How to Fill Your Sales Pipeline With Hot Leads (and Lose the Cold Leads Fast)

How to fill your sales pipeline with hot leads (and lose the cold leads fast)

If you’re a sales manager – there’s a red hot chance you’ve had this problem:

You’ve got a great team of hard-working sales reps and a pipeline full of leads…

But you’re also not hitting your sales targets.

Despite the fact that your reps are always reaching out to numerous leads, they’re not getting the results you need.

Your loyal, passionate and hard-working sales team spends a lot of time interacting with difficult customers, and they send email after email, only to be met with objection, rejection, or no meaningful response.

You’re not going to make your sales goals this quarter if something doesn’t change!

So what should you do?

Finding an answer is your job. But there’s no easy solution.

You need to hear the hard truth:

It’s time to do some spring cleaning in your pipeline.  

Lose your cold leads and start fresh.

Yes. Dump those leads.

This is an almost blasphemous piece of advice for a passionate salesperson. But before you shriek in a fit of browser-tab-closing rage – read a little further and hear me out.

Cold leads are often worse than no leads.

They’re not good for your reps, they’re not good for your boss and they’re not good for your bottom line.

A lead that isn’t going to buy in the current sales cycle will eat up your reps’ time, sap their energy, and remove time and attention away from other hotter prospects with more potential to close.

The result is most often missed sales targets and the inevitable dip in morale that comes when salespeople fail.

Sales Managers need to find a way to identify poor leads quickly and swap them out for quality prospects. You can use this article as a practical guide to help you drop those cold leads so your team can focus on closing the hot prospects.

Why Dropping Leads From Your Pipeline is a Winning Strategy

Getting rid of all your cold leads isn’t a risk.

It’s good sales performance management.

While it may seem counterintuitive to drop leads that are already in your pipeline, your team won’t be free to pursue better leads if your pipeline is already bloated.

But you might be asking: why shouldn’t I just keep selling to them? They’re in the pipeline for a reason: they must have been interested in buying from you at one point. And must you truly do something as drastic as dumping your existing leads for a fresh crop?

If you’re asking yourself these questions, that’s the panic of facing down an empty pipeline talking.

But do not panic: in this article, we will present to you step-by-step instructions on how to identify these cold leads and customers, how to then drop them out of your sales pipeline, and finally how to spotlight new and better leads instead.

Now. It’s time to get ruthless and take out the trash!

How to Identify Poor Leads Who Won’t Convert

Deep down, you and your reps already have a decent idea of who the bad sales leads are.

The cold leads are probably the leads your reps dread following up with.  

It’s the person who doesn’t open email messages from your team. It’s the customer you dread hearing from because all they do is complain.

However, you can’t just rely on a gut feeling, so let’s break down how a poor sales lead will interact with your sales team.

First of all, they always have bulletproof objections, the sorts of “no”s your team – or any salesperson – simply can’t overcome.

For example:

They aren’t the right person

They might love what you’re selling, but they have no real power to buy it; they aren’t the decision-maker at their organization, and they might not be in a position to influence the person who does make the decisions. Your sales team may want to keep targeting the organization, but there’s no reason for your reps to spend any more time talking to this particular lead.

They don’t have the funds

Once again, this lead may love your product or services, but there’s an insurmountable obstacle: they don’t have the budget to commit. That’s a huge problem for your reps and for your sales goals. This lead may want a discount. They might be holding out for a windfall. They may swear the funds will be in place soon. But right now they can’t afford you, and your reps can’t afford to spend any more time talking to them.

Your product isn’t right for them

You sell a great product, but it can’t solve everyone’s problems. Some of your leads might have been interested in your product early on, but they have decided it’s not a good fit for their needs. Your reps don’t need to keep banging their heads against a wall by continuing to contact these leads.

They’re ghosting you

A quality lead wants to talk to you because you offer a solution that can help solve their problems. However, lots of people don’t like to say no. If a lead is consistently avoiding your calls, ignoring your messages, and dodging you, they’re sending you a message. Listen to it.

But remember, many objections are relatively easy to overcome…

We have created an entire article explaining how you can respond to the most common sales objections. Once you’ve tried these tactics and failed, it’s probably time to remove that deal from your pipeline (at least for the current sales cycle).

Sometimes You Need to End Customer Relationships Too

It’s not just poor new leads that can sap your team’s energy.

Problematic repeat customers can also sabotage your productivity with devastating effect.

But you might be thinking “I thought the customer is always right”?

Yeah, not so much.

Some customers are wrong for your business. Specifically, they’re wrong for your team.

They might continually call with complaints, they waste your reps’ time, and they’re not likely to spend any more than they already have on your product.

Here are the signs that it’s time to cut ties:

They make unreasonable demands

You’ve heard the phrase “customer once, client for life” – but some of your customers are not people you want calling you for life. These problematic folks will be your lowest revenue earners and highest productivity siphoners.

They contact your reps with complaints, demands, or other needs that won’t lead to another sale. Just because they bought from you once doesn’t mean your team needs to refocus attention from chasing hot leads or upselling ideal clients to stop this annoying low-value customer from churning.

Let them loose!

You are a sales team, not that customer’s staff, and time spent coddling that difficult client would be better spent on the phone with a new hot prospect.

Pass them on to the support desk, or politely decline any unreasonable requests or too-frequent calls.

They’re not going to spend any more money

This is a perfectly okay buyer who is 100 percent happy with the first product you sold them and doesn’t want anything else from you.

You know this because you’ve tried to upsell and cross-sell them, and they are just not interested.

Don’t keep chasing them.

They’ve spent their money and there’s nothing else you’re going to get out of them. Leave them alone and re-focus your sales team’s attention to your ideal prospects who will have a lasting impact on your recurring revenue.

