Why Do Leads Go Dark?
It's true that sometimes leads go cold. Perhaps they've been too busy to respond or simply weren't ready to continue their buyer's journey the last time you connected. For some leads, it can take months or even a year between the awareness stage and final purchase, and it's entirely possible that you lost touch because, like half of all qualified leads, they weren't quite ready to buy.
It's also possible that your response time was off on the first pass. Every year we grow accustomed to faster and faster responses. HBR quoted a study of more than 2,200 American companies that showed the likelihood of having a meaningful conversation with a decision maker was seven times higher if the lead was contacted within the first hour.
Boomerang similarly found that over 30% of customers even expect a response within an hour. If you're quick, you can make sure that they don't have a chance to lose track of you or connect with a competitor.
Here are a few other reasons leads can become lost:
- Poor targeting that doesn't hook the right kind of people
- The content you provide needs to be more relevant
- Need better prioritization (avoid slower responses on best leads)
- The lead was accidentally misplaced and forgotten
- Vaguely-defined funnel stages or sales processes
The best way to stay in touch with your leads is to do everything you can to avoid losing them in the first place.
Use Preventative Measures
Ben Franklin's old axiom that 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' is wise advice when it comes to keeping leads engaged. Take a look at every step of your marketing and sales process to see where the cracks have formed and in what areas you can still grow. For example:
- Is your lead generation process breaking down?
- Is it too difficult for prospects to sign up or download/access your content offers?
- Is the copy in your content lively and engaging, or does it need some adjustments?
- Are the titles built to hook interest?
- Are you targeting the right market or persona?
- Do you have a lead nurturing strategy?
Research has shown that if you excel at lead nurturing, you can generate 50% more sales at a 33% lower cost. Keep your processes refined to cut down on exit points in your funnel. However, you can't foresee everything. If you want to understand why your leads have stopped responding, it may be best to be completely direct—just ask.
Survey Lost Leads
Are you tired of guesswork and crunching analytics for clues? One of the best ways to figure out what's up with your lost leads is to get their take in a survey. Each lost lead is likely to fit into one of three categories:
- Not interested. It's possible they accidentally ended up on your radar. Maybe they were satisfying topical curiosity but never intended to buy anything.
- Used to be interested. For some reason, they could have ended up attaching to a competitor of yours instead. Maybe they were interested until they found another solution.
- Still interested. Perhaps they stalled out at a confusing step of the sales process, or have been too busy or distracted to keep going.
A simple survey could iron out what's been going on by asking where they fit into the three categories above. The feedback you get will do two things to help you re-engage lost leads: First, you'll get a clear indicator of which leads are still open for potential conversion. Second, the way they respond will help you improve both your broad process (to stop future leads from getting lost the same way) and your approach to follow-up communication with the individual lead.
Your survey email might look something like this:
“Hi (Prospect Name),
We haven't heard from you in a while, and we miss you. If you don't mind me asking, why haven't you decided to follow up on our conversation? Did one of the following happen?
- You're still interested but haven't had any time to reconnect because of the busy holiday season.
- You found a different solution. If this is true, we'd love to know how your experience or our product could have been better, for our future reference.
- Our product doesn't solve your problem. Is there anything else we could offer to get on the right track and earn your business?
Our top priority is to keep improving every day. We'd love to hear back from you!
Visually attractive, straightforward, one-click surveys can even be embedded into the body of an email. The easier a survey is to respond to, the more likely you are to get the feedback you need. Check out HubSpot's Customer Thermometer feature, for example.
If you decide that you want to give a more in-depth survey (multiple questions) or link out to an automated digital survey, you could also think about incentivizing completion. You could offer to send a coupon code or discount on a service once a survey has been submitted, for example. Valuable and detailed feedback could be well worth it—not to mention the positive rapport you build with the offer's recipient.
How to Heat Up Cold Leads
The fact that a lead fell out of touch doesn't mean they have no interest in reconnecting. It's possible that they still have a need, but you or their problem fell out of their top-of-mind. Let them know that you miss them. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt once advised, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”
Here are some of the top strategies to put some knots into your rope and re-engage with your lost leads:
Leverage a CRM & Automation Tools
All leads should be held in a CRM database. While manual lead management (sticky notes, Excel spreadsheets) can be useful in the very short-term, it's ultimately too inefficient and can be easy to lose track of. The information, dates, and times you keep logged in a CRM are of enormous aid in following the leads that weren't ready to move forward at your last point of contact.
Digital reminders of key dates can help you to set automated follow-ups and increase the chances that you successfully re-engage the lost lead. Marketing and sales automation programs are some of the best sales enablement tools for maximizing the quantity and quality of time your human sales reps can spend with your leads.
Try Trigger Events
Maybe the lead went cold because you just haven't found the right opportunity to get them over the finish line. When an event creates an opening for a sales opportunity in the life of the lead—a trigger event—that's the perfect time to reach out and re-engage.
