Converting a contact from a lead to a prospective client is a critical sales practice, as is converting a prospective client to an actual client. After all, much of sales involves working toward those two results. But only thinking about these two conversions doesn’t give you enough information to identify where you might need to improve your sales effectiveness.
From Lead or Target to Prospective Client
Some groups divide this conversion into smaller processes, often assigning each one to a different, specialized salesperson in an effort to improve efficiency. They start with an MQL (marketing qualified lead), something that is mostly determined by the client’s willingness to provide information on a form. From there, an SDR or BDR makes a call to qualify the MQL, converting them to a SQL. Most of these approaches try to define a difference without a meaningful distinction.
There is no reason not to call a lead or a target that specifically expresses interest. But in B2B sales, especially the kind where winning new business means displacing a competitor, the fact that a company already buys what you sell is enough to make them a prospect and worth a call. Based on that call, the first conversion is their agreement to a meeting.
A meeting is the first really meaningful conversion and the first meaningful commitment. A lot of people focus on this conversion, but it’s not the only important one.
The Second Conversion
In The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales, you will find a framework of ten commitments, all of which indicate a transition from one conversion to the next. Each commitment is important but some are difficult to obtain, especially the commitment to a second conversation.
You have, no doubt, had a wonderful first meeting with a client. At the end of the meeting, they told you how much they enjoyed talking with you and promised to follow up with you in the future, but they never did. Or maybe they asked you to email them in the next week to follow up with them, and you’ve been chasing them ever since. If you struggle to convert here, it’s because your client hasn’t yet agreed that there are reasons that should compel them to change and that a better future is available to them.
Given the choice between improving the first conversion (when they agree to a meeting) or the second conversion (when they agree to a second meeting), focus on the second one, unless you’re only getting a few first conversions. A low second conversion rate is a problem because it indicates that getting more meetings is not going to improve your results. There is no reason to pour more water into a bucket with holes in the bottom; you are better off plugging up the holes before you try to fill it up. That will also help you improve your initial conversions: by creating enough value to command the next conversion, you will gain more opportunities.
There are a few other stages of the sales conversation where conversions are often put at risk. Sometimes, the salesperson is to blame for ceding control to the client, believing that they have done everything necessary to allow the client to make a decision. They are often disappointed when the client goes dark, tells them they went in another direction, or decided not to do anything different. If you keep creating that negative outcome, you’re just not paying attention—either because you are unwilling to believe you are responsible for the outcome or because you don’t know what you need to do to improve that outcome.
One way you threaten your conversions is by going through discovery, developing a solution, presenting your solution, and then just handing over your proposal—believing that all the client has to do is decide to sign the contract. When salespeople believe that the sale is transactional enough that they can simply email a proposal, but the client believes the decision is more complex (usually because it’s a decision they don’t make often and one that harms them should they get it wrong), they make it more difficult to convert.
Without reviewing the solution and resolving the client’s concerns, you aren’t offering your prospective client enough help in making the right decision. Even though guiding them through these conversations takes time, first to ensure the solution is right, then to resolve any concerns that might prevent them from saying yes and signing their name to a legally binding agreement to buy what you sell, they are conversions worth optimizing and improving. Unfortunately, there is little attention paid to these intermediate conversions, so few salespeople put the same energy into optimizing their conversion rates here— further evidence that they view their sales as transactional.
The Final Conversion
While all salespeople recognize the value of getting that first meeting, the final ask—something we call the Commitment to Decide— commands an outsized amount of attention. Those who believe that only these two commitments matter don’t understand how difficult it can be to sell when the conversion is dynamic and nonlinear, especially when it includes stakeholders with competing visions, needs, and opinions about how (and whether) to act.
Many salespeople they have trouble smoothly converting a client from one stage to the next (a skill we call “controlling the process” and guiding their clients through the sales conversation. As a result, they often spend too little time working on intermediate conversions, giving their prospective clients a lot of opportunities to drop out along the way.
Every sales conversion precedes another, and they’re all on the same critical path. Before you insist that you just need more prospects and more meetings, you might take a look at where and why your deals fall out and make certain you improve your ability to convert at every stage. Once you’ve done that, you can confidently move onto increasing your number of first conversions.
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