When was the last time that your Sales VP complained that Marketing isn’t contributing enough high quality leads to the sales pipeline? When was the last time your CEO asked what your marketing team has succeeded in doing this quarter?
Chances are, you get these questions fairly often. At this point, many organizations are starting to judge their marketing department on their ability to contribute to top-line revenue. And a great marketing team is one that’s able to prove their worth.
That’s why you should be tracking how much value marketing is contributing to the sales pipeline.
Pipeline value is simply the aggregate value of all active opportunities at each stage in the sales pipeline.
When you understand marketing’s contribution to your sales pipeline, you’ll be able to give all stakeholders – your team, sales leaders and executives – a clear representation of marketing’s true contribution to the company. When your team knows these numbers, they’re able to see how their work makes a difference and it can be a great motivator, as well as help them prioritize to hit these goals.
Because there’s already a lot written about why it’s important to measure pipeline value and how to measure it (see articles from InsightSquared and Radius), I’ll bypass these topics in this post. Instead, I’ll share with you 9 things B2B Marketing teams can do to increase their contribution to revenue. I’ll also discuss the tactics our marketing team has tried.
Start with the middle of the funnel (MOFU)
The middle of the funnel is the area where marketing hands “Marketing Qualified Leads” to the Sales team or the Sales Development team.
The middle of the funnel, or MOFU is like a valve. It’s where you can expand lead quality definitions to pass a higher volume of leads to your sales team or tighten lead quality definitions to give them them higher quality leads.
With many transitions happening during the hand-off process, the middle of the funnel has the biggest potential for misalignment between marketing and sales. Below are some common bottlenecks you may encounter during this stage.
- Marketing does not pass enough leads to sales to create a sufficient number of opportunities to meet their revenue target.
- Marketing hands off enough leads to sales, but leads are hard to reach because they are not ready to consider a purchase yet and need more nurturing.
- Marketing sends too many leads to sales, and sales doesn’t have enough information about the leads to prioritize them effectively.
To alleviate these problems, make sure Marketing and Sales have common definitions and goals. Here are some metrics you’ll want to understand and agree on:
- Lead volume helps determine whether your top-of-the-funnel marketing efforts are sufficient to meet sales’ revenue target.
- Conversions measure lead movement from stage to stage, showing how marketing is performing throughout the entire sales cycle.
- Velocity is the time it takes a lead to move through the funnel, typically measured in days.
These metrics help marketing understand its impact on the business and where to prioritize their investments. Weakness in any one of these areas will affect revenue, so marketers need to keep a pulse on how the middle of the funnel is performing at any given time.
Now, here are some specific ideas on how you can tackle these common problems.
If you need more MQLs to give your sales team more “at-bats” to create opportunities ….
1. Widen your MQL definition
For sales to create enough Opportunities, they need a certain number of MQLs and convert them into Opportunities at a certain rate. If sales pipeline is too low, Marketing can widen their MQL definition. For example, instead of saying only counting leads from companies with 50 or more employees as MQLs, you can count all leads from companies with 20 or more employees as MQLs.
Before changing your MQL definition, make sure to talk to sales and get their take on how this change may impact their ability to convert MQLs into Opportunities. Make sure that the additional leads you bring to sales are buyers who can still get value from your product or service and can afford it.
If you widen your MQL definition, you may see a drop in conversion rate to Opportunities, so be sure to keep a close eye on this metric.
2. Create a new lead magnet
A lead magnet is an offer you use to gain new leads. It has to be something that aligns with your customers’ needs, your value proposition, and with your market.
Can you take leverage your existing technology to create a simple tool that solves a specific problem for your target users?
There are many examples of companies that have done just that.
Clearbit, a company that serves as the data backbone to many technology businesses, needed a way to generate interest for their business. The challenge is that their products are data APIs; they don’t have a sleek UI.
When they were a team of 8 people, they created free widget called ClearBit Connect that helps sales reps and SDRs find new business leads and get data (i.e email address) on their contacts. This tool works with Gmail and Outlook or as a browser extension.
Because this tool was simple, useful and relevant to their core business, it has helped the company drive over 100,000 inbound leads. When these free users are ready to look for a data enrichment service for their company, they will think of Clearbit and come back.
To design an effective free product, make sure you give users an immediate payoff – it should take seconds for them to understand why your product is great. Also, be sure it’s relevant to your core business, and give people something of real value.
3. Offer a free trial
Instead of creating a lead magnet, you may consider offering a more comprehensive free trial experience. The advantage of a free trial vs. a lead magnet is that a free trial will help you attract more sales-ready leads.
By switching to a free, self-serve trial (instead asking people to request a trial or a demo), you could significantly increase the number of qualified leads you have coming in.
Granted, there are good reasons why offering a free trial might be dangerous for your SaaS product. For example, if your product does not deliver results in a reasonable period of time, or if your customer needs to contribute sensitive data to your system to evaluate it properly, then a free trial simply won’t work.
