Best Practice Guide to Closing Leads

Your company can increase its sales significantly by simply implementing a lead generation strategy outlined in this guide.  Independent research shows that 99 percent of sales reps will abandon a lead if they fail after three attempts to get the sales negotiations going.   Additional research shows that this is way too early give up on these leads which leave good sales and money on the table.

Our company did an audit of 50 leads sold to one of our vendors.  The results showed that after three months, only five of the leads had been sold.   Eight merchants responded that they were definitely interested but did not receive any follow-up after the initial contact leading them to go to competitors.  Five merchants asked to be contacted in three months or more while 13 merchants said they were not interested in the vendor’s offer.  Another 19 merchants were still open to offers but had not had any follow-up.

This audit confirmed our suspicions and validated much of the third party lead generation research.  The sales agents were only signing leads considered low hanging fruit that required no effort.  With minimal effort and time, this company could have signed 12 to 15 merchants within a three-month period and perhaps another five to 10 had they had a lead generation strategy in place.  This company could have doubled their sales and possibly than tripled had they followed the lead nurturing steps outlined in this guide.  The great news is that any sales organization can implement this strategy and should see dramatic results within three to six months.

12 Keys to a Successful Lead Generation Campaign[1]

1.     Sustain the calling.  It can take between eight and 19 phone calls to reach a decision-maker when you are calling them.

2.     Make every call count.  Be “in the moment” when making calls and focus on building a relationship and credibility with every call.

3.     It can take between 15 and 30 contacts (phone, email, fax, letter, etc.) to close a lead. Be consistent and stay with it for the long haul.

4.     Throw out the scripts.  Remember you are having a dialogue and developing a relationship. Create a call guide that has a few scripted elements but is not a script.  Start the conversation with why you are calling and without using your company name.  Merchants respond to needs not company names.  Instead of saying, “I’m from ABC Company calling about your credit card processing services”, open with, “This is Mr. Smith, and I’m calling regarding your online inquiry for credit card processing services.”  At that point, mention your company and from where you got the merchant’s information. 

5.     Always be relevant. Have a valid business reason for calling and always come across as wanting to help.

6.     Gain opt-in.  Coach your sales team to request permission to email customers and leads on a monthly basis.

7.     Always follow up (in a nurturing tone).  Have a relevant and consistent dialogue with potential customers regardless of their timing to buy.

8.     Be prepared with a unique selling proposition.  What makes your offer or company stand out?  What is your sustainable competitive advantage? 

9.     Be an expert in your field.  This gives you much more credibility if you can speak clearly and answer questions with knowledge and authority. 

10. Although the product and service may be superior to what the merchant currently has, it is a perceived value by the merchant that matters most.  Your job is to make them see that superior value.

11. Update your CRM after every contact via call, email, or fax.  You are building a contact record where you will be able to reference and track your progress.

12. Implement a DRIP marketing campaign. 

If your company follows these 12 steps, you will double if not triple your lead closure rate.  Be aware that 95 percent of your competition does not practice these steps.  They are going after the low hanging fruit.  This leaves a great deal of opportunity for your organization. 

One objection often raised is that such a strategy is time consuming, labor intensive, and uneconomical.   With today’s sales tools, you can develop a plan that is efficient and economical.  There are great CRMs like Salesforce.  There are drip email marketing programs like Infusion.  

Finally, follow up calls take less than a minute. Sales calls can take 10 to 20 times as long.   Many sales agents make the mistake of trying to turn every follow up call into sales call.   This wastes much precious call time.   Focus on creating follow up call strategy that keeps your company relevant to merchants but does not waste call time on merchants who are not ready to buy. 

Take a moment to consider referrals that are generating the leads for your organization.  If you are purchasing leads upfront, think of the cost.  You know that if you are closing 10 percent or less, you should drop that lead source.  If your company is closing 30 percent or more, then it becomes a best kept secret and you will not want anyone else to know about it.  From my lead generation company’s experience, the difference between closing 10 percent and 30 percent is each organization’s lead generation strategy.   Those that have no strategy do poorly.  Those that follow most of the steps above do well.

If you are receiving leads free upfront and paying for the ones that close, how long is a referral source going to continue to supply leads based on you closing 10 percent or less of them?   If the referral source has any integrity, the leads he supplies are good quality leads that are closeable.  Your organization owes it to this lead source to work these leads to exhaustion providing a lead contact log and feedback on all the leads that do not close.  If you do these things, your lead source will be more likely to send you more leads that are better quality leads.  If you do not, your lead source may stop sending you leads or send them to someone else.  Never take this relationship for granted.  

