Are You Generating the Right Kind of Leads? 1

For most marketers, generating leads is their number one priority. Without leads, there won’t be many sales, and without sales . . . well, you know what happens next.

However, it’s not enough to simply produce an impressive volume of leads and toss them over to your sales team. Any seasoned salesperson will tell you that quality is preferable to quantity. Moreover, if marketing efforts focus solely on quantity rather than quality, fewer opportunities will convert, sales people will distrust these opportunities, and your marketing team may lose credibility in your organization.

Is your company generating the right kind of leads, or just a bucketful of the wrong kind? Here are some tips on how to weed through them to see which are right for your organization.

Attributes that signal lead quality
Timeliness: Engagement opportunities that arrive in real time, as they are generated from marketing programs, are more likely to convert to a sale than those that are weeks or even days old. Therefore, your actions play a role in determining the quality of a lead. If you don’t respond to inquiries quickly, potential buyers will move to find other vendors who are responsive to their needs.

Lead source: Leads from general search engines or unknown sources are unlikely to be as valuable as a lead from a website or publication that is directly targeted to your audience and industry. Leads from targeted sources have already met some qualification criteria as soon as they are generated.

Details: The more detail you can capture from a prospect, the more quickly you can determine if you have the right kind of lead. That doesn’t mean you should present prospects with long, cumbersome forms to fill out. Instead, capture just enough information to know whether continued dialog is worthwhile.

Buyer profiles: If a prospect shares attributes—such as similar titles, company sizes, industries, and specified needs— with some of your best or most recent customers, you likely have the right kind of lead on your hands, and your products and services are probably a good fit.

Social Engagement: You should be regularly monitoring your brands for mentions on social media. Jump on any opportunities by responding to those mentions and trying to cultivate new relationships. You may end up with a good lead, or, if the mention was negative, you may have an opportunity to repair any brand damage.

Tell us – what are your tried and true markers for a quality lead? How do you generate these leads?

Not All Leads are Created Equally—So Don’t Treat Them All the Same Reply

 As an industrial marketer, it’s likely your responsibility to create a marketing plan that will generate leads and engagement opportunities for your sales team. But not all leads you generate are the same—and therefore you shouldn’t treat all leads equally.

Because the quality of a lead varies, if you handle all leads in the same manner, you’re bound to run into trouble. Studies have shown that 70 percent of new business can come from long term leads. These prospects are in the early research stages of their buy cycle when they first engage with your company, and are not ready to make a purchasing decision. You can’t treat them as you would a highly qualified lead.

If you hand a pile of long term leads to your sales team along with a few hot leads that are ready to buy, you will end up with a damaged relationship between sales and marketing. Sales people will stop following up on leads because most leads aren’t ready for their attention. This could also result in even the good leads being overlooked or ignored. Then the finger pointing starts. Sales complains that marketing isn’t generating good leads; marketing accuses sales of not following up on leads.

You can avoid this disconnect and do a better job as a company of converting leads into customers by segmenting leads and handling each segment appropriately.

Determining the Value of a Lead
The first rule of assigning a valuation to leads is to make sure that marketing and sales work as a team to agree upon definitions and the value of the different types of leads.

You can do this in any manner that works for you, although a good starting point is parsing the amount of information you have available to you on a lead. At the lowest end of the spectrum, if someone visits your website from a general search engine, typically the only thing you know is click-through information such as the IP address of where a visitor came from. You could hardly call this a lead, because you can’t follow up. You can only wait for them to raise their hand in a more visible way.

At the other end of the information spectrum, you or a media partner might capture a wealth of lead data through a targeted marketing program that uses registration or lead conversion forms. You might get the prospect’s name, contact details, area of interest, buying timeframe and more. The more information you have on a lead, the better you can segment or score them and follow up appropriately.

Scoring Leads
Lead scoring is both an art and a science. It’s an art because you can be creative in establishing scores, using any criteria that are important to you and any scale that makes sense. For example, you could score leads 1-5, A-B-C, hot-medium-cold, or sales lead-marketing lead. Your scores could be based on any combination of prospect interest, demographics, the fit of their need with your offerings, the type and amount of content they’ve accessed, stage of buy cycle, the number of times you’ve interacted with them, prospect budget and purchasing timeframe, where the lead was generated from, and more.

