In sales and marketing, we celebrate winners – the salesperson who returns with the signed contract is a hero, as is the marketer who exceeds their quota of qualified leads. Even the customer gets a look in: We send them a letter of congratulations from the President of the company. Yet the celebrations usually cover the 5 per cent success and avoid confronting the fact that the other 95 per cent no longer in our sales funnel can actually be counted as failure.

Why do we spend so much time on the 5 per cent of buyers and so little time on the 95 per cent who leaked from the funnel?

We need to push past the initial surge of euphoria that accompanies success and get down to the truth about the business of marketing to businesses. Some of the realities include :

  • The funnel leaks. More particularly, buyers leak – 95 per cent of them in the example we’ve just quoted. They might have leaked early – not progressing past first base – or late – getting to contraction negotiation but falling over at the last minute).

  • Buyers stall in their journey. We know from measurement that it takes longer for buyers to say “no” than to say “yes”. When a buyer takes longer than is normal to progress through any of the stages in their journey, the chances of them progressing at all diminish rapidly.

Face-to-face meetings between the buyer and the salesperson are effective, but expensive. We must therefore use these face-to-face meetings where they have the greatest impact.

Marketers and salespeople are good at selecting and executing tactics that help buyers to progress – but they’re not as good at tactics for leaked prospects.

Let’s look at some tactics that work well to catch the leaked prospects.

Plugging the early leaks, cheaply

Because the prospective buyer has little relationship with you, as demonstrated by their lack of response, your tactics need to have:

  • Low involvement

  • Low unit cost

A buyer who has disengaged early in their journey has no real commitment to any ongoing communication from you – so anything that asks them to jump through hoops is not appropriate. This means you shouldn’t send them emails that require them to click through to receive your white paper, or letters or surveys that require them to complete a form.

The buyers’ responsiveness at this stage in the process is likely to be sluggish. It will take a while to bring them back on board.

Reconcile yourself to the possibility that you might execute a tactic 50 times and receive no response, then find them firmly back in the funnel after your 51st approach. This means that you need to choose a tactic that you can execute 50 times and not look foolish.

Conversely, you need to “allow” your buyer to progress if they are ready. Make your invitation subtle, but don’t let it get lost.

Whatever you do, keep the momentum going. If you lose momentum, you will have to start from scratch all over again. So start your recycling as soon as you can after they have leaked, and maintain the rhythm.

You should touch your buyers at least every two months, but you can communicate as frequently as weekly in some markets.

But you need to take care that your tactics are welcomed and not resented.

If you are sending emails, make sure they are loaded with true value – not just promotions and “product flog” that holds more interest for you than for them.

What sort of communications work?

  • Brief white papers can be valuable. Sending them by email is fine if you have your potential customer’s permission, but paper mail might have to do for others.

  • Invitations to a seminar series can be effective, as long as the invitation is crafted to show a little of the thought leadership from the seminar itself.

  • Case studies are a form of white paper, and are also effective for prospects in the recycling phase.

Tactics for late leakers

You can use higher-involvement and higher-cost tacts on buyers who have leaked later in their journey. This is because they have had a longer relationship with you and are engaged, though at what level you do not know.

As a first step, make sure to gain agreement from the buyer to your recycling tactic. They will rarely decline. For example, as you withdraw from the opportunity, you might say something like this:

“While we regret that we’ve been unable to help you on this occasion, we respect your decision to delay the project for six months. We need to keep out of your hair for a while, but we obviously want to keep in touch and be ready to help you should the need arise.

“Here’s what we propose: I’ll ask a colleague to give you a call once every four weeks. Each time he calls, he’ll ask you just two questions: ‘is August still the best time for us to re-engage – and may I send you another case study on the subject to help your background thinking.’

“Would that be OK with you?”

While it makes sense to try to prevent leakage, it is also smart to recognise when a stalled buyer is a leaked buyer.

When the pipes are blocked or your funnel is not flowing, poke a few holes in it and let the stalled buyers leak freely. Free up your sales force to focus on those buyers that are most ready to progress.

By Hugh Macfarlane