Ask most executives and marketers what salespeople need to sell in this economy and they will say: "more leads." That’s why many marketing and lead generation programs tend to focus on quantity. Unfortunately, as little as 5 percent to 15 percent of all marketing inquiries turn out to be truly sales-ready opportunities. Marketers that really want to help sales perform better will focus on higher-quality leads that have better odds of converting into pipeline opportunities and customers; however, according to MarketingSherpa's data, generating “high-quality leads” is the B-to-B marketer’s No. 1 challenge.
Most realize that the more validation and verification of each lead or database, the better the quality of the lead. So, what’s the best way for B-to-B marketers to efficiently verify the accuracy of their lead data captured online before turning said inquiries over to the sales force?
Create a Marketing Funnel
The purpose of the marketing funnel is to bring inquiries (aka leads) into one spot (your marketing database) and qualify them. The marketing funnel creates sales-ready leads and nurtures the leads that aren’t sales-ready. Lead qualification first must classify leads according to their "sales readiness" and business fit, and second, must manage all the incoming leads effectively.
Keep the 'Giving of Information' at a Comfortable Level
It’s important to remember that most people coming to your Web site aren't coming to purchase right away. They come to your site for information. An early-stage lead shouldn’t be expected to give up the same kind of details as a later-stage lead. People start to question the value of providing too much information on forms before you've earned their trust.
You'll do better by thinking of lead generation as a process of micro-conversions that build an opportunity profile over time. Start with requesting basic information such as an e-mail address; in the next step, request first and last name. Later, request more detailed insights—after a relationship has been established.
I read recently that a company trimmed its registration form to include an extremely basic two-field form and found its conversion rate more than tripled with this simplification. At the same time, the company expanded its e-mail follow-up process and was able to increase the amount of personal data collected over time.
Create the Universal Lead Definition, and Apply It to the Remaining Inquiries
There are things your sales team must know before an inquiry is worthy of being called a lead. You should:
- Identify company size, industry and geography. You may choose to remove inquiries based on specific marketing requirements or limitations at this point, including non-U.S. or student e-mail addresses, or contacts residing in locations or industries that you don’t serve. This step can reduce your leads by as much as 10 percent.
- Ask business situation questions such as number of users, current systems platform, etc.
- Determine the inquiry's role in the organization or authority in the buying process.
- Determine if your organization can help based on the lead's business need.
- Identify the prospect’s stage in the buying process. Many “leads” are actually still early in the buying process, conducting general market research, and although these contacts are very valuable and should be nurtured and managed over time, they clearly aren’t ready to buy.
- Purge those inquiries containing any obvious bogus information. Remove duplicates and invalid names and e-mail addresses. (Simple forms tend to generate less invalid information than lengthy, time-consuming forms.)
Create a Behavior Model to Prioritize Leads Based on Activity and Data
Use your CRM or marketing automation suite to prioritize based on:
- Size of organization: Is there an organization that fits your “sweet spot” better than others?
- Fit: Can you meet leads' immediate needs?
- Differences in activity based on time frame: Emphasize recent activity. The ongoing uncertainty about the health of the economy doesn’t necessarily reflect every prospect’s current situation. Even in beleaguered sectors, strong companies will see opportunities for growth. Activity within the past three months—such as downloading a whitepaper or responding to e-mails about upcoming events—receives a higher score. The same activities that took place six months or a year ago receive lower scores if a prospect has not engaged in additional marketing activities since then. This technique allows sales to focus its attention on prospects who have demonstrated strong interest in recent marketing campaigns. Definitely maintain older leads in your database, and keep these lower-scoring leads in the nurturing program until their activity increases again.
Use the Phone (or E-mail) to Qualify High-Priority Leads Based on Scoring
Some companies may use third-party list providers to verify information. Just remember, the phone is the gold standard for qualifying most leads. A good conversation is the best way to assess a company’s interest. (InTouch has found e-mail to be a great way to create a one-to-one dialogue by asking questions as well; be sure to test this with your audiences.) Use data from your lead-nurturing and lead-scoring systems to have relevant chats with prospects.
Based on your company’s value-proposition research, ask questions that show you understand the challenges your prospects face. Introduce ideas about how your company can help them meet those challenges.
Most salespeople are really good at what they do, and they want to help prospects meet their challenges. Make sure you give them the highest-quality leads you have. It’s worth the effort to move through the qualifying process slowly. In this economy, prospects’ buying cycles are getting longer, making it even more important to start out slowly. You’ll earn trust quicker this way, and you’ll build relationships that truly impact your sales pipeline.
Brian Carroll is CEO of Arden Hills, Minn.-based lead generation experts InTouch and author of the book, "Lead Generation for the Complex Sale" (McGraw-Hill). Carroll is a leading expert in lead generation. He is also the keeper of the B2B Lead Generation Blog.