Lead scoring is also a science, meaning you must consistently and rigorously apply lead scoring to all leads you generate. It’s the only way for you to know how to manage a lead moving forward. You should also review your lead scoring methodology at least once a year, to make sure it is still relevant.

Leads Ready for Action
Once you’ve determined a score for a lead, you must then act upon it. The highest scoring leads might go directly to your sales people, who should welcome them with enthusiasm because these leads are most likely to become customers in the near term.

Other leads may belong to marketing, yet still require action. Here is where your lead nurturing programs take over. Long term leads require long term attention in the form of regular and relevant contact with your company.

And there will be leads that are determined to be “throwaway” leads, often due to a lack of fit for your company, and the product and services you offer.

For each segment of leads, plan a campaign of scheduled touchpoints, which can include emails, phone calls, direct mail, and more. Each touch point should contain a call to action. Lower scoring leads might still be gathering information, and are attracted to white papers, how-to articles, webinars and other educational content. Higher scoring leads may be ready for demos, spec sheets and product trials. The point is to deliver value by offering prospects what they need to progress through their buying journey.

Establish response rules for your campaign. For example, if a prospect downloads a white paper and attends a webinar, you send them a related article; if they ask for a demo or price quote, they are considered sales-ready. It’s up to you and your sales team to define the rules of the campaign.

Marketing Automation as a Strategic Asset
While you may be able to handle lead scoring, management and nurturing through a simple spreadsheet, you might considering investing in marketing automation. These systems can track your prospect’s digital behavior across websites, social media, blogs and more. You can use marketing automation to score leads, create landing pages, track prospect actions, trigger automatic emails and report on the effectiveness of your campaigns. There are number of affordable marketing automation systems for smaller companies as well as robust software for larger and more complex marketing organizations.

Drive Sales Through Your Lead Nurturing Program Reply

Studies have shown that 70% of new business can come from long-term leads. These prospects are in the early research stages of their buy cycle when they first engage with your company, but will be ready to make a purchasing decision at some point in the future. The question is: Will you have established a strong enough relationship with these long-term prospects so that when the time comes to buy, they choose to give their business to you?

Companies with a high rate of success at converting long-term leads into sales have strong lead nurturing programs. They understand the economic value that long-term leads offer, and they establish appropriate processes and campaigns to nourish, protect, support, and encourage these prospects throughout their buy cycle.

The most effective lead nurturing programs exhibit strength, commitment, and discipline in two key areas: lead nurturing processes and lead nurturing campaigns. For an in-depth look at how to succeed with lead nurturing, read “The Industrial Marketer’s Guide to Lead Nurturing.”

First, Get Sales and Marketing on the Same Page
Your lead nurturing processes require buy-in from both your sales and marketing teams. You must work together and come to agreement on your program.

Many companies find the best way to start is defining the various types of leads they generate. You can develop a scoring system based on prospect demographics, industry, buying timeframe, product interest, digital behavior, or other attributes. The relevant attributes are different for every company, so choose those that work best for you.

You should also agree on the process for responding to leads in a timely and appropriate manner. Leads wither quickly, and technical professionals in the digital era expect a quick response from inquiries to suppliers. Hot leads want to speak to a sales person immediately. Long-term leads want low-pressure, helpful information.

Another part of defining lead nurturing processes is assigning responsibility for responding to and routing leads, as well as tracking them throughout your sales process. An individual or a team must be held accountable for your lead nurturing program. You can use a centralized database or in some cases even a shared spreadsheet where leads can be recorded and tracked by anyone who has contact with a lead.

Tracking contacts and inquiries helps prevent any leads from falling through the cracks, allows you to see which leads become customers, and helps you calculate return on investment in your marketing programs.

Create Effective Lead Nurturing Campaigns
Long-term leads require long-term attention in the form of regular and relevant contact with your company. However, it’s likely that not all of your long-term leads are created equal. If you have specific types of customers, you’ll want to define different segments for lead nurturing campaigns.

For each segment of leads, plan a campaign that offers your prospects value, as opposed to sales pitches. Remember: they’re not ready for pricing quotes, discount offers, and demos. Instead, value is created by educating prospects on ways to solve the problems they are facing and demonstrating how your company can help. Use educational content such as white papers, webinars, articles, and videos as offers.

