Updated: Jan 27, 2020
by Kylie Peters
In a way, sales reps are like nurses or doctors. They take people’s temperatures to determine how they’re feeling. A “hot” prospect is ready to buy. A “cold” prospect is merely browsing inventory.
Before the internet, this heat check was usually performed in person. Sales reps would get a good sense of how interested someone was in their company’s products or services by spending some time with them.
Qualified leads would ultimately receive more attention—the sales rep might play 18 holes with them to help close the deal. For people looking to buy later, an occasional phone call to nurture the relationship would suffice.
But with the way modern customers conduct online research prior to purchasing, the human interaction aspect of qualifying leads has all but disappeared.
Many companies today have turned to innovative marketing automation software to analyze a prospect’s digital engagement behavior and determine whether they’re qualified enough to move on to the next step in the sales cycle.
But successfully qualifying leads for sales means having three key fundamentals in place:
1. A solid definition of “lead”
First things first. What’s a lead? At Marketo, we define a lead as any “qualified prospect that is starting to exhibit buying behavior.” That could mean when somebody begins following a social media account, subscribes to an email newsletter, or browses a product page on a website.
Of course, every business should have its own definition for what a lead is. Why? Because differentiating a lead from a non-lead will help you determine who’s worth nurturing and who’s not.
If you haven’t yet defined what a lead is for your organization, here’s how to get started:
Schedule a sit-down between sales and marketing. Talk about what your target market looks like, who’s in your database already, and what kind of buyers are currently closing deals. You’ll also want to discuss things like when to start lead nurturing and what makes a bad lead.
Marketing operations usually has access to the tools, systems, and data that tell you everything you need to know.
Once you’ve developed a solid definition, write it down. You’ll what to share what you’ve come up with so everyone’s on the same page.
And don’t forget to meet regularly. Your definition of a lead will change as your business grows or your priorities shift.
2. An effective lead scoring system
With a lead scoring system, you can assign values to prospects based on actions they take, behaviors they exhibit, and more. This will help you rank leads to determine which prospects are ripe for nurturing and which are ready to engage with your sales team.
There are four attributes you must identify through your lead scoring system:
Lead fit: Collecting information around your prospects’ demographics (title, role, location), firmographics (industry, company size, name of company) and BANT (budget, authority, need, time) will give you an idea of whether they fit your ideal buyer profile. You can capture a lot of demographic and firmographic information through a registration page form. Gathering BANT data may require getting to know your prospects a little bit better—perhaps through progressive profiling.
Lead interest: Studying your prospects’ online body language by analyzing how they engage with your brand will give you insight into how interested they are in your product or service. The more interest they show, the more likely they are to buy—and the more heavily you should shower them with attention and valuable content.
Lead behavior: Certain prospect behavior shines a light on where they are in the customer journey. Visiting a website or attending a webinar are the signs of an early-stage prospect. Checking out a pricing page or watching a solution demo reveal buyer intent. You can take advantage of this information by offering early-stage prospects more educational content and passing off leads with high buyer intent to sales.
Buying stage/timing: Knowing when your lead intends to buy is extremely important. If a prospect is just beginning to research a product, it’s not the time to put the hard sell on them. Instead, send valuable information about how the product can help solve their problems. By closely evaluating a prospect’s behavior, you’ll get a firm sense of where they are in the buying journey.
Developing a lead scoring system is a core component of lead management—and no department is better suited to help your company bring this system into fruition than your marketing operations team.
That’s because marketing operations has access to the data required to establish a lead scoring program—so it doesn’t have to rely on guesswork.
3. A culture built on testing and optimization
Like most things in marketing, your lead nurturing program shouldn’t be a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. You’ll want to regularly test what’s working and what’s not so you can optimize your processes.
But what exactly should you be testing? In a word: Everything.
The goal of your lead nurturing program is to provide satisfying customer experiences that align with your audiences’ preferences and ultimately drive sales.
So, scrutinize every method you use to engage with your prospects. Measure how people respond to your social media posts, the offers on your websites, and the material in your videos.
Email nurture streams, in particular, provide a plethora of opportunities to test and optimize. You can:
Assess how different variations of a subject line impact open ratesSee if click-through rates improve by swapping your content typeEvaluate whether readers respond better to short or long emailsChange the layout to learn what kind of design resonates most with readersModify send frequency to get a better idea of how often audiences want to be contacted.
By creating a culture of testing and optimization, sales and marketing can collaborate to turn qualified leads into surefire customers.
A new frontier of qualifying leads emerges with AI
The three fundamentals above will go a long way toward helping you successfully qualify leads for sales. But like we’ve seen before with the emergence of the internet, there’s always something new around the corner ready to shake up the status quo.
Today, that’s AI.
Sales reps currently spend a lot of time and attention just determining if a prospect is a qualified lead. Sometimes, it’s all for naught, as a months-long engagement could develop into nothing.
Hiring more sales reps isn’t the answer. But leaning on innovative conversational AI and machine learning could be.
Instead of an employee interacting with a prospect, an AI-driven bot could communicate with them. When a person visits a website, the bot can converse with them, help them, and, most importantly, collect the valuable insight needed to decide if they’re a qualified lead.
This allows human sales reps to limit their focus to building relationships with prospects who are actually worth their time.
A chance to transform lead qualification
With a few key principles and an eye on the future, you can do wonders for your lead qualification program. And it won’t be long until your entire organization feels the effects—experiencing more closed deals and higher revenue.
Download The Definitive Guide to Sales Lead Qualification and Sales Development to learn more.