If you're a B2B company, for example, a trigger point for a prospective customer might be a new press release, a media mention of new products, or announcement of new website design and features. Send your congratulations to them on their recent achievement or success. You'll remind them that you exist, show that you know them personally, and reopen a window for communication.
With a trigger event, an old-fashioned cold call could instead open with, “Hi Lisa. I just saw on LinkedIn that you were promoted and wanted to say congrats! Is there any way I can help you in your new role?” This makes a much more human connection and feels good and useful for the prospect.
LinkedIn is an excellent tool for tracking triggers, in fact:
Automation can also look for triggers. You might send a personalized re-engagement email to an old prospect that has suddenly returned to a pricing page—they've re-engaged on their own, in this case, and might finally be ready for a purchase if you connect with them at the right time.
Use Social Media
Nowadays, people rarely answer their phones, and email inboxes can end up stuffed to the gills with unread messages. For example, we delete 48% of our daily emails in 5 minutes. Personal contact on social media, however, we do still tend to prioritize. Pay attention to the demographics of your old leads to see where your best opportunity for reconnection lies. For example:
- Would a Twitter DM work for a millennial consumer?
- Could you send LinkedIn InMail to a small business or SME?
- Is your persona a little older, and relies primarily on Facebook?
Having answers to these questions will keep your sales reps informed about their audience and what channels will work best for outreach. Effective social selling helps sales reps meet or beat their sales quota 50% more often.
Send a “9 Word Email”
This strategy was pioneered by entrepreneur and online marketer Dean Jackson for warming up old real estate leads. Since, it's been talked about and spread through marketing and sales in many other industries—in part by Dean himself, through podcasts like this.
The format is simple. Use the customer's first name as the title ('Steve'). The body of the email is (roughly) 9 words: 'Are you still looking at getting [insert] [your] [service]?' Then sign off with your own first name.
That's it. Don't add anything else.
This sort of spare email works so well because it is direct, simple, and gives the lead a straightforward choice: ignore or answer. Resist the urge to add links, phone numbers, or websites. Rely on the curiosity your open-ended email innately creates. If they're still interested, there's a strong chance they'll reply. Check out how it's been working for commenters in this ILoveMarketing thread.
Write a Postcard or Letter
This kind of personal touch is hard to replace. Handwritten messages are powerful and show effort and care. At the same time, they're cheap: just a piece of paper, a stamp, and an envelope. Direct mail also gets past some of the gatekeeper filters that block emails or screen phone calls.
Even major companies like American Express promote the value of making your customer feel special with a personalized note. This is even more true in a world where people get fewer and fewer personal letters every year. The U.S. Postal Service reported a decrease from 1 letter per 2 weeks in 1987 to only 1 letter per 7 weeks in 2010.
A “happy birthday” message could be especially touching and low pressure, but work to warm up a long-cold lead by showing that you know them and value the relationship.
When it comes to direct mail, you've got plenty of other options too—content kits, swag boxes, personalized brochures, and more.
Offer an Incentive
You can't argue with free. We all love gifts, freebies, and clear indicators of “what's in it for me.” If a lead has gone cold, one tried-and-true approach is to send along a time-bound promotion or discount offer that screams value. It could be enough to nudge a hesitant prospect forward.
Here's an effective re-engagement discount that Blue Apron offered:
Interestingly, Blue Apron also had a second wave re-engagement email that would deploy two days later if there was no response. This one made the offer time-bound to instill urgency before the $30 runs out:
Incentives don't always have to be discounts or product giveaways—they might just be high-value content. Use your CRM to see if you've published original research findings or guides that relate to the prospect and then send along a notification that you've got a new, free eBook, webinar, workbook, or something of the sort. These can be equally valuable and motivating for a well-targeted consumer.
Make Them Laugh
Send a message that adds a little humor or amusement to their day, while remaining on-brand and appropriate. People like to laugh. Research from Wharton, MIT, and London Business school has shown many business benefits of a little laughter at work. And it looks like we need it, too! Adults over 35 laugh only 15 times a day, compared to more than 400 times for giggle-happy babies.
Here's an example of a sales pitch email that uses a funny, inoffensive cartoon:
According to the article that shared the email above, this book also claims that sending a funny cartoon to a negotiation partner before negotiation improves profits by 15% (compared to no cartoon). A good laugh could be much more than fun and games; it can also create trust and humanizes your sales effort.
If you can find or create a meme that relates to your service, to a trigger event, or to a recent bit of pop culture, that could be your ticket to a smile and renewed interest—especially with a former hot prospect who's been out of touch.
Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost
Old leads may not be lost at all. Just forgotten. Time has shown that 80% of prospects need 5 follow-ups before they say yes. What might be concerning is that 44% of salespeople give up after a single no, and only 8% stick around to ask a fifth time. Keep that in mind when looking through the old leads in your database.
If you stick to it and re-engage when the time is right, there may be plenty of roses growing out there in the desert. Rather than considering old leads “lost,” think about what you have not yet tried to convert them to “won.” Any famous inventor would tell you that a little patience and perseverance can go a long way.
“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” — Thomas A. Edison
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