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For quality leads — that are more effective in the long-term — inbound marketing undoubtedly provides better sources for lead generation than outbound.

Why?

Well, for starters, inbound prospects, by definition, choose themselves as leads.

They’ve already gone through the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey. They’ve identified a business problem or opportunity, and after educating themselves on available options in the marketplace, the prospect has identified your company’s solution as a potential suitor to invest in (Congrats!).  

Sounds great, right? But it’s also important to consider several issues that prevent converting leads into buyers. Before we dive in, let’s back up and cover the basics. 

What is Inbound Lead Generation?

Inbound lead generation is a part of inbound marketing. Broadly speaking, an inbound lead refers to any prospect who personally reaches out to a brand to learn more.

A strong inbound lead generation funnel is reliant on a compelling, easy-to-understand experience on a company website (duh!). It’s also dependent on getting the right visitors TO that website in the first place. That’s where things tend to get tricky. 

A good place to start developing supplemental content strategies that support sound Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts and the buyer’s journey at-large, include: 

  • A company blog 
  • A robust resource center 
  • Thoughtful eBooks, infographics, and webinars. 

Neither the production or payoff of these assets occur overnight. But the benefits of optimizing your inbound strategy yields compounding return and considerably higher ROI than outbound sources for lead generation.

The reason for this isn’t hard to understand. Again, inbound prospects already have interest in a product or service gained organically. They’ve browsed your website, read a blog post or two, searched some reviews, and maybe even liked some social media posts. They know who you are and how you can help. 

But how are inbound leads different from outbound leads?

Inbound vs. Outbound Lead Generation

At some point, outbound marketing became a black sheep — the term was once labeled “interruption marketing,” while inbound marketing was often referred to as “permission-based marketing.”  

Outbound marketing does push the brand’s message via cold calling, advertising, and email campaigns. Compared to inbound marketing, outbound is more difficult to predict and more intrusive. Emails and calls could bring in a new sale, but they could also be ignored or shoved into the spam folder

The bottom line is that relying solely on either channel means your business is only going to scale as fast as that go-to-market strategy allows. Consequently, most companies mix in both inbound and outbound efforts whenever developing GTM plans.

Making the Juice Worth the Squeeze

Retaining unconverted leads comes at no cost, but the ongoing obsession with adding more prospects to the funnel can undermine the value of lead nurturing.

Perhaps the best part? Sales agrees! Inbound marketing is worth it in the long run because it provides higher quality leads for sales compared to outbound marketing tactics.

But just because you enjoy the juice, doesn’t mean there weren’t any issues with the squeeze. 

Here are three of the issues brands run into when they don’t have a solid inbound strategy:

1. Unfit Leads

Generating leads that aren’t a fit for your company’s solution can ruin the selling process, not to mention cause disruption between sales and marketing. These aren’t prospects, just noisy data points that either inflate or deflate metrics within your sales funnel

The concept of BANT (budget, authority, need, timing) is somewhat antiquated within modern sales communities. However, the central tenant holds true: A good fit prospect, by definition, should have use for your product or service, have long-term goals for its use, and be able to afford it.

Implementing a qualifying and scoring system for prospects will prevent unfit leads from coming through. This is where sales funnel awareness is important. 

Taking adequate action to become a marketing qualified lead (MQL) does not, by itself, necessarily need to translate to sales accepted lead (SAL). 

2. Aimless Leads

Think about it: you spend all this time driving visitors to your company website AND they have raised their hand through your web form asking to speak with a rep. This picture perfect image can quickly turn into a beautiful disaster if sales doesn’t bother to follow up.

Most marketers can relate to the frustration of losing leads and potential ROI because the sales team decides to play a game of “not it” when they should be following up.  

And believe us, you’re not alone: A 2018 study from Drift found 58% of sales teams did not respond to inbound lead conversions. 

While taking responsibility for inbound leads is important, planned delegation is critical. Most organizations are adjusting. Often, this looks like dedicating an inbound lead qualification function to its sales organization. 

But this isn’t a Ford Motor assembly line, sharing responsibilities between sales teams requires the organization and implementation of a lead routing plan.

3. Slow Response Times

Nearly a decade ago, when we first started hearing about digital transformation, companies that contacted prospects within an hour were nearly seven times more likely to qualify those leads. Yet even back then, the average lead response time was 42 hours. 

That’s right, nearly two days. 

Data from Drift found that 90% of all companies failed to respond to inbound leads within 5 minutes. 

Strategies for Improving Inbound Turnaround

One of the more obvious answers to improving turnaround is making more room in the budget specifically for inbound lead generation strategies and resources. 

Easy, right? 

Not exactly. 

A budget without objectives is always a recipe for disaster.

Instead, start with what you can immediately control. Foster alignment between sales and marketing by creating an agreed upon Service Level Agreements (or SLA) to precisely lay out who does what when. 

SLAs enable B2B organizations to agree on what good looks like, both from a process and results perspective. The binding contracts coordinate lead-to-revenue management (L2RM) responsibilities and processes, and shared KPIs between sales and marketing teams, depending on where a prospect currently is in their buyer’s journey.

