How to handle new customers

How to handle new customers

When a new prospective customer calls your startup for the first time, who answers the phone? Many companies have put their process on autopilot for responding to inbound sales inquiries – they might have an administrative assistant who answers the phones, or they might have a simple e-mail capture form on a website.

But when a prospective customer contacts you for the first time, that’s a powerful chance to make a good first impression. It’s your first opportunity to either start to build a long-lasting business relationship, or (if not handled properly), lose out on thousands of dollars worth of lifetime customer value.

Inbound sales leads are valuable and deserve careful attention. But many companies just pass all new sales leads on to the sales team without doing any pre-qualifying or asking questions to figure out which sales leads are truly promising and which ones aren’t a good fit.

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Companies need to do better at creating a consistent, well-organized process for asking lead-qualifying questions, sorting and ranking sales leads to ensure a more efficient follow-up. Here are a few ideas for how to re-imagine your inbound lead qualification process:

Formalize the customer intake process

Even if you’re a startup or small business, that doesn’t mean you have to be lackadaisical about the way you handle your inbound sales inquiries. Don’t just “let it happen,” “make it happen.” Put a well-designed process in place to ask questions, identify potential sales leads, and start to qualify those sales leads.

For example: write a simple checklist of questions to ask to new prospective customers the first time they call. Designate a few people on the team who can serve as your go-to “customer intake” specialists.

Create a way of tracking data and sharing notes about your inbound sales leads – whether it’s as complex as a CRM (customer relationship management) system or as simple as a spreadsheet.

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Just by putting a process in place, you will start to create more efficient evaluation of your inbound sales leads and start to create better-informed sales conversations.

Upgrade the quality of your response to new customers

The moment a new customer calls you, that’s not just another phone call – it’s the start of the sales process. Don’t lose customers due to poorly trained staff or disinterested people answering the phone. Train your phone staff to upgrade their phone skills to be more like sales people – or consider redirecting the customer phone calls to your sales team.

Your first conversation with an inbound sales lead needs to be a bit more sales-focused: start asking questions that can give you more information about the customer to help you evaluate their needs.

Start to qualify sales leads

Don’t treat every inbound inquiry the same. Not every call is created equal; some callers are going to turn out to be very valuable to your business and others are not going to be the right fit for what you sell – and that’s OK! But it’s important to start to figure out who is who, as quickly as possible. Ask lead-qualifying questions, such as:

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  •      “What made you decide to call us today?”
  •      “How do you feel about your current vendor/current solution?”
  •      “What issues are you having with your current solution?”
  •      “How are these issues affecting your overall business operations?”
  •      “What timeline are you looking at to make a decision?”

All of these are good lead-qualifying questions because they’re not “yes or no” questions; they’re open-ended. They give you a chance to listen to what the prospect is saying, ask follow-up questions, and learn more about their underlying needs.

Don’t let your inbound sales leads fall through the cracks. Just by making a bit of concentrated effort – by formalizing your process, improving the rigor and quality of your responses, and by treating the first conversation as an opportunity to start the sales cycle – you will start to find more opportunities to turn inbound sales leads into sales.

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