Take a long haul view.  Most sales organizations get so caught up in quota that the pressure to sell overrides the overall sales strategy.  A successful lead generation campaign takes a minimum of three months to start seeing measurable results.  First, you will need to build up a body of leads.  You should start by gathering all the leads over the past few years.  If you have not been reaching out to them, you might start by sending them an email.   Next, you should actively work the leads received over the past two months by starting with an email with a quick follow up call.  If you are getting fresh leads on a daily basis, then start with the 12 steps. 

The focus for the first three months should be on lead activity rather than sales quota.  How many times are the sales reps contacting the merchants?  Are the sales reps updating their CRM’s?  Has your company put a DRIP marketing plan in place?  Do you have the creative in place and completed script outlines to fully implement the lead generation strategy?  These questions should be satisfactorily answered by the third month at which point you should start to see the payoff of the strategy. 

Lead = Future Customer

The first step is to define what a lead is.  A lead is a future customer although when that happens is unknown.  There is no expiration date on a lead. It may be tomorrow or six months from now.  For the most part, there is no such thing as a dead lead except if a merchant has gone out of business.  If a lead elects to work with the competition, it becomes a dormant lead as there is always an opportunity to rekindle that lead in the future especially if you built the relationship with the merchant from the start.

A more formal definition of a lead is “a potential customer that wants to learn more about what you have to sell and that has acknowledged it has a business problem that you could help solve.”[2]

The idea is to change your organization’s perception of what a lead is and how to close it.  The main thing to remember is that a lead is an opportunity to build a relationship which will result in mutual benefits for both parties.  

Categories for Leads

How to rate your leads:

  1. Hot Leads – quick close
  2. Pending Close Leads – leads that tend to close within a month.
  3. Short-Term Lead – leads that close within three to six months. 
  4. Long-Term lead – leads that close within six months to a year.
  5. Dormant Leads – leads where merchants have gone with competitor or said they are not interested. 
  6. Dead Leads – leads where merchants out of business or say “take me off your list.” 

You may have additional categories, but this is a good place to start.  The main reason to rate your leads is to determine what percentage of resources to allocate to each category.   For most sales organizations, they devote 90 percent of their resources on hot leads and allot only a small amount of their resources to the other four viable categories.  If they devoted more resources to pending short-term and long-term leads, they would dramatically increase their sales over time. 

  • Hot leads are leads that merchant needs your product or service right away.   The merchant may have even given a verbal commitment.  The main issue here is getting the application to the merchant, having him sign and returning it with all the proper documentation. 
  • Pending close leads are leads in which the merchant is definitely interested, likes your proposal, but just needs that nudge to close.  
  • Short-term leads are leads where merchants express a need for your product or service and want to switch but cannot at this point and time for any number of reasons.  The key with these leads is to stay with them as eventually the merchants make the move and you want to be top of mind at that point. 
  • Long-term Leads are where merchants are interested but not sure when they will buy.  Again, it is important to stay with on top of these leads but not be too aggressive.  These merchants may not want to go through the hassle of switching or may have been burned by a previous company. 

There are a variety of reasons why merchants may not respond to a sales agent’s initial requests other than not being interested.  They may simply be pre-occupied at the moment with a more pressing issue.  If the agent gives up, the merchant will have to go to a competitor for service.

Two Main Factors to Making the Sale:  Perceived Value and Credibility

When a sale occurs, it is a voluntary exchange from both parties.  Each side is giving something up which they value less to gain something that they value more.   The merchant is giving up $300 to purchase a card processing terminal, which he believes is more valuable than the $300.  You are willing to give up the terminal for $300 because the money is more valuable to you than the terminal.   This is the same with the services.  The merchant will switch processors if he believes he will see greater value than he is currently getting. 

When a sales agents calls on a merchant, the merchant is sizing up the agent and his offering.  Is what he is offering a better value or lesser value than what I have?  If it is greater value, then he will make the switch.  If it is a lesser value, he will not.  

There is one more element that needs to be established to convert leads into closed deals.  That is credibility.  Imagine if you could take Warren Buffet, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs on your sales calls.  Do you think you’d close 99 percent of the leads?

Because we don’t have celebrities working for us, it is a much harder task to establish credibility.  This is why relationship building is so critical.  In most cases, you are missing credibility for leads that do not immediately close and can create it by building a relationship.  Think about your own relationships.  If your good friend asks to borrow your car for the weekend, you might not hesitate to loan it to him.  But if a person you just met a few weeks ago makes such a request, you are going to turn him down. 

