One of the most important things a marketing organization does is deliver high quality leads to the sales organization that convert to opportunities and drive revenue growth. At the same time in many organizations, the sales leadership often cites the lack of quality leads from marketing as a major impairment to pipeline growth. Effective lead generation programs should nurture prospects and prioritize them to meet the bandwidth of the lead conversion engine. In this case, the “lead conversion engine” consists of the Sales Development Reps (SDRs), a group that phones and emails MQLs to further qualify them for sales. The challenge is for marketing is to carefully qualify and prioritize the leads to meet the capabilities and bandwidth of the SDR team. Too many leads will overwhelm the SDR team and they will potentially miss the best leads. Too few leads result in the SDR team having excess bandwidth that could have been used to generate more sales leads.

Before we get too far into what makes a great marketing lead, let’s get a couple definitions out of the way:

  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): The prospect has valuable demographic and/or demonstrated behavioral activity that make him more desirable for sales follow up relative to other leads
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): Leads that have evolved to the point where the sales organization can engage with the prospect with a high probability of converting them to an opportunity

Lead quality components:

1)    Demographic — The demographic component is focused on things like company, the industry served, their title, etc. To best make use of this information, marketing should create buyer personas based on real sales experience. These personas should include a detailed profile of the intended buyers, including their pain points, behavior patterns, motivations, purchase involvement, information sources, potential objections and receptive messaging.

2)    Behavioral — This component is a record of activity demonstrated by the lead. This should include: assets downloaded, emails opened, CTAs clicked, registered events, attended events, etc. The behavior component is a good tool to further inform the demographic component. By gating some content, additional information can be acquired to fill-in missing or enhance demographic elements.

Making Extraordinary MQLs

Now you understand how all your leads fit into your buyer personas and you have tracked their activity and even enhanced the demographic information. The next step is to convert some leads to MQLs. The Extraordinary MQL comes from careful blending of the demographic and behavioral components to form a truly predictive overall quality assessment of the lead. Remember, this is a process of refinement and optimization over time and there is no quick answer. That said, here are a few considerations to help you in the process:

  • Data is king. Measure everything from opens on emails to click through rates and conversions to MQL/SQL. Make decisions and adjustments based on this data and not gut feel. Calculate the cost to generate a lead, MQL, SQL and closed deal by lead source. Allocate budget based on this measurement, but leave some budget to experiment with new ideas.
  • Feedback is critical. Talk to the SDR and sales team. Understand which MQLs progress to opportunities and then on to closed deals. Compare this data to your inbound flow of leads and adjust your messaging to attract more desirable leads and filter out the less desirable. Do a similar analysis with your lead sources by determining the sources delivering best leads and shift resources to those sources.
  • Nail the personas. Because the demographic component is more predictive to lead quality than behavior, get as much information about the individuals that influence your company’s success within customers as possible. Incorporate this data into your buyer personas on a continual basis
  • Using a marketing automation system. Be sure it is well integrated with your CRM. Implement lead scoring to automatically designate leads as an MQL. The demographic component should be weighed to determine if the lead is the right person. Once the demographic score clears its hurdle, then the activity component should be applied to estimate the timing of the conversion to MQL. Additionally, progressive profiling can be implemented to improve the demographics or better identify timing for the MQL conversion. Remember that you can greatly affect the number of leads that convert to MQL by how high or low you set the bar for MQL conversion. If you want more MQLs, relax the criteria and if you want fewer or more qualified leads, tighten the criteria.
  • Don’t stop at the MQL. Once converted, the MQL should be automatically inserted into a lead queue within CRM for further qualification by the SDR. This creates a systematic and consistent way of prioritizing leads and moving them to the next step. Be sure to capture results from this stage and use this information for further refinement.

If you follow these ideas you will definitely move toward creating Extraordinary MQLs, but most importantly you will build a system with a number of parameters that you can adjust as you optimize your conversion process.

One last thought to help improve the overall relationship between sales and marketing. It is critical to engage the sales team throughout this process. The best indication of a high quality marketing lead is if it converts to an opportunity and ultimately results in a sale. By working with your sales team closely and asking for their opinion you will help to break down the barriers between sales and marketing and you will incorporate real world feedback into your assessment process. Well integrated CRM and marketing automation systems can go a long way to building a consistent feedback loop, but nothing beats a conversation with sales to bridge these gaps. To learn more about the marketing / sales gap and how to bridge it, check out our podcast.