How to Generate Sales Leads That are Actually Qualified

Lead generation is at or near the top of many marketers’ goal lists. In fact, it is at once the top priority for B2B content marketers, and the biggest challenge. If you get leads into your database reliably, you can target them more effectively with sales pitches and nurturing efforts.

Given this priority and importance, marketers and sales departments can rely on a variety of lead sources to fill their database. All of them come with a number of advantages and disadvantages. But if your goal is to get qualified sales leads, only one of these options is actually viable for your business.

1) Working With Lead Brokers

The simplest way to get leads is to buy them. Across industries, professional organizations offer membership lists that are relatively reasonably priced. By or rent the list, and use it for more targeted marketing efforts.

Of course, this tactic comes with a number of potentially significant disadvantages. Purchased leads have never heard about you, so their chances of actually converting to customers or even becoming sales-qualified are miniscule. In fact, only 1-2% of purchased leads actually convert to closed transaction. Other success metrics also tank.

In addition, working with paid leads presents a potentially significant ethical problem. The CAN-SPAM Act specifically prohibits marketers from communicating with an audience that hasn’t opted in. As a result, email marketing platforms like Constant Contact explicitly forbid the use of paid lists on their servers.

2) Affiliate Lead Generation

An alternative to simply buying unaffiliated lists is to work with an external provider who can help you get more relevant leads for your database. Members of your target audience opt in to becoming leads, but on a centralized platform that can also feature your competitors.

Your leads-to-be, in other words, land on that website for general information. They encounter your info and offer, and decide to sign up. They may, of course, do the same for other offers, as well. College listing sites like GradSchools.com are a perfect example of this type of affiliate lead generation.

The problem with this lead generation method, while not as clear-cut as buying leads, is still evident. You enter a crowded environment, in which your message can easily be drowned out by the noise of other marketers competing for your audience’s attention. You’re in the clear legally and ethically, but that doesn’t make your leads much more qualified.

3) Aging Out Existing Contacts

A number of companies have also begun to engage in another lead generation strategy: aging out existing contacts. For example, you may have existing leads or customers in your database that have been loyal for a very specific product. If you decide to offer a new product, you can treat these customers as new leads specifically for a sales-pitch.

In some industries, this concept makes sense. To stay with the education example above, you can age out former prospects that had shown interest in your bachelor’s degree programs years ago to promote your graduate programs to new college graduates.

At the same time, don’t underestimate the relevance factor in this tactic, either. Rather than communicating with an audience that has shown interest in the subject you’re communicating about, you’re making the leap to a different topic and hoping that your audience will follow along. If they don’t, your messages could end up in the spam folder of an audience that had otherwise been loyal to you.

4) The Inbound Alternative

If every lead generation method has flaws, which way should you turn to get truly qualified sales leads? We haven’t discussed the most important and successful tactic yet: inbound marketing.

Don’t try to come up with creative ways to get contacts into your database. Instead, prompt them to enter on their own, free will. If they do, your messages and sales pitches will be much more likely to resonate with them and prompt them to become your customers.

Contacts who enter your database are not yet sales-qualified. But they are interested, and the same philosophy offers you a straightforward way to move them down the sales funnel and toward qualification: lead nurturing.

More likely than not, your audience enters your database for a very specific reason. They may be interested in a piece of content, or looking for a free trial of your software. Using that information, you can build a nurturing strategy (through automated emails and scheduled phone calls) that keeps their interest and maximizes their chances of becoming sales-qualified.

A study by DemandGen, in fact, found that leads who are nurtured experience a 20% increase in sales opportunities compared to those who are not. Through inbound marketing, you can both increase the relevance of contacts entering your database, and the chances that they will actually become sales-qualified and ready for your sales team to make the call.

To achieve that goal, of course, you need a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy. That includes compelling content that prompts your web visitors to become lead, a digital strategy that promotes that content on social media and via SEO, and a nurturing workflow that follows up with new leads to help them become sales-qualified.

Building that strategy can be daunting. That’s why you should work with a partner who knows both the philosophy and the industry, and can help you maximize your efforts to get qualified sales leads.