Have you ever wished your salespeople spent less time chasing dead leads? How would you feel if you could close more business with fewer leads? What if you had a way to turn dead leads into six-figure clients?
The answer to all of these questions is the same: lead qualification.
Lead qualification is the process through which you figure out whether your captured leads are interested in your services or not. Done right, it can improve lead quality, save resources and get you better clients.
In this post, I’ll show you how to create a lead qualification process for your creative agency.
Understand the Lead Qualification Process
The sales process starts when a prospect gives you some data such as a phone number or an email address.
Once this happens, the prospect becomes a “lead”.
At this point, you know nothing about this lead except their contact data. As Gordon Ramsay would say, this lead is “raw”.
You don’t know if these leads have the budget, the need or even the authority to make deals. Any offer you send them will be untargeted and thus, see poor conversion rates.
In fact, only 25% of captured leads are ready to be pushed to sales, according to Gleanster Research.
The process through which you gather more data about your leads and figure out if they’re ready to buy is called lead qualification.
A lead that is ready to be sent to sales is called a qualified lead.
If you have sales development representatives, you might have a further intermediary step where leads go from marketing qualified leads (MQL) to sales qualified leads (SQL) before being handed over to your sales reps.
The lead qualification process is crucial since it:
- Helps you gather more data about each lead
- Tells you whether a lead should be fast-tracked to sales or nurtured further
Running a lead qualification program will dramatically increase the quality of leads you send to sales. By learning each lead’s budget, need, time-frame and authority, you can send laser-targeted offers at the right time to close deals.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re running a creative agency or selling a SaaS product, a lead qualification is a necessity for any growing business.
How to Qualify Leads
The lead qualification process can be broken down into five steps:
- Collect more data about leads
- Use data to score leads on their likelihood to buy
- Segment leads based on their scores and send highly-qualified leads to sales
- Nurture low-scoring leads until they’re ready to buy
- Discard unqualified leads
You can represent this diagrammatically as follows:
Essentially, you’re collecting data and using it to segment leads. Leads that indicate a high chance of conversion are sent to sales. Leads that show interest but aren’t ready to buy are nurtured further. Leads that are completely unqualified can be discarded completely.
How do you put this lead qualification process into practice?
I’ll share some answers below.
Lead Qualification Methodologies
Before you can collect data and score leads, you have to first figure out what criteria to use to qualify leads.
You would factor this into your data collection and later, lead scoring processes.
For example, if you’re using the popular BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Time-Frame) methodology, you would ask for ‘budget’ and ‘position’ in your lead-gen forms.
In this original and still-popular lead scoring methodology, you would consider the lead’s:
- Budget, i.e. whether the company has the budget to afford your services.
- Authority, i.e. whether the lead has the authority to make a decision.
- Need, i.e. whether the lead actually needs your services.
- Time-Frame, i.e. whether the lead needs your services right now or later.
If a lead fits all the above criteria, i.e. it has the budget, authority, need and time-frame to buy your services, you would call it a "high-priority" lead and fast-track it to sales.
There are several other lead scoring methodologies besides BANT, such as:
CHAMP (Challenges, Authority, Money, Priority) is an alternative to BANT that is much more suitable for businesses with low-upfront costs and recurring billing (such as a SaaS vendor or a retainer-based agency). With this methodology, you would qualify leads according to:you th
- The challenges they face in reaching their goals (and whether you can meet them).
- How much authority they have to make decisions.
- Whether they have the money to afford your service (analogous to 'budget' in BANT).
- Whether overcoming the challenges identified above is a priority.
CHAMP’s focus on priority aligns it well with a creative agency’s business. Your clients should have internally identified solving their current problem on a priority basis - something this methodology helps qualify for.
Another methodology for businesses with inbound-focused marketing is Hubspot’s GPCTBA/C&I (Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline, Budget, Authority, Negative Consequences, Positive Implications).
This methodology borrows elements from both BANT and CHAMP. Challenges, Timeline, Budget and Authority are the same as these other two methodologies. The first two parts - Goals and Plans are different.
- Goals are used to identify your leads' quantitative goals and whether you can help meet them.
- Plans are used to determine what your leads have done so far to meet their goals and how (and if) you fit in.
The other two new elements in this methodology are Negative Consequences and Positive Implications.
