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B2B Lead Generation - What is a "lead" and why is this critical?
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. Not good, that means 78% of you aren't.
The biggest reason is and most 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.
To prevent this situation, the first step in the process is to decide what a valid "inquiry" is. 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, activities and content 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 Internet 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 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 14% 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."
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.
With the advent of internet / digital marketing – the "inquiry" has suddenly become a "lead" and in the schema of the many technological 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.