Additionally, if your product is complicated, requires upfront implementation work, or needs third party integration to demonstrate a complete workflow, free trial would not make sense.
If you do not have some obvious rationale against offering a trial, and you think your users might see value from your product within a short amount of time, a free trial is worth a shot.
If you do offer a free trial, make sure that you have a plan for success.
- Be sure to collect the right information you need on the trial sign-up form to qualify each person.
If you want to know whether someone has the potential to turn into a paying customer, you may want to require people sign up with their business email address instead of their personal one. If you want to ensure that your sales reps can reach trial users, ask for a phone number in your form. If you only sell to companies of a certain size, you’ll either need to ask for it on the form or get it from a data enrichment provider on the backend.
- Develop a plan with Sales on how each team will support the trial
Make sure you are on the same page with your Sales team on what each team is doing to support the trial. For example, you might decide that Marketing will own the nurture emails sent during the trial period but each email will come from the sales rep assigned to the lead. Sales will deploy a cadence of phone calls, and marketing will support the expired trial users who did not convert through a “re-engagement campaign”.
- Work with your product team to define your workflow and ensure users complete key tasks
Work with your product team to determine what are the key “gates” or steps people need to take to have a “successful” trial. It is important that your product team instrument your app so that you can see where drop-offs are happening, and whether people are going through the flow as you would expect. This data will help determine when Marketing may need to provide product education to help users complete the tasks they need to get value from the trial.
Another place where Marketing can support the product experience is with copy. If certain features are not intuitive, you can provide copy in the app to guide people through the set up.
4. Use an AI-powered chatbot to qualify leads on your website
In 2017, people are increasingly wary of filling out forms. No one wants to be harassed by a sales rep when they’re not ready to buy.
At this point, many people prefer to chat with a business in real-time rather than wait for a response. Just look at the trend in the Messaging Apps space.
Below is a 2017 dataset from Statistica that chronicles the monthly active users, in millions, of the most popular messaging apps. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger alone have over 1 billion users each, per month!
Savvy marketers are getting ahead of this trend by replacing their website forms with chatbots.
With a chatbot installed on your website, you can automatically have conversations with website visitors, understand their intent by asking questions in real-time and then qualify them as leads.
RapidMiner, an advanced analytics software company, replaced their lead capture forms with AI- powered chatbot made by Drift.
The Drift LeadBot is able to ask each site visitor why they came to Rapid Miner’s website, understand their intent (i.e. ask question about a particular product feature versus pricing) and route each visitor to the employee best suited to answer that question. To date, RapidMiner has captured more than 4,000 leads and Drift has been the source of 10% of all new sales pipeline created.
A Drift chatbot can automate the lead qualification process by asking the same qualifying questions your sales team would ask. So even if you have a huge influx in site visitors or if your team is asleep, you can continue to capture leads and book demos for your sales reps. At this point, Drift is easily affordable for most businesses (starts at around $350 a month for up to 20,000 site visitors).
If your MQL to Opportunity Conversion Rate is low…
1. Attack at the (Lead) Source
If you find that the conversion rate from MQLs to Opportunities is low, it could mean that leads are not yet ready to buy. You’ll want to dig in and see which of your lead sources are converting at below average rates.
For example, at Socedo, we found that leads whose last action was a trial sign-up tend to move much faster through the funnel and close at a higher rate than leads whose last action was a webinar viewing. For lead sources with lower-than-average conversion rates, such as webinar viewings, we require the lead to engage with us more times before passing the lead to sales.
Additionally, data quality directly affects lead quality and conversion rates. Make sure you always use credible data sources, and utilize these best practices to tidy up your database.
2. Update Your Behavioral Lead Scoring Model
It can be tough to make lead scoring work. The ways many marketers get tripped up usually fall into two categories: data collection and synthesizing data into a model.
One common mistake organizations make is only scoring 1st party engagement data.
Most marketers today are incorporating behavioral data into their models, and engagements with your owned digital channels, through website visits, emails, content downloads on your websites, are some of the easiest and most important to collect. Unfortunately, these actions will only capture the leads who are already considering your brand.
With the average buyer conducting 60% of their research before reaching out to a business, the odds are you are only collecting 1st party engagement data on a small percent of your leads. So, this data should only make up a portion of your lead scoring data.
Most people start the buying journey on third party sites. They read industry publications, follow industry influencers on social media, and looking at product reviews written by their peers.
3rd party behavioral data from social media interactions can be incredibly useful for lead scoring. Three out of four B2B buyers use social media to research business solutions, and social media offers many more data points to add to your lead scoring model.
After measuring our own lead scoring over a period of time, Socedo found that on average, for every 1.4 email clicks and 3.1 website page visits, a lead in our database took 6.5 relevant, industry-related social actions.
