Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Essential Steps To Qualify Leads In An Unqualified World


By Lisa Cramer, President, LeadLife Solutions

The statistics are overwhelming. The volume of leads or inquiries that come to your company’s Web site or trade show booth that don’t buy—usually because they’re just not yet ready to— is staggering. However, even if they’re not yet “ready buyers,” it doesn’t mean that your sales team shouldn’t be nurturing them. In fact, 80% of the un-worked leads (those not picked up by your sales force for a variety of reasons) will buy from someone over the next 24 months. So how does marketing make sure it’s your company that they buy from once they’re ready?


Furthermore, according to Jim Lenskold, president of the Lenskold Group and a noted author and expert on marketing ROI, if only 2% to 10% of leads generated actually end up as closed sales, then a full 90% to 98% percent of leads are leaking out of the sales funnel. How do we affect this large percentage of leads that are currently getting away? One way to improve your odds is to start incorporating lead nurturing into your marketing and sales mix.

In this article, we’ll review two main components that are essential when discussing successful lead nurturing programs. First, how do you distinguish when a lead is qualified enough to be handed off to sales? Second, what are some of the items to consider when nurturing leads to increase the number of qualified leads that you have? There are many strategies and thoughts around effective nurturing. The specifics are really up to your company’s marketing and sales processes, defined by items such as what you sell and how long your sales cycle is. However, there are some elements of the nurturing process that are universally important, no matter the process you embark on.

What’s a “sales ready” lead?
Some companies call it a “marketing qualified” lead, some a “sales ready” lead, and still others refer to it as simply a “lead” versus an inquiry or suspect. But whatever you call it, the important element of “it” is the definition. What constitutes a “sales ready” lead in your company? Are there certain behaviors the lead must have exhibited? Are there certain demographic criteria they must have met? Are there certain BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timing) factors they must have expressed in order to qualify?

Within each category listed above, your company needs to decide what information can be captured and tracked by marketing, as well as whether this can be captured by marketing programs alone or through additional programs, like telemarketing. Based on what can be captured and tracked, you (your sales and marketing departments together) must then decide on what constitutes a “sales ready” lead. In other words, what mix of the components above would signal that a lead has indeed entered the buy cycle? That they are indeed ready for a call from a sales person? That the lead has moved beyond research and education to identifying potential solutions and performing vendor comparisons?

Not only is a definition of a “sales ready” lead essential for nurturing success, but the identification of such leads is also critical. It is extremely important to know when a lead has become “sales ready”. Such lead identification should not be onerous or manual, but instead should be something that is automated and therefore easily visible. This is where the concept of lead scoring complements lead nurturing. Lead scoring will highlight those leads that have become sales ready. And through automation, this identification can initiate a series of workflows that will move the lead as quickly as possible into the sales team’s hands.

Components of Successful Lead Nurturing
Successful lead nurturing programs will enable you to grow leads that have not entered the buying cycle into ones that are ready to buy or at least are open to taking a call from a sales person to start the process. Furthermore, because lead nurturing involves a series of touches over time, it enables you to keep your company’s name top of mind among prospects. The specific process you use for lead nurturing will be very dependent on what you sell, who your target audience is and other variables. However, there are some basic elements of any lead nurturing process to consider:

Timing of touches: How often you send out emails or direct mail, or how often you make calls, is very dependent on where your target leads are in the process and the complexity of your sales cycle. For example, we have some customers whose sales cycle is fairly short (two to three months) and in that case, it’s not unusual for them to send out drip emails to their prospects every seven to ten days. Others with more complex cycles will have a much slower drip, not touching the prospect more than one a month.
Content relevance: Nurturing success really comes down to how relevant the material you send to the prospect is. In other words, does the prospect care about the message you are delivering to them at that point in the buy cycle? If the prospect is at the research/education stage and you provide relevant (based on what they’re interested in) materials to help educate them further, then they’ll be interested. However, if at that same stage of the cycle, you start selling the prospect on the features of your solution – it’s too early and they are likely to be turned off.
Relevance to any demographic information you’ve captured: This can be as simple as inserting your office location that is closest to the lead’s location in the email, or including relevant images based on their industry. Another item to think through is using the behavioral information you have tracked about the lead in order to follow up with related information. For instance, with marketing automation, it is now possible to track the lead’s behavior so that you can better understand what they are interested in and where they spend time on your Web site or at a trade show booth. Take advantage of such knowledge by delivering follow-on materials that appeal to their interests and suggesting something that would be of further value to them.

Whatever lead nurturing you implement, keep it simple at first, evaluate how well it’s working and grow it accordingly. You need to assess and understand what’s working and what’s not. Also, make sure you have visibility into what people are clicking on, as well as what they are not clicking on, and make sure the metrics go all the way through the pipeline from initial interest to deals closed.

Lisa Cramer is president and co-founder of LeadLife Solutions, a provider of on-demand lead management software that generates, scores, and nurtures leads for B2B marketers. For more information on lead management call 1-800-680-6292.

1 comment:

Maria said...

This is a great post highlighting many of the reason I do lead scoring. I appreciated the detail in the post, specifically the lead nurturing components. For marketers who are looking for a way to calculate what the return will be on their lead nurturing they see this free whitepaper and webinar: http://www.marketo.com/b2b-marketing-resources/lead-nurturing.php