The quality of your inbound traffic is often a predictor of success as a company. Each prospect consumes time and company resources, which means catering to the wrong people can create a bottleneck effect in your conversion funnel. Sales reps will have a harder time selling to those prospects and also end up having less energy to spend with qualified leads.
There’s a reason that companies end up with poor leads to begin with. Driving the right kind of traffic only happens when you know the ideal customer and have something compelling to attract them with.
In this article we’re going to look at the sales funnel and identify the difference between leads and prospects. We’ll also make sure you come away with some new ideas about how to improve your existing processes.
When does a lead become a prospect?
The terms ‘leads’ and ‘prospects’ are often used interchangeably, but they represent two different stages of the sales funnel.
Leads refer to individuals at the top of the funnel who have offered up some contact info and are interested in the products or services you offer. They might have shown interest by downloading a free offering from your website, responding to a cold email, or signing up for an email newsletter. But none of these actions alone are enough to determine the quality of the leads.
If you nurture every lead that comes in, you’ll be at risk of overtaxing your sales team. Instead, you need to take the appropriate steps to determine whether they are the kind of people you want to sell to. Once you’ve found the right cohort, you can move them further down the funnel. This is the moment when they transition from leads to prospects.
Moving your leads down the funnel
Leads have to go through a qualification process to turn into prospects. These prospects then move further down the funnel to turn into opportunities and eventually customers. However, each lead needs to be moved very carefully; they might lose interest and back out if you try to rush through any stage.
The key is to be consistent with your efforts and take timely action. After getting a lead, your focus should be on acknowledging their interest and encouraging them to return to your website again. This could include sending them content like ebooks, newsletters, or white papers that could be helpful for them. Or you could simply send promotional emails with deals they might find valuable. Once they start appreciating the value you’re providing them, they will be more interested and engage with your brand at a deeper level.
Leads hardly ever move along the sales funnel on their own. If you don’t actively pursue them, they might exit right there. To plug up leaks in your funnel, take a proactive approach and send them follow-ups. Once they move to the prospect stage, you can adjust your strategy.
Qualifying your leads with an intake form on the scheduling page
Qualifying your leads at an earlier stage of the funnel will help you out later on. The irrelevant people in your audience will be filtered out, so your sales team has a better chance of hitting their quotas. If you’re working with a high ticket item and plan to get on a call with qualified prospects, try letting them schedule sales demos through an automated scheduling tool.
Appointlet lets you create booking pages likes this, so that inbound prospects can fill out a more elaborate qualification form. You have the option to embed the tool on your website or include a link to it in your outreach emails.
The booking page presents your prospects with a time picker that displays your team members’ availability. After choosing a time, they’ll fill out the intake form. Once that is done, you have the option to redirect them to a thank you page and offer additional resources that might help them.
When the booking is completed, a calendar event is automatically created that includes their booking form data. Appointlet will send confirmation emails to both parties. If your team uses web conferencing tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts, each calendar event will include a custom URL. These same links are provided to your prospect so they can easily join at the time of the meeting.
By the end of the process, you end up with a prospect that is much closer to conversion than they were at the top of funnel. Let’s look at a couple more concepts that help get closer to the idea of having qualified leads straight from the beginning of the funnel.
- Sales Funnel; A sales funnel defines your customers’ journey from initial interest to conversion. If you have more than one offering (or a subscription service) then there’s a post-funnel journey of retention/expansion as well. Having a strong sales funnel streamlines both marketing and sales activities so that you can scale them up quickly.
- Lead Generation; Lead generation refers to the act of identifying and nurturing potential customers. Their information may be collected, and initial contact can also be made at this stage.
- Intake forms and questionnaires; Intake forms and questionnaires collect information from your website visitors who either find your content useful or want to reach out to you to talk business. This information can be used to reach out to them and make the communication as personalized as possible.
- Lead Scoring; Lead scoring is the process of determining how likely your leads are to convert. They may be assigned a letter grade or a number on a certain scale, classifying them into certain categories such as cold, warm, or hot. Ideally you will automate this process through some simple conditions.
- CRM (Customer Relationship Management); CRM software helps manage customer interactions and enhance relationships. Salesforce is one CRM that records all leads and helps manage sales operations such as contact management, outreach, lead scoring, and sales analytics.
- MQL (Marketing Qualified Leads); An MQL is a lead who has engaged with the brand based on its marketing activities and is open to starting a conversation.