This is where you figure out the effects (consequences and implications) of your leads hitting (or not hitting) their goals. How does it change their business? What are the personal implications of failure or success for the target?
This criteria is particularly helpful in larger organizations where people's careers are often tied to the successful delivery of a project. This makes it a good choice for creative agencies dealing with complex organizations as well.
There are several other lead qualification methodologies such as ANUM (Authority, Need, Urgency, Money), FAINT (Funds, Authority, Interest, Need, Timing), etc. There is no "ideal" methodology; you'll have to try out different metrics and see how they fit your market.
More importantly, these methodologies tell you what kind of data to collect, and once you've collected it, how to analyze it.
I'll discuss this data collection and lead scoring in more detail below.
Collecting Data About Leads
The first step in the lead qualification process starts with data collection. This data collection can be either explicit or implicit.
- Explicit data is lead data gathered from existing databases. For example, if you have the lead’s full name and company email address, you can figure out their position and company size through LinkedIn.
- Implicit data is data you collected from your own forms. An example would be asking the lead about their position or company size in an eBook download form.
In fact, most lead scoring tools (more on that below) use the data sources mentioned above to score leads.
With self-owned data, one of the best ways to collect data is through progressive profiling.
Use Progressive Profiling to Collect Data
Progressive Profiling is when you gradually ask leads for more data as they go through the sales process.
You start off by asking for low-friction data - something the lead is happy to give away (such as an email address).
As the lead consumes more content and starts trusting you more, you can ask for higher-friction data (such as position, company size, and even budget).
This way, the data collection feels more organic. Each form you show the lead asks for progressively more data - a name and an email address first, company size and position next, budget and time-frame after that.
By breaking data collection down into multiple steps, you can also use personalization and small forms to improve conversion rates.
Here’s an example of how a form might change between the first and the third visit with progressive profiling:
With personalization, you can acknowledge the data you’ve already gathered (note the name and the company name in the 2nd and 3rd form respectively above), and use it to collect even more data.
A growing number of lead generation solutions have progressive profiling built-in. HubSpot offers it via the ‘Smart Forms’ feature.
Salesforce Pardot offers it via the ‘Progressive Profiling’ feature.
If you can create dynamic forms in your lead gen tool, you can effectively use progressive profiling.
In the next section, I’ll discuss how you can use this collected data to score your leads.
Using Lead Scoring to Qualify Leads
Lead scoring is a process for quantifying the sales-readiness of leads. In this process, each lead is assigned a score based on its past actions, demographics and firmographics.
Leads that meet a particular score threshold (variable from business to business) can be sent to sales. The rest can be nurtured further or discarded entirely.
Think of lead scoring as a way to turn raw data into actionable insight.
An example will illustrate this much better.
Suppose you have two leads: Lead A and Lead B. This is the data you have for them:
In lead scoring, you would assign a score to each of these data points based on how well it correlates to your likelihood of selling. This is based on both past data and industry norms.
If you sell to a lot of SaaS startups, you might score Lead A as +1.
If you've never sold to a manufacturing plant based out of Boise, you might give Lead B a score of -1.
This way, you can score each data point and come up with a total score for every lead. Something like this:
In this case, you would prioritize Lead A in your sales outreach since it has a higher lead score. You might send Lead B to be nurtured further or even disqualify it altogether.
Depending on what software you use to score leads, you might have actual scores for each lead (like above), rankings (such as A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, etc.), or a broad classification such as “hot”, “warm”, “cold”, etc.
Essentially, lead scoring tells you who to contact, who to discard. Businesses that implement lead scoring see a 77% increase in lead gen ROI compared to businesses that don’t use it. 38% of businesses that implement lead scoring see a much higher lead gen to opportunity conversion rate.
This is why 68% of “highly efficient and effective” marketers cite lead scoring as a top revenue contributor.
How to Score Leads
Broadly speaking, you’ll use three types of data to score leads:
- Demographics such as the lead’s location, age, education, etc.
- Firmographics such as the lead’s company size, industry, location, etc.
- Behavioral data such as the lead’s actions, keywords, etc.
The first two data-types - demographics and firmographics - can be gathered automatically (see explicit data above). In fact, most lead scoring tools will do this for you.
The more important thing for us is collecting and scoring behavioral data.
This involves assigning a score to every action the lead takes. Clicking on a link in an email might be worth +3 points. Downloading an eBook might be +6 points, and so on.
