If you’re a B2B then having your sales and marketing teams working together and fully aligned in their thinking could work wonders for your results. To get to that point, both teams need to sit down together to work out and agree every part of the sales process and a key strand of that discussion should be lead qualification.
One of the questions that needs answering is ‘who should be talking to inbound leads and when?’ In the past, marketing teams would never have dreamt of talking to new prospects - and sales wouldn’t have wanted it any other way! However, it makes no sense for highly trained sales reps to be wasting their time qualifying leads, when it could be done far more efficiently.
But when it comes to lead qualification, it’s not as simple as saying every person who downloads something from the website is going to be a strong lead, who has a need and is in buying mode. They might be, but they also might not be – it’s not a clear signal if looked at in isolation without knowing more.
So how do you go about finding out who is a real prospect?
Get the timing right
If you’re just starting out then the number of leads in your sales process is going to be fairly small, so your urge to jump on them straightaway will be high. But don’t be too eager! Whether you have 5 leads or 5,000 to process, you need to ensure you’re contacting them at the right time (as the last thing you want is to scare them off) and that takes patience. In principle, the process of lead qualification will be the same whether all the steps are handled by one person or a team of 100.
Lead scoring is one way to try and find out how good a lead really is, based on their behaviour and engagement. The more you know about them, the better you will be able to judge.
If you’re getting anything up to around 50 leads per month, then you won’t necessarily need sophisticated technology to help you with this. One person can manage to research those 50 leads to find out which ones should be contacted. However, it gets a little trickier the more leads you have, so once the numbers increase it makes sense to use some form of automated scoring tool. Any good marketing automation software should offer this and be able to help you do just that.
Points should be given for all the important criteria that may signal a good lead. For example, anyone who looks at your pricing page gets extra points for doing so, as it is a signal of possible buying intent and interest in the product. If they then go on to download five of your e-books and to read 15 articles, the indications are even better that they are really interested. But you still don’t know whether they are the right fit for your product - as they could end up being a student, or even a competitor, simply doing some research.
The best way to manage this is to start by using lead scoring and then once a score reaches a certain threshold, to pass it to a human who can evaluate them further.
What is a good lead?
One of the key questions that needs answering upfront is ‘what is a good lead?’. This will guide everything you do, from the content you create for your website, to your sales materials and your lead qualification process.
Checking leads have the right amount of budget, the authority to order, a need your product can solve and the right timeframe in mind for buying (commonly referred to as BANT) is part of this. Other factors may also be relevant, such as the company’s location, size and structure and the demographics of the lead themselves, including their job role and seniority.
Being a good ‘fit’ is equally important. While a lead may meet all the criteria, you need to know they will be a good fit for you to work with. This is particularly relevant when it comes to long-term engagements.
Once you have discussed and agreed on the criteria it’s time to plot out your qualification process. This should include adding in the additional qualification step that will be taken with each lead before they are passed over to sales.
If you are currently one person doing it all then you still need to do this step and for those who are handling larger volumes of leads, you may want to think about putting a team in place to handle it. And here’s why:
5 advantages to adding a human qualification step
1. Faster lead response times mean higher conversions (5 minutes is the magic number)
2. It ensures sales reps only talk to hot leads and decision makers
3. Data entry is increased and more complete (missing data is manually entered)
4. Lead nurturing includes the human touch which increases conversions
5. Analytics are more accurate
The person or team responsible for this step, the "qualifiers" (also sometimes called market response reps, in-house sales, or even business development), have only one job to do:
- To review each lead (research, add data, gather information)
- To contact each lead in a non-sales way, for example, to help them with whatever they were interacting with on the website
- To qualify the lead by asking targeted questions during the conversation to tick off as many of the criteria as possible
- To then put each lead onto the right path - no fit at all, perhaps a fit for the future, or the right fit right now.
We can’t stress enough here that any conversations at this point should not be sales calls.
Tips to increase lead qualification effectiveness
So now you have a strong qualification process mapped out, what else can you do to strengthen it and further improve on its effectiveness?
- Have your lead qualification team and the sales team sit in on each other’s calls to enhance their learning and understanding
- Help foster greater alignment between marketing and sales by putting the qualification team under marketing but in constant contact with sales
- Start with a low pass score in order to fully test and understand your process, then as it improves and starts to work even better, start increasing the pass score over time
- Constantly evaluate your effectiveness and the results you are getting, including improving call scripts and streamlining the process
- In certain circumstances an automated qualification email may be called for, to help check for engagement. This may be an email with lots of links for further reading. If someone follows those links then you have a sign they may be interested.
- Forget about quantity. In the old days (and sometimes still today) organisations were entirely ruled by numbers. The thought was the more you get in at the top of the funnel, the more will come out at the bottom as conversions. But this isn’t the way to go about it. The secret is to attract good leads in the first place and then qualifying them to pull out the hot leads. Quality always wins over quantity when it comes to B2B online lead generation.
For further great reading on this topic, check out Marketo’s process of lead qualification.
And the result...if you can get your lead qualification process right and ensure that sales reps focus solely on warm leads who are to some degree ready to buy, then your conversion rates will soar. Just keep reviewing the process, refining it and making improvements and you’ll soon be ahead of the game and in a very strong position.