Defining Your Best Lead

How do I define my best leads to efficiently identify buyers for quicker revenues? Sales and Marketing should work together to define what is a sales-ready lead. To define it, you first must create a profile of your ideal customer or persona. The ideal customer or persona profile will be the main focus of how you spend your time and money to determine the most productive opportunities. 

Your Ideal Customer or Persona Profile

The goal of the ideal profile is to focus on prospects that are likely to become your most profitable customers. You need to target your best potential prospects and contacts. To start, create a list of your best and worst current customers. What do your current customers have in common with your prospective customers?

  • Rank customers by most profitable, best revenue, easiest to do business with.
  • Rank customers by least profitable, worst revenue, hardest to do business with.
  • Evaluate the characteristics of each customer to determine the top 5 companies or customers on your list.
  • What are the key attributes that your best customers and worst customers share?
  • Add current revenue and profitability data and any other information you think is important and rank your list of possibilities.

Your top customers will most accurately reflect your ideal customer profile. Take your top customers to build a more detailed profile by collecting the following information:

  • Estimate the annual revenue of the company, or annual income of a customer
  • If your customer is a company, what Industry are they in?
  • Number of employees in their company?
  • Level of contact you are working with and in what functional area?
  • Location: Local, regional or national
  • Business situation, (is the company or customer in a growth or declining situation?)
  • Psychographic aspects; What are their values, culture, philosophy, leadership and internal or external factors that may be having an explicit effect on your customers.

Determine the most important attributes you want to replicate. There may also be other attributes that are specific to your industry. By doing this exercise, you should have identified a marked difference between your best and worst customers. Now narrow the attributes to the best 5-10. This list will serve as your ideal customer or persona profile. Keep in mind that, there may be times when you have a customer that may not fit your ideal customer, but they’re strategic to your business plans. You’ll need to decide how far an opportunity can diverge from your ideal customer.

You may just be starting a new company, product or service, so this data may not be readily available to you.  You may be able to collect and learn this information from an existing competitor or indirect competitor.
Through Market Sensing you can develop a customer or persona profile of what you believe is an ideal customer. The Social Media Marketing Agency provides a Market Sensing Service to help companies identify their ideal customer.

Plainly Convey Your Target Market

Before starting a lead generation program or developing a prospecting database, you should plainly convey your target market. Segment the target market in agreement with the exclusive priorities of your ideal customer. Your ideal customer or persona profile should be the standard that is applied against the total target universe. The ideal profile is not fixed but, helps bring focus to your wider base of prospects. The ideal profile helps you separate out potential opportunities based on unique attributes of your prime customers. It also serves as a basis for the definition of a sales-ready lead.

Are Inquiries Sales-Ready Leads?

There is a difference between a qualified sales-ready lead and an inquiry. An inquiry is someone who is interested is acquiring more information about your products or services and needs some level of assistance. Lead qualification programs have shown that only 5 to 15 % of inquiries are truly sales-ready leads.  So, if Marketing sends an inquiry to Sales as a lead, the “lead” is likely going to be a waste of the sales team’s time. Without well-defined criteria of what comprises a qualified lead, leads have very little chance of improving or being accepted.

Lead Quality over Quantity

If you have large amounts of leads, regardless of quality, this doesn’t guarantee that sales success will follow. Some consequences of Quantity at the expense of Quality are:

  • Sales team frustration. If your lead generation program produces poor sales leads, it will negatively impact your sales people.
  • Unfocused sales and marketing efforts. If your salespeople spend time pursuing leads that are not sales-ready yet, they are probably ignoring others that they know little about. These unfocused efforts will increase your sales cycle.
  • Inaccurate sales forecasts. When unqualified leads make their way into the sales pipeline, closing dates keep moving forward in time and business going forward will suffer.

Is this lead sales-ready? should be asked about every potential sales opportunity and should be weighed against the lead generation criteria that sales and marketing have agreed upon.

What is a Lead?

