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The brutal realities of the B2B lead qualification process

A common approach to lead qualification, from Patricia Hursh

So your pay-per-click campaign has generated 100 registrations for the download of a white paper. One hundred conversions may sound pretty good, but the real questions are: How many of these are valid, qualified prospects... what percentage will become sales leads... and ultimately, customers?

Understanding the lead qualification process is key to B2B search marketing success.

Website registrations should be viewed as inquiries—not sales leads. I'd like to further explore the difference between inquiries and leads, and discuss a common approach to lead qualification.

Think of the qualification process as a funnel. At the top of the funnel are all the registrations collected, and at the bottom are only the high-quality leads worthy of follow-up. How does a company move web inquiries through a qualification process? What is a typical trim rate as marketers qualify leads?

B2B marketers start by measuring all conversions (or registrations). We capture contact information for everyone who ends up on a Thank You Page. This is the number of conversions registered by the search engine or third-party tracking program. It's easy to become fixated on this conversion data, but if this is all you're looking at... you're probably overstating the true value delivered to your business.

As you review the contact information, you quickly see that some of it is bogus. Marketers should remove duplicate entries as well as invalid names, email addresses and phone numbers. There are several tactics used to weed out invalid entries prior to submission... but it's impossible to eliminate all of it. Recalculate conversion metrics based on only the valid contacts. Valuable assets with very simple forms tend to generate less invalid data than lengthy, time consuming forms required for information perceived as questionable in value.

The average trim rate is about 20%. This means that 20% of the contact info collected is likely to be meaningless right from the start.

After the invalid contact information has been removed, it's typical for a business, or their agency, to remove additional entries based on specific marketing requirements or limitations. For example, companies may remove foreign email addresses, student email addresses, or contacts in locations or industries they don't serve.

Usually another 5 - 10% of entries are removed during this process, bringing the total trim rate to about 25 or 30%. Again, recalculate conversion metrics based on this shorter list of qualified inquiries. At this point, the validated and qualified contacts remaining are the ones worthy of follow-up - either directly by a sales team or perhaps via an interim email or telemarketing effort.

As the sales force contacts and interacts with these leads they need to provide feedback to the search marketing team. Many B2B firms have long sales cycles... so it may take three to six months (or longer) to receive meaningful information on which web inquiries become valid leads and ultimately customers.

Previous strictly business columns have discussed the importance of implementing a lead nurturing program and the benefits of tracking website activity even when it doesn't lead to an immediate registration or conversion. Take the time to evaluate and remove invalid and non-qualified conversions as part of a systematic lead qualification process and implement a feedback loop with the sales team. This helps to set realistic expectations and ultimately improves search marketing ROI.