Why Sales Shuns B2B Marketing Qualified Leads

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I read an interesting exchange on LinkedIn recently.

The post asked about how sellers engage with prospects who don’t yet either know they have a problem or understand the problem or how they want to solve it.

The sales folks who answered the post leaned toward the feeling that their time was valuable, and they weren’t inclined to waste it on those not ready to buy.

Which, as a marketer, I found disappointing—and yes, a bit maddening—until I stopped to think about it.

Shouldn’t sending people who actively engage and show interest in solving the problem be the core qualification for a marketing qualified lead (MQL)? And arguably for a marketing qualified account (MQA).

And, before you start yelling that you “have” to send everyone to sales, I’ve heard this antiquated notion shared by marketers in a variety of companies. Usually, these are sales driven companies that tolerate marketing as the fluffy cost center but don’t trust them with prospects beyond the form fill.

Don’t get me started on how ridiculous that is and how much revenue they’re sacrificing with those blinders. Especially if the notion shared by those sales folks above holds true across the majority.

So, let’s look at a few reasons why sales reps shun marketing leads and what (most of) you can do about it.

Most Marketing Qualified Leads Are Viewed as Imposters by Sales

Here are three reasons why, that when compounded, make the case.

Lack of Agreement

When Gartner asked recently whether sales and marketing teams had a common lead definition, only 49% said they did. The analyst firm had expected that between 60% and 85% of organizations would have this common definition. This is 2021, after all.

This gap just highlights the problem. If there’s no agreement about what constitutes a lead, there’s no alignment or acceptance criteria. Therefore, sales have every right to push back, and call marketing leads imposters because they don’t fit whatever definition your sales team is using.

Arbitrary Scoring

Because there’s no common lead definition and a shaky ICP, if any, no matter how lead scoring is implemented, it’s going to be substandard.

Here’s why. Lead scoring consists of a score that combines firmographics and demographics with behavioral scoring. Firmographics identify the right fit companies – industry, employee size, revenue, and geo. Demographics scores based on title and role.

Behavior is a bit trickier. In most lead scoring schemas, you award higher points for form fills and downloads or event registration and attendance and lower for web page views, frequency, and recency. Product pages can fall somewhere in the middle. If a lead submits a demo request, that’s an immediate trigger to MQL and a push to sales.

The issue with scoring is that it’s mostly based on activity, not dependent on topic or viewing related topical pages that build a storyline based on problem-to-solution and would indicate interest level.

Heck, if I view five web pages in 3 days and download a paper, I’d be an MQL at a lot of websites and routed to sales. I know this from experience—it happens often—given the amount of research I do. Although I can’t figure out how I fit the firmographic score or match an ICP for most of the company websites I visit. Then again, they probably haven’t agreed to what constitutes a lead.

Refusal to Engage

I’m sure you know where I’m going here. People who have scored up to the threshold automatically become MQLs and routed to sales. Sales ops assigns them to a rep and the rep reaches out to…crickets. Much of the time with a lukewarm approach if they perceive the lead to be a waste of their time. This lackluster outreach and ineffective score combine to reinforce the notion that MQLs are not qualified.

Put Some Substance Behind Your MQLs

B2B buyers consume at least 13 content assets during their buying process. I’ve seen it as high as 17. How much of a share of their information consumption do you have? If buyer engagement isn’t telling you enough to understand their intent and where they are in the process, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate how leads becomes a marketing qualified leads.

Consider adjusting your scoring for the following factors:

  • Persona-related content engagement
    • Are they viewing the content designed for the role they play in the buying decision?
    • What stage is the content designed to address or what question does it answer?
    • Note that this would mean you’ve got a taxonomy or tagging structure that’s well maintained. Most companies do not.
  • Problem-to-solution storylines
    • Did they read 3 out of 5 pieces that make up a story?
    • Did they read them in the same website session?
    • Or did they engage over time via your nurturing program?
  • Pre-sales cycle content
  • Increase dwell time requirements
    • 30 seconds is what I usually see, yet most content takes longer than 30 seconds to read. Are they only skimming?
    • Are they staying long enough to read the content on the page? On any page? Which ones?
  • Source of sessions
    • Are they only visiting your website when prompted by an email you send?
    • Do they only arrive on your site via search or a targeted display or social ad?
    • Or do they come to your site as direct traffic – on purpose?
  • Downloads and Events (webinars)
    • For a download, did they click the link and download the resource when you sent it?
    • For a webinar, did they attend or watch it on demand? Or only register?

There is a reason intent data platforms, like 6Sense and Bombora and now ZoomInfo, are gaining in popularity. It’s helpful to know if an account is searching for information that relates to the problem you solve, your category, and your competitors. It’s also helpful to know if it’s one person or more than one, indicating account interest.

The trick is in tuning the keywords you’re monitoring to be tight enough to be truly indicative of the level of buying intent. But it’s also important to understand the weighting of the algorithms. The more engagement accounts have with you (via branded keywords) and your website and content, the higher the intent.

Combining intent data with MAP data is an imperative to get the most beneficial understanding. How does your lead score show the same trend in growth as the contact’s intent score? Or the account score? Are they in the same sphere?

