Depending on the stage your business is in, the nature of challenges related to lead generation will change. For most early-stage businesses, the biggest challenge is establishing a consistent flow of leads. Whereas for a mature business, the challenge is mostly related to lead quality.
This article is aimed at helping the latter where the business wants to focus more on deal conversions than just increasing the volume of top-of-the-funnel leads like MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads). We will discuss a variety of B2B lead qualification techniques that will help significantly improve the funnel conversion (such as SQL to deal win or demo to deal win conversion) of mid-size and enterprise companies.
However, some of the tactics will also apply to startups or early-stage businesses that would want to have an additional layer of filter to make sure their sales team works on only leads that matter.
Also, you can improve lead quality at two levels:
- At the point of lead capture or demand generation
- When the lead flows through the funnel
This article will discuss methods that fall into both.
8 practical tactics for B2B lead qualification
Given below are the tactics we will cover today:
Tactics for B2B lead qualification
- Getting your targeting right
- Optimizing messaging for your target audience
- Adding qualifying questions
- Implementing strict MQL and SQL qualification criteria
- Having a dedicated lead nurturing and lead qualification team
- Well-maintained marketing automation and CRM system
- Using first-party, second-party, and third-party intent data
- Lead scoring
1. Getting your targeting right
This is very basic and very obvious. But let’s look at the specifics.
The first step of getting your targeting right is defining your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) accurately by firmographic and demographic characteristics.
Firmographic characteristics include revenue, industry, sub-industry, region, and number of employees. Depending on what you sell and who you sell to, you might also want to consider factors like funding, IT budget, years of founding of the business, products they sell, etc.
Demographic criteria primarily include job title and designation. You can add an additional filter by considering whether your prospect is a decision maker, influencer, or end user.
Getting these elements right will help you attract the right clients across channels such as outbound marketing, events, social media, and even PR.
For example, while doing outbound email marketing, you would want to send emails to only those people who fall into your ICP. The more targeted you are with your marketing efforts, the higher the likelihood of achieving a high ROI.
2. Optimizing messaging for B2B lead qualification
This is where you create content that fits your ICP. You need to address the specific needs and pain points of your ICP, and no one else. And do this across all your content items such as blog, website copy, social media content, ad copy, email content, PR campaigns, etc.
For example, one of Skalegrow’s target customers is B2B startups. So we create some of our content directly targeted at them. Look at this post for example. It is a marketing playbook designed only for startups.
Similarly, have all your marketing assets reflect this. A great example where this has to be laser sharp is battle cards. Battle cards are one of the biggest weapons of your sales team. The entire sales process will go for a toss if you don’t get targeting right here.
For further reading: How To Create A Battle Card For Any Product [With Template]
3. Adding qualifying questions
This is one of the most effective yet unused lead filtering tactics in the B2B world. This involves asking the right questions during lead capture or nurturing. This can be done in the following ways:
- Adding 1 or 2 qualifying questions to your website forms. The nature of the questions will depend on your target criteria. For example, the qualifying question in the case of an IT services company can be about the prospect’s IT budget.
- Adding qualifying questions during third-party content syndication campaigns. Though I am not personally a big fan of content syndication, it helps you be in front of people that you otherwise might not be able to. Here too, you can add the questions to the landing page form.
- Cold calling campaigns. Whether you are doing it in-house or via a third party, this involves the caller asking the prospects a set of questions to understand more about them, which info can then be used to qualify them.
- During the first sales call. Once you convert a lead into a call, it is important to ask the right questions then too since it would save you from further proceeding with the wrong prospect who is not keen to spend money on your products or services.
4. Strict marketing and sales lead qualification criteria
This is very straightforward, but should ideally be done only when you have a large inflow of leads. Otherwise, there is a likelihood of you filtering out leads that could be your potential customers.
The idea is to go beyond the boundaries of conventional firmographic and demographic criteria. Here are a couple of examples of such additional parameters you could consider for an MQL:
- Whether the company is funded or not (in the case of a startup).
- If you are selling a tech or IT product/service, consider looking at the prospect’s IT spending. You need to define a minimum threshold to consider the lead to be an MQL.
Beyond these, you can use any of the standard lead qualification frameworks like BANT, MEDDIC, CHAMP, etc., to make sure you only qualify the high-intent leads.
More about lead qualification frameworks here.
If you can gather the information required as per the framework at the MQL stage, that’s ideal. However, if that’s not possible, you can extend this to the SQL qualification stage too.
Below are the additional parameters you can consider when it comes to qualifying a lead as SQL:
- The decision tree in the prospect organization (this is an extension of the ‘A’ in the BANT framework) – if it is too long, you might want to deprioritize the lead considering the amount of effort you will have to put in or the length of the sales cycle.
- The time of renewal of the existing solution the prospect is using. If your prospect is already using a competitor’s product or service, they would be interested in evaluating a new one only when the time of renewal arrives. You can find this information using a qualifying question or the first sales call.
- Your solution’s fit in the customer ecosystem. Sometimes it so happens that your solution might not be a fit for a prospect for a variety of reasons such as their current tech stack, business needs, or even lack of capabilities of your solution. Qualify only those leads to whom you think your solutions can be sold.
5. Having a dedicated lead nurturing and lead qualification team
Having a dedicated team to manage leads helps in two different ways:
- Managing and keeping the leads data clean and updated in the CRM.
