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5 do’s & don’ts of B2B lead qualification

Lead qualification is one of the primary jobs for B2B marketers, and a great deal of time and money is spent on this step of the sales cycle. Now that I’ve stated the obvious, I see both good and bad lead qualification processes in the market. As an information junkie, I sign up for many webinars and download white papers on topics of interest, and subsequently am called by the sponsoring company to qualify me.

While there have certainly been improvements in the lead qualification process over the last 10 or so years, I still am surprised when I’m a victim of a poor qualification process by companies who should know better. Which leads me to 5 Do’s and Don’ts of B2B lead qualification.

  1. Do: know who you’re qualifying

Only on about 2 out of 10 lead qualification calls I receive does the caller know anything about my company.  Yes, they know the company name, but have no idea of what we do.  They immediately launch into their script that focuses on what they want to know for qualification vs. first understanding who we are and what we do.  As a result, my responses are rather curt (sorry callers) as I feel this is a waste of time.

Here’s why this matters and certainly is critical when calling senior level executives.  It is well accepted that senior executives expect that you will have done some research on their company that includes, but is not limited to, visiting their website.  The more you demonstrate your knowledge about their company and industry, the more you will open them up to answer the qualification questions.  If this is true for senior level executives, it will also work for others in the decision tree as well.

Do your homework first!

       2. Do: follow-up promptly

There is no question that a speedy follow-up converts more inquiries to leads and sales. We all tend to have short- term memories, and there is likely to be a vague memory of a webinar a week or more after attendance. On the other hand, if a follow-up call is made instantly after the webinar, the individual likely will not have digested the information sufficiently to answer the qualification questions, and/or the webinar sponsor may come across as too desperate for sales, and a bit creepy if the call is made too quickly.

A good practice is to send an email within an hour after the webinar that predicates a call within the next day, and even providing the name of the caller if possible. This gives you a chance to deepen the follow-up by providing the presentation slides or attaching some additional relevant content.  It also allows time for the research recommended in #1 above.

Follow-up fast, but don’t be creepy.

       3. Don’t: spin your wheels

Most companies have a good idea of who their best market segments are either due to customer profiling and/or input from product and market managers. The first level targeting matrix is industry code (SIC or NAICS) and company size. This matrix is frequently called the “sweet spots” for marketing. Yet, many lead qualification efforts do not first distinguish best prospects from others, and spin their wheels on non-likely prospects.

Telemarketing is an expensive touch, and should be focused on those individuals who fit the best prospect profile – another reason to do up front research. Before launching a telemarketing lead qualification process, separate the best prospects from others. To separate a small number of prospects, a look-up process, and/or website visit should tell you if the company meets the best prospect criteria. If the number of responses or inquiries is large, then a data enhancement and profiling step should be done first.  This is particularly true when returning from trade shows with a large number of booth visitors.

For other prospects that do not fall into any sweet spot, an email follow-up is sufficient assuming it contains an offer for response that might help in further qualifying them for a telemarketing call.

Do prevent spinning your wheels by profiling.

       4. Do: progressively qualify

One of the failures of BANT (yes I was at IBM) was attempting to answer the four qualification criteria during the first contact. As a result, many potential leads were lost due to the inability or the individual to answer the Budget, Authority, Need and Timing questions.  Frequently, the individual just didn’t know these answers and were then scored “not qualified.”  We certainly have progressed from those days, or at least I think we have, until I get a call that does exactly this.

If you are using BANT or a variation of this lead scoring model, don’t attempt to determine the answers to these questions too quickly.  In fact, any of the qualifying criteria might take a period of time before an accurate answer can be given by the individual.

For example, several years ago I was involved in a lead generation and qualification program for a client where it took 22 months for the lead to finally say the timing was right. Obviously, this was a long lead nurturing process, but within a month of all the criteria being scored (“timing” was the last one to fall into place), the software sale was made to the tune of over $150,000. Well worth the wait!

Do be patient and qualify over time.

      5. Don’t ditch old lead lists

It’s only natural for marketers to strive to generate new leads by launching campaigns, attending trade shows, etc.  But at best, only 10% of qualified leads convert to sales and thus 90% or more do not. In addition to buying from a competitor, other reasons exist for lack of sales conversion, and the big one is postponement of the decision and/or no decision. If the sales staff hears that the timing is “down the road,” or some other reason for a “no decision,” they will likely move on and drop the lead.  Some studies have shown that as much as 30-50% of leads do not convert for these reasons.

Most companies do not have a process for passing back the lead if it does not convert to a sale. Therefore, there are many leads that have been generated and qualified, but not converted.  On the premise that “where there was once smoke there still might be fire,” these “old” qualified lead lists will generally outperform newly generated lead lists. The only thing that is required is a “pass-back” system to compile leads that did not convert.  In most cases, these leads never come back to marketing. If you institute this process, be sure to validate that the individual still is in their position or find out who has replaced them. In B2B, interest in a product or service is almost always institutional and not personal.

Do re-market to old lead lists.

Wrap-Up

Lead generation and qualification is a BIG topic and I’m sure there are more than five do’s and don’ts.  Try one or all five and your prospect-to-qualified lead-to-sale process and result will improve.

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