Columnist Patricia Hursh believes that by working closely with sales, improving targeting and using the right qualifiers, B2B businesses can see greater returns from their marketing efforts.

According to a recent eMarketer article, obtaining high-quality leads continues to be a challenge for B2B marketers. Along with measuring ROI and long sales cycles, difficulty obtaining enough quality leads is a challenge identified by 42 percent of B2B marketers surveyed.


What is a quality lead?

The definition of lead quality certainly varies. In my experience, the most common requirement is that an acceptable percentage of leads (or inquiries) move through the sales funnel and become “sales opportunities.” In other words, quality leads are those deemed worthy of sales resources and continued outreach/follow-up.

Balancing lead volume, cost and quality

B2B lead gen programs always involve a balancing act between lead volume, lead quality and lead cost. Each business needs to figure out the optimal “sweet spot” for these critical metrics while at the same time working to optimize them.

Some companies value lead volume above all else. These firms tend to have very robust call centers, large sales teams and well-established lead nurturing programs. The primary goal is to import as many contacts as possible into the sales funnel. These companies often don’t have a firm budget. They will fund the lead gen effort as long as lead cost remains below an acceptable threshold.

On the other hand, many B2B companies focus more heavily on lead quality. These firms may have limited resources dedicated to prospect outreach, lead qualification and ongoing nurturing. Budgets are firm, and reducing lead cost and improving lead quality are paramount to success.

Regardless of where you fit on this spectrum, improving lead quality is likely a marketing goal. Here are three recommended methods to improve the quality of your leads.

1. Understand specific sales objections

This sounds so obvious, but it’s amazing how few companies really have a fully functioning feedback loop between the people generating the leads (marketing) and the people qualifying the leads (sales). In my opinion, this is a fundamental requirement for any effective B2B lead generation program.

If the call center or sales team is indicating that leads are not of acceptable quality, marketers need to understand why. Improvement starts with understanding the specific issues. Here are some examples of common objections from sales teams:

  • Inquiries are coming from companies that are too small and don’t have the required budget.
  • Prospects are looking for general information and are not ready to buy.
  • Prospects are not decision-makers.
  • Prospects are not business buyers.

Once marketers better understand these sales challenges, they can devise plans to test modifications in ad networks, audience targeting, ad serving, messaging, calls-to-action, assets and landing pages.

Communication is a two-way street. The sales staff should also understand how leads are being generated. What are prospects searching for? What is the message or offer being presented? Where are ads being placed? You’d be surprised how often sales teams offer suggestions that dramatically improve lead gen campaigns.

2. Ensure you are reaching business buyers

One objection B2B marketers often hear from sales teams is that the lead program is attracting too many non-business buyers - for example, students, consultants and researchers.

Most sales teams value business email addresses over personal addresses. They believe that hotmail and Gmail addresses are not as qualified as business addresses. (I’m not sure I agree with this assessment, but this is a common objection.)

We’ve had success collecting more business email addresses by testing registration forms and form field labels. Specifically, by replacing “Email” with a more descriptive label - such as “Business Email,” “Work Email” or “Company Email,” marketers can significantly increase the percentage of business email addresses collected.

However, I do not recommend going so far as to not accept personal email addresses (i.e., actually blocking hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo addresses). This practice has been found to drastically limit lead volume and to be counter-productive.

3. Qualify clickers as much as possible

Let’s take a look at another B2B lead quality challenge: reaching prospects at the right size company.

Many B2B companies offer fairly expensive, high-consideration products and services. Their target audience is mid- to large-sized corporations, usually in specific industries. They are definitely not looking for leads from independent consultants or small businesses.

Reaching business buyers at large companies in particular industries is very doable on some platforms. For example, LinkedIn offers robust ad targeting capabilities, including industry, company size and job title. Due to these targeting capabilities, LinkedIn is a successful platform for many B2B lead gen programs.

Audience targeting is more difficult with PPC ad campaigns on search networks such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. In this case, B2B marketers need to test ways to qualify searchers via keywords, ad copy, calls to action and downloadable assets.

Here are a few examples of PPC tactics that have improved B2B lead quality, specifically in terms of reaching business buyers at large corporations:

  • Qualifying ad copy: Marketers should test including “large company words” in PPC ad copy - words like corporate, enterprise, company and global. For example, instead of the phrase “ERP Software,” test “ERP Enterprise Solutions.”
  • Descriptive labels: We’ve found that simply changing the name of a downloadable asset or the way we describe an action can also help to prequalify clickers. For instance, change the name of a white paper from “Solutions Guide” to “Global Solutions for Large Enterprises.” Change the description of a demo from “Request a Demo” to “Request your Corporate Solutions Demo.”

While this type of qualification is not foolproof, it can significantly reduce the number of non-target-audience clicks and leads.

Integrate, Target and Qualify.

The #1 way to improve lead quality is to ensure continuous two-way communication between marketing and sales. Make sales teams aware of lead gen efforts. Help marketing teams understand the lead qualification process. Only by working together in an integrated fashion can you can maximize lead gen results.

I recommend that B2B marketers utilize platforms such as LinkedIn that allow you to adequately target your specific business audience, based on industry, company size and more.

For less targeted platforms, including PPC advertising, marketers need to test keywords, ad copy, calls to action, landing pages, registration forms and downloadable assets. A robust testing program is required to discover ways to qualify business prospects as much as possible.

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