There are three top obstacles to converting marketing qualified leads into sales qualified leads. The first is identifying the difference between the two. Every lead generation company has written and published best practices guidance today on aligning marketing and sales by defining a lead. In a one-call close, transactional sales environment, that method works. However, it is a bit shallow for most people in business-to-business industries, and the difference between a marketing qualified lead and a sales qualified lead needs to be acknowledged while clearly defining each type of lead.
We can begin with the reasonable assumption that marketing has built a database and put together some campaigns that attracted people to the website and engaged their interest. These visitors went on to fill out forms in order to watch videos and download white papers. Leads generated from this type of activity are marketing qualified leads, which does not necessarily mean that they have an approved budget, hate their current vendor or are looking to make a change. They are actively engaging with the brand, and that is a very good thing.
Only a sales representative can properly acknowledge a sales qualified lead in business-to-business. It’s done through a real-time conversation, face-to-face or over the phone, during which a prospect agrees to formally evaluate your services and, if the right circumstances present themselves, is actually willing to make a change and sign a check. So, converting leads requires more than just getting sales and marketing on the same page. It starts with helping both teams understand the difference between a marketing qualified lead and a sales qualified lead, and ensuring that they use the same vocabulary.
The second biggest obstacle is getting the right people to follow up on those marketing qualified leads, and to convert them to sales qualified leads. As a lead generation company, we talk to companies every day. B2Bs understand that the buying model has changed. They understand that it is now a digital process and that it happens on the web. Today’s organizations have figured out that their prospects are shopping without them, so they do what’s necessary for the front-end of the process, by creating engaging website content to talk to their prospects. Beyond that, however, they are still using highly compensated, enterprise-class sales representatives, with high quotas, to follow up on marketing qualified leads. If you have somebody with a $1 or $2 million quota, who risks getting fired for not making that quota next quarter, that rep cannot afford to talk to prospects who aren’t ready to actively evaluate their services. The person who downloads the white paper might be really intrigued by your company, brand and value proposition but may not be willing to stick their neck out or have the organizational buy-in to do a true evaluation yet.
So, what should you do with those folks? You certainly do not want to let those leads die. Nearly 80 percent of all marketing qualified leads that get rejected by sales go on to make a buying decision within 12 months. It is important to stay engaged with these leads.
The third obstacle, once you have determined the right leads to pursue, is knowing how to follow up with them and how frequently to touch them. That world has changed, too. In the past, the follow up may have been in the hands of an appointment-setting telemarketer. Today, in a world where 85 percent of calls go to voice mail and are unreturned, if you are fortunate enough to get a busy executive on the phone, that person does not want to talk to an administrative person who’ll just schedule a meeting to talk to the real person. A real buyer wants to have a business conversation right then. You do not necessarily need to have the expensive, enterprise sales representative making the call, but you do need someone steeped in the knowledge of your products and your industry and capable of having a meaningful business conversation.
The final step in converting a marketing qualified lead into a sales qualified lead is to nurture that prospect in a real, personal way, not in a digital way, until they are ready to meet with that outside sales representative.