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The state of lead conversion: What’s the problem?

Dan Sands

November 16, 2022

state-of-lead-conversion

Nurturing a prospect through a buyer’s journey from an initial expression of interest to a point where a lead becomes a MQL and a sales conversion could occur, has long been the holy grail of B2B marketing. Conceptually it makes sense, and this linear approach remains a useful shorthand for how marketing influences - and adds value to - the sales pipeline. 

Nurturing a prospect through a buyer’s journey from an initial expression of interest to a point where sales conversion could occur is tough. Especially with the increasing emergence of the self-guided buyer’s journey, a factor accelerated by Covid. In truth, today, there’s no such thing as a standard B2B buyer journey. Each one requires different touchpoints (both marketing and sales) at different stages. And if the transaction is multi-faceted and high value, then the level of complexity and decision making becomes even greater to both manage and track.  

A recent report suggests that 25% of B2B organizations are dissatisfied with their lead-to-sales conversion rate. But though the challenges of optimizing lead conversion may be great, get it right, and the opportunities are even greater. 

In this three-part blog series, we intend to explore some of the sources and causes of this dissatisfaction with leads-to-sales conversion rates, look at ways in which to accelerate pipeline velocity and, finally, offer some practical solutions to help maximize your return on lead investment.  In this first part, we begin by looking at the state of lead conversion and ask what’s the problem?

Nurturing a prospect through a buyer’s journey from an initial expression of interest to a point where a lead becomes a MQL and a sales conversion could occur, has long been the holy grail of B2B marketing. Conceptually it makes sense, and this linear approach remains a useful shorthand for how marketing influences – and adds value to – the sales pipeline. 

The challenge, though, is not the process of lead nurturing, so much as the over-heavy focus on the lead scoring at an individual level. 

Why?

Lead scoring: when the marketing theory does not match up to reality

Just occasionally, in the land of ‘Marketing Paradise’ you have a textbook case of a lead that proceeds in an orderly fashion from first engagement and opt-in, to browsing a website (on a cookied device), opening emails and engaging with more assets, building up the score they need to become a MQL. For some of those leads, that pattern of behavior will be representative of all pre-purchase research, most of it will be captured and they will have the authority to make purchasing decisions alone. When this happens the theory is great, and everyone sees the value of the MQL. And it’s because we see this behavior working in some cases that businesses have a tendency to drive up the perceived importance of the MQL and want more of them. 

But the non-linear, and often hidden, nature of the buyer journey means that you are already assessing all the activities you can score and so, to find more MQLs, companies often resort to lowering the scoring threshold, devaluing a metric that is already only part of the pipeline picture.  

So what’s the solution? Get rid of lead scoring and the MQL, as some have argued? Or take a step back, reflect and re-align our approach, priorities and communication with the sales function. I’d argue strongly for the latter. (More of this in part 2 of this series!)

Marketing and sales alignment

At Agent3, we believe marketing functions need to address the increasing number of conversations with sales teams about the lack of value in individual MQLs, rather than trying to compensate by delivering ever higher volumes. There needs to be a discussion about how, typically, one person alone does not make the purchasing decision.  A MQL might have scored highly, but that is no guarantee they are ready, or have the authority, to purchase.  Parts of the decision-making process are invisible because the lead accessed research from another source, or devolved that need to another individual.

11 steps to effective lead conversion

So how do we start to address the challenge and still gain value from the nurture and lead scoring capabilities?  Here are some key considerations:

  • Maximizing permission to market is critical.  Adding to your opted-in data will allow you to engage the widest possible section of the decision-making committee and, beyond that, those who will influence them  
  • By extension, brand visibility is important, as is the measurement at an account level.  Maximizing this will support deeper marketing and sales engagement 
  • The MQL is a clear indicator of activity by an individual and sometimes that correlates to purchasing intent.  But it’s not the whole picture, and marketers should be thinking instead about buying groups and achieving visibility and engagement across the business that is being worked with.
  • The contribution marketing is making to the lead needs to be reframed.  Rather than being the Pied Piper, marketing departments are more signposts and information booths: useful to the buyer at the right time and often their final destination.
  • Utilize other indicators – particularly firmographic data – to qualify and focus when you don’t have user actions to score
  • Use intent data from across the B2B landscape to add intelligence and confidence to account engagement 
  • Consider the value of the content you are creating, and make sure it meets the needs of casual interest through to speeds and feeds
  • Use your existing nurtures to think about the value you are adding at each stage of the buyer journey.  The more value you add, the greater the chance of capturing interest and engagement. 
  • Focus the approach around providing the ‘next best action’ buyer journeys where you can influence what you can see, but don’t expect buyers to jump through every hoop
  • Use target account lists and track influence and engagement across the account, versus fixating on individuals
  • Collaborate with sales and be more open about lead interactions and engaged leads as a strong route into an account vs a qualified lead

Follow these 11 steps and you’ll be much better positioned to react to the reality, versus the theory, of customer buying journeys!

In the next part of this lead conversion series, we’ll be looking at ways to accelerate pipeline velocity.  In the meantime, if you have questions, or would like to reach out for a no-strings chat, we’d love to hear from you!

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