The lead generation process looks much different than it did even a few years ago. Thankfully, buyers no longer need to call salespeople to learn the merits of the company’s products, and cold calling as the main method of attracting new prospects is becoming a thing of the past.
The internet has given rise to the “self-service buyer”. The wealth of online information allows buyers to perform a larger portion of the buying cycle on their own. Buyers now become aware of new products on the web, research and compare those products, and validate past performance through reviews and ratings from the web.
Social connections allow buyers to speak with existing customers and ask questions about reliability, service and performance. These changes mean that more businesses are focused on digital marketing activities than ever before. This also means that sales involvement has been pushed to later stages in the buying cycle, but necessitates that more is known about the prospect before contact is actually made. New CRM tools allow a digital prospect to be tracked, enhancing your knowledge of where the prospect has been, what knowledge he or she has, and the stage of their buying cycle.
How Should We Qualify Sales-Ready Leads?
The Traditional Method
The most popular way to classify leads in the past was the BANT system. It looks like this:
- Budget: Does the customer have a budget established?
- Authority: Does this person have the authority to make this purchase?
- Need: Would your product/service be of enough value to the prospect to justify its purchase? Do they have the capability to make a switch? Is your product really better than what they have?
- Timing: Is this purchase a business priority?
Although this classification has been used for a long period of time, there are some inherent weaknesses. These weaknesses become magnified in the new digital age, since direct contact with the prospect is delayed. The central problem lies in determining these criteria prior to contact by a sales person. Buyers do not serve up these answers readily, and often require much persuasion to do so. Marketing always faces a dilemma in how to determine these answers prior to turning the lead to sales.
The New Method
The new internet age has ushered in some new tools and techniques to help track and analyze the buying position of each prospect. Specific content is prepared for the needs of the prospect at each stage of their journey, and offered through several channels. Consumption of this content is tracked through various means, and the prospect is advanced to the next item of content to match their current need. As an example, one email might be used to develop awareness in a prospect. That email could also contain an offer of new content appealing to the next stage of the buying cycle- the interest stage. In this manner, prospects can be walked through an entire buy cycle.
Sample information that could be collected with the new method:
- Company and industry
- Person and position
- Company size
- What topics did they visit?
- How long did they stay on the topic? What are their key interests?
- What stage in the buying cycle are they acting in?
Interest versus intent
- Interest- simply viewed pages, white paper, attends a webinar
- Intent- dedicated time to demos, product trials, exploration of the company, about us, credit checks
Watching progress in the buying cycle- movement
- What content stage are they in
- When was the last time they visited, and how fast are they advancing
- Watch the time they are investing, and the depth of the items they are reviewing
The amount of information that can be collected is only limited by your imagination and the perceived value by the prospect. Prospects are quite willing to offer more information about themselves, if the value of the content is important to them. Prospects can also become unhooked when asked for detailed information that they feel is unnecessary at that stage of the relationship.
Through diligent collection of this information, patterns can now be determined that show the typical paths that lead to a high probability of sale. These patterns can then be established as the new criteria to score incoming leads, and determining when they are ready to be advanced to sales.
Example Criteria of a Qualified Lead
The criteria of a qualified lead can be specific, or subjective. Here are some examples:
- Companies with revenues of $50M and higher
- The VP of sales of marketing is involved
- The prospect has viewed the three core product white papers
- The prospect has requested a product free trial
- The company uses Microsoft technologies in its environment
- The company has viewed testimonials in their industry
- The prospect has completed an ROI template
Another great use of prospect tracking is in determining when prospects have become unengaged with the sales process. This determination can then be used to restart efforts and offer specific content to re-engage. Some examples that reveal potential un-engagement include:
- Long gaps since the last activity
- Unresponsive to campaigns
- Recency of activities
- Stuck on a specific stage of the buying cycle
- These leads can be recycled to marketing, and downwardly adjusted for probability on the sales forecast.
Shared Definition between Sales and Marketing
One of the critical aspects of creating a good lead qualifying system is participation of both sales and marketing in the definition of what is qualified. There is a natural chasm that builds between sales and marketing when the definition is left open. When there is a crisp definition of the criteria for each stage, all confusion and animosity disappears. The definition needs specific evidence that will build credibility with each department that each has performed their respective duties. Sales can then become more confident in the quality of leads they receive, and willingly follow those leads. Here are some signs that your current lead qualification process is not working:
- Sales and marketing are arguing
- Sales isn’t pursuing the marketing leads
- Highly scored leads aren’t converting
- Revenue totals aren’t meeting expectations
- The age of the leads is getting longer and longer
The internet has moved more of the selling activities to the buyer, and engages the sales person later in the buying process. To assure that your offering survives the prospect’s new buying process, you need to develop the appropriate content necessary, and to purchase the tools required to keep track of their activities. CRM has become the central tool to maintain these systems and refine your new sales process. In the end, the new methods will provide more information and engage more interest in your products.