Qualifying leads for quality not quantity

The process of qualifying leads through live chat is a bit like dating or finding the right job.

What it boils down to is discovering if you are a good match for them and are they a good match for you?

On the Sales Development Representative (SDR) team at Intercom, much of our time is spent talking to website visitors who engage with us through our messenger. Our first step is to determine which of these leads to prioritize and route to a member of our sales team for additional guidance. Why is this important? Generally, we see higher ROI and close rates with leads who talk to an account executive.

But we can’t let every visitor through the door, so to speak. Our sales team doesn’t have time to chat with everyone, nor should they aim to. As SDRs, our job is to get a sense of who is knocking at the door, and of those, who fits best or doesn’t fit at all. This process is called lead qualification.

Define your ideal customer

The first, and often the most neglected, step to effective lead qualification is identifying the characteristics of an ideal lead. Of course, this will look different at each company, so set some time aside to thoughtfully narrow this down (hint: it’s not “everybody”). At Intercom we used these questions to guide us through that process:

  • What’s their goal for using your product? Beyond simply asking about their use case, it’s important to understand why.
  • What’s their level or title? For example, are they a CEO or a summer intern? This could shed light on their decision making potential.
  • In what industry do they work? Is it B2B, eCommerce, or B2C?
  • How many employees work at their company?
  • Where is their business located?
  • At what scale do they want to use your product? For example, if they have a B2B messaging service, do they hope to send over 50 messages a month?
  • When do they want to implement your product
  • Are there any products or services your customers require to use your product?

Once you have a high-level sense of the types of leads you want to talk to, your team can select the most important qualification data you need from each prospect in order to filter the most promising leads.  That said, you can’t expect every prospect to offer up all of this information. Here are some principles to keep in mind when seeking this information, whether it’s through live chat, lead form, email, etc.

If in doubt, leave it out

Asking your leads a large volume of unnecessary questions will turn them off. Only add data that’s absolutely required to help your team understand who each lead is and whether they’re a good fit for your business.

Be personal

Be smart about the questions you’re asking a lead. Especially through live chat, talk to the human on the other end of the messenger like a human – that’s what they are! Never write a response or ask a question in a way that you wouldn’t say out loud on the phone or in person. Always try to make it conversational versus asking yes/no questions. Provide context around what you’re asking to avoid irritation or question fatigue. By sharing that context, you’ll provide a better experience and build trust early on in the relationship.

Know when to stop

With that said, know when to stop asking questions. Time is expensive for both you and your lead, and a live chat conversation is very different from a phone call. Most of us look to live chat when we’re short on time. Providing your lead with friendly, human and personal responses while gathering information will build rapport fast. Once they’re on the phone with a member of the sales team, they can dive deeper into use case, timeline, budget and more detailed context.

Aim for a fast response time

Our reporting tools have shown time and time again that fast response time equals a higher likelihood of closing the deal and longer term success. This all starts with those responding to incoming chats. If you’re a smaller company, this can be a big competitive edge for you when you’re fighting for every lead.

Bots don’t replace humans

Different companies have different views on the use of bots, but we believe forcing website visitors to deal with a bot for an end-to-end conversation is a truly frustrating experience. That said, bots play a great tactical role in collecting some data, but should never get in the way of creating real human connections and should never manage an entire conversation. Bots are best left to focus on simple questions, like collecting a lead’s name, company name and company size. After that, allow the humans to step in. Humans should ask questions that require empathy or longer, more in-depth answers (e.g. what goal they’re hoping to achieve or how much they’d like to spend on a plan).

Don’t waste time with low-quality leads

Attracting lots of website visitors is great, but it’s only half the battle. To turn those visitors into dollar signs, sustainably, you need an effective lead qualification process to prioritize where your account executives devote their 1:1 time. Getting high-quality leads starts by knowing who you want to talk to, talking to them like humans (with or without a bot), and aiming for fast responses while interest is high. 

Special thanks to Zara Burke for her help with this article.