How to Move Leads through Your Sales Funnel

By Janet Livingston

All people in sales depend on the sales funnel. Salespeople at outsource call centers are no different. As the metaphor goes, you pour leads into the top of the funnel, and sales flow out the bottom. Of course, this presumes you have an effective sales team in place to work the leads. Conversely, an empty sales funnel will produce no sales, regardless of how good your salesforce is. No leads mean no sales.

To better understand how a sales funnel functions, let’s look at the life cycle of a lead.

Acquisition: To start, we need a source of leads. This lead acquisition phase occurs through marketing, either directly or indirectly.

  • Direct marketing initiatives for call centers include paid promotions, such as print media, online ads, and direct mail. A target audience receives a marketing piece tailored to them. If they respond, they become a lead, which feeds into the top of the sales funnel.
  • Indirect marketing initiatives are those where certain elements are put into place to facilitate lead generation. One example is an organic internet search that directs potential buyers to your website. This hinges on having a professional website with relevant content that is strengthened with search engine optimization (SEO). A second example is word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients. To make this work, you need to provide quality service, and it helps to ask for referrals. Again, these leads feed into your sales funnel.

Qualification: The next step is evaluating the quality of these leads. Ask strategic questions to help make this determination:

  • Do they seek a service you provide? If not, they aren’t a viable lead; don’t waste time on them.
  • Do they have the budget? Some people want to buy, but they can’t afford to. Move them into the nurturing track. In this phase, encourage them to add your services to their budget for next year or help them find the money in this year’s budget.
  • Do they have an immediate or future need? Immediate needs should be assigned to sales without delay. Future needs should be nurtured. Keep them engaged until they are ready to buy.
  • Do they have the authority to buy? Some people may be gathering information. Others can merely make recommendations to decision makers. And the rest have the authorization to make purchasing decisions. Nurture the first two groups, and assign the third group to sales.

Nurturing: Leads that are qualified but not ready to buy must be nurtured—that is, prepared to one day purchase from you. This is often done most cost-effectively by using a form of email marketing, often called a drip campaign, where strategic messages are automatically sent out at prescribed intervals. Nurturing should provide engagement, deliver information, and offer encouragement.

  • Provide engagement to keep your call center in the prospects’ minds so that when they are ready to buy or their situation changes, you are the first call center they think of—and the only one they call.
  • Deliver information to communicate the value of your service, the cost-effective nature of what you offer, and how you can help their business be more effective and profitable. This includes sharing success stories of other clients. But before you disclose their results, get their permission or obscure their identity.
  • Offer encouragement to move the process forward. This might include suggesting that they add your services to their budget or doing a cost-benefit or ROI (return on investment) analysis.

Assignment: Leads that are qualified, have a current need, and possess the authority to buy must go directly to sales for immediate attention. All other leads stay in the nurturing phase until they are ready and able to buy.

  • Be strategic in who you assign leads to. Some salespeople do better selling certain services or interacting with different personalities of buyers. Make a good match to maximize the opportunity for success.
  • Hold salespeople accountable for the leads you provide them. Accept no excuses.

Sales Opportunity: By only passing vetted leads on to sales, the assigned salesperson can focus on quality prospects who are ready to buy. This keeps them from wasting time on leads who aren’t yet ready or never will be.

  • The first key to working these leads is to respond. At too many organizations, there is no response at all. Though this happens at other call centers, it should never occur at yours.
  • The second key to sales success is to respond fast. In today’s on-demand, instant-gratification society, people expect an immediate response. Each hour of delay, even each minute, serves to lessen the chances of sales success.
  • The third sales key is following up diligently. If the prospect has a question, answer it. If the prospect needs more information, provide it. If the prospect gives you their time frame, respect them by not making contact too soon or delaying too long. And if you have none of these scenarios, contact with the prospect periodically, but be sure that each contact counts by striving to move the buying process forward.

Close: When the lead is ready to buy, be ready to close. There are many techniques to close sales. Learn them, apply them, and use the ones that best fit you, your personality, and your style. Just be sure not to bungle a sales opportunity, because you may not get a second chance. After all the work you and your call center have done to move this lead to this point in the process, don’t give your prospect an excuse to go with your competition. Make the sale and close the deal.

And each time you do, another sale drips out the sales funnel.

Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider for the call center and telephone answering service industry. Contact Janet at or call 800-901-7706.

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