B2B Marketers are asked, more than anything else, to generate leads for Sales to pursue. But what kind of B2B leads do we want Marketing to generate?

Broadly speaking, Marketers can generate three types of leads:

  • named prospects who meet your ideal client profile;
  • buyers who have shown interest in a topic you write about or a category you sell; or
  • buyers who have shown they are troubled about the problem you solve better than any other; or
  • buyers actively looking for solutions like yours.

What we’re really distinguishing here is, how ‘done’ does Sales want its leads to be? In an earlier blog, I argued that an MQL is as Q as Sales wants it. In English, Marketing should call a Marketing Qualified Lead ‘qualified’ only when it meets an agreed definition negotiated with Sales.

Leads that match your Ideal Client Profile

Sales might have lots of capacity and want many leads, even if they are only loosely qualified. At a minimum, the leads should meet an agreed ideal client profile. Leads in this bucket would:

  • be drawn from your chosen segments (often segments are industry-based, but not always), and
  • meet any common factors that describe your sweet spot like size (e.g. annual revenue between $20m and $150m), structure (e.g. privately held by original founders), or attitude (e.g. generally open to outsourcing); and
  • fill the right role in one of those target businesses.

Here’s what that looks like in a Funnel Plan.

Leads that have shown interest

Let’s treat the first criteria (ideal client profile) as table stakes. Perhaps Sales wants fewer leads, but would like them to have also shown an active interest. These leads need to have done something. Perhaps they found their way onto your website or clicked on an email with a teaser of your blog to read the full article. They might have accepted an invitation to an event you are running, or have turned up at an industry event.

Some pundits argue that an ‘interested’ lead that doesn’t quite match your ideal client profile is better than one who does match your profile, but has not shown interest. That is, they’d argue that behaviour trumps profile, and I’d agree. Clearly, complex lead scoring algorithms attempt to honour both of these factors. But if you are after a simple rule, I’d vote for interest over profile any day.

Leads that are troubled

Later in the buyer’s journey, the prospect admits that the status quo is not good enough. Whether with you, or someone else, they need to change. If Sales wants to spend less time to sell more (don’t they always), then Marketing should be negotiating a smaller lead target, full of these better leads. Tactics like surveys, feedback forms and self-assessment / benchmark comparisons can test how troubled a buyer really is. Done well though, they can not just test, but also influence that pain.

Here’s an example:

You probably already know that align.me helps companies to align Sales and Marketing around a clear plan (we call it a Funnel Plan). So, without the aid of even a survey, I can ask you how troubled you are about the extent to which Sales and Marketing in your business agree how many leads, at what degree of ‘doneness’ (how progressed through their journey they are) they need every month, and what tactics will achieve that.

I could trouble you further by asking how worried you are about whether Sales and Marketing agree what problem they solve, and precisely for whom.

But I wouldn’t do that – that’d be cynical marketing J

If I was a half-decent marketer, I’d probably even offer you a call to action at this point to let me know if you were troubled or not. You know, something like this:

Leads that are looking for a solution

Often, in mature product categories, the buyer knows they need a solution, and are already on the prowl for options. We don’t want to get too cute in discussing gaps with them – not initially at least – because their appetite is for solutions. So we might use SEO (search engine optimisation) or SEM (search engine marketing – paid search) using popular phrases likely to be typed by a buyer looking for a solution.

For example, if you are selling mobile phone plans for businesses, the prospects are likely to use reasonably-obvious terms like ‘mobile phone fleet’ or ‘mobiles for small business’ or similar.

So should we be happy-enough to take them straight to a product comparison page? Not on your life. Even simpler sales like phone fleets need to leverage your strengths, and shape the buyers need. Here’s a previous video blog I did on how to shape the buyer’s need but in the very least, we need to influence what it is they believe they need. We might do that through a clever web dialogue, an automated specification builder (we might give it a fancier name) or even just a check list. Perhaps we use telemarketing to do that shaping.

But if Sales wants leads that are already looking for a solution, make sure to pass them leads that are looking for the right solution.

So, as marketers, we can generate B2B leads many ways, and early or late in their buyer’s journey. But we certainly need to agree what kind of leads, and how many we need, with Sales.