I recently visited a company’s website that sells survey platforms and customer research advice. I was looking for solutions to improve our voice-of-the-customer protocol, and I was seeking free information about this company’s services—and seeing as they had plenty of marketing content, I found what I was looking for!
Of course, I’m not really prepared to buy something new yet. I was just feeling out the field; checking around to see whom the important players in VOC capabilities are and who’s made movement toward the top. I’m looking to learn, nothing more. It’s what I’d call being in the tip top of their funnel.
In this case, the platform I was reviewing was clearly aimed at large companies with sprawling sales forces. In all likelihood, they’re exclusively focused on enterprise clientele, and see my company, a marketing agency, as a fly on their window. But there I was reading their content, submitting my information on their forms, and subscribing to their blog. Even though I could tell I wasn’t qualified to be their client, I still wanted to cling and absorb as much knowledge as they’d give me.
Such is the case with marketing most kinds of professional services. Whether you're marketing your agency (like I am) or selling niche expertise, the fact that you deal in information and knowledge makes you attractive to a broader array of people than B2B marketers selling high-value products.
Why Selling Services Requires More Qualification
Take an equipment manufacturer for instance. Sure they deal in knowledge, but it’s knowledge surrounding machines usually made for highly specific markets and only certain companies. By using that knowledge to create marketing content, manufacturers probably attract leads slightly outside of their niche, but overall, the technicality of their keywords and their pattern of social sharing won’t cause bleed attraction quite as much as, say, a construction firm.
Everyone from a do-it-yourself homebuilder to a multinational pharmaceutical producer wants help with their building projects; so they’ll be looking out for the tips and tricks architects use to promote their work. Thus, the traffic, visitors, and leads an architecture firm is likely to get online will probably be far less specific to their business than an equipment company.
Hence, the buzzword, “qualified lead.” It’s been all the rage in B2B marketing circles, and for good reason! With online marketing practices opening companies to more business that isn’t really geographically bound, leads seem to come in from every corner, especially if your site has strong traffic.
Are you an engineering firm in Duluth, MN that seems to get contacted by Ghanaian businesspeople every other day? Or maybe a market research consultant whose free whitepapers get downloaded mostly by students finishing their term papers? Few salespeople would call these contacts “leads,” and even fewer would see them as “qualified” in any sense.
How Should Companies Start Qualifying Leads?
From my vantage point, qualification is what makes or breaks a marketing team in the professional services space because it requires both a clear understanding of your business’ position and also a deep emphasis on keeping data clean, organized, and under constant analysis.
Let’s start with determining the definition of a lead. When you’re selling business to business for engineering, architecture, consulting, research, or any other professional arena, you technically could sell to many kinds of companies. You could focus on small companies or large start-ups or corporations, East coast or West coast, products or services, urban or rural, etc. There are plenty of ways to slice and dice your market. But for all intents and purposes, a lead is anybody that could buy. If the market crashed and you started scrambling, you’d start doing projects of all sorts of types. And you’d want as many leads as you could possibly find.
But let’s assume the economy hasn’t tanked. Instead, business is going well (but not to perfection), and you’re looking to optimize for profit. That’s when you need to qualify, re-qualify, and close the best leads possible.
But Wait. What about...
What about the Ghanaian businesspeople or students with the term paper due in Survey 101? They aren’t leads, so don’t let them qualify as such. That’s where you need automation in place to de-qualify or prevent underqualified contacts from reaching the level of lead. Hence, whether you’re using a CRM or marketing automation system, good lead generation rests on the basis of automation.
Back to Qualifying Leads Effectively
If you look at all the ways you can possibly segment your list of contacts, which are the criteria that make for the best prospects? This is something that sales people know from experience. If a lead is a “specialist” and not the “director,” he’s probably not a great B2B lead. If a lead is an “owner” and not a “CEO,” the company might be too small (depending on industry). The criteria depend on your business, its position, and its goals for the future, but ultimately, the key is to have a clear vision of each of these as you’re making pursuit decisions.
For B2B professional services, industry, geography, business role, readiness to buy, and company size are all highly important factors to consider when qualifying leads and moving them further through your sales funnel. In order for a lead to be marketing- or sales-qualified, what kind of data do you need? How does that compare to the data you have? If your current list of contacts has missing data, what are your next steps? What’s the set of criteria that distinguishes a marketing-qualified lead from a sales-qualified lead? When in the buyer’s journey will you receive sales-qualifying information? These sorts of questions are essential to effective lead qualification, but they require both a strategic and technical perspective—a unified understanding of marketing and an appreciation for what salespeople experience.
A list of marketing-qualified leads should be determined by your business priorities. Which kinds of businesses are best to get out in front of and why? Who are the decision-makers that have the power to make the purchase? Where are these companies located and how big are they?
Then, as you move to qualifying lead lists for sales, you have to segment based on readiness. Have they researched the purchase? Do they understand the factors of their decision? How desperate are they for a solution?
In B2B service industries, you can’t afford for your sales team to be lacking a qualified list of leads, so make sure your marketing team is prepared to qualify leads effectively.