They don’t engage with your brand

This buyer purchased your solution, and that is it. They don’t want a relationship. They don’t follow your company on social media and they’ve unsubscribed from your emails and newsletter.

Attempts to engage with them – online or otherwise – have fallen flat.

And that’s fine!

Sometimes a brand-customer relationship isn’t going to be a brand engagement love story.

Don’t keep chasing these customers to the detriment of the experience of hotter leads.

If they value your product, they’ll come back when they want something.

They apparently don’t like what you sell

They bought it, but now they seem not to like it.

This customer is the anti-brand ambassador.

They constantly find fault with your product. They complain about your brand loudly, publicly, and often. It is one thing to contact an unhappy customer to see if you can make things better, but if that customer is constantly belittling your solution, there’s no need to keep wasting time on them.

Don’t be afraid to take your attention from this contact and redirect the time to leads who fit the profile of your ideal customer.

Get Ruthless and Make the Hard (And Correct) Sales Management Decisions

Now that you know who the problems are, you can set up a system to clear out the leads that just aren’t going anywhere.

That system may look different based on your team’s pipeline and needs, but a simple system flags problem leads quickly.

Here are a few specific examples:

  • A rep has contacted a lead five times and gotten no response. Check your email tracking. Are they even reading your messages? If not, it is time to say goodbye. Or, as soon as a prospect reveals that he has no purchasing power, move on.
  • A customer has called five times with complaints or abuse or unreasonable demands – it’s time for the cull. Take your time and attention and refocus on hotter prospects.

Come up with consistent rules for flagging cold leads, prescribe an action for each rule (a break-up email, for example), and make sure your team knows those rules.

Another easy way to start weeding out cold leads is to use something like Pipedrive’s rotting feature, which will give you clear visibility over deals that have been idle for too long. Check your rotting deals; how many of these are you likely to close? If they’re good sales leads, schedule a new activity. If not, kiss them goodbye and move on!

This explainer video shows you exactly how the rotting feature works:

Most of the time, the actual break-up will simply be a standard email.

  • Tell the lead without a budget to call you when they get their funding.
  • Ask the person who isn’t the decision-maker who you should be talking to at their organization.
  • If you’re constantly chasing a ghoster – send a message asking if you can close that lead’s file, and then, when you don’t hear back, close the file.

Take advantage of sales email templates (like the ones included in Pipedrive’s Sales Inbox) to send a parting email. Rather than lingering over an email that’s hard to write, the rep can simply press a button and send the good-bye. It’s quick, painless, and efficient. (And if you need help writing a goodbye email, here are some breakup email templates that will help.)

Why not have reps be responsible for flagging their own cold leads and getting rid of them? Well, as we established earlier, people don’t like to say no. Your reps might feel like they have to keep chasing any lead in their pipeline, or might be unwilling to admit to you or the rest of the team that they’ve wasted a lot of time on a lead that went nowhere.

A system keeps your reps from feeling like it’s on them to get rid of their cold leads. If you develop clear lead scoring rules and build your lead qualification criteria into your sales CRM – you can take the uncertainty out of your salesperson’s decision making. 

Overly competitive reps will understand the importance of dumping leads that will never buy, and inexperienced reps can stop second guessing that they’re making the wrong decision about getting rid of a lead. The system has firm rules in place and everyone has to follow them. It saves time and eradicates confusion.

All of this might seem difficult at first, but the whole team will be happier and more productive once your pipeline is leaner, and conversion rates start to rise.

After Dumping Cold Leads – Refill With Hot Leads!

Now that your pipeline is emptier, it’s time to replace those cold prospects with new hot leads.

Remember: you don’t have to find more leads – that’s what caused your team problems to begin with. Instead, you need to find better leads. 

It’s time to define your ideal sales prospect.

Who is this person? In many ways, they are the opposite of the cold leads you just got rid of. They need your product right now, and they have both the power and the budget to buy it. 

You also want to target leads who look like your best customers. Find the similarity between the customers who drive the highest amount of repeated revenue for your business and prospect for leads that share these similarities.

If you’ve been dealing with a pipeline of cold leads for long enough, an ‘ideal customer prospect’ can sound like a fairy tale. Stay optimistic. When you dump poor leads, you’ll have more time to develop smarter lead qualification

We’ve got a comprehensive guide to lead qualification here, but here are the basics.

You will want to create a lead scoring system so you can understand the relative value of each lead in your pipeline. Part of that process? Your sales team must work with marketing to set definitions for what makes a good lead. Develop a model both departments can work with to bring in the best possible prospects.

This also means your reps have to be asking the right questions throughout the sales process to qualify the leads further as they move through the sales process. These questions – which must be defined ahead of time – need to be answered before the lead can be moved to the next stage of the pipeline.

Some of the steps of this process can be automated, like research. For example, Pipedrive’s Smart Contact Data feature searches the web for information about your lead, pulling information from Google and social media, saving your reps from having to do that research manually. You can also use a feature like Custom Fields to add a ranking system right to your deals in your CRM.

If you’ve got your lead qualification right, and you’ve got the right sales CRM to automate and simplify the process – your reps should be able to see a complete picture of their prospects right in the CRM. You can make it easy for your team to dump the worst leads out of their sales pipeline so they have more time to pick up the phone and start selling to the kind of leads who make sales a pleasure: the right ones.

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AJ O'Connell

A.J. O’Connell is an author and journalist, and serves as a field reporter for Pipedrive. Elsewhere, her work has appeared on several trailblazing websites, including The Next Web, The Mary Sue, The Establishment, The Billfold and SkilledUp. Read more of her work at ajoconnell.com.