Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and her arrest February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.
It's the end of quarter. The CEO wants sales revenue updates, the sales pipeline is thin, and at this point, any lead seems enticing. Even if you squeak by, sales revenue growth isn't on pace with what the board wants.
But desperate times in sales shouldn't call for drastic measures, because revenue-producing customers don't buy desperation.
Even so, a very common (and often desperate) move many sales leaders make is hiring an outsourced lead generation firm. The idea is that your team is great at closing, but not so great at prospecting. If you can use the firm to get them in front of more "qualified" business opportunities, the team will close more and sales will soar.
The problem is, many outsourced lead firms rarely work as they claim to, especially when they disguise themselves as fancy marketing firms or "growth consultants." The usual result is dozens of generic cold emails that don't truly represent your company's value and can lead to worse consequences down the line.
If you're thinking of hiring one of these firms, it's important to ask yourself why, then consider these four realities:
1. They are designed to deliver on volume, not value.
The most common problem companies find with these firms is that they treat every single sales problem as if it could be solved by volume. They hire cheap labor from foreign countries, then have the same canned email template sent to as many leads as possible, regardless of those leads' relevance to your business.
That works--if you're fine with crappy results and conversations that lead nowhere. But let's say you sell software in the energy sector. How do you expect to appeal to the kinds of customers who could really use said software if a firm is emailing the same template to renewable-energy startups and insurance companies alike?
2. They can't distinguish between good and bad leads.
Outsourced lead firms weren't designed to truly comprehend your potential customers' needs and your value propositions. Because of that, the leads they send you won't always be relevant, and you will have to explain your value all over again. That extends the sales cycle, undermining the supposed value these firms claim to provide.
It's like moving your product from a high-quality shelf display to the bargain bin; the kind of buyer you attract will change with the move. What's more, those prospective buyers will likely become bad or unsuccessful customers. Few, if any, will help your brand in the marketplace, because there probably isn't much alignment between your benefits and their pain points.
Meanwhile, those potentially fantastic future clients who didn't engage are untouchable for months; your team is further strapped to generate new high-value targets.
3. They rarely fix the real problem at hand--which could be you.
Moment of truth: if you're desperate to try anything to increase revenue, your growth problem is realistically more than a lead-flow problem.
Ofentimes, hiring an outsourced lead firms is like putting a bandaid on a bullet wound. Resist the urge to do this if you're trying to make up for problems with customer acquisition or dwindling revenue. Instead, focus on filling in the revenue leaks and building a reliable sales engine before you try to scale it.
If the problem is your sales team, you won't fix it by giving employees meetings via lead generation. They need training, investment, or to get fired, and you likely need to adopt better hiring practices.
Or maybe you don't have product-market fit. Wouldn't it be better to learn that now, so you can address a new market before you get into too much trouble? In most cases, missing your sales quota means you will continue falling short until you dive under the hood and truly diagnose your issue.
4. There's more than one option out there to help solve your problems.
Certainly, it would be easier to come to your investors, board, and executives with a "solution" already in hand. But if they want to be successful, they'll appreciate a fix with a long-term approach.
You might try bringing in a consultant. Sometimes all it takes is a pair of outside eyes, someone who isn't deep in the trenches of your business, to advise and diagnose.
Most companies are under-investing in their salespeople. If you can't fix the problem internally, bring in outside trainers, enablement resources, and sales technology focused on teaching them sales.
Finally, if your product has issues, or maybe you need to sell to another audience, bring the issue up with leadership. Numbers don't lie, and even the best sales professionals can't sell something where there is zero demand.