Most new marketing qualified leads that go nowhere. Why? Often, it’s because Sales and Marketing have not agreed on a true lead definition and have not created a joint process for finding who’s ready to buy and building relationships with those who aren’t.
So most marketing qualified leads just end up staying MQLs. How can you get more sales accepted leads?
It’s not about more leads; it’s about doing better with the ones you already have.
Key takeaways this post
- Marketing must create a marketing funnel to develop sales-ready leads and nurture those that aren’t ready to buy.
- Sales and Marketing need to agree on a universal definition of a lead.
- The hand-off process between Sales and Marketing must be clearly defined so that leads do not languish or become lost.
- Sales and Marketing must have regular meetings to gauge progress.
15 Tips to Generate More Sales Accepted Leads
1. Create a marketing funnel, not just a sales funnel.
Most organizations don’t have a marketing funnel. Instead, they have a sales funnel that looks more like a bucket with lots of holes in it where leads leak out. Marketing needs to create its own funnel to understand whether leads are Sales-ready or not.
The purpose of the marketing funnel is to bring leads into one spot and qualify them. By qualifying them, I mean that they are ready to talk to a salesperson. Then, there is the hand-off process between Marketing and Sales to consider.
I find that connecting the marketing and sales funnels together is really a big challenge and that is a big stopgap for most demand generation programs. You have to understand your sales process to know at what point the sales team views a lead as an opportunity and begins actively pursuing it.
The bigger and better you make your marketing pipeline, the bigger and better you make your sales pipeline. In the end, this isn’t about generating more leads; it’s about generating actionable leads. The marketing funnel creates sales-ready leads while nurturing the leads that aren’t sales-ready.
2. Create a universal lead definition.
If you are trying to measure lead generation and you don’t have an agreed-upon definition for the word, you won’t be successful — especially in high-growth organizations where the number of leads is growing all the time. In this situation, salespeople will have a tendency to focus on those companies they already know and relationships they already have, ignoring the others. They need to keep their numbers up and not trust uncertain leads to move the needle.
To get past this, you have to sit down with the sales team and ask, “What are the major things that you need to know in order for you to feel that something is viable?”
In my work with one organization, these are the key points of information that Sales often wants to know about a lead:
- Role in the organization
- Authority is in the buying process
- Business need
- Timeframe for buying
- Defined internal initiative
- Stage of investigation
It’s important to remember that the lead definition process is iterative. It’s not a one-and-done thing. Revisit the definition and make changes. Also, make sure you’re asking questions, such as are we asking the right questions?
3. Use Inside Sales
The phone is the gold standard for qualifying most leads. We found that you can email, you can do Web profiling, you can measure all these touch points, but in the end if you want to know something, you need to talk to someone and engage them in conversation.
4. Ask about goals — don’t sell.
One of the mistakes we see in lead handoff is that Sales sees that someone downloads a whitepaper, so they do a follow-up call and want to set up an appointment. That’s not going to get you anywhere. You want to be able to engage them in more of a discussion rather than trying to make an immediate qualification.
To do that, you need to ask a question: What question were you hoping to answer by downloading our white paper?
The next question is, was that you asking the question, or was that someone else in your company asking the question?
The goal is to be a trusted advisor or a relevant resource to your audience until they move to the point of being ready to talk about initiatives or even a specific project.
5. Create a process for re-engaging “dead” leads.
Consider going back to your year-old or older leads and re-engage them in some meaningful way. I shared this case study
We helped a partner re-engage 2,500 leads by simply calling them based on what we knew from their profile data on the Web form. We reminded them of the interaction they had had and asked if we could be a resource for them.
The follow-up touch was an email. Of the group, 40% were people that were still interested but had no defined initiative. They were prime candidates to be nurtured. A further 15% were ready to become sales leads, and 7% converted into sales. In total, we invested $40,000 to do this work, and the business was worth $1.2 million.
6. Define lead nurturing — and which leads you should nurture
Lead nurturing is a relevant and consistent dialog with viable potential customers, regardless of their timing to buy. The people to be nurtured are generally those with whom you’ve had a direct meaningful interaction via phone or email and who are in companies that fit your preferred profile. The point is to build a relationship with them over time without trying to qualify them during each interaction.
7. Filter content by role and by the stage of the buying process
Executives get too much boring marketing content. However, if you can demonstrate that you’ve done some filtering on their behalf, you can get through to them.
We found that readership went up significantly by sending one targeted piece to leads rather than a generic newsletter targeted to everyone.
