Quality over quantity: stop wasting your time on bad leads

Lead generation is essential for any sales organisation, but how can you do it successfully when leadership doesn’t understand what a “lead” really is?

Yesterday, Raconteur attended B2B Ignite for the first time and it was great to chat with a number of forward-thinking marketers.

Something which came up again and again, however, was lead generation. How can the modern marketer generate high-quality leads that serve their business purposes? And how can they balance this with the rest of their responsibilities, and increasingly educate their stakeholders and peers on the follow-up process?

Don’t get me wrong - this isn’t a new component of a marketing strategy that has suddenly reared its ugly head in the B2B world. Arguably, it’s something we have been trying to remedy for years. But the age of performance marketing is here and, due to additional scrutiny over ROI, economic uncertainty and increased competition, it seems marketers are under more pressure than ever to deliver quality leads into the business.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix. There’s no silver bullet when it comes to generating high-quality, engaged leads. It’s certainly not as simple as it was 5 years, or even 18 months, ago. Where once marketers could get away with chucking money at campaigns, we’re now in a world where trust is at an all-time low and the consumer has more power than ever before. Add all of this up and what does it show? That if you aren’t different and you don’t have a carefully thought out approach to lead generation, you will fail. Fact.

First and foremost, I firmly believe there is one fundamental question that a business needs to answer before even trying to generate leads that the business recognises as ‘quality’:

“What does a lead actually look like for our business?” 

You have to work this out before you start planning your campaign or executing it, and long before you start measuring the number of leads coming into the business. As a marketer, you may well know the difference between an MQL and SQL but… does the rest of the business?

If the answer to this question isn’t “absolutely!” then you are putting yourself in an untenable position, one where your CEO or sales director may come up to you at any time and ask to see “more leads, fast”. If they don’t know what they’re really asking for, all your sophisticated nurture efforts are wasted. You’ll cut corners to give them what they want, instead of delivering quality leads, and damage your department’s own reputation. It’s a slippery slope.

Case in point: two years ago, I used to butt heads with our marketing director on a weekly basis. I was always asking for more and more leads. As a result the quantity of ‘leads’ that were being fed through to the sales team increased but the quality took a hit. It took a hit because our marketing director tried to fast-track the process to generate more sales conversations. All we ended up doing was wasting everyone’s time on leads who weren’t right, didn’t know what we did, or weren’t ready to buy.

It was then, as a sales leader, I knew that we needed to work a lot more closely with marketing. We needed to get on the same page so we all understood what a ‘lead’ actually looks like and what we should do when we got them.

Customers once depended on salespeople to propose the best solutions to the challenges they faced. But today, 89 per cent of buyers prefer to research their needs independently online. You won’t even be aware of your prospects until they’re up to 70 per cent of the way through their buying process and, more importantly, your funnel.

As the power of sales to influence potential customers early in the buying process diminishes, the marketing funnel has evolved and new B2B lead generation strategies have emerged.

It now falls to marketing to provide quality content that plugs the many gaps in an audience’s knowledge, gaps which were once filled by sales.

So - to my marketing friends past, present and future: stick to focusing on longer-term lead and nurture campaigns to make sure you are engaging the right people, at the right time, in the right way, on the right platform and, of course, with the right content for them. It’s far easier said than done, but you must also focus on consistently re-educating the business on the importance of building long-term value, instead of focusing on short-term gain.

As for you CEOs and sales directors of the world, I feel your pain. Much like you, I thought I just needed to focus on pipeline and revenue. Now, after working so closely with some brilliant marketers over the years, I recognise you have to build systems and processes for the long term to truly get the most out of lead generation campaigns.

I wrote a more in-depth piece a few weeks ago on our business of marketing hub about content-led lead generation. If you’re not yet sick of my rants, you can read more here.