A basic definition of a lead; is a potential customer that wants to learn more about what you have to sell and has acknowledged they have a business or personal problem, that you could help them solve. This definition, including elements from your ideal customer or persona profile, will help you create a meaningful lead definition.  In order to be useful, the lead definition must be applied to all leads regardless of the source of the lead (i.e., Website, inbound calls, social media, etc.).  

A “qualified sales lead” is one that has been determined to fit the profile of your ideal customer or persona and has been qualified as sales-ready according to the universal lead definition. The universal lead definition is that against which every potential customer is compared and prioritized as determined by where they are in their buying process, and defined by their degree of sales-readiness, regardless of the lead source. Your universal lead definition defines what a qualified sales lead is to everyone in your organization.

What Brands One Lead Better than Another?

Many salespeople struggle with inconsistency in clear lead criteria. Which results in some opportunities given too much focus, while others are ignored. To maximize your sales team’s time, it is important that marketing knows how to differentiate an inquiry from a lead. This is also important in efficiently using your marketing and social media budget. At the Social Marketing Agency, we can help you efficiently identify leads from inquiries for quicker sales. Lead generation is a process that addresses consistency, with regards to conformity with the ideal customer or persona profile and your universal lead definition. When consistently is applied, it yields higher-qualified leads and maximizes the ROI on your lead generation programs.

Wow, a Hot Lead!

I’m sure you’ve all heard the term “Hot Lead”, but what does that really mean? The hot lead reflects the degree of sales-readiness, when all indications that the prospect is truly sales-ready; by conformity to your ideal customer profile and your universal lead definition, and their motivation to buy.

 A good lead by any description, “hot” or otherwise, should apply the BANTS formula.

  • Budget: Does the prospect affordability mirror your ideal customer or persona profile?
  • Authority: Does it involve the important players in the purchasing decision process?
  • Need. Is there a clear need identified and acknowledged? Are they motivated to do something about their need?
  • Time Frame. Has the prospect determined when a purchase decision will be made?
  • Sales-Ready. Is the prospect willing to meet or speak with a salesperson?

Be Careful- Hot Leads Can Waste Time

Wow, a “hot lead” comes in, and the prospect tells you they’re deciding within the next month. With a decision time frame that is quickly approaching, you may find that you are no more than another vendor they have to talk with, in order to get approval for your competitor’s products or services, which they really want. Most likely they’ve been working with your competitor for months, and they now have to show due diligence to get approval from their finance department. 

This scenario shows why opportunities need to be identified as early in the prospect’s buying process as possible. There should be a long-term lead generation and lead nurturing process in place to do that. Your definition of what a sales-ready lead is, should consideration that sooner is not necessarily always better. A lead definition that helps identify the best possible opportunities, rather than the quickest close, should be a major guideline when developing your universal lead definition.

If your lead generation program is off target, you could waste lots of time on leads that never will become customers. When salespeople demand “hot leads,” marketing can help them more effectively target their opportunities, by jointly developing and applying the ideal customer or persona profile and by establishing the universal lead definition criteria. At the Social Marketing Agency, we can help you identify the right leads to pursue, which will give you the ideal customer for your product or service and bring you quicker revenues.

Creating Your Universal Lead Definition

So, how do you create a successful lead generation program that goes beyond the marketing department, and has a shared vision with everyone within your organization? With the support of the senior manager or the business owner, schedule a kickoff meeting with sales, marketing, IT, customer service and other interested groups that need to collaborate on the process of lead-to-customer conversion.

  • Get Together: Get all those involved together and select a leader. Gather the sales and marketing teams in one room or via conference call. Add a facilitator who has credibility and who speaks the language of both. Everyone must be on board or your universal lead definition process isn’t going to produce actionable results.
  • Questions to talk about. What do we consider a qualified lead? What are the characteristics of the ideal sales opportunity? What do we really need to know? What would be nice to know? Who should we be contacting? Who is involved in the buying process? What common needs are we addressing?
  • Get Together Again. Is there consensus that everyone is on the same page?
  • Create a communication plan that can widely publish the universal lead definition in the interest of integrating it into the organizations’ culture and language.
  • Lessons Learned. Marketing and sales should meet regularly to review and reconfirm the universal lead definition’s effectiveness. Ask questions like; Was a particular lead an actual lead or inquiry? Did it the lead enter the sales process? Why or Why not? What else should be known about it? How can we improve on what we are doing? There is no reason that your universal lead definition can’t be improved on if required.