With modern technology, social media activities can be matched to real user identifies and associated with other contact information. With solutions like Socedo, you can monitor whom in your database took relevant actions, such as:
- Followed one of your competitors
- Mentioned an upcoming conference or industry event
- Retweeted an article from an industry influencer
You can assign point values to these actions in your lead scoring model to send “warm” leads over the line to Sales.
The second common mistake marketers make is not iterating on their lead scoring model.
When you develop a lead scoring model, you’re making assumptions on what actions matter most. You’re going to get some of it wrong.
You may be scoring certain types of actions (i.e. whitepaper download) with higher values than others (i.e case study view). But should they be scored that way?
The only way to know for sure is to look at your conversion data.
Every month or so, you’ll want to run a regression analysis to see how each attribute or action is correlated to a conversion and the revenue amount associated to leads who took that action. Then adjust the points you give to leads based on your analysis, collect more information, and repeat.
At Socedo we run an analysis of every action included in our lead scoring model and look at the number of times the action was tracked, the lead to opportunity rate, the opportunity win rate, close rate and revenue generated.
Across several actions, such as email clicks, website visits, whitepaper downloads, webinar registrations, and social media engagements, we measure how many leads who took these actions ultimately led to deals, customers, and revenue. By conducting this research, we can determine which behaviors are the best indicators of buying intent.
Here’s a sample report with dummy data:
Looking at this this data helps us determine in real dollar values how each action should be weighted.
From there, we create a weighted score for each action. If a lead who clicked on a link in an email is 50% more likely to become a customer than a lead who visited our blog, we’ll adjust our lead scoring model to reflect email clicks at five points and blog visits at three points. By adjusting our lead scoring model in this manner, we’re able to send leads who are more ready to buy to sales faster, improving our metrics.
3. Give your sales team the content and context for each conversation
When your sales team doesn’t have enough information about each lead to follow up with them in a way that creates urgency, the result is often non-responsive leads and slow velocity. Marketing can alleviate this problem to an extent.
As a first step, marketing can provide the sales team with case studies, whitepapers, and other educational materials that sales can send to leads. As a next step, marketing can create optimized content experiences for leads by linking one piece of content to another (i.e. when a lead watches a webinar, send them a related e-book).
To ensure that our sales team can follow up with each lead, our marketing team created an alert email that gets sent to a sales rep every time a new MQL is assigned to them. This email contains lead record data and contextual information, such as the title of the webinar they just watched and a few details about the webinar.
Then, our sales rep can simply reply to the email if something seems inaccurate or they need more information about the lead. A complete marketing automation platform, like Marketo, will have a way to help you communicate with sales and share all the engagement activities and interesting moments in a lead’s history.
4. Help salespeople get the data they need to reach multiple contacts in the same account
In most B2B deals, there are multiple decision makers involved. If your sales rep can’t get people to respond to their outreach, they’re leaving money on the table. You can help your sales team reach out to multiple personas at the account to have better chances of making a connection.
While sophisticated tools like 6sense and Radius allow you to purchase all of the relevant contacts in an account to fill out your database, you can always turn to more straightforward domain lookup tools like Clearbit or DiscoverOrg to find contacts. From there, a data management tool like Openprise or LeanData can help you match leads under the same account and route them accordingly to the appropriate sales rep.
More importantly, marketing can help by providing “air cover,” or driving awareness about your brand to all the members of an account being worked. Once an MQL is assigned to a rep, run a campaign to all leads with the same company name promoting content like case studies or a joint webinar with an influencer.
5. Close the loop – Learn why leads were disqualified or closed lost
While it’s great to focus on initiatives that help deliver more MQLs and Opportunities, you’ll also want to track why leads are falling out of your funnel – whether they are disqualified or became “closed lost” deals.
There are many reasons why leads become disqualified or closed lost. Why are MQLs disqualified? How many people were considered “a bad fit”? Were they not interested in your product? Did marketing provide bad contact data?
Once you’ve collected data on the reasons people are falling out of the pipeline, marketing can begin taking action to chip away at these numbers. For example, if a growing portion of your leads are being disqualified for having bad data, it may be time for a database cleanse or to switch providers. If the most common reason for recycling leads is that they’re “not interested,” then you have probably opened the gates too wide on the actions that qualify someone as sales-ready; maybe that trial lead isn’t an MQL until they set up the first part of the application.
Reducing the percentage of disqualified or lost deals will allow your sales team to focus their time on the best quality leads, and their conversion rates will increase accordingly. We recommend standardizing these disqualification and closed lost reasons as much as possible in your CRM. We have a picklist of several different reasons that rep must choose from when they disqualify a lead (No Budget, Timing – reach out again in 3 months, Timing – more than 6 months out, etc…)
Increasing marketing’s contribution to sales pipeline isn’t hard. But you do need to keep accurate data on the different stages of your funnel to determine where the problem lies and then work collaboratively with Sales and Product on the initiatives that have potential for the biggest impact.
Do you have other ideas on how to boost marketing’s contribution to revenue? I’d love to hear in the comments below.