Without a documented SLA potential revenue will always be out of reach. Conversely, with both sales and marketing working from the same playbook, opportunities to generate more ROI from inbound leads become easier to identify and act upon. 

Let’s reveal three action items sales and marketing can review that address the common problems we’ve already covered. 

More Targeted Content

Creating broad, vague content like “How to Close More Sales,” casts a wider net for possible prospects. But that doesn’t ensure quality leads. Creating a buyer persona and content that aligns with it can help bring in those quality leads.

There’s a delicate balance between quantity and quality with content, and it’s up to a brand to decide how that balance is handled. 

On the other end of the spectrum, “How B2G Marketing Campaigns Effect Q2 Sales,” is too niche. More balanced targeting looks like: “Marketing Campaign Ideas for Q2 Sales.”

By improving targeted content, the time and effort spent on lead qualification and scoring decreases. 

Solid Lead Qualification and Scoring Process

Getting valuable and timely leads requires a strong lead qualifying and scoring process.

Qualifying leads involves measuring and predicting the value a lead has for purchasing your product or service. For inbound marketing, landing pages and form fills give your team qualifying information enabling them to possibly move forward for a sale.

Leading scoring is the process of assigning a value to leads using criteria created by both sales and marketing teams. With this quantitative method, leads are given a score based on interest and readiness to buy.

Traditionally, both scoring and qualifying possible leads require information like:

  • Location
  • Industry
  • Relevance
  • Company size
  • Buyer personas
  • Needs
  • Purchasing power
  • Engagement Behavior

Each of these data points may weigh differently in terms of importance and correlation to close. However, the more insights collected about how a company operates will better inform a scoring model, especially through the nurture and qualification process.

This collection and application can even be supplemented by third-party data sources. For instance, sales intelligence also contextualizes the above traditional firmographic data points to help deliver insights about a how the sales-readiness of a lead, including real-time updates related to: 

  • Organizational reporting structure
  • Product launches
  • Funding rounds
  • Budgets
  • Year-to-year growth
  • Company initiatives
  • Personnel moves
  • Installed or removed technologies
  • Surges in online consumption of relevant topics/keywords

An Organized Lead Routing Process

We all know the universal sales funnel, however it’s important for every brand to define what each stage of the funnel means for them. From there, it’s crucial to map out who is responsible for each stage. The way a lead enters the pipeline defines outreach.

As the name suggests, lead routing is the process of appointing and distributing incoming leads to appropriate resources on the sales team. Who that resource is could depend on a number of variables. For instance, inbound sales reps could specialize in qualifying a particular type of prospect based on how the lead qualified, their firmographic and demographic information, and so much more. 

What’s important during distribution, is to clearly outline the responsibilities between sales and marketing from that point forward. sales with the help of marketing tactics. Does the sales organization, for example, want all marketing communication cut off while a lead is being worked by reps? Or does the sales organization want specific “air coverage” (brand awareness) campaigns executed in an effort to reinforce the value of the company’s solution?

Resources, Tools and Applications for Inbound Lead Generation

There are a growing number of tools and solutions tailored to every aspect of customer brand interest and engagement. But there is no point in investing in these tools when there isn’t proper application and alignment with sales and marketing.

The Tools

Though specific lead generation platforms exist on the market, the following solutions are also made to improve turnaround:

  • Visitor engagement tracking
  • Lead capture
  • Web form appending/verification 
  • Live chat

The Application

When applying tools and solutions to the lead gen process, each stage of the sales funnel should be considered. Here’s what that looks like:

When a prospect is gaining awareness

  • Leveraging a user tracking solution for your website, means you  can see exactly what content a potential prospect is looking at and for how long. 
  • Analytics tools such as Google Analytics are useful to see exactly which content is being consumed, which keywords are being sought out, and how long each reader stays on the page.
  • Pinpointing what is getting the most attention from an audience while keeping an ideal customer in mind can help bring in the right audience with purchasing power.

When a prospect comes in

  • Usually prospects will submit a form, start a chat, or reach out via email if they have interest in your product or service.
  • Setting up notifications and having a rep on hand to handle them will ensure a speedier response. It’s important to  figure out which system these notifications are coming from; whether it’s your CRM or a specific messaging tool.

Where that lead should go

  • Ideally prospects should go straight to sales to begin the selling process. But it also needs to be determined if they are a marketing qualified lead (MQL) or a sales qualified lead (SQL). Depending on how your brand interprets the sales funnel, leads that are closer to the awareness stage, or top of the funnel, need processing through a lead scoring system first.
  • Through a CRM system, leads can be auto-assigned to sales reps with the premise that they are qualified for a purchase. Giving a more qualified lead to sales professionals gives them more time for sales pitches, outreach tactics, and most importantly selling tasks.

The Future of Inbound Lead Gen

The future is in inbound lead generation. Investing in that future entails dissecting the sales funnel, collaborating with sales and marketing teams, and prioritizing engagement marketing.

Going further into the digital world, engagement has and will continue to happen online or with digital tools. 

With this knowledge, the art of turnaround time can be perfected.

Are you ready?

About the author

Ryan Hadfield

Ryan Hadfield is a content marketing director at ZoomInfo, the leading B2B contact data solution.

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