Masterclass: How to land your marketing-qualified leads

Richard Lane
Richard Lane
Richard Lane

Mastering the Shift:

In today's complex world, it's not enough for marketeers to simply generate leads and hope they wind up as faithful customers. To ensure a successful conversion, it is crucial to nurture leads and transform them into high-quality sales opportunities that drive revenue growth.

Sales 2.0 expert Richard Lane is co-founder and CCO of durhamlane, a strategic demand generation agency behind numerous global B2B brands. He shares how to effectively nurture your audience, understand when they’re ready to convert and when you can capitalise on that opportunity.

Understanding the sales funnel

Before we dive into lead conversion strategies, it's important to understand the sales funnel and the role of lead nurturing in the sales process. The sales funnel is a visual representation of the customer journey, from initial awareness to final purchase.

At the top of the funnel, we have leads who have shown some level of interest in your products or services as a result of marketing or outbound sales efforts. They may have taken actions such as participating in an event or programme, downloading materials, or frequently engaging with your brand’s content. These leads show promise and interest in your offering, but they have not yet raised their hand to enter a direct sales conversation. The goal is to move them down the funnel until they become high intent marketing-qualified leads (MQLs), convert them into sales-qualified leads (SQLs) - someone who is considering a purchase - and eventually into paying customers.

Lead nurturing is the process of building relationships with prospects and providing them with relevant and valuable information to nurture them down the funnel. This could include educational content, product demos, webinars, and other types of relevant communication. By nurturing leads, you can build trust and establish yourself as a trusted advisor, making it more likely that they will choose you when they are ready to buy.

Aligning marketing and sales goals for lead conversion

One of the biggest challenges in the lead conversion process is the lack of alignment between marketing and sales goals. Marketing teams are often focused on generating demand, while sales teams are focused on closing deals. However, for lead conversion to be successful, both teams need to work together towards a common goal.

To align marketing and sales goals, continuous open communication and a shared understanding of what success looks like is vital. This could involve setting up regular meetings to discuss lead quality, conversion rates, and other pipeline metrics. Also - let’s not forget how important it is to have joint goals and a well-defined lead scoring system, to ensure that both teams are working with the same criteria.

Qualifying MQLs into SQLs

To convert MQLs into SQLs, you need to have a clear understanding of what makes a lead sales-qualified. This could include factors such as budget, need, authority, decision criteria, drivers, competition, and timeline (Magic 35). By identifying which MQLs meet these criteria, you can focus your efforts on those who are most likely to convert into paying customers.

One effective way to qualify MQLs is through targeted content marketing. By mapping content to the sales funnel, you can provide problem-aware MQLs with the information they need at each stage of the buying process. For example, at the top of the funnel, this might be educational content that introduces your brand and products. At the middle of the funnel, you may provide social proof and product demos that demonstrate how your product can solve specific pain points.

Mapping content to the sales funnel

Mapping content to the sales funnel is a critical part of lead nurturing. At each stage of the funnel, MQLs have different needs and therefore need different types of content. By providing relevant and timely content, you can move them closer to the sale.

At the top of the funnel, content should focus on building awareness and establishing your brand as a thought leader. This could include blog posts and other types of educational content that is optimised for in-channel consumption.

As MQLs move down the funnel, content should become more targeted and specific to their needs. This could include case studies, product demos, and other types of content that demonstrate how your product or service can solve their pain points. Today’s sales funnel is no longer linear because of the multiple channels through which a prospect can interact with a brand, so this content can be varied but it should also be accessible at any entrance point in the funnel. This gives your buyers access to all crucial information they need to make an informed decision and progress further down the funnel.

Building a lead scoring system

Having a lead scoring system is also a useful and important way to measure your leads and how likely they might be to convert. By assigning points to MQLs based on their behaviour and characteristics, you can identify those who are most likely to convert into SQLs.

