describe the imageAdmit it. The thought of getting "found" by all of those new, interested prospects sounds really, really good, doesn't it? Dozens of targeted, quality leads pouring in, generated by your web site, social media campaigns, or blog. No more worrying about whether your salespeople are making cold calls. No more worrying about building the pipeline. No more worrying about conversions. These leads will self-identify. These prospects will simply raise their hands and yell to anyone who will listen, "Sell me something!"

At least that's inbound marketing's promise. And it delivers on the promise -- to a point.

The Reality

People submit their names and email addresses (and perhaps more) to receive samples, download a whitepaper, request more information, get a free trial, or receive some premium content, etc. To that extent, inbound marketing “delivers” on delivering leads. BUT, are the leads any good?

It seems to me that rather than making cold calls, salespeople must now attempt to reach these ghosts that don't wish to be found, and talk with dozens of them to find a single one that might turn into a legitimate opportunity. Not only that, the huge increase in leads can lead salespeople to believe they don’t need to ask their existing customers and clients for referrals and introductions. In essence, it makes them lazy! And there will never be a substitute for a lead that comes from an existing customer or client. There are several things you need to know about salespeople:

  • They take the path of least resistance. A lead in hand is worth not making targeted cold calls or following up with clients and customers for referrals.
  • They take very short term views of data. It doesn’t matter if inbound leads create 6 new customers a quarter. If they made 30 follow-up calls over two days and didn’t find a quality opportunity, they believe all inbound leads suck, and they’ll ignore the rest you provide to them.
  • They would rather work on moving an existing opportunity further along than find a new opportunity. As much as they cry for leads, most salespeople do a horrendous job allocating time to follow up and on the actual follow up calls if and when they get to them.
  • They will seek revenge. While Marketing points the finger at the lousy salespeople not converting all of these great leads, the salespeople will get back at Marketing by doing two things: blaming Marketing for providing lousy leads and making sure the leads don’t convert to further prove how bad they are.

The 3 Problems With Inbound Leads

Part of the problem with inbound leads is lead forms. Some inbound marketers compromise and include as few fields as possible so people won't be scared away; they get caught up in the number of leads rather than the quality. What would happen if prospects had to fill out more fields rather than less? Sure, marketers' metrics wouldn’t be as pretty and perhaps the very top of the pipeline wouldn’t be quite as full. However, is that a bad thing if it allows your salespeople to focus on more highly qualified opportunities? Generating thousands and thousands of leads is great if you have the personnel and technological infrastructure to sort, score them, and then follow up. My guess is that the average small or medium sized business doesn’t have either.

Part of the problem is with the salespeople. They haven't been trained to deal with inbound leads, so their attempts and conversations aren't really appropriate for the task at hand. 

Part of the problem is with expectations. Everyone expects inbound leads to be much more targeted and qualified, and the simple truth is that they aren't.  What they are is a mix of tire kickers, researchers, college students, laid off workers with time on their hands, and employees who have been tasked with collecting information. And somewhere in there, the good leads are buried. Some companies use lead scoring and lead intelligence to help find the good ones. For many others, it’s like a scavenger hunt – but without the clues!

The Conclusion: Make Inbound Marketing More Effective 

So is inbound marketing a good idea for generating leads for the sales force? You bet it is. 

Is inbound marketing working in its present form? You bet it is. After all, 1 good lead out of 25 is better than what we had before. 

We just need to look at inbound marketing differently. But how?

1. Differentiate between submissions and leads. It seems that one of the things inbound marketing has changed is the point in time when we identify someone as a lead. Should we be calling them a lead as soon as they fill out a form? Why aren't those people simply submissions? To become a lead, they should have to do more than populate the form. In the old days, if I subscribed to a magazine, I did not become a lead to buy something else from the publisher. On the other hand, if I completed a postcard and sent for a catalog, that made me a lead for what was being sold in the catalog.

2. Modify our expectations. Instead of expecting each lead to be interested and ready, we should be determining which of the submissions need to be nurtured (Type B) and which are ready to move into the pipeline (Type A).

3. Train salespeople who follow up on these leads. Today, all leads are treated the same as in, “let’s schedule an appointment” or “let’s arrange a demo.” Salespeople must learn how to ask, in conversational style, questions that will help determine whether the leads are A’s or B’s and what to do next. 

Perhaps, all we really need to do is add one more field. Could it be one of the following?

  • Can we contact you?
  • Do you have any issues we can help with?
  • Are there any of our products/services you might be interested in?
  • Have you experienced any of the following issues?
  • Will you be purchasing products/services like ours in the next year?
  • Can we help you spend some of your money? (Just Kidding)

Inbound marketing has the potential to deliver some really good leads for the sales force (and it does), but it won’t be truly efficient until we can do a better job of identifying which names on our list are sales-ready prospects and which leads need to be nurtured. To help your salespeople sell more effectively in an inbound marketing world, check out the free “Lead to Customer” Sales Kit to help put your sales team on its way to selling more effectively and converting more inbound leads into customers.

This is a guest post written by Dave Kurlan, the founder and CEO of Objective Management Group, the leading provider of sales force evaluations and sales candidate assessments.  He is also the founder of Kurlan & Associates, official sponsor of HUGS 2011. His top-rated business blog, Understanding the Sales Force, is read by thousands of sales and marketing leaders.

Image Credit: TribalInsights


Originally published Sep 23, 2011 8:00:00 PM, updated October 20 2016


Marketing and Sales Alignment