How To Improve Lead Quality? A Guide to Increase Lead Quality.
Date : April 26, 2021 By
It’s a common situation in B2B digital marketing when there are tons of incoming leads but the number of opportunities created from them is relatively low.
This is where the topic of lead quality and qualification comes in. It’s safe to say that, while the number of leads, in general, is an important metric, the quality of these leads is just as important, if not more important than quantity. It doesn’t really matter how many leads you have, if they are all low quality – they’re basically a dead weight and a marketing budget loss and would not translate into marketing or sales qualified leads on their own.
There are many different metrics that can be used to assess lead quality – and it’s also important to not get carried away with analyzing everything at once. Focusing on the correct metrics is the key to success.
However, it is rather important to figure out the correct definition of a lead, as well as several other basic factors before delving into more details on the subject.
The definition of a high-quality lead, MQL and SQL
A prospective customer willing to buy your product or service in the sales field is called a lead. It is the most important growth resource for any B2B business since only leads can be turned into future new sales, and obviously no business can grow without sales. This is where another definition comes in – a high-quality lead, which has a high chance of converting into a purchase. A high-quality lead has a strong interest in your product or service with an intention to try or buy it. This creates a simple logic – the higher lead quality is, the bigger is a chance of this lead becoming a paid customer for your business.
There are also two acronyms we mentioned above that may not be familiar to some people – SQL and MQL. These are basically two main types of leads that marketing efforts can spawn. MQLs or marketing qualified leads, on one hand, are the leads that you have attracted with your marketing efforts and these leads can go through your primitive qualification criterias like valid name, valid contact information, decent company size, target location, and other criterias that you may have. These leads have not yet interacted with your sales team in some way or another, aside from showing interest in your product by downloading whitepapers, requesting more information or doing any other target action that led to leaving the information in exchange for a gated asset.
SQLs can be translated into Sales Qualified Leads, describing leads that have already gone into the next step of your sales funnel and interacted with your sales team. Usually the inside sales team should confirm the real interest in purchasing your product or service and later transfer these leads to deal closers. Here is the small concept describing a typical SQL:
- What? – is there a project in the lead’s organization?
- When? – is there a deadline for a purchase?
- Who? – who is going to make a purchase decision, who is the buying center?
If you have the answers to these questions, then it means your lead is the SQL. Because lead quality is critical to the overall sales organization of your company, the topic of lead quality identification is extremely important – and it has its own nuances and factors. There are multiple factors that can be used to determine the quality of a lead, and this particular topic requires its own segment in the article.
Quality factors for lead quality identification
In the process of actual lead quality identification, it’s possible to figure out six main factors that can be used to determine lead quality when combined:
- Need – Does this lead actually need our product/service?
- Revenue – How much revenue can this lead bring to our company?
- Budget – Does this lead have a budget to afford our product/service?
- Interest – Is there any interest from this lead towards our product/service?
- Authority – Can this lead make a decision about purchasing our product/service?
- Timeframe – How quickly can the decision be made?
Additionally, another important factor that should be taken into consideration is the lead source, which can be split into three main source types:
- Traditional media
- Direct marketing
- Online marketing
Online marketing can be splitted into organic search, pay-per-click, social media and others. All these online sources may have a different degree of interest in the purchase, for example searchers are ready to buy a specific service and are looking for a quote to compare vendors, while social media visitors are only discovering their need to purchase without even thinking about the price at this stage.
There is also a separate topic of why lead quality is so important in marketing and sales. Lead quality is not a static parameter, with the right techniques which are called lead nurturing you can increase lead engagement and turn low-quality leads into high-quality ones. The key to this quality improvement is the proper automation. Quality lead generation can be automated with the help of various nurturing tools – such as Autopilot, Net-Results, Mailchimp or others. This is a topic that would be discussed in more detail below, including lead generation tool recommendations, lead nurturing automation as a whole, and more.
The benefits of a higher lead quality
There are multiple benefits of an improved lead quality for the company:
- For marketing – a higher-quality lead can attract additional leads by the word of mouth which reduces the overall marketing budget;
- For sales – higher-quality leads reduce the inside sales workforce and allow saving on resources and freeing resources to close deals;
- For finance – if the leads have higher quality under specific qualification criteria, they tend to be more solvent than the lower-quality ones.
