by Jeff Molander, Conversation Enablement Coach, Speaker & Founder at Communications Edge Inc

The best way to handle inbound leads is with a superior follow-up email process. Truth is, most follow up with inbound leads involve stale, old, ineffective templates.

Trouble is we just don’t realize it. Because most of us are driving outreach efforts without checking blindspots. You wouldn't drive a car that way. It's too dangerous. So why drive outreach this way?

"I just finished a year of Lead Forensics putting 1000 leads through Hubspot sequences. Not one sale."

Meet Tony. A CEO of a successful 30-year-old business helping inventors.

"I hired a cold calling team. One year effort. Zero sales. Nothing is working... not enough new business is coming from inbound leads the site."

Tony was frustrated with his inbound lead sales process. But he wasn’t done trying. So he invested in himself, hired a coach in search of better email messages for inbound lead response.

Together, we found his blindspots: Weaknesses in his follow up templates. What Tony could not see (himself) was the problem.

The key to starting more conversations with inbound visitors is spotting and fixing your follow up template blindspots.

Here is how we helped Tony find his message trouble spots and fixed them.

"I've been burned before"

“I invested in training, coaching and tools before… and been burned,” said our student Tony, a successful entrepreneur in the engineering and design field.

Tony launched and is still operating a successful business—for over two decades. He has what it takes. But he needed to grow. Immediately.

Prospecting had always grown the company for him. “Inbound marketing is trendy and, for some, it creates conversations with potential buyers. But so far my HubSpot email templates are failing to engage leads in conversations.”

“I need to increase gross sales… and I need a better process for doing that,” Tony told me. But he was reluctant to invest in message and sales process-focused coaching.

Could a better inbound lead sales process really make a difference? His gut told him yes. But he was gun shy given all the failed investments and wasted time. Not to mention broken promises of vendors and consultants.

Tony felt ripped-off. He was unsure of how to handle inbound leads… how to message them in ways that provoked conversations. 

Inbound lead sales process blindspots

Blindspots are portions of inbound lead campaign messages that we cannot see, even though they are creating big problems.

Because we are the source of the problem they are difficult to spot.

Too much self-talk. Weak tone. Not standing out. Negative mental triggers—sounding too persuasive, asking biased questions. Lack of provocations.

I have blindspots. You do. We all do. And not just with email. In life and in business. This is why external (outside your organization) lead follow up professionals are worth every dollar invested. They quickly see the blindspots we cannot (and course-correct us).

Peer review of your follow up message ideas, real-time sharing of “which tactics work, which don’t.” Life long learning. All of that. This is why professional communities (of sellers) are worthwhile.

The key to starting more conversations, using email, is spotting and fixing blindspots. Here is one of the most common examples: Biased “hook” questions.

In Tony’s case his drip campaign sent six email templates to leads identified as visiting his website. Companies like Lead Forensics help identify the company but the rest is guesswork… trying to understand who within the company visited.

Once targeted, Tony was sending six (templated, static) messages—seeking conversations with prospects. He used HubSpot to send and analyze open and response rates.

Tony’s templates were all problematic. I noticed it immediately. It’s my job. But his third HubSpot email template asked “hook” questions:

“Many companies have a product development process that follows a similar schedule year after year. Is this the case in your business? When a pattern exists, it is much easier to plan for the slow time as well as when things get completely crazy. If there is no pattern what do you do when more projects land on your desk than you can handle?”

These kinds of questions are typical in our experience coaching business owners and sales reps. Hook questions. Leading questions. Questions that “push on pain points.” Questions marketing people often write, hand to sales people and say, “try this approach.”

Big mistake.

Persuasive tone and hook questions = instant death in follow up emails; in fact, for all prospecting email. Aiming to persuade targets to have a meeting is a non-starter. This goal is a complete non-starter for B2B sellers of complex, longer sale-cycle products and services.

Starting a conversation asking for a meeting (without being invited into one) is a great way to get rejected and/or secure meetings that go nowhere.

We found Tony’s blindspots immediately. It was easy.

