When speaking with companies regarding the overall quality of the leads they receive via search (whether organic or paid), I hear common complaints:

"The leads come in and we respond, but then we never hear back."

"The leads are already talking to our competitors."

"The leads don't respond well to our proven sales process."

Those concerns are often true, but the conclusion that's often drawn—that search leads are low-quality—usually is not.

The truth is that there are critical differences between leads that are generated from a search query and leads that are generated from referrals and other traditional sources. Search leads are better served by a customized selling approach.

This article will discuss the primary reason search leads are distinct from others, review some common sales approaches that can hurt your chances with them, and then discuss some relatively simple adjustments you can make to better capitalize on search leads.

The Immediacy Factor

A huge upside of search leads is that they are largely composed of prospects who are interested in your services right now. The downside is that these leads demand immediate attention if you want to increase your chances of landing them.

The nature of search implies a few things about these prospects:

  • They are almost certainly also contacting your competitors.
  • They have set aside time to research your services right now.
  • They are likely to forget your name and brand after using the initial contact mechanism on your site.

Clearly, these leads can be high-value targets. So why are you missing on so many?

It could be that you are treating these leads the same as you do all your other leads, whereas they call for a different approach.

Common Sales Practices That Hurt Performance

Inbound-Form Leads

Search leads from forms on your website or landing pages can come in at any time of day and any time of the week. However, it's common for salespeople to schedule all of their calls for a certain time of the day, or only on certain days of the week.

For example, let's assume three inbound-form leads come in throughout the day on a Wednesday. Your salesperson likes to get sales calls out of the way the first thing in the morning, so those leads aren't contacted until Thursday morning. However, we know that these leads are likely to have also contacted several of your competitors, and by Thursday they will have probably talked to some.

That delay can leave your company on the outside looking in, assuming that you are even able to get in contact at all.

Inbound Calls

I once met with a client who requested that we minimize the use of the business phone number on the company website in order to direct more visitors to the online form. The rationale was that the people who sent in form leads were more likely to engage than those who called.

I had a hard time accepting that as a blanket reality, so I put my phone on speaker and called the number we had designated for search leads. My client was horrified when the phone rang five times and then was answered by a voicemail that simply said, "This is Tony, you know what to do," followed by a beep.

Most examples are not that egregious, but do you know how inbound calls from search leads are handled at your company? Are they funneled into the same general sales line as all other leads? Do callers have to go through an autoresponder with a series of options just to get someone to talk to them? If someone answers the phone, are they qualified to answer any questions the prospect might have? If nobody is available to answer questions about your services at the time of the call, is the caller given clear instructions on what information to leave, along with clear expectations of what will happen next?

Again: the commonality of search leads, whether through form or call, is immediacy. These prospects are a back-click on their browser away from finding someone else, and the more obstacles you put in their path and the longer it takes you to engage them, the more likely they are to look elsewhere.

Adjusting Your Approach

Now that we've established the unique nature of search leads and reviewed some common issues that prevent companies from converting those leads, here are some easy internal fixes that can have an immediate positive impact.

Form Leads

As we've discussed, form leads generated from search can be highly valuable because the searcher is actively engaged in researching solutions at that exact time. However, they will rarely stop with contacting one company; therefore, early responders to these leads have a distinct advantage.

Submission confirmation message. All too often, upon clicking "submit," a prospect receives a generic message from the website that reads something like "Thanks! Your submission is confirmed." It allows potential leads to know that the submission was successful, but doesn't let them know that you value their interest—or what will happen next, and when.

A more effective message would cover those bases. For example, "Thank you for contacting us! We appreciate your interest in our services and we're eager to answer any questions you may have. One of our knowledgeable experts will be in touch within [short timeframe]."

Autoresponders. An email autoresponder that is triggered when a form is submitted can serve two important purposes. First, it quickly reinforces the sentiments that you have expressed in your submission confirmation message. Second, and more important, an autoresponse that provides something of value related to the searcher's interest can end or shorten the search session of searchers, thereby limiting the number of competitors they will contact.

Typically, people searching for particular services may submit a form, see a standard submission confirmation, and move on to the next search result. However, if they suddenly receive notification that they have a new email and that email not only confirms their form submission but also includes a whitepaper or other resource of interest, you may succeed in ending their search session while also impressing them with knowledge of your industry.

By offering something of value that successfully holds the searcher's attention until you are able to contact them directly, you can effectively reduce the number of competitors they contact while simultaneously impressing them with your industry knowledge and proving what you can offer them.

Response times. As I already mentioned, most companies treat leads from search no differently from leads from other sources. But leads from other sources, such as referrals, direct mail, or other outbound channels, are fundamentally different. Those types of leads will have a different level of patience because they are usually familiar with your company prior to contact. If at all possible, search leads should be contacted immediately or as soon as possible: If you can contact them within a few minutes, you greatly enhance your chances of having a meaningful conversation that moves them further down the pipeline.

Phone Calls

Routing. Technology such as dynamic telephone number insertion (DTNI) not only allows you to track leads that come in directly from search but also gives you the opportunity to route them differently from routine inbound calls. Remember, a search user is only a click away from finding a different potential provider, and they are less likely to go through an auto-attendant just to talk to someone. If you can route search leads directly to a line that is answered by a knowledgeable representative, you will go a long way toward getting on the lead's short list.

Voicemail. If search leads must be sent to voicemail, use the same philosophy as with form submission confirmations (above). A simple voice message that thanks them for their interest, lets them know that you are eager to answer any questions, and tells them when to expect to hear back will greatly enhance your chances of engagement.

Answered calls. Whenever possible, have a skilled representative answer inbound calls from search leads. Remember, these people found you via search and they are looking for a potential solution now; moreover, they actually picked up the phone to call you, which means they are interested in talking about your services now. If you can accommodate them, you will have a big advantage over your competitors who can't.

Measuring Improvement

I encourage clients to add two fairly simple metrics that are specific to search leads to their sales performance data:

  1. Search lead interaction rate. This is a simple calculation based on how many seemingly viable search leads you received and how many were subsequently engaged by a representative. Although this percentage will vary by industry and price point, it's safe to say that if you are achieving contact from only 50% or less of your search form leads or voicemails, something is amiss. Calculate your current baseline and work on improving this metric.
  2. Search lead performance. Obviously, you want to be sure that all of your work was worth your time. Periodically review your close rate from inbound search leads and compare it to other lead sources. More important: compare the revenue derived from these leads to other sources, both in average and in totality. These numbers can be inspiring, especially when you consider that leads derived from search and routed through your website are generally much less expensive than leads from other sources.

* * *

There is no perfect system for handling search leads, but there are many systems that are set up to fail. The fixes suggested here are all relatively simple, and most can be handled internally.

By recognizing the all-important immediacy factor and taking appropriate actions to address it, you will give yourself the best chance of making search leads one of the most viable and profitable sales channels you have.

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Leads From Search Are Different: How to Convert Search Leads by Tailoring Sales Practices

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image of Scott Buresh

Scott Buresh is founder and CEO of Medium Blue, an award-winning search engine optimization company.

LinkedIn: Scott Buresh