As part of your campaign, plan an entire series of touchpoints: emails, phone calls, and letters, each of which contain a call to action, such as downloading a white paper, watching a video, signing up for a newsletter, or registering for a webinar. Establish response rules for your campaign. For example, if a prospect downloads a white paper and attends a webinar, they get a follow-up call, or they are considered sales-ready. Or if a prospect watches a certain video, you send them a topic-specific article. It’s up to you and your sales team to define the rules of the campaign.

Lead nurturing campaigns are spread out over time. You will need to develop a schedule for when and how often you reach out to prospects. It could be once a week for eight weeks, or once a month for six months, or some interval in between. Define the entire campaign in advance, so you will know how to phase your content and messaging, and can stick with it all the way through. 

Marketing Automation as a Strategic Asset
One recommended best practice is to invest in marketing automation, which excels at lead management and nurturing. These systems can track your prospect’s digital behavior across websites, social media, blogs, and more. You can use marketing automation to score leads, create landing pages, track prospect actions, trigger automatic emails, and report on the effectiveness of your campaigns. There are a number of affordable marketing automation systems for smaller companies as well as robust software for larger and more complex marketing organizations.

The IHS Engineering360 Tool Kit, “The Industrial Marketer’s Guide to Lead Nurturing,” has other recommended best practices along with tips for following up on inquiries. Download your complimentary copy.
 

Follow the Three V’s of Managing Your Engagement Opportunities Reply

In this era of marketing accountability, industrial marketers need an effective framework to manage and measure their engagement opportunities. You can’t measure everything—and you don’t want to measure everything. You want to focus on specific measurements providing valuable insight, which in turn can help you make decisions to improve the performance of your marketing program.

measuring roi

According to Forrester Research, the hallmark of top marketing performers is their ability to generate marketing leads at the right velocity, volume, and value. These three metrics are key indicators of funnel health—and a healthy funnel generally means healthy revenue.

  • Volume is the count of engagement opportunities or deals delivered by a marketing program.
  • Value is how much an engagement opportunity is worth in terms of dollar value.
  • Velocity is the speed at which an engagement opportunity converts to a sale.

What marketers must determine is how much weight and priority to give to each of the three V’s in order to optimize your marketing efforts and maximize your return. The answer is different for every company, based on your marketing goals, the makeup of your sales force and the nature of your customers’ buying behavior.

The dream world of every marketer is that the volume and value of engagement opportunities is high and the velocity of conversion is lightning speed. However, we all work in the real world, not the dream world. Therefore you must put these three V’s in perspective, understand how they align with your goals and use them to help make marketing decisions.

Volume, value and velocity intelligence can also help you segment engagement opportunities. For example, if a marketing program produces a high volume of opportunities, chances are many of those opportunities are not yet sales ready. They should remain with marketing in a lead nurturing program until more qualified. It might make sense to assign high-value opportunities to a salesperson for one-on-one cultivation and personal attention. Handle high-velocity opportunities in whatever manner will close the sale quickly.

Volume requires ironclad processes
Volume is historically the metric that gets the most attention, deservedly or not. What sales team doesn’t want more engagement opportunities? Some marketing programs are designed to maximize the volume of engagement opportunities. The upside of this approach is that you have more potential customers to convert and more of your target audience exposed to your message, which helps increase brand awareness.

On the other hand, the greater the volume of engagement opportunities, the more you need sound lead management processes. You must be able to separate real prospects from tire-kickers, prevent good opportunities from slipping through the cracks and avoid inundating your sales team with unqualified prospects who will never convert.

Value can trump volume
A highly targeted or specialized marketing program may not deliver a high volume of engagement opportunities. It can still be a strong program because the engagement opportunities generated should have a higher conversion rate and produce a higher amount of sales.

If your company’s objective is to close bigger deals or sell highly customized products or services, you’re likely looking at implementing a program that delivers fewer, but highly motivated prospects. You’re looking at quality over quantity.

Velocity offers intelligence
Velocity—the speed at which a prospect converts to a sale—can be considered independently or in relation to volume and value. Velocity is often directly related to your customers’ buy cycle and the nature of what you are selling. A long, complex purchasing process involving multiple decision makers and a significant investment may not have much in way of velocity. But if you’re selling parts or components that the market considers a commodity, you should expect high velocity.

