Quality over Quantity: Identifying Leads

Quality over Quantity: Identifying Leads

March 2020 | Marketing Operations

Identifying what a good lead looks like is no easy task. There are multiple factors to consider and few marketing teams use all the available information.

High quality leads are the lifeblood of any B2B marketing department. Collecting them is the ultimate objective of many marketing campaigns. Brand, customer experience and pipeline acceleration campaigns may have become more important in recent years, but lead generation is ultimately how most CMOs are measured. The shift in typical KPIs from quantitative targets based around lead volumes to revenue targets hasn't changed this. Instead, it has brought the oft neglected topic of lead quality to the top of the priority list.

Identifying what a good lead looks like is no easy task. The obvious people to ask are in Sales. They're the ones receiving the leads and converting them into closed deals after all. However, there is an inherent risk in this approach. The leads that Sales often want aren't the ones they actually need to meet their targets. Senior decision makers at large enterprise accounts are a glamorous target for ambitious sales reps, but they're probably not the deals they're actually working on day to day. Getting Sales to provide an accurate description of the long tail of small accounts can be a challenge. They may not even have a good picture themselves depending on the business model.

Even when Sales do provide an accurate profile for the best accounts and most relevant personas, the discussion ends up focusing on the wrong metrics. Most reps are laser focused on achieving their quarterly targets, so care primarily about readiness to buy. Long term relationship building does matter but tends to be a secondary objective. Consequently, Sales care more about the BANT metrics than the profile attributes of the leads they receive from marketing. This is a particular issue in hardware businesses such as PCs, servers or engineering equipment. Most companies in the target market will need to buy at some point, the problem is identifying when. Readiness to buy is critical to any sales effort, but can only be reliably determined by talking to the prospect.

Target Accounts

For that reason, the most successful target account identification projects start with a data analysis of won opportunities. This ensures that decisions are made using the full range of customers rather than just the most visible and obvious verticals and market segments. Try to be as granular as possible in this, even to the level of exact locations, company sizes and SIC codes. The SIC industry classification system has its issues when it comes to grouping companies by their primary business, but it is better than nothing.

If you can get relevant install base data all the better, but such information is rarely reliable unless you're in the software business. For technology companies, there is a lot of mileage in building a picture of typical tech stacks at your customers and then using that to identify customers with similar system architectures.

Detailed Personas

Identifying key buyer personas within an account is a lot more complicated because there is generally less data surrounding it. In theory, it is possible to analyse contacts linked to opportunities but such relationships are rarely mapped in a CRM system. The admin cost of doing so generally outweighs the benefit. Sales will have some idea, but typically they only speak to the key decision makers rather than the entire purchasing committee. As such, customer interviews are absolutely essential in identifying a wide range of personas. No other method can give you the full picture.

In practice, the task of mapping B2B buyer personas into a marketing database tends to focus exclusively on job title. The other attributes of a persona tend to be ignored when assigning personas to leads, and are instead used more strategically to guide campaign planning and content production. Job title is incredibly important, but the actual meaning of a particular role varies significantly by organisation. Different firms make decisions at different levels depending on the org chart and company culture. Such factors are frequently ignored until an individual is judged ready to engage in the sales process.

Relevant Engagement

There is also no guarantee that the individual needs and business pressures written into the persona description actually exist within a particular account. Every company is different, and even direct competitors can have vastly different levels of openness to a specific solution or business paradigm. Before passing leads to Sales, it is vital to validate that a genuine interest in relevant products or services actually exists. There needs to be a minimum level of engagement with content related to a particular solution area, preferably over an extended period of time. No amount of telemarketing can create interest where there is none.

A lead probably isn't ready to be called, if it's not clear what their core business needs are after a review of their profile and engagement history. There may still be gaps in the data that need to be filled in, but a well trained lead development rep should know which campaign or solution-specific call script they need to use when calling a lead. Their job is to identify whether the prospect's digital interactions with a brand actually translate into actual buying intent, and if not when the lead will be ready to buy. In doing so, they are the bridge to Sales, gathering the BANT information needed for Sales to start working an opportunity. They are not an alternative to high quality leads.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.