Merchants behave in much the same way.  They are always being pitched. Although all competitors promise a lower price and better service, many fail to deliver on that promise.  Because of this, merchants are trained through experience to be cautious.  

You establish credibility by who you are as a person, as a company and your beliefs.  You have to convey these beliefs to the merchant every time you contact him.  Every contact should have a defined purpose that is mutually beneficial.  If your goal is to move the sales process forward, you need to give something of value to the merchant so that he knows he is not wasting his time with you. 

Initially you might say something along the lines of “Mr. Merchant, my company and I believe in full disclosure and transparency.  When you receive my proposal, everything including rates, fees, and terms will be detailed in an easy and simple manner.  I will be glad to go over them with you in detail.   In addition to my proposal, I am sending you the 10 keys to credit card processing.  It is practical guide to understanding this critical part of your business.  I fully adhere to this guide’s philosophy.”

By doing this, you have done three things.  First you have said that you are honest and willing to show you all my cards if you will do business with me.  Secondly, you are establishing yourself as an expert in the field of credit card processing which is necessary if you really want to establish credibility.  Thirdly, you have moved the sales process forward.  You have the merchant’s permission to send a proposal and to contact him in the future.

What are the Proper Working Steps?

Persistence:  You must be prepared to contact the merchant multiple times just to start the sales process.  Research shows that for some leads it takes eight to 19 phone calls to reach the decision maker and anywhere from 15 to 30 contacts (phone, email, voice message, fax and letters) to close.  

Organization:  You must be organized and disciplined enough to make a certain number of sales calls each day at the hours when merchant are most likely to be reached. 

An MIT study suggests that the best times to call are Monday through Friday 8-9 AM, from 12-1PM and from 4 to 6 PM as these are the best times that merchants are usually in transition from one activity to the next like ending a meeting or going to lunch and are most likely to take your call.  

Using and Updating your CRM:  This is one of the most critical steps in the process.  You may be working 50 leads at a time which are at various stages of the sales process.  To push the sale further along, you have to know where you are on each one.  You can only do this by updating your CRM about each contact and keeping good notes.

A merchant may ask about a wireless terminal or loyalty cards.  You send him the information via email.  You reach him a week later.  Your notes should then help guide your conversation and move you closer to the close.  Without the notes, you are very likely to forget where you are with the merchant.  Suddenly, you are back to square one.

There will be tough leads that will take a long time to close.  There are leads that go dormant (where the merchant says he is not interested or has gone with your competitors.)  Do not give up on these leads.  They are still valuable and they may still turn into sales.  However, do not invest a large amount of time and effort in these leads. 

To remain active with these leads, you will need to implement a DRIP marketing[3] campaign. 

D        =        Disciplined

R        =        Repeatable

I         =        Interrelated

P        =        Process

DRIP marketing is a marketing strategy comprised of sending a continuous series of well-articulated marketing campaigns, supported by an array of evidence based sales tools, to a defined target audience over period of time.  Most sales organization think DRIP marketing is a periodic email campaign.  It is actually much more involved than that.  Although email is a large component, there are programs like Infusion that can greatly help.  DRIP marketing is more about the content and the message.  The sales tools include mail, phone, letters, emails, newsletters, and press releases.

The challenge for a successful campaign is to remain relevant but not intrusive.  If you attempt to contact the merchant too much, you become a nuisance.   If you are not present enough, you may miss the opportunity when the merchant wants to buy. 

We all have been in situations where there was a persistent sales rep when we were not in the market for his product.  But, when we were ready to buy, his contact info was not to be found so we went with the competition.  Had the sales rep called or emailed that one last time, we would have gone with him.   

Create unique selling propositions.  There are three types of emails/letters:

  • Newsletter
  • Press Release
  • Breaking News Updates
  • Webinars
  • Write a whitepaper


This guide is a compilation of lead generation experience and research.  Fortune 500 companies use similar strategies with great success.  The internet is an amazing marketing tool.  The question is not whether it works for lead generation but how to make it work for your organization.  Hopefully, this guide will shed some light on how lead generation can significantly increase your bottom line. 

[1] These keys are a compilation from Lead Gen experts, Brian Carroll, Glenn Fallavollita, and our own company’s experience with vendors.  

Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, Brian Carroll, McGraw Hill, New York, 2006. 

Glenn Fallavolita, Drip Marketing, 2010

[2] Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, Brian Carroll Brian, McGraw Hill, New York, 2006. P. 29


[3] Drip Marketing, Glenn Fallavollita, 2010, P. 5 

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