The Trick to Increased Revenue: Better Sales Lead Qualification Criteria

January 22, 2019 | David Cunningham


More is not always better. That’s a new idea for marketers. We tend to get caught up focusing on more: More traffic, more conversions, more leads. But more is not actually better. Better is better.

Here’s why: Doing more and more marketing work is not better. It can get pretty exhausting. But doing more effective (and thus better) marketing tasks? That is better. And having more leads is also not necessarily better, but having better leads? That’s definitely better.

That’s the key message of a webinar we did about qualified leads recently, and it speaks to a lot of what’s going on in marketing right now. Just doing more of everything does not assure success especially if the “more” comes with more work and more overhead.

Sales Lead Qualification Criteria matters because more is not always better. Better is better.

Leads are great, but each one comes with a certain amount of work that misalignment will only complicate. Sales departments around the world have been shouldering that work and overhead for years, wading through thousands of leads to figure out which ones are worth their time. Working to align the goals of your marketing and sales departments will simplify the process and holistically improve the quality of leads.

As B2B marketing has grown more sophisticated, sales and marketing departments have developed the idea of the sales qualified lead (SQL). In one of our recent posts, “4 Steps to Change the Game on Sales-Qualified Lead Performance,” we define sales qualified leads as:

“…prospects that have indicated a serious interest in purchasing your products or services. An SQL has been researched and evaluated by both the marketing and sales teams and determined that the individual has serious potential to convert into a paying customer. They are bottom-funnel leads.”

This is a little different than a marketing qualified lead, or “MQL.” These are leads that have shown a direct interest in your product/service through a specific marketing channel.

So MQLs are good, however, SQLs are better. Sales qualified leads are worth having a real human salesperson spend time on them. Moreover, because business is so competitive, and because marketers have gotten pretty good at generating lots of leads, qualifying leads is becoming more and more critical.  

Many marketers already know they need better leads. That’s why research studies have started documenting how lead quality is more of a priority than lead quantity.

Sales Lead Qualification Criteria matters more now as lead quality has become more important than lead quantity.

Don’t prioritize quality over quantity just because we say so. Or just because your peers are doing it. There are plenty of other reasons, and we are going to explore four of them.

4 Benefits of Prioritizing Lead Quality Over Lead Quantity

1. You’ll Bring More of the Right Prospects into the Sales Pipeline Faster

When you can pre-qualify leads, and thus quickly net out the most valuable leads, it makes the whole sales process go faster. The result is more revenue (and alignment) for your company.

That’s a good start, but a shorter sales cycle has all sorts of other benefits, too. It makes testing easier, for one thing. It also tends to boost everybody’s bonus, which makes for a more motivated team.

Getting leads into your company’s pipeline faster also means you won’t lose sales to your competitors. When a “hot” lead comes in and gets pre-qualified fast (or even automatically), it means your sales team can jump in and begin to build the relationship and close the sale, while your competitor has only just started sending their drip email campaign to that lead.

2. Your Nurturing Efforts Can Be Focused on the Right Leads

Let’s face it: Marketers have more to do than there are hours in the day. So wherever we can focus our efforts on the highest-return tasks, we should.

This is audience selection 101 for those of you who advertise. You aren’t buying ads for general audiences anymore, right? You’re using retargeting and lookalike audiences to show ads to the people most likely to buy.

Shouldn’t your nurturing efforts follow the same logic? Why waste time on low-value prospects when we barely have enough time to handle the high-value ones?

3. You’ll Be Able to Provide Your Sales Team With the Leads They Need to Convert

This is an essential component of lead generation: To send sales a list of people that will convert into revenue. That way, sales can make their numbers, and you can make your numbers, and everybody gets to keep their job and maybe even get a bonus or a raise.

Meeting specific numbers is a powerful motivator. Also, many marketers have it: Our research has shown that 40 percent of marketers’ bonuses are tied to company or department goals.

4. You’ll Conserve Budget by Not Chasing After People Who Were Never Really Interested

When somebody downloads gated content, can we really say it proves they want to buy our products? Perhaps they’re a college kid writing a paper. Maybe they’re a blogger who is writing for a competitor. It could even be a person who is exploring possible solutions but won’t have the budget to do anything for six months or more – if ever.