What I mean by this is that if the “lead” is reading your blog content but not looking at your product or solution pages or Why Us? pages, then they’re likely just interested in the information. Intent scores are also weighted by a scoring schema which increments higher for company and product pages and designated campaigns than for other types of content.

Give Sales a Reason to Engage

If your sales team is skeptical of the marketing qualified leads you send them, or is outright shunning them, consider providing them with evidence and a reason to care and become enthusiastic about engaging.

What triggered the handoff? Just incrementing to a score isn’t a great incentive. What did they do that indicates they’re ready for sales engagement? If it wasn’t to request a demo or to speak with a sales rep, you need to give a reason you think sales should spend their time on outreach.

The problem here is that automation has removed the human element from much of the workflows. And that’s a shame. Data can tell you what someone did, but not why they did it.

However, if you’ve orchestrated your content to guide buyers from the start and created content experiences that build attention, engagement, and intent, then you have the evidence to provide the reasoning behind the status change.

Instead of routing MQLs to sales with no explanation, insert a review step where you can add the information that sales reps need to take the next step. Not only will this help with lead reception, but you’ll gain a whole lot of insight about what’s working with your content and digital buying experiences…and what needs improvement.

4 COMMENTS

  1. The situations described feel more like mis-aligned procedures and processes between Sales and Marketing, and maybe a somewhat misdirected culture. Sales and Marketing should, in a customer-centric organization, be joined at the hip regarding leads and new customers. After all, they have the same financial and value delivery goals; and, especially in B2B verticals, this involves building a proactive relationship built on trust and need anticipation.

    I’ve heard B2B sales people described as “heat-seeking missiles”, who view their prospecting time as more valuable than gold and diamonds. If a company puts too much financial and time emphasis on lead generation and conversion, as opposed to balancing pre-customer prospecting with cultivating increased sales among existing customers (https://beyondphilosophy.com/preoccupation-pre-customers/), it’s entirely possible to yield the result you’ve described at the beginning of the post. Then, the MQL template you’ve offered can help change lead and conversion processes for the better.

  2. Hi Michael,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. If companies functioned as described in your first paragraph, then marketing and sales alignment wouldn’t still be a point of contention in B2B. I agree it should be that way, but I rarely find that marketing and sales have the same financial and value delivery goals driving their performance. Although that is changing. And I hope it continues to do so.

  3. It shocks me that 49% of companies, according to Gartner, share a common lead definition. Since this is self-reported data, it is suspect. I would not be at all surprised if the number was closer to 25% (where sales and marketing share a common definition of a lead. I was reading today on a competitor’s website, feedback on leads. At least 50% of the leads stated something like this: “I appreciated [SDR name] persistence and while I am not a prospect for the solution, I will try to find the right person in our organization and pass the name along if that person has an interest”. This “lead” is exactly why sales is so distrustful of MQLs.

    Scoring? Well, not every senior executive wants to be treated like the human equivalent of a pin ball, capturing your attention only when they have hit the right bumpers and scored enough points. That is probably why providers of sales and marketing enablement solutions (some 8,000 plus solutions in 2021) don’t wait for prospects to score. If you contact one of these companies by downloading a white paper (or attending a webinar…) you can expect multiple calls and emails within hours of your visit.

    I do wonder why SDRs don’t spend a few minutes on my LinkedIn profile before calling me. Given that I am a one-man band, it is clear that I don’t ERP, “the best coders in the business”, an HR person for $100 per month or a fractional jet ownership.

    In my opinion, marketing automation has made it possible for marketing to get more poor-quality leads to sales faster than ever before. As Ardath states above, “automation has removed the human element from much of the workflows”. That IS a shame. And it is a self-perpetuating tragedy. Each year, marketing budgets are cut (in the name of digital transformation) and the number of leads to make plan increases. More bad leads get sent to sales, and they ignore them. In the beginning, sales might have followed up on a few leads to get a sense for their quality. Given how the leads are generated and what information those leads contain – sales eventually, sooner rather than later, defaults to simply ignoring leads.

    For years better quality leads and more leads have been at the top of sales’ wish list. Stating that they never get lead-by-lead feedback on leads that go to sales (and how could they when those leads are being ignored by sales), “marketing responds by offering a one size fits all solution with gaps in their story and sounding every other marketer” (according to Ardath in her book “Digital Relevance: developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results – published in 2015 and every bit as accurate and valuable today as it was several years ago).

    Sales and marketing do need to be joined at the hip as Michael points out, but the problem is a lot bigger than processes and culture. Fixing the alignment issue cannot be left up to sales and marketing. It is going to take the entire c-suite and while it won’t be easy, it must be done.

  4. Hi Dan,
    How are you, my friend?
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts – I agree that 49% is high. And thanks for your kind words about my book!
    And yes, I think the problem is bigger than just sales and marketing. It’s why I think there’s a solid case for revenue teams and revops. We need to bring it all together to address the entire customer continuum in a way that’s relevant and helps us all meet the growth goals for our companies.

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