Consumer leads often come laden with enough information to make marketing possible. When leads are obtained from response lists, for example, there are implicit hints regarding interests or related-purchase history. Marketers can solicit these leads with tailored offerings, as desired.
The process of identifying and qualifying a business lead, and the analysis that can help it mature into a transaction, is very different. This is due, in part, to the longer sales cycles appropriate to higher priced merchandise.
“Business to business leads don’t represent an immediate close,” says David M. Raab, principal of Raab Associates Inc., a marketing technology and measurement consultancy. “It’s a considered sale, typically.”
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: The longer sales cycle presents an opportunity: Prospects can reveal, or even volunteer, information that makes selling to them easier.
Furthermore, unlike consumer leads, which are often handled only by marketing departments, B-to-B marketers often have both marketing departments, which are responsible for generating and qualifying leads, and sales forces, which are charged with closing sales.
Know Your Source
Where do business leads come from? Third parties such as compiled databases can be one source, but, Raab cautions, “A name is not a lead.” Leaving aside the quality of the information rented, a prospect, in order to be considered a true B-to-B lead, has to have demonstrated interest in a marketer’s offerings.
This interest can be gleaned through a variety of ways, including interactions at an exhibit hall booth at a trade show or browsing activity within a company’s website. While the latter is more likely to yield information that helps marketers evaluate a lead’s worth, the nuances involved with linking data to a specific lead can be tricky.
The roles that sales and marketing departments play have blurred with the advent of the Internet. “Marketing is getting more involved, beyond the hand-off [of leads] to sales,” Raab says. “Marketing owns the website, and people come back to it and interact with marketing whether they have a sales relationship or not.” As a result, prospects can obtain more information without talking to salespeople, and the sales staff is brought in later in the decision-making process.
Tracking Browsing Activity
Leads based on their interactions with corporate websites come with both headaches and opportunities. For example, if someone from a given company accesses a site from both a home and an office computer, a marketer may have difficulty rolling up both browsing sessions into a single view of a prospect. According to Raab, most service firms that provide site-visitor information based on an IP address “don’t tend to highlight the fact that only half of traffic can be tied back [to a specific company].”
Even when this information is captured, attempting to match back browsing information in the B-to-B arena offers a number of pitfalls. “It’s harder in B-to-B because of the number of people involved in one buying process,” Raab says. Consider a company such as IBM. If a marketer notes several individuals poking around its sites, are they researching a single purchase or separate purchases? Are they buying for one or for many locations?
This is not to say that data not linked to a specific contact is useless. Several visits from individuals representing a single company can indicate an overall interest, which can alert sales representatives to start making inquiries at these companies.
There are also ways of obtaining information on specific visitors. Raab suggests gating certain content on a website—that is, requiring registration to access it. This is, he admits, a balancing act: A certain percentage of site visitors simply won’t fill out a registration form. A marketer can increase the number of visitors who register by requiring only minimal information, such as name and affiliation.
Even this bare-bones data, when it is coupled with web browsing behavior, can offer some powerful information regarding how a lead should be approached. For instance, the specificity and sophistication of on-site queries can offer guidance regarding where a visitor is in the purchase cycle, and whether a sales representative should try to contact that visitor. And a marketer can ask site visitors to self-select offerings appropriate for small businesses, large businesses or government entities.
“You have to structure the website to gather that,” Raab says. “Most people, when they design these options on their sites, aren’t thinking of them from a data-gathering point of view.”
Don’t Give Up on Potential
Raab offers a final caution regarding how leads are handled. Sales representatives are used to closing sales, not creating leads. While marketing, and the availability of information on the Internet, has cut down on the amount of interaction needed from a sales representative, some leads that have expressed interest aren’t ready to buy yet. Such leads are often bounced back from sales to marketing.
“Marketing doesn’t know what to do with them,” Raab says. “They just drop them, and then the company has lost contact with a potential buyer. Marketing needs to keep in contact with these leads through a nurturing program.”
These types of programs can include newsletters, emails or webinars—and how a lead interacts with each of these, if recorded, can provide clues for a sales force on how to better identify a prospect’s needs and close a sale.