With the increase in lead quality the overall cost of sales goes down and marketing budget is spent more efficiently with a higher ROI. In addition to being more payable, high-quality leads have higher LTV and retention which positively affects your company’s profits.
The 10 actionable tips to improve lead quality
Lead generation as a whole is an unstable process, and it might be really hard to start bringing in quality leads from the get-go. However, there are also many different tips and tricks that can be used to circumvent or avoid those lead generation problems altogether. The list of tips includes, but is not exclusive to:
- Form a feedback loop between departments
When it comes to B2B companies and their extremely long sales cycles, it’s important to maintain regular communication between marketing and sales teams. A lead quality assessment must be performed as early as possible so that all of the potential benefits and lessons from this lead can be used in the future operations.
For that exact reason, it is recommended for sales and marketing teams to report to each other in a closed loop on a regular basis. That way, sales activity reports can be provided to marketing, and more information about the client, in general, is sent to the sales department.
There’s a particular example I’ve seen while working with Bacula Systems and their departments. Bacula’s sales department segregates its leads into five different groups:
- #1 – This lead is not a lead at all;
- #2 – The information behind this lead seems to be real, but the project behind the request is absent;
- #3 – This lead can be converted into a sales opportunity, with some time and effort;
- #4 – This lead can be converted into a sales opportunity within a relatively small time frame (about two weeks or less);
- #5 – This lead has all of the signs of a high-quality lead, being a concrete project, with one of the lead types that we’re looking for and a high chance of closing a deal.
After the classification process is complete, this information is sent to a marketing team and then used to correct various marketing campaigns in favor of a company’s own needs.
- Set up a company-wide definition of a qualified lead
The number of companies that don’t have a company-wide definition of a qualified lead is surprisingly high since the misunderstanding between sales and marketing departments could easily have a lot of unpleasant aftereffects. On the other hand, the existence of a unified definition of a “sales-qualified lead” that both marketing and sales teams agree with is crucial for better cooperation and easier work with clients, among other benefits.
For example, in Bacula Systems the definition of the SQL is:
- There is a specific backup system project in the nearest month;
- We’re talking to the person in the “buying center” of the company;
- We know all the other people in the “buying center”;
- The lead is in our target customer segment from the size perspective;
- The lead is in our target customer segment from the industry vertical perspective;
- The lead is geographically in one of our focus regions.
- Improve the quality of lead generation contact data
I’ve seen some examples where SEO, Google Ads or the other lead generation sources generate more than a hundred of new leads per sales person in the region but this person only works with 2-3 opportunities a month. One of the multiple reasons of this is connected with the quality of the leads’ contact information.
The most common issues with the contact information include:
- fake emails;
- emails from non-business domains.
Usually when the sales person opens a new lead in CRM, it’s vital to have the correct email and the business domain in it – these 2 attributes demonstrate the high quality of the contact and increase the processing priority.
It’s relatively easy to prevent the fake emails. Once your lead generation form is submitted, don’t automatically redirect the user to the material (whitepaper or case study) that he/she had requested. Just send the file to the mailbox and notify about this on the “Thank you” page:
Not all the leads without business emails are junk – there can be various reasons why the person has left the personal email. Sometimes there is no access to the business email outside of the office, and sometimes the built-in LinkedIn forms already have the personal email automatically pre-filled because of the initial account settings.
I would suggest using RocketReach (or similar tools) when you have a lead with the non-business email. It allows to input the first and last name or LinkedIn profile URL, and then you’ll get all the possible variations of the lead’s business email. RocketReach has its own database and also the email prediction mechanism.
To overcome the problem of non-business emails you could also prevent your forms to accept the leads with the free email domains. Here is how it looks like:
Even on the phase of typing the form recognizes the email domain and informs on the issue while making the submission button inactive.
As you see, there are several factors that might decrease your lead-to-opportunity conversion rate. These simple tips are based on my personal experience and can help you to overcome one of the main reasons which is the incorrectness of the leads’ contact information.
- Invest in lead nurturing
Lead nurturing is a process of constantly building relationships with prospects, no matter how soon they’ll buy your product or service. Three main goals of lead nurturing are maintaining a constant connection with a prospect (to the point of a prospect being ready to perform a purchase), increasing brand awareness, and building trust.