- SQL (Sales Qualified Leads); An SQL is a lead who has been discovered and vetted by the sales team and is willing to learn more about the business.
- Sales-Ready Leads; A sales-ready lead refers to an individual that has been pre-qualified based on certain criteria. The criteria are often based on the level of interest and relevance of the opportunity.
- Marketing Automation; Your ultimate goal should be to put all marketing activities on auto-pilot so that you can have a constant stream of leads coming in every day without much effort. Tools such as ActiveCampaign and Infusionsoft can help you achieve that.
Driving more business with high-quality MQL and SQL
MQLs might have landed on your website naturally, but if you mishandle them at any stage, they will leave in the blink of an eye. Here’s how you can get these qualified leads to convert and drive revenues.
Building a Leakage-Proof Sales Funnel
For leads to reach the bottom of your funnel, you need to first track where people tend to abandon you (especially those who never return).
You can start with tracking user behavior on your website and map out their buying process. One option would be to use a heatmap to see precisely where people hover and click. Google Analytics can also be of great help here as it clearly shows your traffic sources, most-visited pages, bounce rates, retention rates, and other helpful information. Once you have mapped out the customer journey, you may visualize how your conversion funnel looks.
The next step is to optimize pages with the lowest conversion rates. You can do so by fixing technical things, like the loading speed, or focusing on subtler points like your calls to action text.
Monitoring and refining these details will help you to identify some key areas where leads tend to exit. If your site is performing well and A/B tests are returning comparable results, you can move on to your drip campaigns or ad messaging. With a well-tuned funnel in place, you can crank up the inbound traffic with paid ads.
Having a Strong Lead Generation Strategy in Place
Lead generation strategies usually follow four steps; lead capture, lead magnets, lead qualification, and lead segmentation. You start with collecting basic demographics such as the name, organization, position, company size etc. If traditional demographics aren’t relevant for you, try thinking about the audience psychographics, meaning their culture and core beliefs.
Next, you’ll offer them some consumer incentives that drives them towards your business. Based on their level of interest and the sales outcomes, you’ll know whether the lead cohort is truly qualified or not. Lastly, as you segment them into different groups based on the information you have, you may find some groups perform better than others.
Lead generation activities include cold calls/emails, chatbot conversations, ai chatbot conversations, content subscriptions, event invitations, social media ads, and leveraging organic search traffic.
Leveraging Intake Forms and Questionnaires
Intake forms on landing pages can be designed to collect important information such as the contact information, company size, profession, and any concerns or queries the prospect might have about your business. You can leverage this information at later stages to personalize the sales process for the particular prospect.
Forms of this kind are an excellent way to filter through qualified leads as only the most interested customers would be willing to share their personal information in hopes of getting a response from you.
Appointlet collects prospect information through such intake forms on its scheduling pages. That data is automatically saved in your meeting log and can be referenced later on.
It’s important to note that if you ask for too much information in these forms, you could hit a roadblock in your funnel. Leads that would otherwise be willing to talk to you might bounce if filling out the form seems like too much effort. Also, they might not trust you with their personal information at this stage. So try to collect info that anyone would be willing to share.
Lead scoring is a great method for segmenting your leads and giving them treatment relative to the stage they are at. They are normally ranked on a scale of 1 to 100, where certain activities are assigned certain scores. For instance, if a lead filled out a form on your page (20 points), and regularly engages with your social media posts (20 points), their total score would be 40. Based on this information, you could classify them into a category that has a higher conversion potential.
Benefits of lead scoring include increased sales efficiency, better marketing effectiveness, and finally, a boost in revenue.
MQL (Marketing Qualified Leads)
MQLs are the leads that discover your business due to marketing materials. If they find their way to your business on their own, they require more nurturing before they can finally be handed over to a sales rep.
The simplest method of nurturing your MQLs and making them sales ready is with a drip campaigns. Drip campaigns provide them with the information they need about the brand before they jump to the purchase.
You could send newsletters or ebooks similar to the content they have previously interacted with on your website. Eventually, when their interaction increases and they pass a certain lead score threshold, you may set up a meeting to move them to the next stage.
SQL (Sales Qualified Leads)
SQLs are qualified by your sales or business development reps and fall in the category of good fit and high interest.
Additional criteria for identifying SQLs is the BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Time) methodology. If your prospects are good with your pricing, have the authority to make the final decision, need what you have to offer, and want to make the purchase timely, they best fit the definition of SQLs.
