Every demand gen marketer wants highly qualified leads (HQLs), and it’s easy to understand why.
Delivering leads who have a legitimate interest in your product or service will not only build rapport with sales, but also tie your efforts to revenue.
Given those two factors, it’s no surprise that getting better leads is the highest priority for demand generation marketers.
Trying to improve lead quality is a good idea, but it can lead to a misunderstanding about how to acquire leads in the first place. Marketers who expect every lead to be BANT-qualified often set unrealistic targeting criteria, which sabotages lead volume. Whether you produce leads in-house or source from a lead generation provider like TechnologyAdvice, an exceedingly high standard for “quality” will only hurt you.
It’s a common mistake in the demand generation world, and a dangerous strategy: if you only pursue channels that deliver leads with a clearly defined budget, need, and timeline, you’ll shrink production to an unsustainable level.
The reality is that highly qualified leads are manufactured, not discovered, and the consistent delivery of good leads to sales requires an effective lead nurturing infrastructure and a diverse lead pipeline.
“Highly Qualified” Usually Means “Highly Nurtured”
In his excellent book The Marketer as Philosopher, Flint McGlaughlin emphasizes the marketer’s responsibility to carefully sequence their company’s interactions with a potential customer. For example, if a lead is brand new, you don’t sent them a pricing list.
McGlaughlin’s approach illuminates the issue at hand: you can’t expect to learn a person’s budget, timeline, and need for your product through one or even a couple of interactions — not at scale, anyway.
ALSO READ: 10 Ways to Improve Your Lead Conversion Rate
Trust and rapport are developed over time. The most obvious analogy for this principle is the sales funnel. This hundred-year-old sales process — now the fascination of many demand generation marketers — succeeds precisely because there is a continuous flow of leads through it.
If you tried to only bring leads in at the bottom, you wouldn’t have a funnel. You’d have one part of a stacking cup set, and the entire system would collapse.
As proof, DemandGen Report’s latest Lead Nurturing Benchmarks Study revealed that more than half of marketers consider lead nurturing effective for “generating more warm, sales-ready leads.”
Luckily, we as marketers have never been better equipped to address the need for lead nurturing. The emergence of marketing automation has equipped us with tools to create, refine, and measure the processes we use to create highly qualified leads.
Although lead nurturing is more difficult than focusing purely on bottom-of-the-funnel channels, it’s the only way to scale.
In a sense, that’s liberating. Developing a scalable process for lead qualification frees you from worshipping the intermittent trickle of organic BANT leads.
Build a Database and Diversify
Viewing BANT leads as a product of lead nurturing lets you diversify your marketing channels and lower your risk.
You no longer have to view BANT leads as flakes of manna that the universe sometimes deposits in your lap. You’ll be able to build an engine that you can improve and whose output you can forecast.
Achieving this level of demand generation maturity requires a different approach. If lead nurturing is an engine for lead qualification then you must create a database of raw materials to power it.
So instead of thinking about leads who aren’t qualified as unwelcome outliers to your marketing efforts, consider them members of your marketing database. Once your database gets large enough, you’ll have a formidable owned media asset that you can use to supply your lead nurturing programs and produce those highly qualified leads everyone wants.
The key is to appreciate top-of-the-funnel and middle-of-the-funnel leads for what they are: people who could turn into customers later if they’re exposed to the right information and experiences.
Instapage’s case study with Autopilot is a great example. The landing page software provider was about to delete over 50,000 contacts from their database, but instead, they launched a lead nurturing campaign in an attempt to revive some interest.
The result was $30,000 in annual recurring revenue, and the tactics they used aren’t terribly complex:
1) Develop micro-campaigns of three emails that move through the funnel.
2) Move leads through the campaign, with engaged leads continuing to the next funnel stage.
3) If people don’t engage, send them another email at the same stage that starts a different micro-campaign.
Instapage’s success illustrates the database approach to demand generation. Those 50,000 leads were far from ideal. Their engagement with the company had been nonexistent for some time.
But instead of viewing them as extraneous (because they weren’t “BANT-qualified”), Instapage took control of the situation and nurtured them into a qualified state.
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When you approach demand generation from an incremental perspective, you’ll find that you have much more control over your programs . . . and therefore your KPIs. Instead of lead generation functioning like opening a pack of baseball cards that may or may not contain the right players, you can use lead nurturing and your database to power repeatable, scalable strategies.
A diverse lead pipeline isn’t a hindrance; it’s a critical asset to the long-term growth of your company.