What is a sales "lead?" And, why is this "critical?"
Oct 09, 2017
This is perhaps the biggest problem with marketing today, especially in the B2B sector. Many B2B marketers consider all requests or "inquiries" for information, such as white papers, as "leads." After being in B2B and B2C marketing for more than 30 years, through all kinds of marketing technology and channel changes, we can state with assurance that, "an "inquiry" is not necessarily a "lead" and should not be treated as one. People visit websites, fill out forms, and request information for all sorts of reasons and their requesting such information does not make them a "lead."
In a 2016 survey conducted by Econsultancy, 22% of B2B marketers said that they are satisfied with current levels of "lead" conversions and closures. This isn't a good stat, considering the amount of money being spent by marketers are CRM lead nurturing software, etc. More to the point, it means that 78% of marketers are not satisfied.
The biggest reason is--and most marketers won't admit it--is that too many marketers automatically include "inquiries" as "leads" in their "lead" pool and believe that all such "leads" can be nurtured and eventually converted into "buyers." They toss them into a nurturing program in their marketing automation system and let the system take over and eventually spit the so-called "marketing qualified leads" out to sales. Then sales gets to turn them into "sales qualified leads." This clearly isn't working.
I recently spoke to the CMO of a software company who is in the process of redoing their nurturing messaging, because they aren't converting as many leads as they think they should be. That's a good step, but it's certainly not the first step they should be taking. The first question I would ask is, "Are the prospects that they include in their lead pool really "leads?" There may, in fact, be nothing wrong with their nurturing messaging. But, there may be a great deal wrong with the prospects being including in the "lead" pool.
To prevent this situation, the first step in the process is to decide what a valid "inquiry" is. To do this, you need to have an accurate picture of your target markets and best prospects within those markets. Unfortunately, this is a step that many marketers fail to spend the money or cut corners on.
Then you need to develop an acceptable definition of a "lead" for your business.
This is one of the most important things you as a marketer have to do. And, this has to be done with sales involvement prior to launching marketing campaigns to attract potential "leads." And, based on the amount of noise in the press, the situation isn't improving. In fact, we would say that due to an ever increasing dependence on MarTech by marketers, the situation is getting worse not better. No matter how good the technology, "garbage in" is still "garbage out."
In digital based marketing, the information request form / landing page / microsite has taken over as the primary method of lead capturing. All experts, including us, will tell you that the more information you ask for from the requestor on one of these forms to prequalify them, the more it will depress your response rates. But there is also a belief among marketers that the more information you ask for, the more likely you are to get a legitimate "lead."
Our observation is maybe and it depends on a lot of factors like the audience, the product, the offer, etc. But, the odds are certainly more in your favor. So, the goal is to get the largest number of responders that you can, then run them through your marketing automation system to nurture and qualify them so they can be eventually turned over to sales and hopefully converted into buyers or weeded out in the process. The only problem is that most of these non "leads" are not weeded out before they are turned over to sales, which brings us back to the fact that 78% of B2B marketers are not satisfied with current levels of "lead" conversions and closures. This problem is often compound by evaluating marketing campaign performance based on the numbers of "leads" generated and lumping all responders into this group.
A respondent is an "inquiry" not a lead...until proven otherwise.
Inquiries are generated from web forms, print advertisements, direct mail campaigns, events (including trade shows), referrals, social media, purchased lists, and public relations efforts. Your sales staff will also be doing their own prospecting, and inquiries generated by them should follow the same qualification process. The primary sources of your inquiries will depend on the best method of reaching your target prospect audiences.
Time to get something straight and that is that a respondent to a promotion, a person who fills out a form to receive information or access an offer, is an "inquiry" not a "lead." The whole problem of "lead" valuation and qualification begins with the miss naming of an "inquiry" as a "lead." It is not semantics. There are clear differences in valuation.
- Rule # 1 – asking for information does not make the respondent a "lead."
- Rule # 2 – all clicks are not created equal – meaning they are not all "leads. Segmentation might help identify which are actually leads (not your most profitable leads because you are at too early a stage in the "lead" qualification process to determine that). A "lead" actually has to buy something to make them a profitable "lead.
- Rule # 3 - stop letting your CRM nurturing system do the thinking for you. We spend our time creating personas, then message schema and then turn it over to whatever level of artificial intelligence is built into the system to make decisions about when and what message the prospect needs to get in the series. Unfortunately, a good deal of the time, it's not the right message.
An "inquiry" is someone who has requested or filled out a form to receive or to be able to download an offer, which in the case of B2B marketing is usually more information – educational or marketing collateral, sometimes tools. Because someone has downloaded information or a tool does not make them a lead.
A "lead" is someone who has a genuine interest in your product/service and has a need for that product/service from you or one of your competitors. And, lets also not forget that a "lead" needs to have the money to spend for your product/service.
With the advent of internet / digital marketing – the "inquiry" has suddenly become a "lead" and in the schema of the many automated qualification tools, the "inquiry" (aka the "lead") is given an unwarranted value. As a marketer, you need to avoid falling into this trap. Doing so, will make your relationship with the sales organization a lot more amicable and productive.
How do you avoid the "inquiry," "lead" trap, or get out of it, if you're already there?
The first step is to conduct an assessment to develop a thorough understanding of the market opportunity that exists for your products / services / solutions in the marketplace and truly identify whom your best prospects are. For more on conducting this assessment and determining what questions you need to answer, click here.
The next step is to do a thorough analysis of your current lead generation strategies and program. For more on conducting this analysis and what you need to look at, click here.
And, the final step is to analyze your current lead nurturing program to make sure it dovetails with your lead generation program. For more on conducting this analysis and what you need to review, click here.
Dudley Stevenson, founder and CEO of DWS Associates, has over thirty-five years’ experience in consumer marketing, business-to-business marketing, and direct marketing, including developing, planning, and implementing go-to-market strategies. He's also the author of "Marketing Direct: Breaking Through The Clutter." Working with organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies, he and his team have helped clients such as IBM, Sony, Neiman Marcus, Arizona Highways, Marshall Field & Co., Mrs. Field’s, UNICEF, and Patagonia implement successful direct marketing programs. A longtime member of the Direct Marketing Association and the American Marketing Association, Stevenson is also a sought-after speaker. He’s given hundreds of presentations and workshops on marketing and direct marketing. His “Marketing Planning 101” workshop alone has reached more than 100,000 marketing and sales professionals.