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There are two kinds of leads, crappy and qualified. One is relatively worthless and may even cost you money while the other is gold, if your sales team knows what to do with it (another subject). Let’s look at crappy leads because lazy marketing tends to produce them and they waste time and money. Crappy leads are basically leads where you have some contact info based on a minimal interaction with the person. In other words they are leads that you don’t know whether pursuing them is worth the effort. Things like email blasts, contest offers, and random card collecting at an event or conference are often crappy leads because you have not learned anything about the prospect other than their minimal contact info. You can often generate a lot of these with minimal effort, however following up with them to qualify them is not minimal and often frustrating for both your salespeople and the prospect, if indeed they are one. In fact, that second contact may just anger someone who really has little interest in your product or service. So, they suck up valuable time and potentially harm your reputation.

Qualified leads are a different animal in every way. The goal of any effective marketing is the generation of highly qualified leads, even if they come in small numbers. Before I get into that, let’s look at what constitutes a qualified lead:

  • They have a clearly defined problem you can solve
  • They have a pressing need for that solution
  • They are actively searching for a solution
  • They have a budget and whatever other resources are required to take advantage of your solution
  • Ideally, they have decision-making power and can authorize payment (if they need to get this from someone else they are not fully qualified until that other person is involved)

A lead that fits these criteria or one where you can reasonably expect to acquire more answers as part of the sales process is a qualified lead. The ultimate qualified lead is one who contacts you. This may occur because they did a search and found you (increasingly important), they have a referral, they met a satisfied customer or they read good reviews. Other sources of qualified leads are conversations at events that go beyond curiosity questions or people killing time. Typically these involve someone with sales skills who can ask qualifying questions when they sense a need but very often they also involve marketing people who need to have the antenna required to identify and share a prospect.

Inbound, search-focused, high value content marketing and great reputation are the best way to help these people find you. When they do, there is not typically any traditional selling. Instead your team can work with them to determine fit, budget, timeframe and resource needs. And once you are doing this exploratory process you are developing a relationship.

A Note About Relative Value

The qualified lead described above is worth many times the value of a crappy lead. You may spend much more to find them but far more of them are likely to close and turn into customers, and often just as important, referrals. If you’re successfully generating a high volume of unqualified leads you need to automate the qualifying process as much as possible to weed out the crap. Things like customer information surveys, simple phone questioning and sending more specific information as follow-up all work. They key is to not move them into your sales process as prospects. They are not prospects until they are qualified. If each crappy lead costs you $50 and only 1% of them turn into qualified leads, then they actually cost $5000 each when qualified. If you can afford to spend five grand per lead then this might be viable, as long as the other 99 are not mad about your winnowing process. But if you can spend $5k on a good lead then you really should be thinking about marketing designed specifically to find them.

Your sales team will love you if you do.