Sales is a tough job: If you ask for too much too soon, you scare off your leads. If you ask for too little too late, they’re already gone. Every move you make during the sales cycle counts, and it’s up to you as the business owner or sales rep to keep things moving in the right direction: towards the sale.

To do so, it’s important to recognize the strength of your relationship with leads at each stage of the sales cycle. From unqualified, to marketing qualified, to sales qualified, each type of lead requires a different kind and level of nurturing. Here are the do’s and don’ts of following up with each one:

Unqualified Leads

Leads who opt in to your list but haven’t yet taken any qualifying actions to bump up their lead score (such as consistently opening your messages, visiting your web pages, etc.), are identified as “unqualified” leads. According to Datananas, this is the stage where you find out if the lead’s interest in your brand will “materialize or whether it’s just curiosity.”

Because they are so new to your brand, it’s important that you communicate with them differently than you would a qualified lead or customer. Here’s how:

1. Email Nurturing

Don’t: Let Your Leads Go Cold

Capturing leads for your sales funnel takes a lot of time and effort so, once you have them, it would be a mistake to lose traction by not following up.

This is one of the biggest challenges for modern sales and marketing teams: After working hard to earn a lead, the nurturing abruptly stops. In most cases this isn’t because they’re lazy or inattentive but rather because they don’t have the right (or any) automation set up, and it’s too difficult and time consuming to manually follow up with every lead individually.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, another common mistake marketers and salespeople make is scaring off leads by asking for too much too soon. Finding the middle ground between quality and speedy follow-ups is imperative for engaging leads and earning customers. Always remember: The customer lifecycle’s five phases are like marathon mile markers — so pace yourself; nurture each lead slowly through each step, until you reach the finish line (the sale).

Do: Stay Top-of-Mind With Regular Emails

Keeping your brand fresh on your leads’ minds doesn’t have to consume your days. Even setting aside as little as 30 minutes each week to write and send a newsletter to your subscriber list will allow you to begin establishing your brand as a reliable source for weekly value.

If you want to take it a step further, you may also decide to write a series of educational emails about your product or service. These educational emails are not a hard sales pitch. They focus on keeping your subscribers aware while nurturing your leads towards the next phase in the relationship.

2. Leveraging Your Existing Content

Don’t: Make Every Outreach a Sales Offer

Your relationships with customers are all about give and take — but mostly give. Ontraport Campaigns Manager Sam Flegal says, “Contrary to popular belief, marketing isn’t just about selling. The best marketing actually happens after you’ve already given your prospects and/or leads so much value for free that they are actually happy to hear from you when it comes time to tell them about your product.”

Why is it so important to give more than you receive? Because when every outreach is a sales offer where you’re asking them to do something for you, leads begin to think, “What’s in it for me?” Instead, prove your value, and they’ll come to you for a purchase when it’s time.

Do: Use Existing Content to Offer Free Value Upfront

Your leads, especially new ones, are just beginning to get to know your brand. By giving you their email address, they’ve made the first step, and now it’s up to you to prove they made the right choice.

An effective way to do this is by offering them free, yet valuable bonus content. To do this, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; all you have to do is set up an automated bonus content email funnel linking leads to your already-written content. This can be anything — blog articles, ebooks, video tutorials, webinars, podcasts and more.

3. Personalizing Your Regular Marketing and Sales Messages

Don’t: Send Generic Follow-up

It’s easy to skim past a generic email in your inbox or ignore a cookie-cutter voicemail. Think about the way you check your emails: Do you click on every email in your inbox, no matter how much it looks like a mass eblast? Or do you skim through subject lines looking for a select few messages that catch your eye? Many of us do the latter.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for you to pique their attention. Maintaining your voice, establishing trust and providing solutions to your leads’ needs will enable you to capture their attention. Punchy subject lines and personalized, targeted body copy are also good ways to stand out in a crowded inbox.

Do: Become the Brand Known for Personalizing

Earning a place in your leads’ hearts means building and maintaining connections with them over time. A great way to do this is by creating relevant experiences for them with personalization. This makes it clear that their preferences matter and that they are not just a number.

As your list receives and reads more personalized messages from you, they’ll start thinking, “Wow, this brand remembered I’m interested in X,Y, and Z. They took the time to understand my preferences!” Customizing the way you address your prospects’ interests will pay off. And the power of personalization extends beyond just making your leads feel good — in 86% of leads, it actually influences them to make a purchase. There are lots of ways to sprinkle personalization into your strategy, but Facebook retargeting, targeted content, behavioral segmentation, cart abandonment campaigns, cross-sells and membership site pathways are some of the most effective.

Marketing Qualified Leads

As your relationships with unqualified leads mature, many will naturally become marketing qualified. This is when your reps can begin to contact them for introductory sales conversations.

During the initial conversation, your rep will find out whether the lead meets BANT (Budget, Authority, Timeline, Need) criteria and, depending on the results, will either pass the lead up to another sales rep or continue nurturing. During this second phase of the sales cycle, your leads are more familiar with your brand than before but perhaps still not ready to purchase. Here’s how to better communicate with your marketing qualified leads:

1. Balancing Repetition and Variety

Don’t: Be Extreme With Repetition or Information Overload

When engaging with your marketing qualified leads, it’s important that you don’t introduce too many new ideas or become too repetitive. Crossing the line in either direction can be confusing or redundant, resulting in the relationship actually moving backwards.

Do: Have a “Harmonious Blend of Repetition and Variety”

To avoid leaning too far in either direction, before calling or emailing a client, think about what you have to say: Does it sound stale, over-rehearsed or like the benefits to your product or service are too limited? Does it sound overwhelming or too lengthy?

