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Is Your Lead Generation Process Fully Data-Driven?

Data Driven Lead Generation

Why would you not use data to generate leads? Data-driven lead generation is arguably – no, actually – the best way to begin your sales funnel.

Using data in lead generation ensures you have a systematic, transparent, and scalable approach to finding and converting new customers. And yet, organizations don’t always use data in their sales processes. There could be a few reasons for this:

  • Status quo bias: This is the tendency to keep things the way they are. This affects organizations in different ways, but you can encourage leads to overcome it (while letting existing customers have it).
  • Opaque practices and stakeholder conflicts: These are extensions of the status quo bias. Sometimes, management or even departmental teams meet targets with their current practices, or just don’t want to be transparent with the rest of the organization, so they just don’t measure many components of the sales process.
  • Lack of data: B2B companies and agencies typically don’t capture a lot of data on audiences and customers. Consequently, they can’t implement a data-driven lead generation strategy. Close to 50% of respondents to a Merkle survey of marketing and technology professionals stated that they did not have easily accessible data on customers.
  • Lack of understanding of data: It happens that sales or marketing teams don’t always understand the latest data-driven strategies or the urgency to implement them.
challenges to using data in sales

Source: Marketing Charts

Time for a reality check: your competitors – including the one who just raised a Series A and the one who has been leading the vertical for decades – are already optimizing the top, middle, and bottom of their funnels to generate leads at every stage. So, if you’re not using data to generate leads, you aren’t going to be left behind; you’re going to be rendered irrelevant. 

This post will help you answer the following questions and ignite your sales transformation:

  • how to determine whether you have a data-driven lead generation process
  • how to implement and manage a data-driven lead generation process
  • how to get the best results out of your lead generation process

Key Takeaways:

  • Understand how data leads to insights before, during, and after the lead generation process.
  • Qualify and re-qualify your leads based on intent data, engagement data, and behavioral data.
  • Marketing tools, content, audience engagement, and product trials are all excellent sources of data that helps improve your lead gen process.

Are You Truly Ready for Data-Driven Lead Generation?

Many companies don’t have a clear idea of what lead generation involves in the first place. They might have a fair idea of what leads mean to them, but don’t understand the significance of lead gen in the context of the overall sales strategy.

Any lead-to-revenue model (L2RM) always begins with demand generation. Demand gen is the process of growing your audience, and consequently, a demand for your product or services. In some cases, it involves creating a new market entirely. 

Demand generation results in greater brand awareness and precedes lead generation. Lead generation then gets you specific contacts of people who have shown interest in your offering.

So, while you can also build an audience based entirely on data, we will focus primarily on filling a pipeline with qualified leads.

In order to see if your lead gen process needs more data-driven decision-making (or more data in the first place), you need to understand the following factors:

  • Efficient Demand Generation: Is your target pool widening with every passing year? Is there more awareness of your product and industry? Is your customer acquisition cost (CAC) going down? Unless you’ve added new or more expensive offerings to your portfolio, your lead generation process must become quicker and cheaper. Economies of scale and access to more customer data make it easier to convert with less dollar investment.
  • Performance Attribution: Can you readily work out what worked and what didn’t in your lead generation process and attribute it to specific marketing channels at the end of every month, quarter, and year?
  • Predictability and Replicability of Results: Can you fairly estimate the numbers when you start a lead generation program? Your predictions must be based on your historical performance (for existing products) and not just on industry averages. Do you have a reliable predictive analysis model? How good is it? Also important is the repeatability of strategies and tactics. Can you replicate your successes year after year?

If you don’t have the precise data to answer any of these three questions, you might not have a data-driven lead generation process in place. And, while that is OK for now, you need to fix it and fix it quickly.

Understanding Data-Driven Lead Generation Process

We’ve been using Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) or Sales Accepted Leads (SALs) as milestones for ever in the sales process. Problem is, the modern B2B buying process has gone digital, and therefore, there are more steps in the process.

modern b2b buying process

Source: Hull

You need to understand the intent of your lead to pinpoint their position (and direction of movement) along this funnel. At every stage of your funnel, the indicators evolve. You might not need many indicators at the top of the funnel since you’re dealing with a broad audience.

However, as you move down the funnel, each indicator will have a specific role. For example, free trials that make your leads enter company details are better than those needing just email addresses. If you know the company and designation of the lead, you can compare them with your buyer personas and customer profiles.

Based on this, you can redefine your version of the terms related to leads to fit your B2B use cases, customers, verticals, and industry:

  • Marketing Qualified Leads: These are leads (still target audience members) who are receptive to your brand and offerings. This data will be in your marketing automation system. If you try to pitch them something they don’t want, they might unsubscribe or even flag your brand. You’re still working in broad strokes at this moment. Focus on your value system, management team, corporate brand, the clientele of known names, and other social validation proof that will move the needle for these leads.
  • Conversation Qualified Leads: These are leads who’ve been engaging with your brand or content for a while now. Ideally, you’ll have their data in your CRM. They want something marginally above your free content, blogs, and case studies. They might be receptive to a conversation with a sales rep, but nothing leads to immediate discussions about product features or their budget. You can use free webinars on targeted problem statements and case studies to nudge these leads.
  • Product Qualified Leads: These leads understand your offerings as well as your competitors’. They are evaluating your brand and checking to see if your product is better than the options. Do you hear echoes of “free trial” or “free demo?” That is precisely what you need to delight them. If you have a sales enablement platform (SEP) in place, you know what information they need right now.
  • Offer Qualified Leads: You’ve had multiple conversations with these leads, you understand their inherent requirements and constraints, and they’ve tried out your product or seen a demo. All they need is a tailored offer (with a few customizations) that works for their KPIs and they’ll be ready to click the proverbial Buy Now button.