No matter what you are selling, if you have a hot prospect motivated to buy, treat them as a high-velocity engagement opportunity. By tracking the velocity of deals, you can gain valuable intelligence on the length of your sales cycle and how well your marketing and sales processes are performing.

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How do you manage the 3V’s of lead management? What tips or strategies would you pass along to your peers in industrial marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Four Best Practices to Optimize Your Lead Nurturing Efforts Reply

In this digital era when technical professionals have more sources of information and a broader choice of vendors than ever before, many do not contact a supplier until they are close to making a buying decision. Other potential customers contact every possible vendor that could serve their needs. In either situation, and everything in between, you end up generating leads from technical professionals who could be anywhere in their buy cycle—from early research to late stage.

lead nurturing

Photo Credit: Taz etc. via Compfight cc

To convert more of these leads to sales, to keep your sales reps happy with qualified leads, and to improve marketing ROI on your campaigns, you need a solid lead nurturing program to help prospects move along to the next stages of their buy cycle. The word nurture means to nourish, protect, support and encourage. And that’s exactly what you need to do with your leads:

  • Nourish—provide them healthy servings of relevant, useful information
  • Protect—keep them interested so they don’t abandon you for another supplier
  • Support—stay in regular contact always ready to meet their needs
  • Encourage—give them offers to help them move forward in their buy cycle

An effective lead nurturing program will fulfill all of these goals. Here are the best practices you need to follow:

1. Segment and score leads
Sales and marketing need to work together to define different types of leads; for instance, leads that are sales-ready versus leads that belong in marketing’s nurturing program. Use any criteria that work for your organization to segment and score leads. It could be demographics, product interest, buying timeframe, purchasing authority, budget, size of potential deal, location, digital behavior (such as website visits, webinar registrations, white paper downloads)—or any combination of these attributes. You can apply weights to different lead attributes and come up with a lead score. Example: leads that score a one, two or three belong in marketing; leads scoring four or five are ready for sales.

The way that you score leads—and adjust their scores over time—is the foundation for all other best practices in lead nurturing.

2. Maintain prospect interest
If you do a good job of segmenting and scoring leads, you will gain a solid understanding of your prospects’ interests and needs. Your goal then is to feed them a steady supply of content and offers related to their needs and interests. Technical professionals are looking for information that will help them solve the problem they are facing, which is directly related to the reason they contacted you in the first place. They want to know how things work, how your product helps them complete a task, what their different options are and what are the latest technologies and newest products.

You can deliver this information in a variety of ways. New leads might be most interested in educational content such as infographics, blog posts, articles, white papers and webinars. Prospects that score a little higher would be looking for demos, product overviews and technical specs. The next level might include buying guides, ROI calculators and competitive differentiators. Get the right information to the right prospects and you will keep them engaged.

3. Watch for signs of progress
One reason lead nurturing programs exist is that the buy cycle can be long, complex and involve multiple decision makers. Prospects do not want to be pressured into making quick decisions. You must keep the long view and respect their timelines in your lead nurturing programs. That said, look for signs of prospects moving forward, and when they do, take appropriate action, such as passing them off to a sales representative or sending them a customized offer.

To do this requires that you keep track of what your prospects are doing and adjust their lead scores along the way. For example, a lead that scores one upon initial contact with your company could become a three after spending three months in your lead nurturing program, based on their digital behavior. Therefore, you must continually monitor your prospects, track their behavior and look for signs of progress that indicates a change in the status of their readiness to engage.

4. Use Marketing Automation
It’s possible to develop and execute a lead nurturing program using manual processes or spreadsheets, but marketing automation software is becoming a common tool and an investment might make economic sense. The fact is, your prospects are everywhere on digital media—websites, social media sites, online events, blogs, webinars, video sharing sites and more. They are downloading, clicking, reading, streaming, watching and commenting. Plus you’re likely using multiple digital channels in your quest to connect with prospects.

Marketing automation software allows you to capture all of this action across digital channels. It is built to excel at lead management and nurturing. It can help you manage all of this complexity by scoring leads, creating landing pages, tracking prospect actions, triggering automatic emails, reporting on the effectiveness of various content, producing analytics and much more.

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How do you nurture leads? What tips or strategies would you pass along to your peers in industrial marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.