Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer
You might know me as a writer, coach, content marketer, dog lover, editor, golfer, sales strategist, Diet Coke enthusiast, speaker, Allegheny alum, project manager, feminist, networker, or St. Louis Cardinals fan.
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Here’s an oversimplified story of what happens to most leads:
Step 1: A prospect shows some sign of life, becomes a marketing qualified lead, and enters your lead nurturing system.
Step 2: Once that prospect reaches a certain level of engagement, it becomes a sales qualified lead and gets tossed over the wall to the sales team.
Step 3: A sales rep will call that lead (and maybe leave a voicemail) and will send an email (or maybe two emails) asking for a demo.
Step 4: The lead won’t return that voicemail, the email(s) will end up in a spam folder, and the sales rep will complain that the leads from marketing aren’t good enough.
Throughout this process, that lead might not even be a lead – it might be someone who clicked on a piece of your content about a trendy topic and has no intention to buy anything that you’re selling. Even worse, that lead might have been a lead, but has already decided to implement your competitor’s solution by the time your sales rep leaves that first voicemail.
This happens when sales and marketing teams aren’t on the same page with their definitions of leads (you can read more about those definitions here). Instead of measuring marketing qualified leads (MQLs) or sales qualified leads (SQLs), we like to focus on sales winnable leads. Those are target prospects early in their buyer’s journey with whom you build trust over a long period of time so that you are the vendor they compare all other solutions to when they start their active purchase process.
This kind of lead is the holy grail of leads – the kind of lead that gets marketing team members promoted and helps sales reps crush their quotas. Yet marketers struggle to properly identify and act on sales winnable leads.
Here are four reasons your marketing activities are failing to create sales winnable leads.
This low hanging fruit is the kind of lead you should be getting for your sales team, right? Not necessarily. If you work in a transactional, low-priced market with a short sales cycle, then that’s fine. But in a longer, more complex B2B sales environment, you simply cannot expect to win a lead at the end of their buyer’s journey unless your content has been influencing them throughout their entire buyer’s journey. Yet we see so many marketers only focus on product-driven, salesy, late-stage content. In fact, some companies only produce and distribute that kind of content.
By the time a lead is ready to schedule a demo, download your spec sheet, or submit an RFP, it’s likely too late for you to win that deal. By then, a lead has already done more than 50 percent of their research during their buyer’s journey. By then, you are not the vendor they are basing their purchase criteria on. By then, they’ve already price shopped your competitors and could just be using you to undercut them. By then, executive-level persons are less involved in the process than they were early on in the buyer’s journey, so getting access to those key executives will be next to impossible. By then, it’s too late to establish yourself as a thought leader capable of solving that lead’s problems in new and innovative ways.
A popular definition of sales qualified or sales ready leads is something like this: “Once a lead becomes sales ready, sales assumes the primary responsibility for managing that relationship” (Klood Digital). If you think “primary responsibility” means your sales team is going to take full responsibility for nurturing a lead, then you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment. Let’s face it, your sales reps are not marketing experts (if they were, they’d be doing your marketing job).
You need to work hand in hand with your sales team to continue influencing leads before, during, and after your prospect’s buyer’s journey. Don’t assume a lead is being actively engaged (and good luck finding this information in your CRM!). Keep an open dialogue with your sales team to learn where you can deliver helpful content. For example, sales reps should be telling marketing when they uncover additional people involved in the decision-making loop who might not have been in the lead nurturing process.
Your prospects are continuing to engage with other vendors even after you issue an RFP. While this may seem like stating the obvious, we do see marketing teams completely stop engaging with a prospect after a lead is thrown over the wall to sales. If marketing activities don’t continue throughout the entire sales cycle, then you risk two things. One, marketing won’t get the credit you deserve when the lead turns into a sale. And two, if a sales rep’s tenure is shorter than the buying cycle, then a good lead could get lost in the shuffle.
Remember how we just said sales reps are not marketing experts? It’s true. They’re usually not communication experts, either. And they’re often guilty of chasing the most exciting opportunities (i.e., the leads who are willing to talk to them) even if those aren’t the highest quality opportunities (i.e., the leads who take work to produce a large, complex deal). Sure, we’re generalizing here, and there are plenty of superstar sales reps who could legitimately disagree with us on these points. But at the end of the day, the best content in the world cannot outperform bad sales follow-up.
Your marketing team might not be paid commission based on a strict quota, but you should still care about the quality of sales follow-up. It’ll be you, the marketing team, that is ultimately blamed for delivering “bad leads” or “not enough leads.” When a sales rep wins a deal, she gets all of the credit. But when that same rep loses a deal, the marketing team gets thrown under the bus. Make sure your hard-earned marketing leads aren’t being wasted by your sales follow-up process.
No lead scoring, marketing automation, or nurturing system is perfect – let’s get that on the table right away. But it’s a common pitfall for marketing teams to get caught up in making their tools and systems “work” rather than making sure they are measuring the right things. If you have a fancy dashboard that shows your email open rates and banner ad impressions in real time, that’s great. But that dashboard is not going to help you uncover more sales winnable leads.
You need to be tracking company-wide activity, not just individual leads.
You need to track company activity over time, throughout their entire buyer’s journey, not just what they are clicking on during your most recent product campaign.
You need to know everything your leads are engaging with, not just your own content.
You need to deliver content tailored to individual personas at whatever stage of the buyer’s journey they are currently in, not just send the same message to everyone in your funnel.
In short, you need to track information that uncovers purchase intent and not just interest. Downloading a piece of thought leadership content or joining a webinar might indicate a lead is interested, and that might be enough to put a lead in your marketing funnel. But interest is not the same as intent in B2B purchasing. A lot more work needs to be done on that lead before you’ll know whether or not it’s a sales winnable lead.
Marketing teams are very good at identifying companies that are the right fit, but it’s much harder to know when that lead is an opportunity worth passing along to sales. Knowing what makes a sales winnable lead and when is the key to growth.
We will not be great by what we accomplish, but by what we help others accomplish.How does this apply to your work as a B2B marketer?
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Learning to follow your buyer is a change in mindset
A transition from selling buyers on what you do to helping them accomplish what they do.