4. Lead Stages
While ultimately a sale is what every company is always looking for, there are key steps in the process of turning a target consumer into a customer. Each is essential and should be considered a victory.
The first step, of course, is to successfully entice a target consumer to enter and explore your Owned media world, such as your website. This is the work I described in chapter 3. The magic of your Owned media world is that you control it. You don’t have to pay others for access, or ask permission to do anything. Your only master is your consumer.
Once a prospect enters your owned world the first conversion that you should seek is registration. The registration of people visiting your website, or responding to a marketing trigger, turns them into an Information Qualified Lead or IQL. Since everything you do in cultivation and conversion will be more effective if you can track the activity of each individual prospect, this conversion should be a priority. Whether you plan to hand off to sales or close online, being able to communicate with the consumer, as well as fully profile them, is enormously valuable.
Converting visitors into this first stage is usually done in exchange for some form of content; this may be a white paper, a video, a tip sheet, eBook or an application. The process is very dependent on compelling content, calls to action (CTAs) and the design of forms and landing pages. It is a process of enticement and closing; presenting an offer that you judge to be sufficiently attractive to the viewer to motivate them to give you their contact information. It is given in exchange for a promise of value in return, and is the beginning of a relationship with great expectations on both sides. As content marketing has proliferated, however, this exchange is, unfortunately, getting harder. As a result, the content and user experience bar for brands is in search of IQLs is getting higher.
Consumers are developing a greater resistance to giving out personal information.
That’s why the prospect registrations that you get should be cherished. When consumers agree to connect with a brand and give their personal information in exchange for some promised content, it is a gift of great value to the brand. Consumers commit with the hope that what they will receive will be relevant, interesting, and useful. The brand making a fundamental branding promise to its consumers. The degree to which it succeeds in this promise will determine the consumer’s ultimate perception of the brand.
Consumers hope that what you send them will help them and enhance their life. They are willing to open a channel with a brand in that hope, despite their reservations about making themselves known to yet another faceless corporate entity. No one wants the brand to succeed more than they do. On the other side, brands need that open channel with people who have a demonstrated interest in their products, and hold the potential to become customers. The brand hopes that the consumer will engage with and respond to their communications and stay connected over time. It is a relationship based on hope on both sides, but that hope relies solely on the performance of the brand to succeed. From that moment on it is up to the brand to make the relationship a success.
IQLs are not qualified by anything other than the exchange of information that occurs. They are not necessarily hot, or even warm leads. They become part of a lead cultivation process, but are classified at a lower level because these leads have not yet exhibited any behaviors that would indicate they are potentially active buyers. However, this initial prospect identification begins the process and makes possible other conversions such as Marketing Qualified Lead.
An MQL is an identified lead who has met qualification criteria denoting it as a warm lead; not ready to buy perhaps, but worth an on-going automated effort.
The MQL assignment is accomplished with scoring that allocates values to leads based on their activity and profile. A visitor to your website may visit to win Super Bowl tickets. But if that’s all they do, they may be judged to not be a good sales prospect. Lead scoring is enabled by most marketing automation platforms (MAP) It allows marketers to evaluate the behavior of consumers throughout their digital engagement with the brand, and create profiles of prospects who are more likely to become customers based on large data-sets. The system is set up to score all visitors on those criteria, and alert the team when a consumer meets the required threshold. This lead then becomes an MQL, which triggers specific automated workflows of marketing materials.
The key to the qualification process is the profile you build on each consumer. Bearing in mind the consumer’s innate resistance to giving out information, many brands find the process of progressive profiling over time an effective way to build a rich, insightful profile. This is done by integrating landing page software, such as Unbounce, with CRM and MAP to collect additional information with each new interaction. For example, a lead scoring structure that my agency set up for a B2B client assigned points for the industry and title of the prospect, it gave values to the type of materials the person downloaded and the click path they took through the brand’s website, it gave higher values for reviewing certain content and information, like the contact page of the site. It also gave points for the number of emails opened and the number of clicks made within emails.
The actual points awarded for each activity were based on our observations of the activities most likely to be associated with a person who ultimately became a customer. These can be extracted from large data-sets of the behaviors of your customers. Some activities, like exploring the contact information of the brand, were assigned a point value that would quickly identify the visitor as a potential buyer and alert sales, many of the other criteria were not enough on their own to trigger an alert, but in aggregate qualified the prospect.
A Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) is an MQL lead that has met the criteria that indicates it is potentially ready-to-buy.
While each company is different, a helpful approach to this identification is BANT: Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe. In most cases all four elements have to be positive in order for a lead to be considered hot. Not all of this information is easily obtained, so it often takes multiple interactions, some even with marketing reps, to fully qualify the lead. These touches, however, become part of the 6-8 touches that SalesForce and others, tell us it takes to get the information you need to qualify a lead as an SQL. Clearly this is more relevant to more complex sales that require sales people, particularly in B2B. But BANT is useful in developing SQL profile scoring based on key observed behaviors that are likely to indicate a ready-to-buy prospect.
From the point at which a lead is delivered to sales, the sales person should drive the process. However, there are many circumstances, such as where the lead goes cool, in which it may again receive the attentions of your automated cultivation system. As I’ve discussed before, if a lead runs through the process to sales and does not convert, it is usually smart to continue staying in contact in the hope that it will turn warm again in the future. This is merely a matter of the lead being downgraded back to an MQL and continuing the automated outreach.