Episode 2: Disqualify aggressively | The four "D's" of better B2C sales performance

Matt Dixon, Ted McKenna, Tom Shepherd

March 29, 2021

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This material originally appeared as part of our Learning Series podcast. Listen to the original here.

Welcome to the second episode of our five-part Learning Series. In the last episode, we discussed the research that went into our HBR article, 4 Behaviors that Boost Inbound Sales, and talked a little bit about that research and how it came about. In today’s episode, we will be talking about the first behavior we discovered in our study on strategies for B2C selling: disqualify aggressively. 

Top performers value their time

Our research found that high performers in B2C selling are very choosy about how they spend their time. A big chunk of the sales calls (up to one-third!) we looked at turned out to be not from customers who are looking to talk to a sales agent at all. In fact, they weren't looking to buy anything: they were actually misdirected service inquiries. 

One-third of sales calls aren’t actually from customers or potential buyers at all.

Average performers, we found, would spend a lot of time regardless trying to help those customers with their service problems with their issues. They would also try, unsuccessfully, to get them to buy something. After all, they are sales agents. 

High performers, on the other hand, would be much more aggressive in terms of moving some of those disqualified calls out of the sales queue. They’re quick. Usually within a minute, high performers are able to diagnose, do I have somebody who's actually seriously considering buying something or not on the phone? And if not, then let’s get them to the right department that can actually help them out. 

Why do service calls end up in the sales channel in the first place? 

The next relevant question is probably: How did these people end up in the sales queue in the first place? Did they just key in the wrong number? One-third of the calls a sales department receives, on average, are misdirected service calls. How is this happening? 

Some of it is just honestly a customer who's just seeking quick resolution. They know the salesperson is going to pick up the phone quickly. Some organizations are okay with that. They might look at that and say: “Hey, you know, that might not be the best use of a salesperson’s time, but at least then I got a chance to potentially sell to them.”  The question then becomes how successful they are in those situations. 

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Another example of an instance where this might occur is billboards or trucks with phone numbers on the back that lead to sales lines. Someone might see the truck and just call the number that they see, and end up on the sales line. Maybe their neighbor is a customer, and they saw the 800 number on the truck. And they call to complain: “Hey, my neighbor uses your service and your truck is blocking my driveway.” Not a potential customer, but yet they took up 10 minutes of the salesperson’s time complaining about the truck blocking their driveway. 

You see these different types of situations where people just call the most obvious place, and it’s a third of the calls that hit the sales center. The conversion rate on those calls is close to 16%, across all of these interactions, with a seven and a half minute call time on average. And if your company handles 10,000, 100,000+ calls, that’s a significant deadweight. A significant productivity loss. We start to think maybe the sales reps shouldn’t be handling those. 

The question, then, becomes this: What do we do with those misdirected calls? 

What do the best sales agents do in this situation? 

We'll talk about that in just a moment what we saw in these interactions, but before that, let’s set the stage a little. When we were at CEB, which is now part of Gartner, one of our areas of focus was B2B sales effectiveness. We used to use this old adage with our clients: High performers don't chase garbage trucks. Time is a scarce resource, for a sales agent, and we’d say don't spend time chasing opportunities that you know won’t convert. And when it comes to B2C selling, that’s most service calls. Whether it's a customer calling in to buy a cell phone plan, or a cable or cable service, they don't spend time chasing opportunities that are not going to convert because time is their scarcest resource. 

High performers don’t chase garbage trucks.

The high performer understands that you have to look for the right opportunity before you go after it. If you look at the typical shape of a funnel of a high performer, it looks a lot bigger at the beginning—maybe like the head of a nail—and then shrinks considerably just after it. In the B2B sales world, once you get past the head of the nail, the process typically goes much faster, because you've now targeted the right opportunity as a prime potential for a buyer. The same thing would hold true in an inbound situation. You can tell really quickly that this person is a serious buyer. For an average performer, their funnel is shaped a lot more like a triangle, or the classic funnel shape. 

To recap: A high performer will disqualify aggressively, and then it’s off to the races with whoever is left. That means that good sales agents get to spend their time with a much smaller set of opportunities—which are much more likely to close. 


Where do disqualified leads go? 

For some of us listening or reading, this talk of aggressive disqualification in B2C selling can make us nervous. As leaders, we’re already thinking about the unpleasantness of transfers. For example, we've got a customer who calls, who's already called in once before, and got told it will be 30 minutes to talk to the next service rep. So they hang up and call back, this time calling sales. They’re thinking, “I'm so upset about this problem with having, I'm going to talk to a sales rep, because I know they'll answer the phone faster.” And they answer within like 30 seconds. The last thing you want to tell a customer, in that case, is, oh, I'm gonna have to send you over to the service department. 

Average performers attempt to resolve the issue themselves

In the sales department, average performers feel genuinely bad for their customers with service problems, and try to help them. For those agents, their hearts are in the right place, but the data is pretty clear that they're not very good at it. When a salesperson who's been trained in B2C selling is suddenly thrust into the job of having to solve a customer service issue, like a billing issue or a technical issue, it takes longer, there’s a lot of silence time, and they don’t sell anything. And as we know, thanks to the Tethr Effort Index (TEI), there’s a high correlation between silence time and a high-effort call. Sales agents simply aren’t equipped to be service agents, they aren’t trained for it, and it shows when they try to handle service calls. 

High performers know this and move the call along to someone who can help.

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High performers use advocacy

In contrast, high performers show ownership of the situation in ways that average performers do not. They transfer the call, yes, but they use the right language to do so. A good example might sound something like this: 

“I'm really sorry, you're having this issue. Now I'm in the sales organization, and I can tell you want to make sure you get this problem solved. I'm not the best person to solve this problem, I'm going to get you over to the service department. Now I know they've got a lot of call volume going on right now. But I'm going to stay with you so that I make sure you don't get disconnected, you get connected with somebody, and I'll explain the problem you're having so that we make sure that you get this resolved.”

An approach like this has a lot of positive outcomes associated with it. The net time spent ends up being a lot less than if that agent tried to solve the problem on their own. The outcomes are better because that agent is probably not going to do a good job solving an issue for which they are not trained. Plus, you avoid the situation where the customer hangs up before they can be transferred, and then they call back upset.

Another thing to note in that example is that high performers avoid powerless to help language. The last thing you want to do is say, “I'm sorry, you've reached the sales department, I can't help you.” It's a slight turn of phrase, a slight, slightly different approach to show some advocacy, show some ownership, by saying “Let’s get this fixed together.” You’re still transferring them, but by using advocacy, it feels like you've pulled your chair around to their side of the table. The customer feels like you're working together at that point. 

In conclusion...

The bottom line is this: Not every opportunity is a real sales opportunity. And the highest performers out there don't waste their time on opportunities that are unlikely to convert, they get them off to where they belong. 

Thanks for joining us for this breakdown on the first behavior identified in our study on inbound B2C selling: Disqualify aggressively. Please join us next week for the third episode in the series, as we discuss driving the purchase decision through prescription as opposed to diagnosis. And don’t forget to sign up for our Learning Series to stay up-to-date with upcoming installments!

This material originally appeared as part of our Learning Series podcast. Listen to the original here.

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