Fixing the Sales-Ready Lead Problem with Better Nurturing

October 12, 2018 | Kirsten Lyons


A quick google search for lead nurturing confirms what you probably already know, dear marketing friend: things are pretty bleak out there in terms of our overall efficiency. Marketers and salespeople alike are working toward the holy grail of a funnel full of hyper-qualified leads that drive unprecedented revenue, but it’s clear that somewhere along the way we’re getting off track.

When a google search reveals a heap of stats like these:

  • 80% of leads never translate into sales
  • 61% of leads deemed “sales-ready” never become prospects
  • 78% of marketers rank email as their top performing nurture channel, but only 24% of sales emails are opened today.

You can clearly see…

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We have a problem here.

Sales and marketing today both work tirelessly to generate more leads to hit increasing revenue goals, but those leads aren’t translating into customers.

And that’s because what we’re calling a “sales-ready” lead today simply isn’t that.

Whether a lead came from marketing or sales, lazy recon. work and outdated nurture practices mean sales spends hours chasing leads that are uninterested, unqualified, and unlikely to convert.

The real problem? Marketers today are confusing interest with buying intent.


If we’re doing our job as marketers, we are creating high quality content that positions our company as a thought leader, and seamlessly draws prospects into our orbit as they are unable to resist giving us their email address to access a new shiny eBook.

But we’ve gotten so good at creating quality content industry professionals will be interested in, that interest alone is no longer a viable signal of any real buying intent.

And the answer to the complex task of sussing out general interest from actual buying intent is better lead nurturing. In fact, Forrester reports that marketers see a 20% increase in sales opportunities from nurtured vs non-nurtured leads, and companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost.

Hard to argue with those numbers, right?

So what does effective lead nurturing look like today?

1. Radically timely follow-up

In an analysis of more than 2,200 companies, Harvard Business Review found that salespeople who attempted to reach leads within an hour of a conversion action were nearly seven times likelier to have meaningful conversations with decision makers than those who waited even one hour.

Hubspot also found specifically in terms of sales follow up calls, a prospect is 21 times more likely to become qualified when contacted within five minutes following conversion.

That’s not to say that rapid follow-up will translate to forcing a prospect who is simply interested into a buying process. However, driving towards “meaningful” conversations allows you to connect, continue to nurture, or disqualify and move on, without wasting your time.

Read more about the counter-intuitive benefits of disqualifying leads.

2. Segment your contacts

This underutilized practice can be incredibly effective when applied to this understanding of interest vs. buying intent.

Here you can see how Marketo segments behaviors into interest and intent categories for behavioral lead scoring.

This same concept can be applied to segmenting follow-up in different nurture tracks based on the likelihood a prospect will convert.

While this kind of behavioral scoring doesn’t account for the fact that if I attend two webinars my lead score could be the same as a buyer who has been trolling a pricing page for 15 minutes, segmenting nurtures based on engagement (or interest behaviors) from buying intent is particularly effective today.

In fact, by segmenting your contacts by behavior like this you can improve your email open rates by over 15%.

3. Build sales and marketing alignment

According to the Sales Performance Optimization study, 89% of companies that aligned sales and marketing lead generation efforts reported measurable increases in the number of leads that turned to opportunities as a result of continuous nurturing.

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And it makes sense. Having a communal understanding of terms like MQL, SQL, and SAL means that marketing can focus on driving the leads that will help sales get over the finish line faster.

Additionally, well-aligned marketing and sales teams allow for faster, more seamless follow-up, which like we mentioned above, is critical for success in today’s environment.

Read more on how to start improving marketing and sales alignment in 3 steps.

Final Thoughts:

A quality over quantity approach is the secret weapon of effective sales and marketing organizations in today’s buying environment. When the overwhelming majority of hard won leads don’t convert into opportunities, let alone customers, we need to do something different.

By focusing on smarter, modern lead nurturing practices that differentiate between interest and buying intent, marketers and salespeople alike can meet their goals.

Explore how interactive content can support your lead nurturing efforts in our guide!


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