The problem with "hooks"

“Is this the case in your business?” and the other (above) questions communicate “I’m asking because I want you to confirm (for me) what I’m sure is your problem—so I can sell you something.”

These are COMMONLY ASKED hooks. Customers see them over-and-over in messages hitting their inboxes. Customers aren’t fish. Hence, they don’t bite.

Answering a question like “Is that is the case in your business?” makes customers with latent need feel too vulnerable. Result: They don’t answer and increasingly hit delete (or worse, spam… an even faster way to un-subscribe!).

Because hook questions are typical spammy crap. They don’t help you stand out in the inbox. You blend in with the noise.

Hook questions are biased to an answer the seller seeks—as a means to start selling. That’s what makes such cheap, come-ons easy to spot and delete. They are clearly (that’s the problem!) rooted in the seller’s desire to “open the door” to a sales discussion.

Instead, Tony should be asking questions. But with inward focus… helping the client examine his/her decision-making process with regard to possible change. He should be asking questions about, for example, how the status quo was created.

This separates your message from the noise.

Instead, start focusing clients on change THEY might choose to direct—on their own terms, on their own schedule, if they decided it was appropriate and, possibly, with the help of a service provider.

Earning response demands you gain permission to help prospects decide on a meeting themselves. Thus, your email message templates must help prospects persuade themselves. Everything else fails.

However, it is impossible to have a 100% accurate perspective on communication effectiveness—unless you have trustworthy (and qualified) people giving honest feedback.

Finding your blindspots.

Fixing Tony's HubSpot sequence templates

Within a few weeks, with my help, Tony got his sales HubSpot sequence templates sorted and nabbed a lead:

Hi Tony-
Thanks for tracking me down.  I am interested in your thoughts and open to discussing opportunities.

Philip W.

Tony earned this response by changing up his lead follow-up tactic to make it more provoking, more interesting—and more conversation-worthy.

He started with a neutral question. Questions are dangerous (in general). But this question is neutral to Tony’s natural bias.

He made his approach short and questions customer-centric—and he chose to not discuss himself. Most importantly, the question posed is not a self-serving marketing hook. Instead, it’s provocative.

Want to stand out from the pack when responding to inbound leads? Write messages in ways others aren’t. This way. Write messages that do not serve you—as much as they serve (and provoke) the reader.

Who is helping you find blindspots?

Most people who support us rarely give brutally honest feedback. They usually have a horse in the race. Or they’ll tell you what you want to hear—rather than what you need to know. Increasingly, we take free advice from experts who aren’t experts at all.

Speaking from the heart: I see recommendations being made by “experts.” I know this advice won’t work—except by accident. Because our community knows which tactics are currently starting conversations… based on outcomes our Academy members demonstrate every day.

Yet these inbound lead “best” practices are trumpeted on LinkedIn—and flocked to by legions of (usually) low-skilled sellers seeking silver bullet answers.

It should be criminal.

I recently made a sales trainer friend. His name is Andy. He says… “I think the problem is worse than people lying. It’s that these people have so little real world experience on which to base their ‘expertise.’ And when they get a little social validation they become true believers in their own BS.”

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Because I want you to find your blindspots too. It’s the fastest way to get better at outbound prospecting.

Share your thoughts in reaction in comments please. I welcome your critical thought and different experiences. This is how we learn.

How will you find a better way to start client conversations and to reach a new level in your sales prospecting journey?

Our community and workshops are here to help. We live and breathe this stuff! There are multiple levels of commitment to get involved. 


About the Author

Jeff Molander is the authority on starting conversations with busy people. As founder of Communications Edge Inc. he teaches a proven, effective technique to spark buyers curiosity in sales outreach & marketing messages. He's an accomplished entrepreneur, having co-founded the Google Affiliate Network and what is today the Performics division of Publicis Groupe. Jeff served as adjunct digital marketing faculty at Loyola University’s school of business. His book, Off The Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You, is first to offer businesses a clear, practical way to create leads and sales with technology platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs.

Jeff Molander

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