I am an advocate of content marketing, which is basically creating useful information that addresses the challenges faced by your best prospects.
The idea: more prospects will consume this helpful information (versus chest-thumping promotional content), thereby increasing the number of leads generated at the top of the marketing and sales funnel.
But many of these raw leads are poor quality. Maybe it’s a student from India looking to get smarter or a competitor wondering why you wrote that paper and they didn’t.
So, with content marketing, you end up with a marketing funnel that gets A LOT larger at the top, but just a little larger at the bottom, where prospects turn into customers.
The result is still what you want – more sales. But to make a content marketing strategy work you need a good triage system to quickly and efficiently weed out the poor-quality leads, and then nurture those prospects who may one day have a need for your services.
A cardinal error would be to release poor-quality “leads” too early to the sales team. That just feeds a perception that “marketing leads suck.” Premature and aggressive follow up could also cause resentment with a prospect who has indicated no interest in your services. He just wanted your “10 tips to speed freight through Customs.”
When is a lead ready for sales? Different organizations have different views on this question. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Here is one way to look at that question for “big ticket” logistics services.
- Raw lead. It’s Marketing’s job to sift through these as they enter the marketing and sales funnel, weed out the poor quality leads, and then initiate a nurture program with those leads that match your target prospect profile. With the right marketing automation system, these lead nurture programs can be done through automated emails since the prospect, by downloading your content, has already opted in to receive your emails.
- Marketing qualified lead. One aim of your nurture program could be to get the prospect to download branded content that specifically promotes your services. That suggests a prospect who is not just looking to get smarter by consuming your educational content, but may be looking for the service you offer. Your marketing system should alert you to this trigger. At that point, a lead might be considered “marketing qualified.”
- Sales qualified lead. This is a prospect that has directly expressed an interest in a dialogue with your company. Once a lead becomes “marketing qualified,” again it’s Marketing’s job to determine if the lead is, in fact, sales qualified and should be passed on to Sales. That qualification can happen with a phone call to the prospect from Marketing or Inside Sales. Or, you might continue the nurture campaign by sharing case studies and other content that demonstrates your capabilities. With either approach, the objective is to convert the prospect to “sales ready” status.
- Sales ready lead. Here, Marketing steps away and lets the Sales team do their thing.
Content marketing can be highly effective at uncovering prospects you would never have been exposed to otherwise. But it can also breed frustration if you don’t have an efficient system to manage the top of the funnel and channel only highly qualified leads to your busy sales team.
During a phone discussion on marketing with the senior executive of a large, warehouse-based logistics firm, I shared my perspective that many such companies make salespeople work too hard to unearth sales opportunities. After a brief silence, the executive said, tersely, “That’s what I pay them for.”