The majority of your website’s qualified visitors are there to investigate and gather information, and not to buy immediately. However, active lead nurturing manages to turn a lot of these visitors into actual clients, after some time. Lead nurturing is usually done with the usage of email, SMS or PUSH-notifications channels.
Here’s my example of a lead nurturing campaign for a Project Management whitepaper that I did for VirtoSoftware (presented below).
List triggers and form submission are two of our starting points in this context. Both of those are followed by the first “step” in this lead nurturing campaign, which is a 1-day delay. After that, we’re entering a sequence of emails sent on a regular basis – with each email covering a different aspect of the previously downloaded project management whitepaper.
This is how the biggest part of lead nurturing is achieved – keeping up contact. By sending emails on a semi-regular basis, we can establish a connection with our leads without annoying them.
Additionally, this whole process allows us to evaluate each lead using a scoring system (three blue squares). In this situation, we’re judging prospects’ reactions to each of our emails. You can see here that sending each successful email gets this specific prospect 10 points, while the prospect clicking on the email in question counts as 20 points, and the prospect replying to one of these emails adds 30 points to the score.
One of the important aspects of lead nurturing is to make sure that your nurturing emails look personalized. The modern way of doing colorful emails is not going to work because people feel it’s automated communication. Instead, we’re using the blank templates that look like real personal messages and generate higher reply rates.
Counting “points” or “score” for each of your leads is called lead scoring, and it is the next important point on this list.
- Implement lead scoring
Ranking all of your leads based on a specific methodology that rates the interest level of a lead, as well as sales readiness level, is what lead scoring is all about. There might be different interpretations of high and low scores for leads in different companies, but at the same time all of them can be simplified to a combination of two factors: “interest” and “fit”.
If the fit is high, but the interest is low – a lead’s interest should be stimulated in some way (by nurturing, for example). If both the fit and the interest are high, the follow-up needs to come as quickly as possible after this realization.
If the fit is low, but the interest is high, then it’s possible to keep the connection with the lead by taking orders. Lastly, if both the fit and the interest are low, the only reasonable idea is to avoid this lead and do not spend sales resources.
If we’re talking about specific scores for each lead (i.e. 1, or 10, or 100 points, etc.), it’s possible to set up specific rules that would give leads more scores depending on some of the actions. Here’s one of the most basic examples from my own experience.
As you can see, “deep” website visits are adding 7 points, and “long” visits add 5 points. Deep website visits are usually the ones that have five or more pages of the website visited in one session (the number of pages can be customized).
At the same time, long website visits are the ones that count minutes of each visit per visitor – three minutes, in my example (the exact amount of time can also be customized).
Alternatively, it’s also possible to add many different conditions that would “add points”, from the prospect’s title to the geographical location of the visitor. I’ve explained this subject more in-depth in my other blog post about automated lead qualification.
Another approach to qualifying your leads is lead bucketing, which is as simple as dropping each lead to a corresponding “bucket”, be it a “hot lead”, a “warm lead” or a “cold lead”. It is barely a system in the first place, but it is a decent starting point.
The last popular method of lead qualification out of the three is lead mapping, which is a similar concept to lead scoring, but with no actual scores (high, low, etc.). Instead, leads are categorized depending on how far they are in the sales process. Here’s a simplified example of which categories can be included here:
- Quality lead
- Lead in contact with sales
- Lead ready for purchase
- Proposal lead
- Customer on a free trial
- Actual customer
Getting back to lead scoring, which is a baseline for all of the methods above – there are two data types that are typically involved in lead scoring: explicit and implicit. The explicit data type is the one that the prospect in question provides, including title, company name, industry, etc. On the other hand, the implicit data type is all of the information that was collected by analyzing the prospect’s behavior when it comes to your website.
When it comes to lead scoring in general, it’s also important to remember to update the scores on a regular basis. At the very least, it is heavily recommended to review your lead scores once a month or more – this information is crucial for the marketing department, at the very least.
- Use a marketing automation platform & nurture leads
While both lead nurturing and lead scoring can be done manually, it is only effective if you’re working with a somewhat limited number of leads. But massive enterprises with hundreds of sales would be near impossible to manage on your own.
