When you first implemented inbound marketing for your business, you knew that you were building a system that utilized high quality content to help generate high quality leads from your website. Flashes of the film Field of Dreams probably kept running through your head as you optimized your website for conversions and started pumping out blogs and offers at a regular basis.
If you build it, they will come.
And boy did they! Inbound marketing has proven time and time again to be an extremely successful philosophy that can help generate leads for businesses through online sources. Sadly, though, few people will tell you that not all of those leads are quality.
Alongside your actual business prospects who will fill out forms on your website are vendors looking to sell you something, competitors looking to read your content and foreign marketers just looking to read what you have to offer, among others. None of these people will ever become customers yet they will take up as much, if not more space in your database doing absolutely nothing for you, and that might be more of a problem than you think.
The Cost of Bad Leads
Depending on what type of marketing database, sales CRM or email marketing tools you’re using, you could be paying a premium to house and market to these contacts. Database limits and cost-per-send rates aren’t to be taken lightly, as they can lead to a business throwing away thousands of dollars a year.
Outside of cost, a database filled with suspect leads can also skew marketing metrics and negatively affect sales follow up to actual qualified leads. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of 4 different tricks I continue to use in my campaigns to help maintain a clean database filled with only qualified leads.
1) Have Your Forms be the First Line of Defense
The first and probably best way to ensure a clean database is to establish rules and triggers connected to your forms to help you either keep low quality leads out altogether or sort them after the fact. Email form field rules and additional form fields asking for qualifying information are some great options.
Email Form Fields
Often times in B2B campaigns, you can tell if a lead is legitimate or not based on what kind of email address they provide. Competitors may use their personal email addresses to mask their true identity while vendors and others might use blacklisted addresses linked heavily with spam. If you face this regularly, block them from submitting your forms by comparing their email domains against a list of free, spammy email providers alongside your own list of providers. Not only will this help collect relevant email addresses from qualified leads for your sales team but it will also keep out the unqualified people who may be unwilling or unable to provide their real email addresses.
Additional Form Fields
Not all forms can be set up to automatically determine if a lead is qualified and has the right intentions on the same page and that’s ok. People are smart and will often times do whatever it takes to submit a form on your website for one reason or another.
When it comes to dealing with these people, don’t fight them too hard with multiple safeguards like CAPTCHA fields (not always a bad idea though) and other filtering mechanisms, but instead looks to collect seemingly generic information that only you know to be a qualifier or disqualifier for your business.
Items such as geographic information, company size and industry can help you quickly understand if the person submitting the form is qualified as a potential sales prospect quickly based on where and who your company is looking to work with.
2) Corral the Ones That Slip Through
As I alluded to above, people are smart and are sooner or later going to successfully submit a form on your website to read your content and that’s ok. You haven’t lost just because someone was able to provide a real email and select the right form field.
In fact, they have played straight into your hands! Now that you’ve collected their information and have stored it (temporarily) in your database, it will be easy to quickly review if they are or are not meant to take up your precious storage space both using automated and manual techniques.
When it comes to keeping a clean database, establishing smart lists to uncover and track unqualified leads in your database is key. Based on who your business is targeting and where you are looking to do business, there are a number of simple rules you can establish to quickly pull in a list of potentially unqualified leads currently in your database.
If you are an American business looking to only work within the states, establishing a list that tracks any and all leads with known IP addresses outside the US can quickly show you foreign contacts who you will never do business with.
If you collected qualifying information in your forms, you can create lists to track any answers that disqualify a lead as well. Once you’ve established a list or lists that track all of these disqualifying factors, you can easily clean your database with a simple click (after reviewing the list thoroughly, of course).
While smart lists will help you quickly wrangle and delete any contacts with measurable values, there are others still that may require more of a manual process when it comes to keeping a clean database. Form submissions with names (Test Test) and phone numbers (123456789) are solid indicators that a lead in unqualified and not work the space to house their obviously fake information.
While you may be able to set up rules to catch some of this, there are too many different ways that people can submit false information to effectively automate the review process so instead, rely on your experience and eye for these submissions as they come into your database. Set yourself up to receive email notifications once a form is submitted and spend time daily or weekly reviewing them to see if any are clearly fake. From there, you can manually delete them from your database without much effort.
3) Monitor Engagement
While it can be very easy to tell the difference between a potential business opportunity and a vendor or competitor, it can be much more difficult to tell whether or not a seemingly qualified lead is actively engaged with your content in a positive manner. Whether through engagement with your emails or through specific, negative actions on your website, there are signs that can be monitored to tell if leads are truly qualified.
Email Marketing Review
While marketers always crave engagement with their emails, not all actions are always a good thing. Contacts looking to unsubscribe from your lists still must open and click through the original email, so keeping an eye on what links are being clicked on a regular basis is always a good idea. Identify those that are unsubscribing from your communications, placing your emails in their junk folders, or are having your emails bounce on a regular basis. This information can be used to establish a list of people no longer engaging with your content.
After reviewing this list (potentially with your sales team), delete those who you believe are no longer qualified to be in your database before then establishing a plan of attack to legally target those who your sales team still believes to be opportunities.
Negative Website Activities
While normally connected with an unqualified or fake submission, there are some cases where a seemingly qualified lead can perform specific actions on your website that may raise some red flags. Multiple conversions on any and all offers on your website, while not always a bad thing, can often point to a contact trying to collect anything and everything you’ve written for less than noble purposes.
Tracking people who convert on multiple forms via a smart list or keeping an eye on any large amounts of conversions at one time via notification emails should allow you to see when someone is going on a “download spree” and give you the opportunity to remove them from your system once they’ve stopped.
4) Stay Connected with Your Sales Team’s Funnel
Even truly qualified leads will need to leave your marketing database at one point or another. Either they go through the entire sales process and become a customer (and are added to the CRM), speak with your sales team but decide to go elsewhere (and are then sent to the CRM for future contact) or they “go dark.”
For those who do go dark, it can be tough to know where to put them within your marketing database and sales CRM. On one hand, your sales team can’t be wasting their time trying to continually contact people who won’t respond, but on the other hand you can’t necessarily market to these people in the same way you would a new prospect.
When faced with this dilemma, work with your sales team to create a custom nurturing campaign that can take these “recycled” leads who have gone dark and slowly send them customized content to bring them back into the sales cycle. If successful, you can bring back old prospects who may have just needed more time. If unsuccessful, you have a list of people who have shown to be disengaged and not worth keeping as a contact.
Now of course, this strategy can differ depending on your sales team’s philosophy on when to give up on leads, but it still allows you to at least start the conversation around how long is too long for a disengaged lead to stay in a full database.
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re a mature inbound campaign or just implementing your first blog post and offer, a clean and consistently scrubbed database is paramount to the overall success of a campaign when it comes to providing ROI. The benefits of keeping that database clean go far beyond keeping your superior sane-- they can help your campaign save money on software and storage while improving overall lead to customer conversion rates.
While not the easiest (or sexiest) job within digital marketing, if you use any or all of the four steps listed above, your “cleaning time” can be significantly shortened and made smarter. That's a movement that you, your sales team and your company can get behind.
Originally published Nov 25, 2015 1:00:00 PM, updated February 01 2017