If either one of the questions above are true, dial it back until it sounds right. According to Invensis, “People believe what they hear repeatedly, so make sure to reiterate how your product/solution can address their problems. But mix it up by using a variety of communication channels including phone calls, chats, emails, etc.”

2. Maximizing Your Time With Follow-up

Don’t: Reinvent the Wheel Every Time You Follow Up With a Lead

Salespeople talk to a lot of leads, so when you’re spending countless hours a week preparing to speak with each one, it adds up. There are only so many hours in a week; the longer your prep time, the fewer leads you’ll be able to connect with.

Do: Template Out Your Qualifying Conversations and Emails

Chances are that, at this early stage of qualifying leads, a lot of your follow-up will follow a similar format. You’ll start off the conversation to test the waters: Do they meet your basic BANT criteria? Are they less qualified or closer to buying than you thought?

These conversations can be templated to not only save you time, but to ensure you hit all your talking points. This doesn’t mean reading a script word-for-word; it’s simply a guide to ensure the conversation stays on track, without a lot of prep time beforehand. This leaves room for personalization and real conversation to happen in phone calls and for you to fill in the blanks to specifically target your leads in emails.

Templating isn’t just limited to early stages in the sales cycle, either. It can be applied at any time and is especially effective if you have detailed segments in place so that you’re able to touch on topics your leads are specifically interested in.

3. Passing on Valuable Info

Don’t: Gather Important Info about Your Leads and Keep It to Yourself (or Your Team)

When people share information about themselves with a brand, they expect it to stick; they don’t want to have to repeat themselves to the next person they speak to. When leads tell you something about themselves (what kind of company they own/work for, their interests related to your brand, etc.), it’s important that you don’t leave those notes in a notebook or in your head where the rest of your team can’t access them.

Do: Save Valuable Info From Leads in Your CRM to Reference Later

Enter that information into your CRM so that others can both reference and use it for marketing segmentation later.

The more you know about your leads, the better you’ll be able to market and sell to them in the future. You’ll also be able to provide them with a more streamlined service experience once they do become customers.

Sales Qualified Leads

In this final stage of the sales cycle, your hottest leads are sales qualified, meaning they’re ready to be converted to customers. This is when you should add product demonstrations, touchpoints with top account executives, and sales offers to the mix. If all goes well, they’ll become a client; if they’re not ready yet, you can continue lead nurturing until the conversion happens.

1. Sales Calls and Emails

Don’t: Just Email or Call to “Touch Base” or “Check In”

By the time your leads are sales qualified and you’re on the verge of closing a sale, each email and call where you’re asking for something from a lead must be strategic. This means that you should avoid “touching base” calls or emails, and only reach out to them if you have a specific reason to.

Do: Always Contact Your Prospects for a Specific Reason

Having a specific reason for reaching out to your prospects gives them a reason to respond. Leads want to know what your point is and to be able to identify it from the subject line or the first few seconds of the call; otherwise you may lose your chance. Sales Hacker says, “I even start all my calls with this specific phrase: ‘The reason for my call today is…’ I love this intro because it forces me to think of the reason for my call. If I can’t come up with a good reason, then I try to figure one out.”

2. End of Call or Email

Don’t: Leave a Lead Wondering What the Next Steps Will Be

It’s important not to leave your leads hanging when your calls or emails are complete. They were willing to share their time with you, so nurture them, and complete those conversations via phone call or email with a clear call to action, or CTA.  The more you can effectively strengthen those relationships, the easier it is to kindle consumer interest.

Do: End Each Call and Email Conversation With a Clear CTA

Getting into the habit of thinking about what you’d like to see happen in your next meeting or interaction with a prospect, and summarizing it into a quick CTA at the end, is a great way to continue moving closer to a sale. It gives your lead clarity on what you’re expecting and wanting, and it also keeps the ball rolling.

3. After the Call

Don’t: Assume Your Lead Will Remember Exactly What You Talked About

Starting a new sales conversation without a recap of the previous one leaves room for three things: for your leads to forget about the call altogether, to forget the details of what you talked about or agreed upon, and to no longer feel accountable for what they may have agreed to in the call. This ultimately loses your momentum and can jeopardise the sale.

Do: Follow Up With a Recap Email

According to MindMave, your recap email should have three main components: a “thank you,” a “common ground reference,” and a “key takeaway.” This lets your leads know you appreciate their time, reminds them of the important topics you covered in the call, and it gives them a quick reference point to look at next time you speak.

4. Sales Follow-up Timing

Don’t: Delay or Drop the Ball on Responding to a Lead-initiated Message

When it comes to communicating with leads, timing and persistence is everything — and forgetting or delaying your response to a lead who reached out to you could result in losing it all. In fact, JDR Group says that one of the most common sales mistakes is taking too long to follow up.

Do: Respond Right Away to a Lead-initiated Message

Instead of letting leads go cold with a delayed or nonexistent response, reply to them as promptly as possible, preferably in the first hour but within 24 hours should still be okay. Doing so will show your lead that you care, answer any questions or roadblocks preventing them from purchasing, and ultimately move the sales relationship forward.

Once your leads are sales qualified and you send your first offer email or make your first call, don’t stop there. On average it takes five follow-ups after the initial contact to make a sale, so consistency and follow-through are key.

Do you have any additional automated sales follow-up do’s and don’ts? Share them in the comments.

About Lindsay Kent
Lindsay is a graduate of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and holds a degree in Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations and minors in Spanish and Integrated Marketing Communications. After working with several small businesses, Lindsay moved to sunny Santa Barbara to become Ontraport’s Content Manager.