We don’t know. So save your budget and your time and don’t chase people who aren’t pre-qualified. Focus on the better leads.

The Tools You’ll Need to Pre-Qualify Leads

Hopefully, you see now that more is not better. Better is better. And hopefully, you want to pre-qualify your leads.

The question is: How? Will this be expensive? Time-consuming? Is pre-qualifying your leads going to be such a headache that you might as well nurture every lead that comes in and not try to skim off the highest-value leads up front?

No. Pre-qualifying leads can be simple. You won’t have to blow up your marketing funnel to do it, either. You don’t have to invest a mint of money or prepare for six months of work before you see any results. You just have to ask a few questions.

You ask these questions early on in lead generation, but not too early. We’ve found the best method is to remove the traditional lead form “gates” in front of high-value content (like white papers, on-demand webinars, and research) and replace them with optional sales-qualifying questions about a quarter to a third of the way through the piece of content.

By removing the gate, the prospect doesn’t have any barrier to accessing the content. And once they’ve started consuming it, their interest will be piqued (if the content is good) and they’ll be more invested in finishing the content. So if we drop in an optional sales-qualifying question a few pages in, they’re likely to answer it. They can still skip it, but most people don’t.

Here’s a very noninvasive question we ask readers about three screens into our Unsung Heroes research.

You can use interactive content to ask website visitors and leads sales qualifying questions.

 

It’s not the only question we’ll ask to qualify someone (see this blog post for more suggested questions), but it’s best to start with easy questions that won’t distract people too much.

A few screens later, there is a semi-traditional lead gen form. It’s traditional in that it’s got all the usual elements of a lead gen form. It’s untraditional because it’s not required.

Lead generation forms can be set up to ask for sales lead qualification criteria.

 

Just removing the required gates/lead gen forms from your high-value content will go a long way towards improving lead quality and having more productive sales calls. If a lead gen form isn’t needed, all those people who don’t want to hear from you will never get into your lead generation database in the first place.

Overnight, you’ll only be bringing people in who actually want to talk to you about your products.

If you can focus on those “hand-raisers,” and then ask them a couple of sales-qualifying questions (maybe in the first few emails of a lead nurturing campaign), voilà: You’ve just radically improved the quality of your new leads.

The example above was a PDF, but you can also weave this technique into on-demand and live webinars, database activation, in-person events, inbound requests, nurture streams, chatbots, blogs, and more.

But what about the rest of your database? All the old leads you brought in before? Don’t you want to re-assess how you’ll nurture them going forward?

Sure you do. That’s what database activation programs can do. So you can take all those thousands, or tens of thousands of names, profiles, and behavior records and distill them down into a list of the people that matter. The people who are most likely to turn into real revenue.

How to Optimize Your Lead Improvement Projects

Do you want to be extra sure your new sales qualification program works? Here are three things that will boost your chances:

First, never launch any lead quality improvement project without the input of sales – at the beginning, middle, and end of your project. Sales people are the master source of knowledge about who is and who is not qualified to buy. So don’t guess what questions you should be asking of prospects to qualify them: Get those questions from sales.

Second, get some data behind your decisions. For instance, do you know when people tend to disengage from your on-demand webinars? Slip your sales-qualifying questions in before that point. The lead gen form can arguably go in a bit after most people drop out. This is because you don’t want to bring everybody who watches that webinar into your nurturing system. You only want the people who are extra interested.

That may mean that only be the top 25 percent most engaged people who watch the video are high enough quality to immediately advance to sales. Maybe you don’t want to cut your lead generation down that much, but that 25 percent makes a strong case for not trying to turn everyone who sees your content into a lead.

And finally, test where your optional sales-qualifying questions go, and where your lead forms work best. A couple of tests could substantially increase how many sales qualified leads you can generate.

Closing Thoughts

The fact that we’re talking about lead quality and SQLs at all is a testament to how much lead generation has improved in the last few years.

Many marketers have gotten the quantity part of lead generation down – we know how to get plenty of leads. Now, we’re fine-tuning our work, coordinating with sales, and becoming more sophisticated about which prospects we’ll nurture. So cheers to you, marketers. You’ve gotten better, too.


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