Sales-ready leads fall somewhere between a raw inquiry and a BANT-qualified lead. They are the ones that have a decent level of interest in your business but are not sure if you are the right fit for their needs.
Sales-ready leads have already reached the stage where they may be contacted by a sales rep. The relationship is managed by the sales department henceforth, and the job of the marketing team is done.
Marketing Automation Software
Marketing automation software can be incredibly useful in streamlining the lead nurturing process, along with tracking results.
Software like ActiveCampaign or HubSpot helps to create automated campaigns for visitor tracking, lead scoring, email marketing, contact management, list segmentation, A/B testing, and much more. They can also act as an all-in-one CRM tool with everything your sales and marketing departments usually need.
However, if your lead nurturing program is relatively young, automation might not be the solution for you. These software solutions can get a little pricey.
Actions to watch for with qualified leads
Qualified leads that make some effort to contact you should be an indicator of a willingness to purchase. An action as simple as filling out a ‘Contact Us’ form on the website and requesting a quote might be all you need to watch for at first. Using an automated analytics solution such as Google Analytics is another way to observe user activity, without requiring some concrete outreach from them. Here are actions you might want to watch for with qualified leads:
- Downloading some useful content like a case study or or free rooftop solar forecasting data from your website
- Signing up for a free demo of your product (this applies mostly to software)
- Subscribing to the monthly newsletter or any other mailing list
- Creating a wishlist or favoriting an item on your website (for e-commerce businesses)
- Repeat visits to your website
- Adding items to shopping cart
- Requesting more information via email
These actions are the most common ones for a lead to take, but the list does not end here. Don’t be afraid to experiment and watch for other indicators of lead interest.
By now you should have a decent grasp of what goes into lead qualification and sales prospecting. Here are some frequently asked questions on that topic that I hope will clear up any confusion you might still have.
What is the advantage of identifying a qualified lead?
Identifying qualified leads improves the quality of life for your sales team and helps them to meet their quotas. If you treat both qualified and unqualified leads the same, it will create a lot of friction in your sales funnel, and as a result, sales reps will have less bandwidth to help the ones that wanted to convert.
What is the best CRM for lead qualification?
Salesforce is often considered the gold standard of sales CRMs. It’s used by top businesses across the world. Their services allow businesses to better connect with customers and build profitable long-term relationships. It has a simple user interface and provides dedicated team collaboration features. For a less expensive and entry level option, try Hubspot instead.
Where in the customer lifecycle are MQL and SQL most important?
MQL refers to the leads that are attracted to your business due to its marketing activities. Whereas SQLs are the ones that are discovered and vetted by sales teams. MQLs go through a long nurturing process before they turn into SQLs, which are then handed over to the sales teams for the following stages.
How do buyer personas factor into lead qualification?
Qualified leads are the ones that are a good fit for your business and have shown a high level of interest in what you have to offer. Building detailed buyer personas makes sure that the people you are reaching out to are the best fit for your brand; hence the quality of leads you get automatically improves.
How do you know when a potential customer is qualified?
Lead qualification is usually determined by two key elements: the fit of the lead and the level of engagement they have had with your brand. The BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Time) framework is an excellent method for qualifying leads.
What are the tell-tale signs that a customer is sales-ready?
You can tell if a lead is sales-ready by answering a few key questions. How much can they pay you, are they the purchase decision maker, how badly do they need your offering, and how long will it take for them to convert?
What are the common labels for different lead scoring tiers?
Leads are normally scored on both numeric and letter scales. Based on their rankings, you may label them as hot, with the highest conversion potential, warm, with average conversion potential, and cold, with minimum conversion potential. Other labels include Sales Qualified Lead (SQL), Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL), and Sales Ready Lead (SRL).
Is Hubspot a reliable CRM for qualifying leads?
Yes, HubSpot is one of the most reliable CRMs being used in the industry right now. HubSpot is a cloud-based CRM designed to enhance customer relationships, boost marketing ROI, and optimize inbound marketing.
Patch up that leaky sales funnel!
Generating high-quality leads can be hard, but it is always worth the effort. Irrelevant leads that have no chances of converting can do more harm than good. So, focus all your efforts on getting quality input about where your funnel is failing. It might not feel great at first, but as you make improvements, you’ll feel the positive impact on your business and begin to see substantial growth over time.