Anyone with even a casual knowledge of inbound marketing knows its foundation is the art of attracting qualified leads. We often talk about filling the sales funnel with qualified leads, as if inbound marketing were an automated machine or process that turned a steady diet of leads into a predictable output of wonderful new customers. Oh, if only it were so simple!
No, it's not simple or easy, but it's also not rocket science or splitting an atom. It's about creating and implementing processes that leverage available tools to effectively manage contacts and activities. Before I get into process, let's go over how lead attraction works as part of the inbound marketing methodology:
Attract. Use the right kind of content to attract the right kind of buyer to your website at the right time. Consistently blog about relevant topics, stay engaged on social media and help potential customers find you with relevant keywords and content.
Convert. Once you've attracted your ideal buyers, guide them toward content offers that offer added value and require them to fill out a form to get it. Once you have their information, they become leads. This could take on the form of strategically timed follow-up emails, a phone call or meeting request. Track every interaction in your CRM or marketing automation software, such as HubSpot.
Close. This is the fun part where you transform those leads into customers through proper nurturing and effective sales tactics that leverage all the insights you've gained along their buyer journeys. To get to this point requires building trust from the very first moment they discover your content.
Delight. Keep engaging your customers after the sale and continue to nurture them with relevant content, emails, follow-up calls and more. Build on your relationship to maintain the trust you've established. A delighted customer can be your biggest advocate and become a lead generation machine by becoming a promoter of your company through social media, networking, case studies and more.
With those stages of the buyer's journey in mind, here are some thoughts on how to evaluate and process leads.
Qualifying and Scoring
There are lots of ways to look at the first part of this process. However it's done, in the end you want to separate the wheat from the chaff, or the Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) from the bad and/or ugly. As a sales and marketing team you need to decide whether attractiveness or engagement is more important in qualifying. Defining lead attractiveness is typically based on criteria used to describe your ideal targets:
- Number of employees
- Annual revenue
- Specific industries (SIC codes)
- Titles of contacts
- Annual capital spending
- Memberships in specific trade associations
Engagement level is a judgment based on observed behaviors — pace of activity on your site, number of pages viewed and direct requests for information or samples/demonstrations. Simply stated; attractiveness identifies prospects who would make great customers and engagement level flags them as ready to buy from you.
Attractiveness and engagement should be viewed as different dimensions. Attractiveness is a relatively constant measure (they either are or aren't ideal buyers). Engagement, on the other hand, is dynamically time sensitive and changeable. Leads who may have low engagement today have the potential to become highly engaged in 90 days or 6 months or a year when their situations change.
In some industries — B2C consumer electronics, for example — a buyer's timeframe for research before making a purchase is relatively short. Comparatively, highly considered B2B purchases such as capital equipment (manufacturing lines, control systems, fire engines, etc.) take considerably longer to research and come to a final decision. A lead could be looking to replace aging equipment, finalizing an RFP list, completing an appropriations request, or researching for next years budget submission. Systematically gathering that information based on the timing stages your industry experiences becomes especially valuable in lead scoring.
Lead scoring? Yes. Scoring leads is something you do as a way to prioritize MQLs. You'll want to do this because as you attract more visitors and traffic grows, so too will the number of MQLs, inevitably leading to your sales team becoming overwhelmed with the sheer number of MQLs and potentially being frustrated by their inability to identify the best prospects within the bunch. We're a HubSpot user and reseller, and that platform includes qualifying and scoring tools.
Sales Qualified Leads (SQL)
SQLs are MQLs that scored high enough to be considered worth the time and effort to pursue. Your scoring mechanism should be structured to give the highest scores to the best opportunities, based on your actual experiences with leads who became customers. Here are the SQL categories I would want to see as a salesperson, ranked from best to not-so-great:
- Most attractive, fully engaged. These are senior decision makers from companies that are your best targets, who by their behaviors are signaling they're ready to make a purchase. Go get 'em!
- Most attractive, moderately engaged. These may be ideal targets, but they're not showing a readiness to buy. Depending on your industry, these might be highly valued by salespeople because of fit and the confidence that interest will be there soon enough with the right nurturing. Create nurturing campaigns that recognize the various segments within this group. This category should be watched most closely for behavioral changes that signal increasing trust and readiness to buy.
- Moderately attractive, fully engaged. These targets meet some basic requirements like company size and purchasing power, but their needs might not be a clear match to your solutions or the contact doesn't have final authority. But if they're very interested, they may have a strong influence on purchasing decisions and likely have potential value. Depending on the industry, some could argue this group should be a #2 priority.
- Most attractive, not yet engaged. They may be ideal targets, but they don't know you or trust you yet, and maybe the timing or conditions aren't right for them to be buyers. Nurture them by paying close attention to subjects they find most interesting, and watch their behaviors for any signs of warming up. Segment with the anticipation that valuable relationships will be developed down the road.
- Moderately attractive, moderately engaged. Put them on low maintenance nurturing and, if they become more engaged, put in more sales effort.
- Not attractive, fully engaged. These contacts should only be approached if the sales team doesn't have enough leads in categories 1–5. The good news is they're ready to buy; the bad news is they might be customers you'll regret because they're not a fit.
- Moderately attractive, not engaged. Same as #5, with a longer horizon.
- Not attractive, moderately engaged. Purge them from your contact database.
- Not attractive, not engaged. Cut 'em loose!
All this talk about perfecting your inbound marketing methodology and qualifying leads can't happen without the right content to guide them through the buyer's journey. An effective Inbound Marketing strategy requires creating quality content that nurtures leads in addition to having a robust website, social engagement and other initiatives. You don't have to go it alone, however. Here at Weidert, we specialize in B2B Inbound Marketing and are happy to discuss your challenges. Reach out.
As Weidert Group's lead salesperson and business development strategist, Nicole heads up the agency's new business strategy and provides sales consulting services to clients. Prior to her role at the agency, Nicole was an advertising manager at Gannett, one of the nation's largest media companies. With 10+ years of experience in advertising sales, she understands the complex relationship between marketing and sales within organizations.