What is Lead Churn? - Great Demo

What is Lead Churn?

Have you ever reached out to a vendor to learn about an offering – and been refused? Have you ever clicked the “Book a Demo” button on a vendor’s website – and never saw a demo? How did you feel?

What is the likelihood that you would go back to that vendor when you were ready to buy?

If you have experienced this, you are an example of a Lead that has Churned. You would be unlikely to pursue the vendor that refused to show you a demo, particularly in a market with multiple vendors and reasonably equivalent offerings.

Why Should You Care?

As a vendor, if you are only worried about this quarter’s forecast, then Lead Churn is not (yet) a concern. On the other hand, if you want to build your pipeline for next quarter and the quarters that follow, Lead Churn may be a huge issue!

Lead Churn can be defined as prospects who exit your sales process even before they enter your funnel. 

Many are prospects who are “just browsing”, interested in understanding what the solution set looks like for a problem they are considering addressing. Business.com noted, “According to Gleanster Research, 50% of the leads you generate are qualified but not ready to buy right now.”

Similarly, Brian Carroll, author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale observed, “Up to 95 percent of qualified prospects on your website are there to research and not yet ready to talk with Sales, however up to 70 percent will eventually buy from you — or your competitors.” 

Sadly, many may be qualified prospects who were qualified out for not fitting sales process definitions of a qualified lead! They may have been less experienced members of buying committees, unfamiliar with navigating vendor sales processes. They might also have been experienced buyers who similarly didn’t pass qualification constraints. 

Sales Process 

Fascinatingly, these vendor sales processes are working perfectly! They are designed to “protect” sales resources by qualifying out prospects who are not qualified or in an active buying process. They are working exactly as built, accordingly – but they may not be operating in your best longer-term interests!

Let’s go back to your personal experiences. If you have ever reached out to a vendor to learn about an offering and been refused, or clicked the “Book a Demo” button on a vendor’s website and never saw a demo, you’ve suffered this fate yourself.

When you clicked the “Book a Demo” button, an SDR reached out to you and scheduled a time for a call – a qualification call, from the vendor’s perspective.

During your SDR discussion, the SDR determined that you were not sufficiently qualified. You lacked one or more of adequate authority, budget, timing, defined set of needs, and/or not yet in an active buying process. The result, for the vendor, saved valuable salesperson (and possible presales) time by avoiding an “unproductive” demo for you.

Interestingly, it’s largely about seeing a demo. Gartner said, “Demonstrations remain popular with prospects, as buyers often choose a demo as a quick way to figuring out what a solution offers.  A call to action that mentions a demo likely will get interest, as 58% of buyers cited ‘demonstrations’ as a call to action they would respond to in a marketing campaign.” 

You were qualified out so the sales team could focus on leads that are well-qualified and are more likely to proceed through their sales funnel. Their sales process was working perfectly.

What Happens Next?

If you were actually in an active buying process and were qualified out by one vendor, what would you do? You’d go to another vendor with offerings in the same space. You just churned – ever before you entered the first vendor’s sales funnel!

Note that you’d likely have learned your lesson for the next engagement, and subsequent conversations with SDRs/vendor reps would go differently. You’d provide responses to qualification questions that would ensure you get to the next stages – to see an introductory demo, at least.

And if you were not yet ready to buy, but simply exploring solution possibilities, what is the likelihood that you’d return to the first vendor who disqualified you? Pretty low! You’d be predisposed against that vendor and would explore solutions with other vendors before ever considering a return to vendor number one. That’s Lead Churn.

What should we call prospects who are not yet in an active buying process and/or would otherwise be qualified out? Let’s identify them as “Pipeline Leads” or “Pipeline Prospects” – leads that should become active buyers in the future.

Above are examples where sales processes are working exactly as designed, because they are focused on short-term sales and are not embracing buyer enablement principles. What could be done differently?

Buyer Enablement 

Here are three approaches that draw upon buyer enablement principles of “what can we [the vendor] do to make the buyer’s process as frictionless and effective as possible?”