Begin by asking your sales team:
- What questions do your customers ask most often?
- What do they care about?
- What issues are they facing?
- What content have you shared that has helped the most with conversion?
In addition, ask your sales team about the prospects involved in the buying process and what challenges they all have in common. Try to get Sales to articulate the problem they are trying to solve. Then, you can deliver the content and help Sales find what it’s looking for at each stage of the lead nurturing process.
Find content — such as articles, blogs, and white papers — that addresses these issues. Pass this content by your sales team, and ask them whether their customers would value it. As much as you can, repurpose content. For instance, white papers can be transformed into articles, and articles can be transformed into blog posts.
A job title can give you clues about a prospect’s role in the buying process, but it’s best to determine their role through a phone conversation and a series of questions. Once you’ve determined who they are, you need to support a continuing conversation.
For example, if you have a webinar, send them a follow-up email with more information. Afterwards, call to ask, “Did you find that webinar helpful? Did it bring up other questions?”
8. Touch leads frequently
To remain relevant during the nurturing process, you have to be consistent. My threshold for consistency is to reach out to leads at least once a month. Different marketers have different thresholds, but I would say that quarterly isn’t enough to be remembered — there is just too much noise over that timeframe.
9. Don’t sell; educate and help
Most case studies and whitepapers have a sales edge to them. That won’t work for lead nurturing. The content must be educational and helpful. One MECLABS research partner worked with an outside publisher to develop educational webinars and brought in some editorial support to help them develop some thought leadership pieces that didn’t focus on products or sales.
10. Use third parties to add credibility
Most marketers try to generate all the content they send to leads themselves. However, third parties can do that work for you and, more importantly, validate what you are doing in the marketplace. For example, one partner started partnering with analysts covering their industry. They paid a fee to repurpose the research and shared it with their target audience.
Meanwhile, linking to third-party media articles costs you nothing. You don’t need to get permission to send hyperlinks to articles that you think are relevant. It helps to personalize the emails. For example, you could write something along the lines of, “I saw this article in IndustryWeek that I thought you might find relevant based on our last conversation.” Having clear profiles of the different leads means that you can somewhat automate that process.
11. Use a single voice when communicating with leads
People pay attention to who is sending them emails. Anonymous email servers may save money and be scalable, but they don’t build connections. The re-engagement process has to start with a human being.
You need to have a person behind the email and the phone call. Also, it should be the same person. Our goal is to build the relationship through one person to the point to where the lead is sales-ready, then hand that relationship off to the next person.
12. Nurture accounts, not just people
It’s important to have a closed-loop feedback system so that you can track all activities with all leads inside an organization.
Especially with B2B, selling happens at a corporate level and a business unit level in addition to an individual level. You need to be able to track interactions to be able to determine the program of selling the entire organization.
13. Market to the role, not the title
It seems like everyone is a vice president these days. You need an intelligent process to identify the person’s function and role in the company, rather than going by title.
With a recent partner, we developed a process for determining a contact’s function in the company based on a series of conversations. Unless you do that, you don’t have a way to segment your lead accurately and send them the right content for where they are in the buying cycle.
14. Have a clear hand-off process between Marketing and Sales
The point at which Marketing hands a lead off to Sales is like a relay race — it’s important to keep moving fast without dropping the baton.
For one partner, we got Sales to commit to contacting all leads within 48 hours if they had the following three things:
- The lead conforms to the universal lead definition
- Confirmation that the lead wants to speak to a sales representative
- Qualification information for each lead
It’s important to document the process so that both sales and marketing can track all steps and evaluate the process objectively. This documentation is shown in the following figure:
15. Create a process for joint marketing and sales “huddles” to gauge progress
A football team would never think of skipping the huddle between plays. Sales and Marketing should view their work together in the same way. They need to talk frequently about what’s happening with their leads if they want to see ROI.
It’s important to close the loop on every lead and to talk about ways to improve the process. In my experience, Sales and Marketing should huddle on leads at least once a month.
Here are some questions to ask:
- How many of the leads we’ve given you in the past two weeks are active?
- Have you talked to them?
- Are you moving forward?
It’s also important to celebrate wins during huddles. You need to feel that you are all part of the same team. When that happens, you start seeing improvements at all levels.
For example, one partner had an administrative person at the meetings enter information about leads into the CRM system as people were talking. Soon, sales began to see why they needed to capture accurate information about leads in the system. If they do it, they can see that nurturing will happen on their behalf.