Not getting the ROI you expected from your lead-gen tactics? Try this instead.

Your lead generation tactics aren’t driving bottom line revenue. That’s a fact. Every sales leader says their  #1 prospecting challenge is getting leads in the pipe. They complain they don’t have enough leads, or at least not enough qualified leads.

Wait, wasn’t lead-gen technology supposed to solve that problem? Despite the fact that most companies have marketing automation solutions, targeted outreach by SDRs, and intense social media strategies, account execs are still missing quota en masse.

Only 56.9 percent of salespeople made quota in 2019, according to CSO Insights. And as of July 2020, 69 percent of B2B reps didn’t have enough leads in their pipeline to meet their annual quotas, according to a survey by ValueSelling Associates.

Considering half of the deals that are forecasted to close don’t, and customer retention has decreased as seller attrition increases, sales teams are facing yet another frustrating year if something doesn’t change. Existing lead-gen methods simply aren’t generating qualified leads.

Why not?

Have We Met?

B2B salespeople all look the same to our buyers. None of us stands out during prospecting. How could we, when we’re all typing instead of talking to potential clients? Our messages are mostly digital, and they all sound the same, or worse, they sound suspect.

Talk to any software vendor, and they can’t wait to show you their cool software. Problem is, buyers don’t actually buy software. They buy what software does for them—how it saves time, decreases costs, engages customers, tracks referrals, etc. They don’t want to see your demo. They want you to ask smart questions about their business, engage them in conversation, and determine specifically how your product will mitigate their challenges.

The trick to standing out from your competitors is getting in front of your buyers before they even know they need you, helping them identify the pain points they didn’t know were hurting, gaining their trust, and building a relationship.

(Image attribution: Andrea Piacquadio)

How do you ensure that your sales team gets in the door before your competitors? You put a referral program in place that ensures reps have the skills to ask for referrals—the best lead-gen strategy of all. When they get introductions from people their prospects know and trust, they walk straight into meetings with your ideal clients. They don’t have to worry about getting past gatekeepers or heading off the competition, because they have the best possible competitive advantage—a relationship built on trust.

Can I Trust You?

Salespeople know that building trust is paramount to prospecting, and it can be difficult to achieve. So, what is trust, anyway? It depends on whom you ask. For me, it means integrity and keeping your word. From a sales perspective, that means people can count on you to take care of their colleagues as they would.

I also like this definition from Stephen M.R. Covey: “Trust is equal parts character and competence … You can look at any leadership failure, and it’s always a failure of one or the other.”

Some people engender trust immediately. Most don’t. Those who do have a special way about them:  They exude self-confidence, and they connect and contribute. Others we need to get to know first or need to find out if others trust them. And some we would never trust.

The same is true for our buyers. Most of them don’t trust our profession. Groundbreaking research by Steve W. Martin uncovered that business buyers said they think about 12 percent of salespeople are excellent, 23 percent are good, 38 percent are average, and 27 percent are just plain bad at their jobs. Worse yet, only 18 percent of the salespeople these buyers met over the past year were “trusted advisers whom they respect.”Could lack of trustworthiness be why so many lead-gen approaches aren’t producing qualified leads?

Earn Trust, Get the Inside Track

I might have answered my own question. Reps cold call, send cold emails, do cold outreach on social media, and rely on marketing to nurture prospects and send them qualified leads. They forget technology doesn’t close deals. People do. We seal deals by building trusted relationships, and that’s exactly what happens when companies adopt referral selling as their primary outbound prospecting approach.

When reps get a referral introduction, they arrive with credibility and trust already earned. Why? The trust the prospect has for the referral source is transferred to the salesperson.

Referred reps don’t have to worry about lead-gen. They get every meeting in one call, because their calls are expected and welcome. Then it’s up to them to reinforce that trust by having intelligent conversations, uncovering needs, and sharing insights and best practices. No pitching, no promotions, no duplicitous sales tactics.

Here’s the beauty of a referral. Because buyers trust referred salespeople, they often share important inside information—including how decisions are made, who is on board, who to watch out for, and what reps need to do to seal the deal. Referred reps are privy to important timelines and budget concerns. They have the inside track, and their probability of closing a deal is well more than 50 percent (most salespeople tell me it’s more than 70 percent). No other lead generation approach comes close.

When you prospect through referrals, you set the standard by which others must compete. Your competitors don’t stand a chance. That’s how to get leads in the pipe—not just any leads, but qualified leads. Why would you approach lead-gen any other way?

For more on referral selling, tune into my new sales TV show—Back in the Black on The Sales Experts Channel. New episodes premiere on the third Tuesday of every month at 2:00 Pacific/5:00 Eastern. The few episodes are available now on demand.

(Featured image attribution: Markus Winkler)

Note: This article originally appeared in Top Sales Magazine and has been slightly edited for reprint.