Behavioral data is both complex and time-bound. A lead that downloaded your eBook 3 months ago isn’t as “hot” as a lead that downloaded the eBook yesterday.
One way to deal with this data is to categorize it as active and latent buying behavior.
- Active buying behavior shows current interest and sales-readiness. A lead that visits a pricing page and downloads a sample RFP displays “active” buying behavior. You would score this higher since it implies sales-readiness.
- Latent buying behavior shows passive interest and low-engagement activity. A lead that visits your blog and downloaded an eBook two months ago displays “latent” buying behavior. You would give this a low, but positive score.
You can create a ‘points table’ that includes actions, their time-frame, and their earned points to calculate scores for each lead.
Here’s a sample points table:
It’s important to place the lead’s behavior in context. A lead that downloads a sample RFP after visiting your pricing page is warmer than a lead that read a blog post after visiting the pricing page.
Most lead-gen tools/CRMs will have their own algorithms for scoring behavioral data. You can, however, modify these scores based on your own data and observations.
Here are a few ways to get the most out of lead scoring:
- Use historical data: Ask your sales team for data on the behaviors, demographics and firmographics that indicate a quality lead. Use this to data to calculate lead scores.
- Use negative scores: You don’t have to score all behaviors positively. If the data indicates a lack of sales-readiness, you can assign a negative score to the lead as well. For example, a lead that unsubscribes to your emails or clicks on your job openings page isn’t very likely to buy and should be scored negatively.
- Use repeat scores: If the lead repeats an action, you should use the same score for all those actions. This will help keep your data clean.
- Involve sales: Most importantly, involve sales in the entire lead scoring process from start to finish. Ask for their input when you calculate lead scores and get feedback on lead performance to fine-tune your scoring process.
At the end of the lead scoring process, you should have a way to quantify the sales-readiness of each lead.
At this point, you can segment leads and send them to sales or nurture them further.
Segmenting and Nurturing Leads
The final part of the lead qualification process is to create segments based on lead scores.
Typically, you would segment leads as hot, warm and cold.
- Hot leads are in the 80th percentile of your lead scores. These are active, sales-ready leads and should be passed on to sales.
- Warm leads are within the 50th to 80th percentile of lead scores. These are leads that are engaging with your offer but aren’t ready to buy yet. Warm leads should be nurtured further.
- Cold leads are those below the 50th percentile. These are leads that are uninterested in your offers. You can either disqualify these leads or nurture the most active among them further.
One way to create segments is to use two-dimensional segmentation. This involves segmenting leads based on their firmographic/demographic scores (explicit data) and behavioral scores (implicit data).
- Leads that have positive behavioral data would be classified as A, B, C, etc.
- Leads that have positive firmographic/demographic scores would be classified as 1, 2, 3, etc.
Based on these two dimensions, a lead with score A1 would have both high behavioral and firmographic/demographic scores. A2 lead would have strong behavioral but poorer firmographic scores, and so on.
Once you’ve segmented leads this way, you can assign them a level of “hotness”, like this:
This makes it easy to qualify leads and send them to sales.
What about leads that aren’t ready to buy yet?
For such leads, you can create a nurturing program.
Nurturing involves finding leads that have shown interest, but are still in the consideration stage or don’t have the budget at the moment. Instead of discarding these leads completely, you can create a simple automation campaign to engage with these leads periodically.
Your objective should be to educate the lead further and learn more about his/her requirements. As you capture more data and the lead learns more about your business, you can gradually move it from ‘warm’ to ‘hot’ and send it to sales.
One way to nurture warm leads is to send them content that aligns with their interest. For example, if the leads have consumed a lot of content on marketing automation, sending them eBooks and guides on this topic would be helpful.
As you share more content, gradually increase the amount of data you collect as well via progressive profiling.
This way, you can take a warm lead and slowly push it to sales instead of discarding it completely.
For your low scoring leads, you can either disqualify them or push them into your nurturing program in case you don’t have enough leads.
This is the lead qualification process in a nutshell: collect data about leads, score the data, and create segments. Send high-scoring leads to sales, disqualify low-scoring leads and nurture mid-scoring leads until they’re ready to buy.
When done right, this will dramatically improve the efficiency of your sales team. It will also help you make better sense of your lead data.
How do you qualify leads at your creative agency? Share your tips with us in the comments below!