(As Published in Replacement Contractor Magazine)

Want more outbound leads? Here’s what you may be doing wrong.

Think there’s no difference between inbound and outbound leads? Guess again. Inbound and outbound leads are right and left, he and she, top and bottom. All the difference that matters. Most companies that are successful at converting inbound leads—inquiries that result from media ads, the internet or mass mailings—are often terrible at converting outbound leads, that is, inquiries generated by canvassing, shows/events, store demonstrators or telemarketing. In many cases, to be good at one is to be bad, or really bad, at the other. Because companies tend to specialize in the thing they’re good at, and that they are accustom to handling.

Here’s how they’re different: Inbound leads, where the customer’s calling in response to your advertising, represent a customer at a different stage of the buying cycle. The inbound calls come from people who picked up the phone or logged on to a website because they’re actively shopping and intend to make a purchase in the near future. Outbound leads? Well, they weren’t necessarily thinking of windows or siding when they ran into your marketers at that strawberry festival or Sam’s Club or when someone knocked on their door one night. You sought them out. They’ve expressed an interest, but no way is it going to be the same degree of interest. And in fact, what often happens when a marketer generates a lead, in the field or over the phone, is that the consumer is taken off guard and schedules an appointment to look at your product without having given it much thought prior to that interaction. Treat those two types of inquiries the same and you’re throwing away marketing dollars and wasting your time.

Qualify, Don’t Crucify

There are a lot of scripts out there, good ones, for handling inbound callers. Where there aren’t so many is with outbound. Handling the outbound lead in such a way that the inquiry becomes a confirmed appointment, and the appointment a demo, is trickier. Many companies, for instance, see canvass or show/event leads converting to demos well below 50%, whereas their inbound calls convert to appointments at 75% or 80%.

That’s often due to a fundamental disconnect in the way an outbound lead is handled. If your confirmer is calling an inbound lead, he or she wants to know when the various parties that own the home can both be present, and whether or not they can set aside a minimum of 90 minutes so that your representative can fully and professionally show them the product in order that they can determine whether or not yours is the company and product that best meets their needs.

And that’s fine, for an inbound lead. But let’s say you put your confirmer on the line and had him or her explain all that to someone who answered the door when your canvasser knocked. Your canvasser at the door was Joe Friendly. “Hey,” he says, “how’re you doing? We just happened to be working in the neighborhood and wondered if you’d like somebody to come by and give you free estimate on…” The prospect says sure, what the heck, why not? It’s all very casual.

Until the phone rings. When the phone rings, suddenly there are all these very rigorous questions. Now your confirmer is insisting that both parties be there and that a minimum of 90 minutes be set aside. Your prospect smells a rat. Generally, the harder you try to confirm, the less likely it is that you will ever convert that lead to a demo. That prospect will be alienated by the inconsistency of your approach. Don’t be shocked if no one answers the door when your rep arrives with samples. The prospects are probably inside, hiding under the bed. All they did was say they might be interested in finding out something about windows or siding or roofing. And now they’re into something they probably can’t get out of without a lot of stress and aggrevation.

Soft Touch Dispels Suspicion

To set that outbound lead, you need to take a soft approach. Don’t establish rigid time frames. Tell them your representative will be in the neighborhood on such-and-such an evening and ask would it be okay if he or she stopped by at eight? Also ask if it’s likely that the two of them will be home for the entire evening, because your rep has a number of calls and may be running late. Don’t lay out all sorts of terms and conditions. It’s not appropriate. You know there’s some level of interest. Now it’s up to your salesperson to determine the extent of that interest and develop it to the point of urgency.

The selling process is also going to be different with an outbound lead. The prospect who called your office already has some idea of what the investment value of the project is. Your outbound prospect likely has little or no awareness of that. You need to emphasize the investment value of the project as well as the stability and integrity of your company. If they’re calling you, they already assume you’re reputable. Whereas if you’re contacting them, that needs to be established and confirmed. Offer a strong discount—15% or 20% is the sweet spot—in exchange for them allowing your company to showcase their home and your product.

Different Lead, Different Metric

When times were good the inbound leads flowed in and companies grew dependent on them and developed cultures and systems around them.
A recessionary climate means we have to get off our duffs and go out and knock on doors. But that’s just the beginning. In addition, it’s necessary to understand that the metrics that apply to inbound leads don’t apply to outbound. You’re not going to set the same number of appointments, or demo at the same rate, because the level of interest isn’t the same. But 50% of 100 inquiries is 50 confirmed appointments. Is that not worth something?

And what happens if the people aren’t home? If you set the lead the right way, it will probably be because they forgot the appointment or had to run out for some reason. Have your representative leave a Sorry We Missed You doorhanger, then call back. Say your rep arrives and only one of the parties is home? Measure, build rapport, and set a second appointment. Don’t denounce them as amputees because they weren’t there waiting at the kitchen table with the coffee brewed. You’ve taken one step. You’re one step closer to the sale. That’s how to see it.

Why do so many companies confirm both their inbound and outbound inquiries with the same script and approach them with the same selling system? I can’t answer that question. What I firmly believe is that we should treat these prospects differently depending on the way we came in contact with them in the first place. Click the link below to watch a brief video where I discuss this phenomenon in greater detail…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1v7GTIIEAJs

For more information on how to properly handle and convert inbound and outbound leads, call me. I look forward to hearing from you. — Lead Generation consultant Tony Hoty has been a home improvement company Owner, salesperson, and Marketer. Visit his Web site at www.TonyHoty.com or call him at 1-888-447-3969.