How you define these terms impacts what data you need to address their objections, nurture them, and ultimately convert them. With that in mind, these might be the steps of a typical lead gen process:

  1. Launch a brand awareness campaign to capture MQLs.
  2. Get the email address of leads that have interacted with your online content. Based on your data, create content that solves the top five problems faced by your audience at the top of the funnel.
  3. Once you have stronger intent indicators from engagement on a specific channel, compare them against your buyer personas, and start scoring and qualifying them. This will make your lead nurturing simpler.
  4. When you understand the lead’s specific problems, interacted with their teams, and understand their constraints, you have a Product Qualified Lead.
  5. After the product demo, your interactions with every lead is based more on real-time conversations, and less formulaic and scalable.
  6. Assuming you know your revenue model and profit margins like the back of your hand, give your leads an offer they cannot refuse.

Data-Driven Lead Generation Strategies

There are innumerable lead generation strategies for B2B firms out there. However, most companies simply adopt a spray and pray approach. If you want maximum results with minimum attempts, choose the strategies; this way, you’ll identify the ones that work sooner and more accurately.

data-driven lead generation

Source: Marketing Charts

Automated Top-of-the-Funnel Qualification

Use your marketing and sales automation tools to qualify leads that are just entering your funnel. You then nurture them with methods that have historically worked for your target audience.

Tools: Short questionnaires, buyer persona matching, CRM, chatbots

Pros:

  • Scalable: Once you have tightened the nuts and bolts of the process, you can easily scale it with more leads fed into your top of the funnel.
  • Repeatable: As far as your customer profiles and buyer personas remain consistent, you will see predictable results.

Cons:

  • Reliant on customer segments, cohorts, and historical data: Automation might not work as expected if you are in an evolving market or a new category.
  • Lack of human expertise: While more decision-makers are switching to fully online decision-making, some industries still need domain experts, specialists, consultants, or trained sales reps.

Account Based Marketing (ABM)

ABM is a high-touch strategy that flips automation on its head – while still relying strongly on buyer personas and historical sales data. As soon as a lead meets a qualification threshold, you assign a specialist to establish contact.

ABM funnel

Source: Drift

Tools: Buyer persona matching, live chat support, sales performance tracking

Pros:

  • Customized interactions: You can tailor conversations at every stage of the funnel as you learn more about the lead.
  • Accurate qualification: Because of the human element, you can qualify the lead on first-hand information gleaned from direct conversations.

Cons:

  • Longer sales cycle: Conversations and interactions can go on for months without any revenues.
  • Expensive and not ideal for all verticals or industries: Unless your margins allow you to invest significant human capital in the sales process, ABM is not for you.

Freemium and Bundling

Ideal for digital products but now ported to services too, freemium is now a common lead generation strategy. You provide basic tools and services on a free plan and produce more intrinsic value with paid plans.

Tools: Structured plans based on audience needs

Pros:

  • Highly scalable: Once the free and paid plans get traction, you just have to back them with marketing innovation to widen your reach.
  • Data-rich: With time, you can collect more data on usage patterns and issues, and figure out what makes people switch to paid plans.

Cons:

  • Every service cannot be product-ified: Unless your products or services can be broken down into specific plans, you can’t provide them as a free or paid package.
  • Commoditized: There are no personalized interactions with leads leading up to the transaction. You cannot tailor your offering and the conversion rests on the difference between the free and paid plans.

Content Marketing

You build a rich library of content and establish an omnichannel presence to distribute it. You publish podcasts, newsletters, case studies, ebooks and articles for every stage of the funnel.

Tools: Content Management System (CMS), buyer personas, content calendar

Pros:

  • Evergreen: Good content provides great economics and delivers lasting value over the long run since it has high reusable value. Content generates more trust than other methods; as a result, leads are “earned” organically.
  • Easier attribution: Individual pieces of content lend themselves very well to tracking.

Cons:

  • Low Scope of Customization: Even if you focus on tailoring every article or post to problem statements relevant to your MQLs, CQLs, PQLs, or OQLs, you will miss out on specific objections that each account has.
  • Engagement vs Conversion conflict: As a rule of thumb, you can’t make content outside of your service pages or landing pages salesy – most people consume content without the intent to buy. Consequently, conversion rates are low and economics start resembling those of a media company.

Making Data Work for You

Your specific data-driven lead generation strategy would have its share of twists and turns, but here are some foundational ideas you cannot afford to skip:

Organize your data

Instead of focusing on whether you have enough data or not, focus on the breadth and quality of the data you have. Invest in tools and processes that allow you to collect, aggregate, and analyze data from multiple sources – including CRM systems, ad managers, sales accounts, campaign data, social media, etc. You can also use third-party data to enrich your prospect pipeline. As per Forbes, 88% marketers use third-party data to learn more about their target audience.

Draw the line between lead nurturing and engagement fatigue

You need to know your lead nurturing process too. If it is too intrusive, it will backfire and affect existing lead gen tactics adversely (for example, too many spam reports leading to your email domain being blacklisted). Focus on permission-based marketing that allows leads to buy into the conversation and opt out when they want. Use engagement data to personalize your interactions and nudge them to the next stage.

Frequent qualification

As the sales funnel becomes increasingly complex, the only way to promote a lead from one category to another is to qualify it frequently. Use single-question pop-ups, chat conversations, and so on to keep your lead score updated.

Want to see how data-driven lead generation can give a lasting boost to your sales and revenue? Schedule a free consultation with one of our specialists today!

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