Marketing’s central objective for B2B companies is to generate leads.
However, not every person that connects with your business is a lead. There is a distinct difference between a marketing inquiry and a marketing lead. However, identifying the difference is often a point of contention and can cause a bigger divide between sales and marketing alignment.
Basically, if marketing transfers every contact to sales with no context or way to identify if it’s really a lead, it creates chaos and ineffective processes. Sales wastes time chasing people that aren’t ready. Marketing grows frustrated. And those inquiries don’t get treated the way they should, which could cause that person never to convert.
An inquiry is not a lead. An inquiry occurs when someone downloads content or registers for a webinar. Even that person who visits your website often and reads your blogs isn’t a lead. They might become a lead or have the potential to be your next customer. But none of that can be determined simply on the single action of completing a form. So, let’s start by defining a marketing inquiry vs. a marketing lead.
An inquiry could involve someone providing you with their contact information when they take an action such as downloading an eBook or subscribing to your blog. The catalyst for these individuals giving you their information is they want to learn. Simply said, a marketing inquiry is an individual who has expressed interest in understanding how your product or service can solve their challenge.
As a marketer, it’s your responsibility to find out how many of these inquiries can become leads and if their interest is actually relevant to what you offer. It’s almost impossible for a sales rep to do this for you. They lack a model that allows them to qualify leads. Rather, they are built to sell. To do this well, they need to know that a person has a desire to buy.
Someone becomes a marketing lead by being qualified as a business opportunity. You learn if an inquiry can shift to a lead by getting to know them. This means you have to find out if they have a real need for your product as well as if they have the budget and authority to make such a decision.
Decision-making in the B2B world typically includes many stakeholders. That first inquiry may be from an influencer rather than an actual decision-maker. You’ll also need to determine if there is a timeframe for making such a decision.
Sales shouldn’t see these contacts until there has been some level of qualification. Otherwise, the entire model of marketing feeding leads to sales collapses.
The next step in the process of determining if an inquiry is a lead is to score it. You’ll need to depend on the criteria mentioned above and ask these questions:
Each of these questions creates the BANT framework, conceived initially by IBM. The acronym stands for: Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeframe.
So, you have four categories. You can rate them equally at 25% each; however, you may want to give more weight to budget, need and authority as they are more important in deciding if this inquiry has lead potential.
When you score the leads, consider handing over those with 75 points or more to sales. These inquiries have the most potential to become customers. Track the effectiveness of the 75-point margin to see if those assumptions do qualify the lead. If you hear from sales that a large number of these inquiries aren’t sales-ready, you may want to make changes to your scoring.
TIP: You can streamline this process by using the right lead scoring software.
The percentage of marketing inquiries that become leads depends on multiple factors. First, there’s the volume of inquiries you are able to generate. You may be executing a variety of inbound marketing strategies to do this, including landing pages, pay-per-click, social media marketing, and organic search.
The more activities and campaigns that you launch to create leads, the more the volume may increase. But quantity doesn’t always align with quality. So, what’s a good conversion rate? The easy answer is to say it should be higher than it was.
You have to start with a benchmark and then see if that number trends up. It can if you take the time to qualify leads rather than just blindly handing them off. One point to consider is the sales cycle, which in the B2B world, can take many months whereas many B2C conversions happen immediately.
The focus is on improving the conversion from inquiry to lead. When you know that a lead is not marketing qualified, that doesn’t mean you end the conversation. You can continue to nurture that lead with educational content, as long as you know there is a real need for your solution. Learning that someone doesn’t have authority means you won’t transfer them to sales, but they still may have the power to influence the buying decision.
The same goes if you learn the inquiry can’t afford your solution. That doesn’t mean they won’t be able to in the future. So, when the time comes for them to invest, they’ll have your brand top of mind.
Because marketers now have robust tools and automation platforms, inquiries can be handled much more smoothly. They can then be placed in their appropriate buckets, whether that means a task to sales to call or moving the contact to a segmented list for specific email campaigns. You can now manage more contacts and data than before, so qualification doesn’t have to be a manual, tedious process.
Qualification absolutely matters in delivering leads to sales. The better your qualification model, the more likely you are to have a steady stream of ready buyers for sales to close.
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Michael Brenner is author of 3 books including Mean People Suck, The Content Formula, and Digital Marketing Growth Hacks. He is a Forbes top CMO influencer, was named a Top Business Keynote Speaker by the Huffington Post, and a Top Motivational Speaker by Entrepreneur Magazine. He is CEO of Marketing Insider group, where he works with Fortune 500 brands and startups to build effective marketing programs.
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