This is where marketing automation platforms come in, allowing you to pass the brunt of analysis and measurement to the algorithm so that you can focus more on figuring out ways of improving lead quality. Additionally, it can offer behavior analysis for each of your leads in the sales funnel, as well as the effectiveness of your marketing program when it comes to lead generation, revenue, sales, and so on.
It’s even possible to integrate a marketing automation platform within a CRM system, making it that much more intelligent and effective.
To make the subject easier, here are three different examples of marketing automation platforms that I’m using with my clients:
Mailchimp is a multifunctional marketing platform that mostly targets smaller businesses. It brings AI-powered tools in a user-friendly interface, enabling the ability to form and mass-send automated messages and marketing emails for everyone.
This platform can also be used to create landing pages, form marketing campaigns, facilitate analytics and reporting, send postcards, and, of course, sell products or services online. Mailchimp also offers a built-in CRM system, and they have both free and paid subscription plans.
NET-Results is a marketing automation platform that is based in the cloud and is capable of scaling to both small businesses and large enterprises. Some of the main features offered by the platform are social media management, marketing list management, email builder, lead management, and, of course, analytical tools.
There are also automation capabilities for sales workflows, landing page builders, sales alerts, etc. Generally speaking, it is an extremely flexible solution with many different use cases and features. It offers both mobile and desktop versions of its software, and the entire service is subscription-based.
Autopilot is a multi-channel marketing automation software that offers many marketing-related features in a user-friendly interface. The main process that Autopilot helps with is customers’ automated journey – be it via email, online, in-app, SMS, or any other communication type.
It lets you automate workflows and personalize messages with a simple drag-and-drop interface, it offers measuring campaign ROI capabilities, as well as revenue funnel optimization. It can work with Salesforce CRM and many other similar systems, including Twilio, Zapier, Slack, InsideView, etc.
- Filter your leads
While it might not seem productive, keeping up with your lead list hygiene is extremely important. Your email marketing can be far more impressive if you are cleaning up inactive or uninterested subscribers on a regular basis. Having a short list of interested email subscribers is better than being marked as spam on a regular basis, which can hurt the overall inbox deliverability for your marketing campaign.
My recommendation is to set up a monthly task to clear your CRM based on the activity of your leads. For example, this can easily be done in Mailchimp by regular monthly deletion of the contacts which have less than 2 star ratings. 2 stars are given to the subscribers that have never opened or clicked your nurturing emails. Not only this action will save your budget which depends on the number of contacts, but will also save you from spam complaints and freezing your email marketing account. However, pay attention to the date when the lead was added (generated) – it is easy to accidentally delete the newly generated lead which didn’t have enough time to click or open your campaigns. The better solution specifically for Mailchimp is to create a segment of leads starting from a specific addition date and also having less than 3 stars rating.
- Use Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
There is a rather popular new strategy that is widely used in B2B marketing called ABM, or Account-Based Marketing. ABM in the lead quality aspect is a method which allows to send marketing messages only to specific pre-selected accounts (your “dream” customer list) and generate leads only from them. By definition leads from a pre-selected list of companies are having much higher quality.
The key to success in this strategy is the ability of your sales team to participate in the planning work of your marketing department. Because “dream” customers can only be identified by those who actually sell, sales teams need to devote time to creating target account lists or at least giving advice to marketers on how to create such lists by themselves.
One of my clients is developing a well-known BIM software, and their target account lists are full of various mid-market and enterprise architectural companies. The other client provides backup and recovery solutions for huge data centers, and their target accounts include MSPs, high-performance computing companies and some other verticals. By generating leads only from these lists sales teams already know that what they sell is definitely solving the customers’ pains and also fits in their budgets. They have case studies and testimonials that make the sales process easier and resonate with the potential customer. Using them as the assets in campaigns makes generating leads from ABM very easy and cost-effective.
