I just went through an interesting exercise with one of my favorite clients. We worked together to define who, or what, is a lead. We reviewed all the usual suspects (people who provide valid contact information, people who opt in, people who are BANT qualified, etc.). We also worked through what constituted a hot, warm or cold lead. We were fortunate to have both sales and marketing teams participate in the process. As a result, we came up with a customized model that will not only work for the campaign we have planned, but will also inform all of their other sales and marketing efforts.
The most significant takeaway: The definition of a lead varies by company, business model, industry, approach and audience.
All said, here are some thoughts to help you ensure your definition, data collection and pipeline management process are aligned for maximum effectiveness.
1. Determine the minimum information required. Typically we need a name and some contact information:
- Postal Code
- Mobile Phone
- Social Media
Minimum is important. You want to make sure it is as easy as possible for your target audiences to provide information. Also think in terms of communications platforms. How does your audience prefer to be communicated to? Email? Direct Mail? Telephone? SMS? What about connecting via Social Media? (Now there’s an idea! However, I’m not sure if we will get to the point of: “Please check here if we can ‘friend’ you on Facebook.” By the way, does a Twitter ‘follow’ constitute as an Opt-In?) Think about how your organization typically communicates as well, within the current marketing campaign, by your sales teams, customer service and beyond. There are also advantages and disadvantages to each communications channel. Think about the differences between interactivity, engagement, interruptive vs. collaborative, one-way vs. two way, static vs. dynamic, etc. The platform you choose determines the contact information you need, and says something about your brand and customers as well.
2. “Opt-In” is not just the law, it is a strategic weapon. Think carefully about how you want your audiences to participate. There are several types of Opt-Ins:
- Specific Marketing Campaign
- General Company
- Specific Product or Service
- Partner Offers
Interestingly, how you present Opt-In questions is just as important as what types of Opt-In questions you choose. Studies have shown this is a balance between quantity and quality of leads. Negatively-framed questions (Opt-Outs) receive higher participation rates than positively-framed questions (Opt-Ins). Pre-selected choices also receive higher Opt-In rates, however the quality of these leads tends to be lower than those where participants are required to select the option. Copy treatments and page positioning have also been shown to effect participation quantity and quality.
3. BANT Qualification has two inherent strengths. BANT Qualification, or understanding a prospects Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe (hence the BANT acronym) assists you in understanding whether or not a prospect is a viable customer. For example, a prospect’s budget is too low for your product or service, or they don’t have the authority to make the purchase decision. It can also help your sales teams in prioritizing leads. Should a prospect be looking to purchase a product or service in the near-term (Timeframe) of have more than enough Budget to purchase your offering(s), they could be considered a ‘hot’ lead.
So how do you get BANT information? Here, you have some choices. You can either address BANT with your marketing approach, leave it to your sales teams or adopt a hybrid model. Here are some examples:
- Budget: (formulaic) “What is your annual household income?”, (direct) “What is your company’s annual budget for X?”
- Authority: “Are you Head of Household?”, “Are you the final decision maker or do you recommend or influence purchase decisions for your company?”
- Need: “Do you own a home?”, “Does your company outsource your IT?’
- Timeframe: “When are you looking to purchase a new car?”, “When does your company’s fiscal calendar end?”
As you can see, these types of questions can be asked through a marketing campaign, as part of an initial sales or outreach (telemarketing) campaign, or across both.
4. Conditioning leads is good or you and good for them. Conditioning leads is the art and science of collecting additional demographic, psychographic and technographic information from your audience, while educating them about your brand and products. Conditioning allows brands to learn more about their audiences, and their audiences to learn more about them. It’s a courtship of sorts that will (hopefully) lead to a long-term relationship. Think about what additional information you’d like to collect about your audiences over time. This can inform your current pipeline, futures sales and marketing efforts, and provide some incredible opportunities for your customer service organization to drive retention, expansion, loyalty and advocacy.
Think of conditioning questions as the “nice-to-know” information about your audiences. This information, while not required for the sales process might help hone your future marketing efforts or give your sales teams an edge in establishing and building relationships with prospects. Some examples: “Do they participate in social media?” “What publications do they read?” “How many people are in their family?”
Similarly, understanding what additional pieces of information your audiences would like to, and need to know about your products or brand can help optimize your marketing, sales and service efforts. Here we include what audiences “need-to-know” about our brands and products in order to make a purchase decision, as well as the “nice-to-know” information that may drive audiences from the consideration to preference stages of the pipeline. “Does your organization align to your audiences moral and ethical compass?”, “Is your brand fun and playful, or more serious and straightforward?”, “How engaging and personal is your company?” Every communication with your audiences should tell a part of the story. People do business with brands they know, like and trust. Frequency and cadence of communications is important here. Understanding the balance between too much, too often and just right takes time and practice.
You can also use the conditioning process as a strategic tool to control the speed at which prospects move through the sales cycle. For example: for complex products or solutions, more conditioning may lower return rates and increase overall customer satisfaction. Or, if you have a smaller sales staff and a marketing campaign is wildly successful, conditioning can be used to keep prospects in a holding pattern until your sales teams can address them.
All said, capturing and qualifying leads can be a far more complex process than “name, address and phone number”. If you adopt a strategic approach to your lead process that is aligned to your sales, marketing and service efforts, you can manage your pipeline with great effectiveness and efficiency, build stronger and deeper relationships with your customers and drive long-term business success. Think beyond the lead.
Do you have any thoughts on defining a lead or managing the process? Please share!