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Why Winning Customers Means First Having To Qualify

If your digital marketing team is churning out a load of great content to give you a favourable position in search rankings and an increase in visitors to your website, you might be wondering why your sales team is not delivering when it comes to closing all those juicy new leads and turning them into sales.


Before you decide that heads must roll because of this low closure rate, it is worth considering why this is. It may not be down to an ineffectual sales team in your business or digital marketing agency, but to the quality of the leads being brought to them. Obviously, not every ‘lead’ is going to turn into a sale – in fact, hitting a 5% success rate is considered a pretty good return in digital marketing. When you think about it, if 1,000 people visit your site in a week and 10% of them give their details to download an offer, that’s 100 leads, and if 5% of those convert into customers, that’s 5 new customers – in one week!

However, in inbound marketing, considering every visitor to your website - or even every visitor who performs an action such as downloading an offer or an eBook - as ‘a lead’ can actually be quite misleading. Just because somebody arrives at your website content – whether that’s your homepage or your blog – and downloads something in exchange for their contact details, does not mean they are ready to make a purchase, or that they want to buy from you and are just waiting for a sales call so they can hand over money.

In the industry, at its most basic, these people are called Marketing Qualified Leads. As this blog from calliduscloud.com explains, they are not necessarily likely to close as customers, but they do match certain criteria that makes the marketing department think they are a good fit, or the ideal prospect to explore further.

MQLs are those the marketers see as displaying certain behaviours or demographic traits indicative of a good lead, but few of them will ever turn out to be a solid lead the sales guys know they can close.

qualified_leads_bring_more_conversions_sales_for_business_and_digital_marketing_agencies.gifThe sales team may very well call these MQLs, or the majority of them, ‘tyre kickers’, and can get frustrated that they are not yet willing to be sold to.

I have seen salespeople actually get annoyed that the person on the other end of the phone isn’t ready to commit to a product or service as wholeheartedly as they have, and feel like that lead has wasted their time.

This is the wrong way to look at it. These leads shouldn’t be seen as people wasting your time. It’s their time, and they should be able to feel free to browse the vast universe of the internet. If they happen to land on your site because they have searched for content on a topic relevant to the product or service you provide, that is great, but they are not necessarily ready to buy from you. Sure, they may fit into the criteria you have set, but remember that you have set those criteria, and if they are too broad, you are bound to catch more leads, but fewer good ones.

For example, I could post a clickbait blog within which I discuss inbound marketing but also offer the chance to download the cutest video you will ever see of a kitten playing in a sock, and might expect to get a load of visits and click-throughs, with a big addition to my contacts database as a result. But how many of these visitors will then want to get a call offering inbound marketing services? Probably none. They don’t want to buy from us, they just wanted to see the kitten.

The reality is that visitors to your site should only really be considered sales-ready leads when they have shown a genuine (and hopefully progressive) interest in what you have to offer, and should only be handed over to your sales team once they have become sales-qualified leads (SQLs). That means making sure your MQLs are as close in quality to your SQLs as possible, as this blog from beamium.com points out. To do this, you need to adopt a lead scoring system.

lead_scoring_for_better_lead_conversion_for_your_digital_marketing_strategy_agency_business.gifLead scoring, as this HubSpot blog explains, means attaching values to each of your leads based on criteria such as their professional information and behaviour on your website. For example, a senior management-level executive who has looked into your site content will rank higher than an intern. Similarly, someone who has browsed not only your blog, but also the services you provide and your pricing plan should rank higher than someone who has spent five minutes on your ‘fun Friday’ blog. Number of social media followers, company size, etc, can also be factors in your lead scoring scale.

The more time leads spend on your content and the better informed they become about the challenges they face and the solutions you can provide, the more sales-qualified they become.

You can set up a lead scoring scale by deciding between sales and marketing what values to place beside each criterion, and at what level you deem the lead to be sales-ready. This will also involve analysing the behaviour patterns of customers or other potential customers or clients, seeing what actions led to lead conversion and closure, and assigning higher values to them than to the actions that went nowhere.

For simplicity, use a scale from 0 to 100, and assign points to each criterion you set out. If a lead is in a decision-making position within a company able to afford your product or service, has downloaded several offers and further information, has spent enough time on your site to be informed, and has perhaps browsed your pricing, they would rank quite highly in your lead scoring scale, and should be considered a Sales-Qualified Lead.

SQLs are those visitors who have performed more actions than simply visiting your site or downloading one offer. They are those leads who have shown a progressive interest, who score highly, have entered the buyer journey or sales cycle and are moving logically towards its conclusion – making a purchase.

The sales process is only the very last element of the inbound marketing strategy, and 70% of customers have already pretty much made up their mind to buy by the time they talk to the sales team. That is because an effective lead generation and conversion strategy nurtures them along the way, leading them down the conversion path with increasingly relevant and tailored content and information offered via effective CTAs and Landing Pages.


A visitor shows interest in your blogs on SEO? Offer them an eBook on keywords. If they download that, offer them one on the stages involved in turning a website from a brochure-based site into a sales-oriented marketing tool in return for more information about them such as their company position or main challenges. If they download that, nurture them further by offering them a webinar on the type of platform they can use to make that happen, such as the COS from HubSpot. Still interested? Offer to give them a free audit of their site, and if they agree to this, send them a pricing plan. And so on.

If they start looking at prices, they may well be sales-qualified, and your team can kick into action, using the valuable information about that lead they have been providing at each stage to find out what your team needs to know about their challenges and the solutions you can offer.

Doing this successfully requires your marketing and sales teams working together with a ‘smarketing’ approach. That means having an approach in which both sides operate under an agreed strategy with clearly defined processes and targets so that each team knows what is required to better the lead conversion rate.

The marketing team will need sales to give them feedback on what potential customers will want to read about in order to bring them further along the buyer journey or sales cycle, while sales will need the marketing team to nurture and then pass on those high-quality leads most likely to convert into customers.

create_sales_qualified_leads-for_better_conversion_sales_in_your_digital_marketing_strategy.jpegMaking what marketing call a lead and what sales deem a lead as similar as possible will mean both departments will have a clearer idea of what they need to do, what content is needed at each stage of the buyer journey, and when to take action and contact those leads for the best chance at converting them into a paying customer.

The most successful businesses and agencies know that a high conversion rate is the key to winning in their industry, but they also know that in order to enjoy that success, they need to qualify first. Qualify those leads, and you can end up as happy as this lot in the picture above.

Find out how you can create great content to generate and convert leads for your business or agency by downloading our Lead Generation Survival Kit:

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Adam Hyland - Chief Editor

Adam Hyland - Chief Editor

Adam is the most vital link between your message and your audience, ensuring your tone is on brand and optimised for engagement.

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