For any marketing or sales department, a lot of thought and strategy is put into choosing your best prospects to target, or target personas. When these prospects visit your website and request your content, inbound marketing really kicks in, using a content management system (often called “CMS marketing”) to capture information about the prospects.
How do you use that information to qualify the contact?
How do you identify the best leads (most likely to close) to hand off to sales?
When is the right time to hand off to sales to maximize the opportunity?
In order to get some answers, let’s be clear on a few general definitions that follow the buyer’s journey, or lifecycle of awareness, consideration, and decision.
- Contact — anyone who provided you with their email address
- Lead — a contact who has the possibility of becoming a marketing qualified lead, but you just don’t know enough yet
- MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) — a lead who meets demographic criteria and who you will nurture with marketing content
- SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) — an MQL who’s demonstrated through their behavior that they’re ready to talk to you
How do each of these work in an industrial setting?
Contact → Lead
As stated earlier, think about a true lead as someone who has the possibility of becoming an MQL. The easiest way to explain this is to think about who wouldn’t be included.
In a B2B setting such as industrial distribution, you wouldn’t want to include students or self-employed people in your lead list. So, you could exclude .edu and personal email domains (gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc). You obviously don’t want to nurture competitors, so they should be identified and excluded as well.
Other criteria could include international IP addresses, if you don’t sell outside the United States. Lastly, a contact’s industry may not necessarily be an ideal fit for your business. If their industry isn't a match, they remain a “tier 2” nurturing priority.
What you’re left with then, are contacts who could potentially become qualified once you learn more about them.
Marketing Qualified Leads
For someone to become an MQL, you have to know enough about the lead — either individually and/or their company — to determine the likelihood of them becoming a customer. In other words, they fit the profile of one of your target personas.
Get this information from forms they’ve completed, chatbots used, other methods of automation, or, if you use the HubSpot CRM, the information it populates about their company (size, revenue, etc.).
For example, an industrial marketing qualified lead might meet the following criteria:
- Located in the U.S.
- Job title/role fits one of your target personas (i.e., Strategic Buyer, Reliability Engineer)
- Company size or volume of program purchases meets your annual threshold
- Pain point or biggest challenge aligns with one of your core products or services
Knowing a lead is an MQL helps you target your nurturing campaigns at the leads who have the highest probability of becoming customers.
Sales Qualified Leads
If MQLs are based on demographic information, how do you know if a lead actually wants to talk to you? How “hot” are they? This is where the SQL definition comes into play. Nothing is more annoying than a cold call from a sales rep whose company you’ve never heard of and have indicated absolutely no interest in.
Luckily, marketing automation platforms allow you to track your leads’ behaviors so you can gauge their level of sales-readiness accordingly. Lead scoring is one way to accomplish this.
Lead scoring allows you to assign point values to various behaviors or activities, such as content downloads, page views, site visits, emails opened or clicked, events attended, and forms submitted. You can even assign more points to different webpages. For example, a lead who visits your Products page might get 5 points, while a blog post visit is only 1 point. Hint: your Contact Us/Quote Request pages should be weighted more heavily than others.
Once an MQL hits a certain score threshold, they become flagged as an SQL, and should be handed off to the sales team for initiation of the sales process; i.e., a connect attempt sequence.
It’s also worth noting that anyone who fits your MQL criteria and indicates an interest in talking to you by requesting a consultation, trial, demo, etc. should be immediately categorized as an SQL.
SQL Checklist — Indicators that a lead is “sales-qualified”
- Multiple Content Offers — If multiple pieces have been downloaded in a short period of time, it could mean they’re looking to move quickly on an equipment purchase or engineering estimate.
- Increasingly Advanced Content — The content a lead downloads can determine how sales qualified they are. The more advanced the content, the more sales ready a lead is.
- Live Content Is Best — Events like webinars or live demos are great bottom-of-the-funnel content. Attendance indicates a lead is really interested in your specific solution.
- Return Website Visits — A lead that keeps coming back to your website is likely further down the buyer’s journey than a first-time visitor.
- Some Page Visits Are Very Informative — Leads visiting Product and Pricing pages are likely evaluating equipment or solutions, while FAQ pages or blog posts show interest in specific production challenges.
- Lead-Nurturing Emails — How a lead responds to emails shows your brand is seen as important and can signal readiness for a sales rep to contact them.
Defining The Lead Lifecycle Saves Time & Improves Close Ratio
Marketing technology is wonderful, yet no system is perfect. As a marketing manager, you should still be reviewing form submissions and monitoring hot leads… frequently.
Plus, it’s on you to align sales and marketing properly, creating a service level agreement (SLA), describing exactly how marketing delivers lead quantity/quality that sales needs and how/when sales follows up on leads. It’s vital that these marketing definitions and protocols are agreed upon by the two departments. Sales needs to be confident that the leads coming to them are indeed qualified.
Putting parameters around these lead definitions not only helps marketing and sales be on the same page, it allows both to devote their time to the leads who have the highest likelihood of becoming customers. A little CMS marketing coordination goes a long way!
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