The concept of the sales funnel is straightforward. Pour leads into the top of the funnel and sales drip out the bottom. The more leads you start with, the more sales you’ll get. The fewer leads, the fewer sales. But the reality is you’ll never get more sales then you have leads. This applies to every sales organization, including outsource call centers and telephone answering services. The typical sales funnel has three stages. The first stage looks at leads, the second stage addresses prospects, and the third stage focuses on sold customers. The first two stages each have two parts, though your call center may add other tiers of refinement. Generate Leads: The sales funnel starts with a marketing campaign, preferably several. Each marketing initiative will produce leads, which feed into the sales funnel. In order to keep the top of your sales funnel full, marketing campaigns should overlap and be ongoing. The last thing you want is a sales staff with no leads in the funnel. Conversely, you don’t want a funnel full of leads and not enough staff to follow up in a timely manner. Assign Leads: As soon as the lead comes in, assign it to a sales rep or qualifier for immediate follow up. Leads grow cold fast, with even an hour delay serving to lessen the chance of making a sale. Some organizations assign leads on a rotating basis, evenly distributing them to all staff. Other times it makes sense to match leads to specific members of the team. These assignments can be based on the location of the lead or rep, the type of lead, or even the potential value of the sale, with high value leads receiving a high-touch response and lower value leads being relegated to a more automated response. Qualify Prospects: Once a lead is assigned, the first goal is to qualify the lead. Make sure that what they want is something you sell. There’s no point cultivating a lead for a service your answering service can’t provide. The next item is to determine if the prospect has the authority to make a purchase decision. Treat a prospect who has the power to buy different from someone who is gathering information for their boss or to feed a committee report. Then ask about their time table. Some people want to buy right away and will make a decision fast. Other people are gathering information to inform a budget for a possible purchase next year. Also determine the type of purchase they want to make. Someone wanting a $10 a month automated service warrants a different treatment than someone wanting a five-figure monthly customized service. Convert Prospects: With the leads assigned and qualified, it’s time to work the prospect and turn them into a customer. This is a whole other topic, but the key is to not sell prematurely. Serve Customers: Once the sale closes, it’s time to begin serving the customer. With the sale finalized, it’s up to operations to retain the customer. For most call centers and answering services only a small fraction of leads turn into paying customers. The graphic shows that only 1 percent of leads become customers; this is typical. Your numbers will vary, but know your ratio, because it will let you know how many leads you need to feed into your sales funnel to have a chance of hitting your sales goal. That’s why it’s critical to continually feed your sales funnel, because the number of leads you start with limits the number of sales you end up with. 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 email@example.com or call 800-901-7706. Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan and a longtime member of the TAS industry.