Every salesperson does it and marketers everywhere hate it. Cherry-picking is about as common in sales as it is in Traverse City, Michigan (look it up). And while the term can make any marketer grit their teeth, it’s really just synonymous with prioritization. But when the sales team focuses too much energy on “ideal” leads, they tend to ignore the ones that are just as (if not more) likely to buy.
Why We Cherry-Pick
Even if you’re using all the tools in your toolbox—marketing automation, predictive lead-scoring, ABM, sales acceleration — and training your reps effectively, cherry-picking can still plague your company. As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Humans are imperfect, and it’s natural for us to trust our instincts when making decisions. Oftentimes, it’s even unconscious. Salespeople will reach out to preferred leads without actually recognizing their own biases.
Take a list from a recent trade show for example. Marketing sends that list over to sales and says, “call down the entire list of 1000 people and work each lead through 8 touch points and book as many meetings as possible”. Sure, there’s Outreach.io and Salesloft that can automate that for you, but if you want results you’ll need to trust that a salesperson is going to effectively spend the right amount of real calories on each lead.
Unfortunately, what happens next is what every organization suffers from. Your sales team will sort through the list and find companies that look familiar, and titles that have VP or CXO in them and start there. From here, the bad behavior starts to form. If salespeople can’t get meetings with the top companies, and the top people on their list – the entire leads are all crap and the entire program is compromised as they give up on the rest of the people.
The Consequences of Cherry-Picking
Automated reminders and “hot lead” notifications can only do so much. Salespeople will naturally gravitate to the leads that just look better, whether it’s a brand name, location, or industry that appeals to them. Take for example, two hot leads, with an equal lead score. One lead is from a Fortune 50 company and the other lead is from a Fortune 1000 company, which lead do you think will get a phone call first?
On the other hand, highly viable leads get de-prioritized and possibly forgotten. It’s a big problem with monetary consequences. And beyond the loss of potential revenue, if a salesperson ignores an eager lead, they’ve likely soured a relationship with someone who had a very positive perception of their brand. And in our example, that Fortune 1000 lead went to a competitor’s website, got a phone call almost immediately and now they’re signing paperwork.
Cherry-picking can damage internal processes too. As salespeople rely on personal criteria, they undermine the company’s criteria. Unintentional as it may be, that kind of consistent divergence from best practices makes it a lot tougher to run a data-driven sales organization. That behavior can also catch. For example, if one account executive regularly ignores warm leads and only works the perfect leads, their peers may follow in pursuit. Suddenly your mantra of “No good lead left behind”, is left behind too.
Preventing Cherry-Picking in Sales
So how do sales leaders keep their team from picking and choosing how they’ll spend their time? Well, they start with data.
Effective sales managers:
- Capture and analyze sales activity, so they can pinpoint common causes of cherry-picking and put a stop to them.
- Set up an analytics structure that ensures qualified leads all get the optimal amount of attention.
- Monitor team behavior, including the amount of time they spend on a lead before disqualifying and where they spend the majority of their time in general.
That probably looks like blasé shorthand for what’s really a major overhaul of current sales processes, but smarter sales management and better sales performance isn’t such a lofty feat when you have the right technology and processes in place. When sales managers study their team with reliable and easy-to-access data in hand, they can quickly learn how to play up the team’s strengths and mitigate their weaknesses.
Sales and Marketing SLAs
Marketing will be able to deem a lead qualified, via lead scoring or other thresholds (like downloading pieces of content or requesting a demo), but how do marketing teams know if the right amount of effort and attention is being given to these truly qualified leads? That’s why activity tracking is super powerful. It is a win-win for both marketing and sales managers.
If you don’t have an SLA Agreement with between your marketing and sales team, I highly recommend sitting down together and creating one. Ask each other, how many touches should a hot lead get before we mark it unresponsive – and how many of those touches should be emails and phone calls. Set up thresholds for the various types of leads you receive such as webinar, tradeshow and partner leads. (And if you’re looking to know how to figure out what the right mixture of phone calls and emails is needed to convert a lead, drop me a line and I can share how we do this at People.ai.)
“Sales teams often cherry pick leads because they don’t have the right information about the campaigns that marketing is running,” said Francesca Krihely, Senior Manager, Developer Advocacy at MongoDB. “We work with our sales counterparts to 1.) provide them with more insight and background into our campaigns and 2.) align on follow-up expectations. By working together we were able to make sure leads (and marketing dollars) weren’t be left on the vine to dry out.”
The Data-Driven Solution
That data-minded approach to conquering cherry-picking can start small. I recommend removing manual data entry. Yes, you read that correct. Stop your sales team from manually creating contacts and painfully logging each call, meeting and email. Instead – automate it!
By automating contact creation and activity logging you’ll make sure that no one forgets to add a decision maker to a target account, tag her role in the Salesforce Opportunity Contact Roles, and no phone call, email or meeting goes unaccounted for in your CRM. What would you do if the data in your CRM was actually correct?
Once you have the data you can start to understand how the sales team is working leads and opportunities. These data insights will allow you to clearly see if sales is dedicating the right amount of time qualifying leads.
Oleg Rogynskyy is the CEO and Founder of People.ai. Prior to People.ai Oleg helped start and scale three big data companies, two of which, including Oleg’s own Semantria, were subsequently acquired. He has a passion for data science, machine learning and text analytics. At People.ai Oleg is leveraging these technologies to solve the age-old problem of measuring and optimizing human productivity.
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