Identity Criteria for Your Universal Lead Definition

When meeting between Marketing and Sales, your universal lead definition can begin to form by asking these types of questions:

  • What makes a good sales lead?
    • What customer or prospect need makes this a good fit?
    • What information must you have to determine if a lead is worth following up on?
    • What are the titles/job functions of economic buyer/influencers, etc.?
    • What does this prospect’s company value? What is its culture like?
    • What are their common business issues?
  • What information do you want in order to qualify a lead as being sales-ready?
    • How do you currently qualify a prospect? What questions do you ask?
    • What questions do you want answered before getting a lead?
    • What questions seem to gather the most needed information?
    • What information is must-have versus nice-to-have?
  • How would you differentiate between near-term, mid-range and long-range leads?
    • Will there be a time frame to evaluate and implement a solution?
    • Will there be a formal or informal budget in place? How much?
    • Are there any specific behaviors or traits you are looking for?
  • What functions or “buy points’ are targeted in terms of key contact information?
    • How is interest created? Where does it start and what is it driven by?
    • What drives interest and how do you focus on it with our solution?
    • What was the compelling event that drove their interest?
    • Who are the economic buyers and influencers involved in the decision?
    • Where is our best entry point?
    • Who usually needs to be contacted during the first phase of the sales process?
    • Who is involved as the buying process evolves?
    • Who or what tends to drive the initiative?
    • Who else should be contacted?
    • Where does the funding come from and who has authority over it?

After going through this exercise, collect and consolidate the answers in a document and send it to all stakeholders. Everyone should give their feedback, and state that they’re satisfied with the lead definition as written and no key points are missed. You may need to have a follow up discussion if there are too many discrepancies or disagreements. At the Social Marketing Agency, we can help you facilitate and create your universal lead generation definition and lead program.

Are Your Sales People Thirsty?

You can give your salespeople, dying of thrust, even dirty water and they will drink it. But if they aren’t thirsty, they will not. If they’re satiated (busy closing a big deal), then you can almost bet that even clean water (sales-ready leads) will be ignored. If dehydrated, they will likely pursue any opportunities, even poor ones. And they will still want more. 

To break this cycle, marketers must set the standard and strive to give salespeople, thirsty or not, only filtered water (sales-ready leads) that has been treated with reverse osmosis (universal lead definition, and ideal customer or persona profile). Only then will salespeople trust that every time they drink, the water is pure, and eventually they will demand only pure water, even if they’re thirsty.

Making sure that a lead has a clear definition, that everyone has agreed upon and that has been compared against the ideal customer or persona profile, is the best way to ensure that marketing doesn’t deluge sales with too many leads at the expense of quality.

Lead Generation is an Iterative Process

Lead generation is an iterative process and it needs to be continually refined. Marketing and Sales should meet regularly to refine the lead generation process. A laser like focus is the key to an ideal customer or persona profile and universal lead definition.

Choose your prospective customers carefully, always with a view towards achieving:

  • Higher-qualified, sales-ready leads.
  • A sales force with less frustration.
  • Increased sales effectiveness.
  • More accurate sales funnel management.
  • Shortened average sales cycle.
  • Fast adjustments and early insight.
  • Prioritized efforts for a good lead-nurturing program.
  • Sales force accountability
  • Measured effectiveness of your lead generation investment.

The ideal customer or persona profile and your universal lead definition works together to help you focus on the customer, which makes for a better customer. What’s the long-term value of that customer? The payoff is in proportion to the investment, which starts with a clear picture of the ideal customer and follows through the process.


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