July 6

On Lead Qualification: Steps to Convert Inquiries into Viable Sales Leads

Lead Generation


A common lead generation practice using B2B inbound marketing includes offering white papers, demos, trial software, or other content assets in exchange for registration information. The problem is that many marketers immediately turn these form registrations (aka web inquiries) over to the sales team as “leads.”

If your sales team perceives the majority of “leads” passed to them are no good, they’re unlikely to spend time tracking prospects down.

I’ve already written about why lead quality should be emphasized over quantity. But, how do you weed through all those web inquiries to get to those that are truly ready for the sales team to engage so you can nurture the rest?

Here’s a lead qualification process that may help you turn your web inquiries into viable sales leads: 

Step 1 – Create a marketing funnel

The purpose of the marketing funnel is to bring inquiries (aka leads) into one spot (your marketing database) and qualify them. The marketing funnel creates sales-ready leads and nurtures the leads that aren’t sales ready. Lead qualification must first classify leads according to their “sales readiness” and business fit; and second, to manage all the incoming leads effectively.

Step 2 – Create the universal lead definition, and apply it

There are must-have questions your sales team must know in order to feel that an inquiry is worthy of being called a lead. Ask yourself:

  • What’s the company’s size, industry, and geography. At this point, you may want to remove inquiries based on specific marketing requirements or limitations. For example, you may remove foreign email address, student email addresses or contacts residing in locations or industries that you don’t serve. This step could reduce 5 – 10% of entries.
  • Ask business situation questions such as number of users, current systems platform, etc.
  • What is registrant’s role in the organization, or what is their authority in the buying process?
  • Based on their business need, how can you help?
  • What stage of investigation are they in the buying process? Many registrants are actually still early in the buying process and are conducting general market research. These contacts are very valuable and should be nurtured and managed over time—but these folks clearly aren’t people who are ready to buy. Be honest about what the search marketing effort is designed to achieve and is capable of accomplishing.

Purge those inquiries containing bogus information. It’s amazing how creative people can get. Remove duplicates and invalid names and email addresses. Keep in mind that simple forms tend to generate less invalid info rather than lengthy, time-consuming forms. People start to question the value of giving up too much info. Trim the form by about 20% to avoid this.

I read of one company that trimmed down the registration to include an extremely simple, two-field form. Conversion rate more than tripled with this simplification. At the same time, the company expanded their email follow-up process and was able to increase the total amount of personal data collected over time.

Step 3 – Create a behavior model to prioritize leads based on activity and data.

Apply lead scoring to prioritize your leads on order to follow-up in step 4. What lead scoring does is assign a point value to who prospects are, how they interact with your company and what their need is for your product. Most marketers give higher scores to those further along in the buying process based on their engagement. Lead scoring works best if you have 200+ inquiries per month. Otherwise it might be overkill.

Use your CRM or marketing automation suite to prioritize based on:

  • Level or engagement through touch points such as repeat web visits, downloads, or clicks.
  • Size of organization
  • Fit

You can measure all these touch points, but in the end if you want to know something you’ll need to talk to someone and engage them in conversation.

Step 4 – Use the phone (or email) to qualify high priority leads based on the scoring.

The phone is the gold standard for qualifying most leads. There’s no better way to engage. We have also found email to be a great way to create a one-to-one dialogue by asking questions. (Test this first with your audiences.). You can also leverage lead qualification service providers to do this for you.

Using these channels to nurture web registrants, learn more about each one, and then provide personalized and relevant information over time. You should be spoon-feeding prospects, provide truly valuable information, while moving them through the buying process.

Related Posts:

Why Most B2B Sites Fail to Convert Sales Leads
Lead Nurturing is about Relationships, not e-mails
Using Kaizen to improve your lead generation results in 90 days or less

How to do lead management that improves conversion

Building a Marketing Funnel and More Lead Management Tips

Who should own lead generation for a complex sale?

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. In our organization, marketing generates leads and does some initial qualifying based on lead criteria. We would like to also do telephone qualification before handing the leads to a regular sales person. Who should manage the lead qualification caller, though – marketing or sales? Is there a best practice here?

  2. Well Brian you out did yourself once again with the newest article On Lead Qualification: Steps to Convert Inquiries into Viable Sales Leads.

    Throughout our organization I have maintained the exact process you have described but today I discovered that the key component is the Calling you described. I have found out that most sales persons do indeed have limited cold calling skills.
    I started a blog http://blog.technologyevaluation.com/tecinsights/ to train our sales teams on how to get past the gatekeepers. It’s filled with great techniques and hopefully your readers will also enjoy some of the hints.

  3. In addition to the things listed on this post, it’s important that the web site is set up so it educates AND qualifies visitors. We’ve achieve double-digit website conversion rates by using short and punchy rich media presentations to tell the story or our products and services. Because these presentations educate the visitor, the leads that come in have been of higher quality and close at higher rates.

    In addition to lead scoring, we use conversion analytics to get a better idea of how qualified the lead is. With two or three clicks of a mouse our sales reps can know of how the found the site, what pages they visited, how many times they came to the site before turning into a lead, and other useful sales info. In some ways that info as been more useful than the standard lead scoring.

  4. Very informative guide for navigating the often complex B2B lead qualification process. An important point to add is that when qualifying and responding to inbound communications, marketers should aim to prioritize leads based on a central view of inbound activity across channels, not just on the web via whitepapers, webinars and surveys, but also through the call center and events (a very important channel for B2B). It can be easy to get stuck in a linear track, simply responding to web activity via email or phone, whereas, second generation lead generation solutions now have the ability to connect inbound and outbound communications across a variety of channels by leveraging a centralized marketing data mart. Taking this approach ensures consistency and relevancy of communications, and ultimately allows marketers to provide sales with a complete prospect history, versus only the latest touch point.

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