  1. Tech Touch – using automated demos 
  2. Low Touch – using junior-level resources 
  3. High Touch – using sales, presales, customer success or specialists, specifically trained

Tech Touch – Automated Demos

This is a simple, very elegant approach to address your Pipeline Prospects: provide them with a crisp overview of your offering via automated demos. Tools such as Walnut, Reprise, Demostack, and a host of others provide mechanisms to satisfy Pipeline Prospects’ desires to see what is possible while capturing valuable information for vendors.


For organizations that want to engage with Pipeline Prospects human-to-human (for a range of possible reasons, including a desire to do real discovery and/or actually help prospect get what they want), consider training and devoting specific resources to these prospects. You are investing in your pipeline!

Existing SDRs, other junior-level staff and new hires targeted for sales, presales or customer success positions may be perfect for this role. These resources would require training similar to that provided to SDRs/BDRs, inside sales, and junior-level sales, presales and customer success staff:

  • Basic product knowledge
  • Basic Vision Generation Demonstration skills (Chapter 11)
  • Reasonable understanding of high-probability use-cases for the offering(s)
  • Very basic qualification and discovery skills
  • Basic understanding and use of the relevant tools (e.g., CRM system, scheduling tools, etc.)

In a low-touch scenario, these folks would engage prospects with just a few qualification and discovery questions followed by a Vision Generation Demo – a brief, purposeful summary of the typical problems addressed, and the high-level capabilities and deliverables provided by the solution.

Vision Generation Demos provide just enough demo to satisfy Pipeline Prospects’ desire to get a sense of possible solutions without inflicting full-length “overview” demos. Vision Generation Demos, with an accompanying qualification and discovery conversation, can be brief – on the order of 15-20 minutes – satisfying both parties!

A mutual decision can then be made whether to pursue an active buying process or move to a nurture/drip marketing program. Note that this is a mutual decision made by both the vendor and the prospect together.


Imagine you are a senior manager exploring solutions to a problem you’ve just decided is important enough to address. It is still early in your internal assessment and you are interested in learning what the solution space looks like. You are not yet in an active buying process, but you expect to identify budget, timing and begin a more formal process in the near term.

You reach out to one of the lead vendors in the space. Who would you rather talk to: someone following a qualification script or a person who is knowledgeable about solution options and possibilities?

If you encounter an SDR or similar inexperienced rep whose only interest is to qualify you, it’s likely that you will be a lead that churns (since you aren’t in an active buying process yet)!

On the other hand, if you have a very productive conversation with a rep who answers your questions, asks intelligent discovery questions, and provides you with a brief high-level demo of the offering, you’ll be predisposed to work with this vendor when you are ready to begin a buying cycle. 

For organizations with complex offerings and/or long buying/sales cycles, a high-touch approach might be appropriate. The objective in these cases is to engage the prospect in deeper discovery discussions interspersed with appropriate Vision Generation Demos, yielding richer information for both parties.

This is a more consultative approach, requiring resources with more experience, deeper product knowledge, sharper discovery skills, and the ability to present crisp Vision Generation Demos. This approach encourages Pipeline Prospects to bias their future buying processes – and decisions – in favor of the vendor that makes this investment with them.

Organizations could periodically cycle experienced customer-facing staff into this position (and back) or train and develop specifically for the role.

Clearly, organizations can experiment with one or more approaches, including combinations of Tech Touch, and Low- and High-Touch teams.

Lead Recycling

The classic earth “water cycle” diagrams water evaporating from the oceans, forming into clouds that then come onshore delivering precipitation onto mountains that then flows downhill into rivers, re-entering the ocean and repeating the cycle. When leads churn, it is like the rain that originally irrigated your mountain has moved to another location, leaving you drought stricken. Addressing Lead Churn enables you to recycle Pipeline Leads for future, lucrative growing seasons!

Most organizations are unaware when leads churn – and the number of those who do churn may be shockingly high. Application of basic buyer enablement principles, discovery and Vision Generation Demos offer simple mechanisms to bias Pipeline Prospects to return to you, preferentially, when they are ready to buy.

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