how to prioritize potential opportunities - leads - that come your way, or that you uncover, so that you invest your time in such a way as to maximize your income.

First, let's define what a lead is. defines "lead" (in the business sense) as "an indication of potential opportunity"., the CRM provider, goes a bit further with its definition: "A lead is a prospect or potential opportunity - a person you met at a conference, who expressed interest, or someone who filled out a form on your company's web site." I like both these definitions - both for what they include, as well as for what they don't include. What they don't include are "cold" prospects. What's are "cold prospects"? You know them. You've seen them. Retreads who couldn't buy two years ago, still couldn't buy last year, and probably won't be buying this year; names from a list your company purchased; names you were given by someone at a networking event without an offer to pave the way; names from trade shows, the call center, your company's web site, etc., accompanied by nothing more than just a few comments about which product or service the person was calling - certainly little no indication whatsoever as to the quality of those names. These are "cold prospects". They don't do us any good. Yet there are organizations that distribute to the sales team these "opportunities" whose chances of ever materializing into anything worthwhile are between slim and none. And slim just left town. Any of you who've seen the movie, Glengarry Glen Ross, know exactly what I mean. There are leads, and there are leads (the Glengarry leads). Those are the ones we want.

Think about your own experience. Have you not found, as I have, that leads from most traditional sources typically come in a 60/30/10 ratio. 60% will be cold or long-term (those in the preliminary stages, not having assembled a buying team or gotten funding; tire kickers, and consultants), 30% will be warm (have some, but not all, of the qualities of a fully-qualified prospect), and 10% will be hot. Since we all have a limited amount of time with which to work, we want to prioritize that time to get the biggest bang for our buck. The question is, how do you determine which are the "hot" leads - the ones in which you'll be willing to invest lots of time - and which are the "warm" ones, in which you'll be willing to invest some time - but proportionately less?

Not surprisingly, you determine it by asking a few very specific questions - those that will uncover the following:

1. What's the degree of interest? Is this person more than just a curious tire kicker or researcher?
2. If so, does the level of interest rise to that of a need or want?
3. If so, how high of a priority is it for both your contact AND for the decision-maker to satisfy that need?
4. If it's high, is there money budgeted or available?
5. If there is, are they willing and prepared to spend it - now?

If - and only if - you get positive answers to every one of these questions, do you have a hot lead. If you get a negative answer to the first question, clearly you have a cold lead. Backburner it. If you have a positive answer to the first question, but negative answers to any of the others, you have a warm lead. The more positive answers you get as you go along, the better qualified - the "warmer" - the opportunity is. But beware - simply racking up positive responses doesn't necessarily mean the opportunity is worth pursuing. I may be interested in your product, I may even need it, but if getting it is not a priority for my boss, or if I can't get the money to fund it, we'll both be spinning our wheels. So tread carefully with warm leads. Don't ignore them. But be very disciplined in how much time and effort you devote to them.

Action Item:

Review all the leads you've begun working and determine for which and how many of the five qualifiers you can honestly say you get positive responses. If you don't know the answer to one or more, go find out. For those for which you do know, and for which the answers aren't favorable, adjust your focus and time allocation accordingly. Next, review all the leads you've received but haven't begun working, contact them, and apply the same questioning process. Your objective is to drive out those opportunities which are truly deserving of most of your time now, which, are deserving of some, and which are not deserving of any at the moment. Do this on a continual basis, and you'll slowly but surely find yourself with more robust pipelines and a bigger paycheck.

Good Selling!

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