In most B2B marketing, the road from first contact to a sale is a long one. It takes time for a prospect to develop trust, and many B2B purchase decision makers begin researching options long before they will be choosing a solution. So why would you want to send every contact immediately to the sales department?
You wouldn’t. And hopefully you aren’t. Hopefully, you are implementing lead nurturing to deepen a connection with leads through automated emails and watching for triggers that indicate a lead is moving down the sales funnel.
If you are immediately sending every lead directly to sales, without nurturing or qualifying that lead first, you are wasting your sales department’s time and feeding into the perception amongst salespeople that marketing-generated leads are lower quality than other sources. (According to HubSpot, only 28 percent of salespeople say marketing is their best source of leads. Source)
On the contrary, businesses who nurture leads make 50 percent more sales at a cost 33 percent less than non-nurtured prospects. (Strategic IC, 2017) (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)
So how can you ensure that the leads marketing sends to sales truly are high quality leads, thereby improving sales conversion rates and business success?
It begins by working across departmental lines to create a specific definition of a “qualified lead” and is enhanced by following these five basic steps whenever a lead has triggered the point in your automated system that indicates they are ready for a first contact. (Check out this post to get started: Four Steps To Setting Your Definition Of A Marketing Qualified Lead.)
1. Determine what the prospect needs.
Many contacts may find their way into your lead nurturing system, even when your solution isn’t really the one they need. If you are providing a lot of information in your website content and offers, it could be that they are simply learning from you, but don’t actually need your products or services. This may be the case if your blog posts are being used by students or instructors learning about your business or industry. They don’t actually need your services. These contacts may weed themselves out of your lead nurturing program naturally by not interacting beyond the initial download or blog subscription. You may also be able to sift them out by using progressive forms on your landing pages for content that is near the bottom of the sales funnel.
But if a lead makes it through your automated nurturing system, then a phone call or email contact from marketing can help determine what the prospect needs and what challenges he or she is trying to solve. If they don’t have a need currently, there is no reason to send them on to sales.
2. Confirm that your solution is the right fit.
Once you know what challenges your prospect is facing, consider which product or service your company offers is the right solution. If your company offers a range of products, perhaps to suit clients in a range of sizes, you would want to identify the appropriate sales team member to initiate follow up calls.
3. Know the prospect's budget.
Not every lead that enters your nurturing program is going to be able to afford your top-end solution. When conducting lead qualification contacts, you need to find out from the prospect how much they are able or willing to invest in a solution. This gives your sales team a starting point from which to prepare bids or proposals. Or it could disqualify a prospect completely if they simply don’t have the funds to spend on your products or services.
4. Identify your prospect's influence level.
Visitors to your website will likely include various levels of management and influence level. It is important to know who your prospect is: are they an end user of the product, an influencer, or a decision-maker? In small companies, the same individual may fit all three descriptions, but in others that isn’t the case.
AccuReg realized this in rebranding their healthcare registration software. They had previously targeted the end user: hospital registrars. However, the software purchasing decision is more likely to be made by CFOs.
Understanding the different in prospects/leads and their needs is also key to creating the appropriate marketing content. You may want to create different content packages to target each customer persona, including both the final decision-makers and those who are influencers or end users, but not necessarily writing the check.
If a lead doesn’t have the authority to make purchasing decisions, or at least have influence and input into the decision-making process, there is no need for your sales team to spend time trying to close a sale. But it may make sense to find out from the lead who in their organization IS authorized and seek a referral to contact that person directly.
5. Understand the prospect's timeline.
Knowing how soon the lead wants a solution in place will help your sales team prioritize where they put their efforts. A prospect looking for a quick solution will require more immediate attention than one who is currently in a contract but exploring options for when that contract expires six months down the road. And understand that most B2B purchases involve a long sales cycle.
With answers to these questions in hand, your marketing department will be ready to set up sales for the best possible outcomes, passing along only leads that meet qualification criteria and including key lead intelligence that will help the sales team smoothly transition into place and close more deals. Access more resources to improve your lead nurturing, lead qualification and marketing-sales collaboration by downloading these templates: Lead Qualification Checklist and The Complete Guide To Unifying Marketing And Sales.