about each call. Namely, the date/timestamp, all of the attendees on the call, and the conversation itself. And as all sales managers know, the pitfalls here are obvious. Salespeople have trouble recording every call they make into their CRM, and even if they do, the data about the calls is summarized or fragmented, depending on the salesperson’s memory and note-taking abilities.
Text & LinkedIn Messaging Tracking
Same thing goes for text messages and LinkedIn messages. Much like sales call data lives inside the company’s phone system, text message data lives inside a salesperson’s cell phone, and LinkedIn messages live within a salesperson’s LinkedIn account. So yet again, it’s up to the salesperson to duplicate the data into their CRM, and to do so completely. It doesn’t take long for this to become excruciating for the salesperson, who feels like they are spending more time doing data entry than their actual job. You know, selling.
For all of the reasons stated above, it’s easier and more efficient to initially focus on email data alone. But if procedures or tools are put in place to overcome data entry obstacles, the following four factors could be expanded to include other sales activities as well.
Most of us fall into the same habit. We roll into work each morning and check the little number in parentheses next to our inbox, and we try all day to knock that number down, with it becoming our de facto to-do list. So ingrained is this tactic that most of us only think in terms of how many emails we receive and send each day, regardless of who they come from and who they are going to.
This is why, if I were to ask you how many emails you receive and send on a daily basis, while you probably wouldn’t know exactly how many, you’d at least have an idea in mind. But what if I were to ask you how many emails you have sent and received with a specific prospect? Much harder, right? You don’t tend to count your emails that way, because in that scenario, someone else – the prospect – is the focal point, rather than ourselves. This is a relatively simple way to analyze how effective your own messages are, by thinking of your inbox and outbox count for each individual prospect, rather than for everybody combined.
And this is by far the easiest part of our analysis, because all it entails is counting, and then a teeny, tiny amount of division.
For each prospect, just add up how many emails you have sent to each, and how many emails you have received from them in return. For example, over the last couple of months, your Sent and Received table might begin like this:
Don’t worry. Despite how real they sound, those are not actual names of our prospects.
Based on those ratios, it’s not difficult to figure out who your most engaged prospects are. In general terms, they tend to be people who respond to you almost every time you send them a message so that it is closer to being a one-to-one ratio. On the other side of the spectrum, there are always prospects who you’ve been chasing for what seems like forever, with you sending them dozens of emails, and, in return, they only reply the bare minimum amount of times with the bare minimum amount of interest to keep you from disqualifying them completely.
So this ratio of Sent over Received covers both sides of the same coin – not only how many times you can expect a response from the prospect, but also, on average, how many emails you are going to have to send to get a response. In essence, that ratio acts as an Engagement Rating you can apply to each individual:
Are they a 2:1, someone who is really interested in your product?
Or are they a 7:1, someone who rarely gets back to you?
After you have determined the range of your prospects’ engagement, you can start organizing your prospects by putting them into Engagement “buckets.” For instance:
- High Engagement: Any prospect with a 2:1 Sent/Received Ratio or better.
- John Smith qualifies here with a 1.8:1 ratio.
- Medium Engagement: Any prospect between a 2:1 and 6:1 Sent/Received Ratio.
- Jane Doe falls into this bucket with a 4:1 ratio.
- Low Engagement: Any prospect with 7:1 Sent/Received Ratio or worse.
- Tom Wilson falls into here with a 7.5:1 ratio.
By bucketing your prospects into High, Medium, and Low, you can devote your time more wisely to those who are more highly engaged. It’s not that those in the Low Engagement bucket should be discarded completely, but it’s obvious that their interest and urgency does not match those within the High Engagement bucket, and as a salesperson, you have to make these types of trade-offs with your time.
Now that we’ve organized our prospects based on their engagement level, we now need to factor in the last date and time that we followed up with them, as that’s going to help determine when to follow up with them again.
This is why emails are so handy. They’ve got a date and time stamp at the very top! So just because John Smith’s engagement ratio is high, it doesn’t mean that we need to email him right now, just because we sent him an email 4 hours ago, and he still hasn’t gotten back to us. Sales isn’t all that dissimilar to dating. A prospect will get creeped out if you smother them with attention over a short period of time. So just as in life, as in sales…don’t be a creep. Give them time to reply. They are probably just busy. Please stop staring at your phone or your computer, trying in vain to use your psychic power to will them to email you back. And don’t you dare drop them another message just to see if they got your last one. Stop it!
Also, timing during the day is important, because some salespeople take the High, Medium, and Low Engagement buckets a little too far. Since a more highly-engaged prospect is usually considered a higher priority, a salesperson might be inclined to email them first thing every morning. Except, that might not make a whole lot of sense if you live in New York and your prospect lives in LA. Again, there’s nothing creepier for a prospect than receiving an email at 4:45 in the morning from a salesperson they barely know. Plus, if the prospect’s phone chimes when they receive that email, you might have woken them up, and if they are a total morning grouch like me, there could be hell to pay. Don’t get me wrong…it’s perfectly okay to email someone in the morning, but it’s a good idea to make sure that the sun is up wherever they are at before hitting the Send button.
With all of this in mind, there is going to be variability among each and every prospect. Maybe John Smith is highly-engaged, lives in the same time zone, and is quick to respond, whereas maybe Jane Doe is decent at responding to your emails, but she’s in a different time zone, and it takes her a long time to do so. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to try to reflect each of your prospects’ habits, rather than trying to get them to conform to your own. Because it doesn’t matter how hard you try. They are going to respond when it’s more convenient for THEM, not when it’s more convenient for YOU.
The final factor in our equation is whether or not an additional action will actually increase the probability of your success with the prospect. Most of the time, if you throw someone an additional email who doesn’t usually get back to you (like Tom Wilson, in our example) it’s pretty harmless.
On the other hand, if it’s like the scenario we spoke about earlier, where we were going to harass John Smith yet again, just because he hadn’t replied to us in about 4 hours, it could potentially result in him cutting off all communication, because we were overzealous and creeped him out.
So again, it’s a decision that you have to make as a salesperson, on where you are going to spend your time. Not only on how engaged they are, but also on how receptive they will be to another message, assuming that you contact them at the right time.
It’s pretty simple from here on out, like sorting a spreadsheet.
Who do you want to follow up with first?
- The people who you have sent and (more importantly) received the most messages.
- The people who have the highest engagement ratio.
- The people who it is most appropriate to follow up with soon, based on the last time you contacted them, their time zone, and the timing with which they normally get back to you.
- The people who it is most likely to increase your probability of success if you follow up with them again.
Again, I know how difficult it is to look down a giant list of leads and try to figure out who are the best people to focus on, but the truth is, you need data to figure that out, based on your own activity with those prospects.
And if you can do a quick bit of data analysis on your email interactions, you’ll have a better handle on who you should spend more time with, and you won’t have to do it by guessing. Just counting how many times you’ve exchanged emails and figuring out when they are most likely to respond to you goes a long way.
That ocean of leads? You have the ability to “reverse” it. You can shrink it back down into a data lake, a data warehouse, a data mart, a database, and finally, a single data point to focus on, all if you know what to look for.
Want Help Improving Sales Productivity by Prioritizing Your Prospects?
FunnelWise is offering a new product, SalesEdge, that uses all of the above factors to organize and recommend prospects for you to follow up with, based on your own email data. There’s no reliance on your CRM, and it is in a private beta for Gmail or G-Suite email users. If you are interested, you can sign up to preview the Beta.