If you are one of the companies investigating marketing automation systems then you are aware of their bold claims for generating leads. And, they would be right. There is much to love about the benefits of marketing automation systems.
They provide one of the foundational components for Marketing 2.0. Amongst the highlights are these systems’ ability to:
- Build an “intelligent”, multi-step campaign – using a prospect’s actions to direct him/her to the next content in a series of messages / events
- Notify salespeople of activity – such as email opens, the fact that “prospect X” is on your web site… right now!
- Score leads – based upon demographic data and activity – helping us know “who to call” or “who to nurture”
These are all things that have truly changed the way that B2B marketing is planned, managed and executed. As sellers and marketers, we know more about our prospects and buyers than we ever have… and we certainly have more people to call and follow up with as a result.
Marketing teams are using these systems to generate more campaigns than ever before. As a result, they are generating more leads. Quickly – a few definitions we’ll use for the rest of our discussion:
- MQL – Marketing qualified lead – lead that marketing believes is ready for sales to pursue
- SAL – Sales accepted lead – lead that meets the criteria that marketing and sales have established for a lead they deem is valuable enough to follow up on
- SQL – Sales qualified lead – lead that sales has verified meets their criteria for a lead, worth pursuing, to attempt to turn into an opportunity
The definitions that I listed above provide an orderly view of the lead pipeline. Many organizations haven’t invested the time to build these definitions for their organization. This is unfortunate… because marketing and sales simply can’t support each other very well without a definition/target of what is an acceptable lead vs. what isn’t… but that is another topic altogether.
When we focus on qualified lead generation… how does marketing automation compare to sales?
Marketing automation excels at collecting these attributes:
- Demographic data – name, title, email, address, industry, etc.
- Activity – what emails were opened, what pages were browsed on, how many times these things were done
- Interest – this is “derived” from activity – prospects consuming case studies and ROI calculators are more “interested” than prospects consuming data sheets / product info
This information is valuable at sorting the top end of the prospect funnel… in other words the earliest part of the sales cycle. Once a lead is marketing qualified (MQL), usually based on one or more of the three attributes above, that lead is then turned over to sales.
Sales qualification efforts excel at the following three attributes:
- Need / Urgency / Timeframe – what are the business drivers that make a prospect a potential buyer?
- Role in the decision – a very different question/attribute than “title”
- Buying process – what is the buyer’s internal process for acquiring the seller’s goods / services?
Marketing Automation Challenges
While advanced marketers might argue that many of these “need / role / buying process” attributes are discoverable with forms, the right content and automation, my personal experience is that the information is rarely reliable. This is for a variety of reasons:
- Because the information is complex… a drop down form (favored by marketers for data cleanliness) doesn’t capture enough detail
- Buyers don’t tell the truth (i.e.: they lie to sellers… shock!)
Conversations Are The Key Differentiator
To deal with the complexity of “need / role / buying process” qualifying information, sellers must have an actual conversation with the prospect. While it is a very costly piece of the lead generation process, it is critical, due to the following:
- It is the only way to ensure that prospects that get moved forward in the pipeline are real (e.g.: for sales forecast reliability)
- It is the only way to gauge the real value of the leads coming from marketing
- True marketing and sales alignment depends upon measurement and verification of results
Organizations employ inside sales or business development teams for this purpose… to take leads that are generated from marketing and transform those leads – through lead qualification processes – into a Sales Qualified Leads – SQL.
Who Wins The Race For Generating More Leads?
The answer is – it depends on your definition of a qualified lead. For most organizations, marketing with not be capable of generating a qualified lead (refer to definition of SQL). The information required is simply too complex to gather in an automated fashion.
For early stage organizations that have very low lead flow from marketing, demographic and activity data may be sufficient for a lead that sales would deem a SAL.
For more mature organizations that are generating a higher flow of leads, the bar should be raised to include “need / role / buying process” qualifying data. This data will need to obtained from a conversation with a prospect.
If your organization fits any of the following… you may be a good candidate to spend some time focusing on your lead definitions and processes:
- “Marketing generates lots of qualified leads” (cite two examples of deals done last quarter)
- “Sales never follow up on our leads”
- “Our web activity is off the charts… I could be in sales making quota with this much traffic”
- “All of the leads that we get are worthless” (site two leads that were delivered last quarter)
- “We never get any leads from marketing”
- “The CRM/database is full of garbage”
- Marketing automation excels at creating leads that contain “demographic / activity / interest” information
- Sales teams use conversations to excel at “need / role / buying process” information
- Sales and marketing teams should agree on definitions for MQL, SAL and SQL
- Salespeople should be trained to question prospects from a set of consistent qualifying questions, and to then to set the status (disposition) of these leads to provide the data to measure results