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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistWed, Mar 11, 2015 11 min read

What Is An Inbound Marketing Lead?

Inbound Marketing Sales FunnelInbound marketing can generate leads. That’s not a theory; it’s a reality. Clients who have never gotten a single lead from their website – or from their marketing in general  are now getting 10, 20, 50 or more leads a month from it.

Regardless of the numbers, we find people every now and then who like to "grade" these leads, letting us know that they were bad leads or the wrong kind of leads.

To be clear, I’m not talking about people who fill out job applications, SPAM bots or those random requests to get you on the first page of Google. That’s not what these people are complaining about. If it was that, I'd get it. What I’m saying is that real people are completing forms on your website and requesting information on your business  people who fit the persona we all agreed that we want the marketing to attract  and you're telling me these are bad leads.

How does that happen? How does driving leads become a bad thing?

Here’s how it happens ...

In the old days, when people did lead generation, they used their own bias to dismiss opportunities they thought were bad, didn’t want to follow up on or had historically little success closing. As a business owner or CEO, you never even knew that lead existed. The opportunity to do anything with that business ever again was tossed away by your sales rep under the guise of prequalification.

Today, the marketing machine generates leads, and the visibility into those leads has never been better. We see everything. But, a lot of the old biases still exist, and they come out as a generalization of leads as being bad or the wrong kind.

I’m here to tell you: THERE ARE NO BAD LEADS! The sooner you change your thinking away from the old and towards the new, the faster you’re going to hit your overly aggressive sales goals.

Inbound marketing is an equal-opportunity lead generator.

When you practice inbound and publish compelling content, you can’t control who downloads it and who slips into your sales funnel. Sure, you're able to create a compelling message and an emotional offer that connects personally with your perfect prospect persona, which certainly gives you a great chance of capturing the perfect lead, but it’s no guarantee.

What is guaranteed is that if you create the right offers, you get to know someone who is interested in what you have to say. That’s not up for discussion. That’s a fact. You’re not offering a free iPad, iPhone or trip to Mexico – something that almost anyone would be interested in. Your whitepaper, 10 Ways To Improve The Performance Of Your Sales Effort, is only going to be interesting to someone who has challenges related to their sales effort. I hope you agree.

But, it’s very likely that you’ll never know.

Every single buyer journey is going to be a little different. Each one requires a different amount of time and involves a different set of criteria. You’re never going to know when a person's pain becomes acute. It’s this trigger that moves your sales process along. No matter what they tell you – even if they have the best intentions and they’re the nicest person  they’re not hiring you until their pain becomes acute.

As an inbound sales guide, it’s your job to measure the acuteness of their pain and act accordingly. For instance, prospects with low levels of pain should not be projected to close any time soon, and your approach to them should be to “poke pain.” It should be to educate them on the potential pains that others like them have experienced when they’ve taken similar journeys. It should be to share stories of pain from other clients and how that pain could have been avoided. But, even the best storytellers are at the mercy of their prospects' buying process. There's nothing you can do.

Inbound marketing generates leads up and down the sales funnel.

Because inbound works so well when it's applied properly, you should be seeing leads at the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel and bottom of the funnel. As you might imagine, there will be more at the top, less in the middle and even less at the bottom. This is the definition of a funnel. Inbound leads proportion out the same way. While you could work solely to generate bottom-of-the-funnel leads, that would be a huge mistake. See the next section on the importance of lead nurturing.

Instead, accept the fact that most of the leads are going to be at the top of the funnel. Understand that the more top-of-funnel leads you generate, the more sales opportunities will come out at the bottom of the funnel.

Every lead needs to be nurtured, and nurtured well.

If we believe that creating a remarkable experience for your prospects is vital to securing them as customers, we need to create a lead-nurturing experience that is also remarkable. Today, people visit websites two, three, four even five times before ever connecting with a company. Once they do, you need to continue talking to them, helping them, guiding them, educating them and making them feel smart, safe and emotionally connected to doing business with you.

By continuing to feed them with content and working to help them, you’re moving past all of your competition, getting them to emotionally decide to hire you and working to put yourself in a position to handle the remaining rationalization that happens in every single decision-making process.

The Story Of The “Bad Lead”

This is a true story. About four years ago, we had a client who portrayed some of the attitudes outlined above. While the article represents a mashup of actual client experiences, this client could have been included in the mashup. During one of our calls, our contact (the CEO) wanted to go through each of the 45 leads we generated for them in the previous month. No problem: We regularly help clients decide how to manage the inflow of new leads.

On this call, however, he proceeded to tell us that most of these were bad leads, the wrong kind of leads and not worth following up on at all. We spent most of the time trying to explain why we thought that approach might not be best for his business. We talked about nurturing, about how people respond to content, about the buyer journey, about personas  you get the picture. In the end, he gave in, but begrudgingly.

Despite his prejudice for the leads, we ran all of them through our typical lead-nurturing process, which includes emails, lead-nurturing campaigns, blog articles and invites to upcoming events. About three months later, on another one of our monthly progress calls with this client, we took a retroactive look at some of the 45 leads we had discussed originally. We noticed that a number of those had been back to the website three or four times and downloaded other content. Our contact casually mentioned that one or two had requested proposals, but he wasn’t optimistic that they would close.

30 days later, as we were wrapping up our regular call, our client mentioned that one of those “bad leads” did end up closing for almost $200,000. We also got the halfhearted, “I guess you were right.” But, it’s not about being right; it’s about trusting a proven process, working the process, not judging the results and continuing to improve it. We’re not looking to be right. We want to generate revenue for your business.

The moral of the story: All leads are good leads.

Start Today Tip – You’re going to be investing good money into your inbound program. Don’t downplay the effort by prejudging the leads. Treat all of your leads equally. Treat every prospect like they might be your best customer one day  because they might. Or, they might know someone who could be your best customer. It’s much easier to think like this than to incorrectly measure something that has yet to prove value either way. Inbound marketing works, and it works better than every other marketing approach out there. The question is how to make it work for you and your business.

How To Crack The Code To Inbound Marketing  

Square 2 Marketing – Leading The Reality Marketing And Inbound Marketing Revolutions!


Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.