To build a lead scoring system, you need to identify the behaviours and characteristics that are most important for lead conversion. This could include factors such as website visits, email opens, and form submissions. By assigning points to each behaviour, you can create a lead score that indicates how likely a lead is to convert. The scoring should also be weighted according to where the specific content sits in the funnel to allow you to more accurately measure intent, and understand where your funnel is the strongest.

Selling at a Higher Level to convert SQLs into high-quality opportunities

At durhamlane, we use the tactic of engaging people across all tiers of an organisation, which we call ‘Selling at a Higher Level’. It means tailoring your offerings to address specific needs, adding value and building trust. It’s a customer-centric methodology; employing consultative questioning techniques and engaging prospects and buyers by asking thought-provoking questions to uncover their pain points, aspirations, and desired outcomes.

With today’s continuous sales funnel, this also means engaging with more people than ever. To be a top sales professional, you must adapt your strategy to engage prospects effectively at every stage. You need to build a plan that ensures people from different parts of an organisation - probably at C-level - are involved and engaged. This extends to using your own C-level executives and means leveraging data, personalisation, and targeted messaging to connect with prospects on their terms.

You can use Selling at a Higher Level across a whole sales team or as an individual contributor to remind you to keep the wheel of business development turning and prospect. It can also ensure you spend your time where you can be most successful, because you're constantly qualifying discussions and making sure that your deals are moving forward. In short, this method provides you with a sales funnel loop.

Once you have identified MQLs with high intent, your focus needs to shift to converting them into SQLs. This requires a combination of effective sales engagement and qualification, as well as targeted marketing campaigns. It all comes down to active listening and understanding their perspective to deliver what they need. Whether you’re in sales or marketing, you have to put the customer first. At durhamlane, we have created a ‘Magic 35’ sales qualification framework which contains seven core criteria that allows our team to have sales conversations with purpose. It outlines a solution-based sales approach, and a rigorous qualification process for them to follow.

Additionally, you can use retargeting campaigns to stay top-of-mind and drive leads back to your brand.

Common challenges in the lead conversion process and how to overcome them

Despite best efforts, there are often challenges in the lead conversion process that can hinder success. One common challenge is the lack of lead quality, which can result in low conversion rates. To overcome this challenge, sales teams must work closely with marketing to ensure that the lead scoring system is applied so that MQLs meet the criteria for sales qualification.

Another common challenge is the lack of follow-up from sales. Even when you have captured high intent MQLs, it's essential to follow up quickly and effectively to convert them into SQLs. This requires a combination of effective communication skills and a well-defined sales process.

Lastly, a big challenge since the advent of digital communications is the speed of response - you need to respond rapidly to an MQL. Think about it, if a link takes too long to load, you get bored. Our tolerance for latency is almost nil. The world has become so fast that if things don't happen as you expect them to, you just move on. That's why the MQL to SQL rate stats show that if you don't follow up after 10 minutes, the transaction falls apart. Why? Because the buyer is not in that zone anymore. If you're looking at an article or reading a case study, then someone calls you about something similar, you’re in that zone. Whereas if they call an hour or even 48 hours later, you've probably moved on. It's about being quick to action and jumping on that opportunity, and not letting it go stale.

While ‘speed to lead’ is incredibly important, you need to remember that nurturing and adding value to your leads over time is sometimes the better - and necessary - approach, especially in the world of B2B sales where the value is higher and therefore buyer groups are bigger and consideration before purchase is longer. Your sales methodology should therefore include both tactics. I firmly believe that taking a multichannel, always-on approach is key.

Conclusion: The role of collaboration in successful lead conversion

In conclusion, lead conversion is a critical component of any successful sales strategy. By nurturing MQLs through discovery and question-based conversation and converting them into high-quality opportunities, you can drive revenue growth and establish yourself as a trusted advisor in your industry.

To achieve success in lead conversion, it's essential to have a strong sales and marketing alignment, a well-defined lead scoring system, and effective sales follow-up techniques. By working together and using each other’s expertise, we can unlock the secrets of sales and achieve our business goals.

Written by
Richard Lane