- Making sure only the right leads are passed onto sales.
The next question is, who should be part of the lead qualification team?
If you can afford to, have separate resources for lead management and lead nurturing. While lead managers focus on managing the CRM, lead qualification by getting in touch with the prospect can be done by inside sales managers.
This qualification process can include a combination of manually verifying the details of the leads, asking qualifying questions through email or call, or preparing an account research report.
By taking this approach, the sales team gets to work on high-quality leads that have a high propensity to buy. The remaining leads can be added to a nurture pool to keep them warm, in case they become qualified in the future.
Note: There is a debate as to whether inside sales has to be part of sales or marketing, But that’s a different topic in itself. The objective of this article is to familiarize you with various lead qualification techniques.
6. Well-maintained CRM for B2B lead qualification
This is a non-negotiable, especially if you are dealing with large amounts of data. Being someone who has worked extensively on managing CRM data, I have seen the pain of not having clean data.
Here are a few best practices to follow to maintain your CRM data to improve lead quality.
- Automate whatever is possible. For example, make sure you map your website form fields to the right elements in your CRM. This ensures that the data gets mapped automatically when everyone fills out a form on your website.
- Leverage the dedicated CRM team to keep the data complete. Salespeople often complain about having to spend hours updating CRM with deal and opportunity data. But you would want your most precious resources (the sales team) to focus on converting customers. For this reason, having people on the lead qualification team work alongside the sales team is a more practical way of approaching it.
- Avoid duplicate data, both with respect to leads and accounts.
- Establish an SLA-based process for turning around leads quickly.
7. First-party, second-party, and third-party intent data
Analyzing intent data is one of the best ways to prioritize and qualify your leads. There are three types of intent data:
- First party: this refers to data you collect using digital mediums you own.
- Second party: this is first-party data of other websites (like review websites for example).
- Third-party: this is any activity of interest from your target accounts across the web (including blogs and media websites).
First-party data gives you more intel about your prospects using data you own. Examples of first-party data items using which you can further qualify your leads include:
- Website visits
- Content interactions
- Multiple form fills
- Event attendance
Second-party data on the other hand gives you signals based on your prospects’ direct interactions with another website. Review websites like G2 and Capterra are great examples of this.
Third-party data expands the horizon by giving you intel on your target accounts’ interactions with third-party digital or media assets.
While first-party data is what you have, you can use intent intelligence tools like Demandbase to collect second-party and third-party intent data.
The success of this technique depends on how well you use the data. The key here is to prioritize accounts and leads that are showing higher intent across the first-party, second-party, and third-party intent data you collect.
8. Lead scoring as a method of B2B lead qualification
Lead scoring takes into account your leads’ and accounts’ interactions across channels. The beauty here is that you can even attach scores to offline activities that marketing automation tools cannot capture automatically. You can do this by manually adding this action to your CRM. An example of this is a lead attending an event you exhibited at.
When it comes to lead scoring, lead qualification is fairly simple – you prioritize leads with the highest score. The minimum score you should consider to qualify a lead will depend on your business.
A best practice is to define the threshold based on a certain percentage of leads you wish to proceed with. For example, if you think it makes sense to qualify at least 50% of your leads, and the last lead belonging to the 50% with a higher lead score has a score of say 20 at a given time, take that as the lower threshold (The lead score of the 50% lead will keep changing over time. What you can do is to stick with the number for a specific period and change it after that).
But don’t take lead scores as your only criterion for qualifying leads. Consider multiple factors such as firmographic criteria, demographic criteria, BANT, etc., before you accept or reject a lead.
Final words about B2B lead qualification
Lead qualification in B2B is a complex process. And it is often difficult to take a ‘one size fits all approach’. But what we discussed in this article should give you all the necessary foundations to further modify your lead qualification methodology. After all, it is the outcome (better lead quality and productivity) that matters the most, and not the process as such.
Skalegrow – B2B marketing agency
With marketing getting tougher and tougher, every wrong foot you make might hamper your growth. What you need is the right guidance and a helping hand. This is where Skalegrow can make a sea of difference.
Skalegrow helps IT, tech, SaaS, and embedded systems companies leverage new-age marketing tactics to grow their business. Check out the below intro video to learn more about what Skalegrow brings to the table:
We are already helping some of our clients generate leads and improve brand awareness using innovative marketing techniques. Visit our services page to learn more about how we can help. You could also write to us at email@example.com.
About the author
Naseef KPO is the Founder and CEO of Skalegrow. He comes with rich experience across multiple areas of B2B marketing including content marketing, demand generation, SEO, account-based marketing, marketing analytics, revenue attribution, marketing technology, etc. He writes thought-provoking and relevant articles on The Skalegrow Blog and his weekly LinkedIn newsletter Elevate Your Marketing.
Prior to starting Skalegrow, Naseef led large marketing teams in multi-million dollar B2B organizations where he made significant contributions to the topline growth of the business. He has also appeared on numerous podcasts where he shared his thoughts on trending marketing topics such as the application of AI in marketing, startup marketing, ABM, and B2B content marketing, just to name a few. Being the founder of Skalegrow, he is currently focusing on helping its clients stay ahead of their competition by using innovative yet practical marketing tactics.
You can connect with Naseef KPO on LinkedIn.