How To Qualify Inbound Leads

Written by Trevor Lucking
How To Qualify Inbound Leads

Marketing is all about metrics. We tirelessly track conversions, site traffic, bounce rates, engagement, and beyond. Gathering lots of performance data is always a good idea, but it’s not going to be helpful if the data you’re gathering isn’t targeted toward the metrics that actually drive sales.

Ask yourself which you would rather have: a hundred poor-fit or mediocre leads or fifteen qualified, ready-for-sales ones?

Fact: there’s no point in gathering leads if they aren’t quality leads. That’s what today’s post is all about: answering the questions you have about gathering, securing, and qualifying inbound leads for sales. Let’s get started.

Topics in this article include:

What is an inbound lead?

There are two main groups that any leads your sales team engages with will fall into: inbound and outbound.

Outbound leads are leads where the contact between your business and a prospect has been initiated by you or your sales team. With outbound leads, the person you’re trying to reach out to has not voluntarily opted into receiving communications from you. Instead, these leads typically come from sales team research looking for companies or individuals that match your IPC and personas, and they feel they could use their service. These types of contacts can be through ABM, cold calls, emails, social messages, and the like.

Inbound leads are leads where the prospect initiates contact with you. Usually what happens is a potential customer reaches out through your sales channel asking to learn more about your offerings or to even purchase products or services. Inbound leads result most frequently from an individual or business finding your website or social media profiles, reading content you’ve published, or receiving a recommendation from someone they trust.

Between the two, inbound leads are more preferable. Why? Because they involve a lot less effort for your sales team — they’ve already spent time on your website, reading your marketing content, and gaining trust in your company. Where outbound leads require having your sales team spend their time looking for cold prospects and spending time warming them up, they’re delivered an already-warm and qualified lead to work with.

One important thing to remember: inbound leads won’t happen if your website isn’t well-tuned to provide critical information about your products and services, how you help people in different applications and verticals, and a clear mechanism for prospects to contact you. It’s extremely important to maintain a professional and up to date website. The more completely your website answers a prospects questions and provides valuable information, the better it will perform.

Why is it important to track lead quality?

In a perfect world, every single lead that reached out to your business would be your ideal customer and lead to a quick and easy sale. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create good strategies to make use of available data.

Case in point: lead quality. It’s imperative to track both weekly and monthly lead quality. Why? Because if you know how qualified the leads you’re getting are, and how they’re finding you, over time you’ll be better able to see what strategies produce the best leads. Once you know that, you’ll know where to focus your marketing time and budgets to get the most bang for your buck.

The first step in being able to track the quality of the leads you’re receiving is to talk with sales and marketing to determine what your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is. Your ICP is a general set of characteristics that represent the types of companies that purchase from you most often. This profile will represent your ideal customer; the type of customer that’s easiest for sales to close and that you’d like to see more of in the future.

A few examples of ICP characteristics:

  • Your company tends to land leads in the medical device field vs. non-profit organizations
  • Your company finds itself working with companies who have greater than 100 employees
  • Your company finds itself with a higher close rate selling to engineers than any other job function
  • You have a good track record, and see tremendous growth potential in a specific region of the United States

These are the types of attributes your company should keep track of in order to quickly determine the likelihood that a lead is going to close. Using a CRM to keep track of these details can help keep this process organized and efficient.

As your company grows and your sales people are spread more thin it becomes even more important to keep track of the quality of leads you have coming in. Even though we’ve said inbound leads are preferable, not all inbound leads are going to automatically convert. Being able to look at an inbound lead and compare it to your ICP, and other indicators for likelihood to close, will streamline your sales process even further. Your sales team will be able to know which inbound leads to prioritize in order to land as many high-quality sales as possible.

An easy way to continuously keep track of the quality of your leads is to use something we call a deal quality report. You’ll have to commit to keeping it regularly updated, but when used properly and tracked weekly, patterns will start showing up relatively quickly. These patterns will be able to show you the types of leads that are most likely to convert into sales and where they’re coming from.

How do I qualify inbound leads?

The easiest way to make sure inbound leads are being handled in the most efficient way is by making sure you have a qualifying stage written into your sales funnel.

It doesn’t matter where the lead comes from. It can be your contact form, a phone call, or even someone just walking in. When an inbound lead comes your way, you’re going to want to have a point person that’s in charge of qualifying that lead before it even gets to the desks of your sales team.

If you already have an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) determined, this should be easy. The individual in charge of qualifying any inbound leads will be able to ask them the necessary questions to determine if they fit your ICP and have intent to purchase.

The exact questions that are asked will change based on your specific company, industry, needs, and strategies, but we have a few suggestions below to help you on the right track.

Here are a few examples of good inbound lead qualifying questions:

  • Could you tell me how you found or heard about our company? 
    • Why is this a good question? It’s answer will help you determine where your best (and worst) leads come from and give you insight into any content that may have driven a lead in your direction.
  • Can you give me a brief introduction on your company and the services you provide? 
    • Why is this a good question? The answer to this question will help you determine that this company fits into your ICP. This is also a good place to try and uncover any potential pain points that are important to this lead.
  • Can you briefly tell me about your project?
    • Why is this a good question? Because it will tell you what core service the lead is looking for, which will in turn determine how you can help them. If a lead, at this point, is unable to communicate what they’re looking for, that might signal you that they’re in need of more nurturing before a sale occurs, even if they’re ideal otherwise.
  • Where are you at in the process? Are you just starting to research options, or are you wanting to have something in place by a certain date?
    • Why is this a good question? Because it will help set expectations and make sure the prospect doesn’t have an unrealistic turn around time in mind. It will also allow you to gauge how ready they are to buy.
  • Do you have a budget allocated for the project?
    • Why is this a good question? It’s going to give you an idea of their communication style and to verify that they fit your minimum threshold. Most leads aren’t going to give you a straight answer, but you should, at the very least, be able to communicate a broad range back to them and confirm that they’d fall within it.

At this point, if there are still any red flags or concerns with working with this lead then you can either politely let them know that it’s not a great fit at this time (in which case you might want to provide a referral, or at least some helpful marketing content) or hand them over to a salesperson who can work on nurturing to a close. It’s important to know when to decline a project and when to let sales continue to work, which can take some time to figure out. The times when you’re on the fence are great opportunities to talk through the details with sales so that you can uncover deeper patterns that will help you in the future.

Just remember: the goal of all of this is to ensure sales people aren’t wasting time on leads that won’t purchase, while concurrently not turning off a qualified lead and getting them to sales as soon as possible.

As you continue this process, it’ll become easier to determine which leads are good for your company versus which ones aren’t. This knowledge will allow you to pinpoint the best inbound leads for your sales team to focus on. Additionally, this info can also help your marketing team when it comes to tailoring social and website content to meet the needs of your ICP.

After qualified leads have been handed to sales, you don’t have to stop qualifying them. You can continue to track which sales perform best by looking at further metrics after they’ve been handed to sales. Things to look at include: how quickly and fully they participate in the process, their stage in the pipeline, the types of content they consume, what types of questions they ask, and so on.

After the lead closes as a win (closed deal), loss, or stalls out, take the time to update your tracking information. Over time this information will give you patterns big and small to work from and build strategies to support. This will allow you to continuously improve your marketing efforts and deliver better, stronger inbound leads.

If you’d like to learn more about digital marketing strategy, keeping your website up to date, or the general art of qualifying inbound leads – get in touch

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