How To Overcome The #1 Problem With Inbound Leads


When people think of sales, people mainly thing about cold outbound emails and cold calls to prospected leads. However, there’s another aspect of sales that’s just as important- inbound leads. How should you follow up with the leads that come inbound from your marketing efforts?

Just like cold leads that you’re targeted for outbound sales, not all inbound leads are the same quality. There are many mistakes costly that people make with inbound leads.

That’s why I’ve asked Ago Cluytens, Practice Director for EMEA at RAIN Group, to tell us about the biggest problems he sees companies and reps make. Ago has consulted with countless companies over his career and has seen it all. More importantly, he knows what you can do to fix this problem by the time you finish reading this post.

With that, I give you Ago!


Imagine someone asked you the following question: “What is the #1 thing that would double or even triple your sales?” What would you answer?

I’ve asked that questions of hundreds (if not thousands) of individual sellers, sales managers, SVPs and senior managers. The answer: “If only we could get some more leads into our pipeline.”

Leads are the fuel of the funnel. Without leads, there is no funnel. More leads = more sales, so the thinking goes.

In my experience, the answer above is too simple. It’s not simply about getting more leads into the funnel. It’s about getting quality leads in the funnel.

But what does that even mean?

Traditional lead qualification focuses on – essentially – four main criteria to determine whether or not a lead is qualified enough to warrant investing time, money, energy and focus in driving them through the sales funnel. From that perspective, it’s all about answering a set of simple questions:

  • Does the lead have a need we can solve?
  • Do they want to solve it now (or short term)?
  • Do they have a budget (or can they get one)?
  • Can they decide on allocating that budget?

But that’s not enough anymore. In todays complex B2B buying cycles, simply having a need doesn’t necessarily mean it’s urgent or important enough to warrant solving. More than one person is involved in making the decision. Budgets are not allocated, but pooled from various sources. Projects are launched, stopped and killed in a matter of weeks.

The #1 problem with inbound leads today isn’t that there aren’t enough of them. It’s that we need to carefully select which ones we pursue, and which ones we drop from our funnel. Which means we need a new set of qualifying criteria.

Or rather, an additional set. So, in addition to asking the questions above, I have a set of additional criteria that allow sellers to determine which opportunities are worth pursuing.

  1. Is the project strategic, operational or opportunistic?

The first thing I invariably try to do is get a sense for where a particular project stands on the priority list of the prospect’s organization. Strategic projects are those that either directly support the corporate strategy, or are mandatory from a legal or operational perspective. They are “must do”.

Operational projects are those, which focus on improving key aspects of organizational performance. They tend to be “likely to do”.

Finally, opportunistic projects are those, which tend to originate from the desire of a person (or small group) to do something that primarily benefits them and their key stakeholders, but has little impact outside of that particular group. Almost always, these are “nice to do”.

In a world where corporate budgets are increasingly allocated between projects on a per-case basis, knowing whether a project is strategic, operational or opportunistic is crucial to determining how likely it is to move forward (and therefore how much time you are to invest from your side).

  1. Is the case for change compelling enough?

In traditional sales training, there’s a lot of emphasis on “uncovering needs” – which is almost always defined as finding the pain the prospect is feeling, in order to then position your offering against that pain.

The problem with this is: you’re missing half the story.

As human beings, we’re essentially motivated by two opposing factors: minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure. At RAIN Group, we call those afflictions and aspirations.

By focusing on uncovering aspirations as well afflictions, you’ll be able to uncover the full set of reasons why a particular client would want (or need) to act – thereby increasing the distance between where they are now and where they want to be.

Unless there is a compelling set of reasons that is enough to warrant significant investment, think twice before allocating significant resources to pursue the opportunity.

  1. Is the prospect invested in the process?

Whenever I receive a new inquiry, I always try to “test” the prospect by getting them to take some small, up front action. Sometimes, it’s answering a few questions. Sometimes, I’ll ask them to produce a document, or share some internal information. At a bare minimum, it’s setting up a call and asking them to prepare for that call.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the fact they’ve reached out to us, there is a – small – subset of prospects who remain unresponsive. Even though they reached out to us, they’re not willing to invest any time, energy or resources from their side – instead, preferring the seller to do all the work. Instant disqualification.

  1. Is there a good firm-to-firm fit?

There tends to be a natural hierarchy between firms, which is best respected. Fortune-500 businesses tend to business with other Fortune-500 business (or smaller firms who are well-equipped to deal with them). Business who are cost-leaders work with others who – like themselves – run on high volume and low margins. Companies with a premium offering understand and respect the position of others with a similar market approach.

If you’re a premium/value player trying to sell to a cost leader, you may be fighting an uphill battle. Startup selling to Behemoth Inc, same thing.

Unless I know there’s a good firm-to-firm fit, I am very careful before investing significant amounts of time in pursuing a specific opportunity.

  1. Is your firm the emotional favorite?

With inbound leads, chances are you’re only one player out of a larger group that the prospect approached. Where there’s nothing wrong with that, it often pays to find out how you’re positioned in that particular group.

Was there a particular reason they reached out to you, or did they simply do a Google search and you came out somewhere in the Top-5? Is there an incumbent with whom they have a strong relationship? Is there another firm, which they favor?

Qualifying opportunities isn’t simply about mechanically determining whether there is a budget and need you can solve, and then giving them the green light. Any opportunity you pursue has an opportunity cost associated with it. Picking the wrong one means you’ll have less resources available to pursue others, less time to prospect, and less time to generate referrals.

Smart sellers know they have a finite set of resources to work with, and invest their time, energy and focus wisely.

About Ago Cluytens

Me Headshot Social MediaAs RAIN Group’s Practice Director for EMEA, Ago Cluytens is widely recognized as a thought leader on understanding the buyer’s perspective in sales – and topics like Insight Selling and selling to the C-suite. You can learn more about Ago, read his blog, and watch him in action at and Or connect with Ago on TwitterLinkedin and Google+. For more on RAIN Group, please visit


Stay tuned for more of the latest in outbound sales best practices and methods.

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