“These leads suck!”

Ouch.

No marketer wants to hear those words from their sales brethren – in logistics or any other industry. But it can happen easily, particularly if you are executing an aggressive content marketing strategy and lack a proper lead qualification process.

The twisted irony of content marketing is that you can have too many leads. Yes, I said it. “Too many leads.” But it’s a problem only if leads are poorly managed and are handed off to Sales too soon.

Here’s what happens. Content marketing is about education. In exchange for basic contact information, we generously share our knowledge and make it available to anyone doing research and trying to get smarter about a particular subject. (Pretty nice, right?) This activity happens at the top of the sales funnel, where are no filters because we want everyone to explore.

The result, however, is that a large percentage of downloads are from people that would never meet your criteria for a good customer. These include:

  • Non-buyers. Salespeople at competitor companies, students from India, and others who would never buy what you’re selling.
  • Poor fits. Companies that, because of size, industry, service requirement or other attribute, would not be a good fit.
  • Early-stage prospects. Companies not yet ready to buy, but who could be prospects sometime in the future.

Sales doesn’t want or need to be part of the triage process to qualify these leads. That’s why content marketers need to own the lead qualification process. We lose credibility if we don’t have a technology-aided process that allows non-prospects to fall out the side of the funnel and nurtures early-stage prospects until they are sales ready.

lead_qualificationLead Qualification Happens in the Middle of the Funnel

Content sits at the top of the funnel to attract would-be prospects looking to solve problems. Marketing is clearly in charge here as part of our lead generation charter.

Where the marketing-to-sales hand-off gets a little murky is in the middle of the funnel, where prospects transition from educating themselves about a challenge to educating themselves about the providers who might help solve their challenge.

Marketing needs to own the Middle of the Funnel.

We need to put in place qualification methods that allow us to assess when a lead moves to the Bottom of the Funnel and is ready to talk with Sales.

Some logistics businesses prefer to get Sales involved early in the process. But most want salesepeople investing their available time to work deals that are currently in the pipeline. (Most salespeople want this, as well)

Lead Qualification Strategies and Methods

There is no definitive process for qualifying leads in the middle of the funnel. Here are a few strategies and methods.

Nurture campaigns

Once you have your prospect’s name and email, you can send personalized emails with additional information that they might find useful.

These “auto-responder” or “drip” campaigns are obviously a staple of content marketing programs and help gauge a prospect’s interest in your information and your brand. The follow-up content you send – links to blogs and other useful content – should ideally be relevant to the information the prospect originally downloaded. So a download of an article on temperature-controlled distribution might be followed by other information relevant to cold chain requirements.

Typically, nurture campaigns avoid a hard sell approach, but always include an option to get specific information about your brand and products, moving them down the sales funnel.

Lead Scoring

Marketing automation tools like HubSpot let you monitor and measure a prospect’s level of engagement. Are prospects:

  • Opening emails?
  • Clicking through?
  • Downloading other documents?
  • Visiting particular pages on your site?

Each action can be assigned a value. Your lead score can also factor in attributes of the prospect, such as title, industry and company size. You would need to assign a value to each action or attribute and determine the score that triggers a sales contact. Lead scoring is not for everyone. Marketing Sherpa reports that only 21% of B2B marketers use a lead scoring system.

If your logistics sales team doesn’t have enough leads to begin with, your challenge isn’t lead scoring, it’s lead generation.

Custom Calls to Action (CTAs)

CTAs are those prominent buttons on your website or in your emails that invite visitors to download a document, check out a video, contact sales, etc.

Depending on your web platform, you may be able to customize the web content you deliver to prospects after their initial visit.

During a first visit, they may see prominent top-of-the-funnel CTAs for white papers and eBooks. Once they have converted and entered the sales funnel, you could replace the top-of-the-funnel CTAs with middle-of-the-funnel offers, such as case studies and other information specific to your company. If they engage with this branded content, indicating their potential interest in buying services, you can program the site to deliver bottom-of-the-funnel offers, such as an offer for a logistics assessment or simply a link to arrange a sales discussion.

Smart tools recognize where prospects are in the buying cycle and deliver content that drives them further down the funnel.

Telesales

Many logistics companies have an inside sales team or an outside telemarketing partner that works the middle of the funnel to identify sales-ready prospects. When I ran an inside sales group for a large 3PL, very little of the group’s time was spent on outbound prospecting calls. The focus of the group was to field and work the inbound leads.

Telesales can speed the sales cycle by quickly separating those who are “just looking” from prospects with buying authority and an actual project to discuss.

Does Marketing Have the Time or Money to Own Pre-Qualification?

If the goal is to pass to Sales only leads that are interested in a proposal, then Marketing must first confirm that the prospect has the BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, and Time-frame) to move forward.

Gathering that level of intelligence goes well beyond what can be gleaned from digital marketing methods, and well beyond the purview of most logistics marketing groups. So the boss will have to find more money to do it, and Marketing will have to evolve to truly own lead qualification. If that’s not realistic, the hand-off to sales needs to occur earlier.

Whether Marketing delivers “likely candidates” or “sure-thing candidates,” either path requires more effort to identify the non-buyers, poor fits, and early-stage prospects. Logistics marketers need to recognize that success at the top of the funnel (driving leads) won’t help them avoid the hot seat during management meetings. By aggressively managing the middle of the funnel, we need to demonstrate to Sales and general management that Marketing is:

  • Targeting the right people
  • Increasing sales efficiency
  • Contributing to the sales pipeline

To do that, we need to become experts at lead qualification.