- Attempt data enrichment techniques
Lead quality can be improved not only at the stage before submitting a lead form but even after the target action was executed. There are a lot of cases when the lead lands into your CRM but the big amount of information fields in the lead card are empty. Sometimes there is no information about job title or company size, sometimes the email is personal and sales teams tend to give more credit to the leads with work emails. Here are some of the additional things that you can learn about your new lead:
- Company size or job title can be easily found on LinkedIn. Some businesses, for example software & SaaS companies, can associate the number of employees with the number of licenses that they potentially can sell which give you an understanding of the deal size;
- Personal emails can be exchanged to the work ones using tools like RocketReach, Norbert or ZoomInfo. When generating leads in social media it’s quite normal to get personal emails as people rarely register their LinkedIn or other accounts on their work emails;
- The lead’s behavior on the website and specific content engagement levels can be found in the tools with tracking capabilities, like HubSpot or LeadFeeder where you can find what pages have been visited, for how long and what assets were downloaded by a lead;
- The funding history can be looked up at CrunchBase. If you’re selling complicated solutions which affect business performance in one way or another, there is a possibility to look up all the investments, including not only the VC funds but the names of the partners who worked on a particular deal. You can get the opportunity for an outreach to the investor of your lead who can push your deal and help to close. CrunchBase and Owler also track the leadership changes which can be good buying signals, as well as acquisitions which sometimes provide opportunities to upsell to a newly added business division;
The majority of data enrichment tools provide ways to automate the process using API or connectors that can plug directly into your CRM and supply all this information. However, manual research is also a good thing to do because it can provide even more insights that can only be found this way.
- Attempt data enrichment techniques
Digital marketing is evolving and it is no longer enough to just generate leads as it is, now you also have the opportunity to use buying intent data to improve lead conversion. Knowing the intent of the lead is crucial for how it can be approached by marketing or sales teams. By intent we usually mean 2 things: a) the products that the potential customer was looking for and b) the projects that the potential customer might be willing to launch (for example, the replacement of the backup system and storage or the improvement of the IT security system). Here are some of the most well-known intent data providers:
TechTarget is a company that specializes in “problem-solving content”, and their solutions cover thousands of specific topics in information technology. Priority Engine is TechTarget’s take on intent data solutions. Priority Engine provides behavior insights to both sales and marketing departments to ensure high-quality leads.
TrustRadius is a research and review platform for different software types that offers a multitude of ways to interact with all kinds of valuable information about software buyers and other data. TrustRadius can offer its vendors category-level intent data that helps a lot when it comes to targeting visitors of specific pages, including features such as LinkedIn Matched Audiences integration, Customer Voice package, and so on.
Demandbase is another unusual solution on this list, offering multiple features to its customers – with a specialization in Account Intelligence. This kind of information is gathered when customers are interacting with advertisements, sales departments, and other participants of the process. Their data is reliable and extremely useful, allowing its users to close deals faster, find new business opportunities easier, and have many other advantages.
As with several other examples on this list, Bombora has its own patented data type called Company Surge, which claims to be extremely helpful when it comes to monitoring changes in product consumption with many filters and businesses. Bombora’s solution can help with aligning sales and marketing teams together, offering the capability to perform specific actions based on trustworthy data about their customers. The data itself is gathered using a large cooperative of B2B media companies from all over the planet, and each member of the cooperative shares behavioral data in exchange for better audience understanding, easier inventory monetization, and so on.
DemandScience is a software provider in the field of marketing solutions that offers a variety of features in the field, including account-based marketing, content syndication, data-driven marketing network based on intent, and more. DemandScience can help companies with boosting ROI, filling funnels and achieving growth goals by providing reliable predictive insights and accurate data on how customers behave and what their intentions are. This solution is a great way to drive quality leads and improve your customer targeting to make it as precise as possible.
High-quality lead generation for me is a topic which arises at a certain moment with literally all of my customers, even with those who hire me for totally different services and goals. This shows the real landscape of this problem nowadays, there are a lot of ways to generate leads, but simultaneously there are a lot of cases when marketing campaigns drive low-quality leads and something needs to be changed.
It’s extremely important to define what is a quality lead for your business, what are your MQL and SQL criteria. Defining the factors of lead quality measurement will allow the discussions between you as a client or stakeholder, your agency or internal marketing team and your management or sales team be informative, meaningful and constructive.
In this post I tried to mention the 10 most important ways to improve and increase lead quality. I highly encourage you to try these in your organization and I am almost sure that with the right execution you will see an almost immediate effect on the quality of your leads. These methods are cost-effective and don’t require a lot of investment along with C-level management approvals. Try them and feel free to contact me for more information.