What's a Conversion? Beyond the Buzzword & Toward a Definition

William Gislason
Posted by William Gislason on January 7, 2015


As B2B marketers, we’re all trying to convert our prospects into paying customers. But is that really what we should be calling a "conversion?" Or are we really talking about "closing?" Or maybe "nurturing?" Marketers have a way of producing far too much jargon for their own good; then we tend to break jargon's rules again and again—which all just ends up as confusion for people just trying to grow their business. Today, we want to break down the meaning of conversion, and give you a clearer understanding of this all-important concept in inbound marketing.

A prospect may visit your website, subscribe to your blog, click a call-to-action link, submit a form, download a file, read an ebook, and contact your sales team… but which of these are right to call “conversions?” 

The short answer: a conversion is a measurable event. Whether you’re trying to convert a visitor into a prospect, a prospect to a customer, or a prospect into a more educated prospect, you should design your inbound marketing strategy to lead to measurable conversions—enabling your team to analyze the strengths and weaknesses in your marketing plan. As you navigate various marketing blogs and inbound marketing how-to’s, you’ll need to firmly understand the meaning of "conversion" to start emphasizing the importance of it for your own company's marketing analytics.

A Simple Definition of Conversion for B2B marketers

Simply put, a conversion is any event that:

A) changes or strengthens the relationship between your prospect and your company and 

B) you, as a marketer, can record and measure.

The second part of this definition is all too easily forgotten by many marketers, but it is arguably the most important part. We must have a way to monitor our prospect's point in the buyer's journey to adjust our strategy accordingly and best market to their needs.

Common Understandings of Online Conversions (From Around the Web)

Use #1: Submitting a Form

Arguably the most common marketing use for the term conversion is the first time a prospect submits a form on your website. 

As many of you likely know, the inbound methodology is commonly simplified to “Attract, Convert, Close, Delight.” The convert step in this adage describes the event in which your website’s visitor submits a form that tells you their name, their company's name and website, their job title, etc. and allows you to track their future interactions with your website.

Though this is only one step in the methodology, submitting a form is actually a several step process that usually includes finding and clicking a CTA, and filling out the various fields of a form before submitting. Then, to move further in their buyer journey, they also have to actually download and read the content.

Of course, only in this simplified, 4-step, adage is “close” the step following the first conversion. Marketers selling a considered purchase know that a beautiful process of courtship needs to follow the first conversion. Ideally, leads return to your site and perform repeat conversions again and again—which marketers should interpret as readiness or engagement. While it's helpful to see inbound marketing as 4-part method, it tends to make "conversion" seem like a quick deal—the kind we make into a buzzword—but in reality, for B2B marketers looking to grow their business, conversion is part of a lengthy nurturing process that leads to the deal they're buying.

Use #2: A Small Series of Steps

Many B2B marketers are starting to think of the buyer’s journey as a series of small, measurable conversions. They know that a sale in their world doesn't happen overnight, but rather, is the result of carefully building a quality relationship with their prospects by offering powerful content. The content downloaded via multiple small conversions can be tracked over time, which helps determine changes in the lifecycle of the prospect—turning visitors to followers, followers to leads, leads to marketing-qualified leads (MQLs), and MQLs to sales opportunities.

As long as a company has the software to track these events, any event can be considered a conversion and can be acted upon. Once a company can track conversions, they have the ability to update their marketing approaches to best suit whatever stage of the buyer's journey this contact has just entered. With the right marketering software, these marketers can easily and automatically adjust their marketing strategy for a prospect in real time with every micro-conversion, ensuring the contact has a highly-tailored buyer's journey.

Use #3: Visitor Turned Customer

This broad, all-emcompassing, definition for conversion may seem ridiculous to any marketer selling a considered purchase—like most in the B2B world—but using the word conversion to describe the entire buyer's journey makes sense in many industries (that's why you'll see "conversion" thrown around loosely among marketers in the B2C world). For marketers selling a product without a consideration process, they view the conversion process by measuring the percentage of website visitors that make an intermediary step toward a purchase; e.g. filling out a "Request a Quote" on an insurance agency's site.

Marketers employing this use for the term conversion are obviously using extremely different marketing strategies than any marketers selling a big relationship-heavy purchase, like a B2B service plan or a heavy piece of equipment. If you're a B2B marketer in an industry that needs to nurture your leads and build relationships, any guide using this definition of conversion is not going to help you in the slightest.

How to Actually Use Conversions to Grow Your Business

offers_sm_HSTo measure conversions, you will need marketing software. In the world of marketing in 2015, if you're not using marketing software, you are losing business. Between the variety of tools for creating a modern web experience for your visitors, the site analytics that help you identify the strengths and weaknesses in your marketing, and the ability to automate processes that build relationships with prospects around the world, if you forgo marketing software, your marketing will be inadequate to connect with modern prospects. Our personal favorite is the HubSpot marketing automation and CRM platform and we strongly recommend it.

Conversion Marketing's Value for B2B Marketers

Conversions help us organize our prospects and move them through the buyer's journey. However, without the content to keep them on our website and learning about our services, our prospects will have no reason to stay on our site and quickly forget about our company.

Inbound marketing is the union of content marketing, conversion marketing, and the software to organize, maintain, and analyze these efforts. Taking the time to set up the ideal conversion process can make your job as a marketer a lot easier by helping you to sort your contacts and strategies as well as idenitify strengths and weaknesses in your overall marketing efforts. 

The life of an inbound marketing lead. Nurture your leads at every stage in the lifecycle. Download your guide.

Topics: Marketing Automation

click here to take the state of industrial sales and marketing survey