If you’re frustrated with the quality of leads that you’re getting from marketing, you’re not alone. According to a CEB study, 49% of sales reps actually ignore more than half of marketing leads. And no wonder. Gleanster Research estimates that only 25% of marketing leads are worth passing along to sales.
The problem isn’t the leads, per se. It’s the lead qualification process — or, more accurately, the lack of a qualification process that is fast and accurate. Manual lead management isn’t practical or even possible in a business environment where digital, inbound lead generation dominates.
It’s critical for companies to manage their leads effectively. That means having a process for accurately scoring and qualifying leads and doing it at scale.
Whether you select a standalone tool, such as an autoresponder for automatically launching email campaigns, or a full suite of tools, automated lead management can improve sales effectiveness and increase ROI while giving prospects a better experience throughout the buyer’s journey.
If you’re among the 58% of B2B companies still planning to adopt marketing automation technology, here are some strategies to consider.
Automated Lead Qualification Saves Time
Sales reps need to know that a lead is well qualified before they pick up the phone. Time is money. And chasing an unqualified lead is often a waste of time.
At the same time, rapid response time is critical. Research shows that:
- The difference between calling a lead back within five minutes and waiting 30 minutes can mean a 100X drop in the likelihood of reaching the person; and
- Calling a person more than five minutes after the lead comes in can lower your qualification rate by 46%.
In an effort to keep up with the flow of leads, overburdened marketing departments that are still working manually often pass along unqualified leads. According to MarketingSherpa, 61% of B2B marketers send all their leads to sales even though only 27% of them are qualified.
By automating marketing’s qualification process, leads are entered into CRM and alerts are sent to the appropriate sales team or reps in near real time. At the same time, the system works off your own established criteria for a good lead — industry, job title, size, location, whatever your ideal customer and/or buyer persona profile looks like — and includes that information in CRM along with the contact record.
You may also find out that not all leads you collect are of the highest quality. To determine if a lead is qualified, you need to understand the lead lifecycle. This will help sales evaluate a prospect’s intention and inclination to buy.
The lead lifecycle, as defined by your sales and marketing teams, will ensure that you know where each lead is in the buying cycle so you can communicate with them most effectively.
Common lead lifecycle stages include:
- Awareness: the prospect is aware of his or her business needs and the problem they need to solve.
- Consideration: the prospect understands his or her technical requirements and is ready to review solutions, perhaps through a demo.
- Purchase: the customer will compare products, looking at independent studies and evaluating the potential return on investment (ROI).
- Retention: once customers come on board, for the long-term health of the corporation, it is essential to retain them.
- Advocacy: the best customers become product advocates, spreading the word to let their peers know about its value.
These lifecycle stages should be mapped to your sales lifecycle stages:
- Marketing Generated Lead (MGL)
- Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
- Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
- Sales Accepted Lead (SAL)
As the sales cycle proceeds and reps engage leads and gather additional information, that data is added to the CRM, which enables lead scoring to automatically update lead qualification.
Use Your Ideal Customer Profile To Automate Lead Scoring
Before leads can be qualified (either automatically or manually), marketing and sales need to identify the variables that define their ideal customer and assign the values used to score the lead on the likelihood to purchase.
Traditional lead scoring is based on what you know (data), what you ask (during sales calls) and what you can infer (logic). The criteria may include industry, size, possible value of purchase, potential lifetime value of the customer and upsell or cross-sell opportunities.
Once the desirable values are coded into the software, the system can automatically calculate values, assign a score and thus qualify leads.
In addition to scoring profiles, marketing automation systems can score interactions. For example, it can evaluate the following:
- How did the visitor reach your website?
- How often have they visited?
- How long have they spent on the site?
- Which pay-per-click ad generated the clickthrough?
- Which message grabbed a prospect’s attention?
- Did they respond to a retargeting ad?
- Have they watched videos or downloaded reports?
- Is the lead a referral?
All this is happening in near-real time. As data is collected and the prospect moves through the buying cycle, the system is weighing each activity and re-scoring the lead.
As artificial intelligence is integrated into marketing automation tools, lead scoring becomes more predictive. The systems can look for patterns in the data gathered to actually predict the likelihood of a purchase.
Personalize Your Messages With Automated List Segmentation
Just as initial lead qualification helps reps prioritize their response, automated list segmentation allows you to offer prospects messaging tailored to their needs, interests and situations.
Initially, you might have only a few segments to differentiate prospects by industry, location and size. As you collect more information about buying behavior, needs, pain points and timeline for making a buying decision, you can increase your segments.
Deep segmentation, which enables you to offer more personalized messaging, increases email opens, clickthrough rates and even the likelihood that a prospect will reply to a voicemail message.
By targeting your message by segment, you can schedule follow-up calls when new products become available, you have a special offer and even when a change in industry regulations or tax implications makes your product or service more relevant.
Engaging Customers Through Automated Email Campaigns
Email campaigns are a time-tested strategy for both nurturing and engaging customers and prospects. With either a standalone autoresponder or a tool within your marketing automation suite, you can schedule a whole campaign of emails or allow a prospect’s activity to trigger a single email response.
Test & Measure Automated Lead Management Systems
The key to best-in-class lead management is knowing that you are scoring, qualifying and segmenting accurately. And that the events and activities that trigger email campaigns, select messaging and schedule nurturing calls are delivering the greatest returns possible.
But you can’t set it and forget it. You always need to test and measure throughout the marketing process to identify any breakdown points or processes that need improving. For example, if you’re driving prospects to your website and lead generation is growing but your sales are stagnant, you may have a problem with lead scoring.
Your automated lead management needs to constantly test and measure all results to make sure your criteria hold up, you minimize the time spent on tasks and generate the highest ROI possible.
Giuseppe D’Angelo is the Senior Project Manager of 3D2B, a B2B telemarketing and lead generation company. He has 15+ years of extensive experience in sales and B2B lead generation, managing Inside marketing teams on a daily basis for inbound/outbound campaign execution, lead generation/contact data profiling, campaign planning and KPI performance.
This story premiered on our sister site, DemandGen Report.