How to Qualify and Nurture High-Quality Leads

Viktor Hatfaludi
May 29, 2024
30 minutes

Intro

If you’re routing all leads straight to sales reps, stop it! I mean it.

Have you been followed around by a sales rep lately when all you wanted to do is look around? I wanted to replace my electric toothbrush the other week and got tailed by a sales rep the moment I walked in. They were watching over my shoulder like a vulture the whole time I was there even though I said I was just looking. All I wanted to do is get out of there. Didn’t buy anything - just left. This is exactly what’s going through a lead’s mind after downloading a lead magnet and receiving a cold email. Sorry, no - these aren’t warm emails.

I get it though. Sales is demanding that they’re fed leads, but that doesn’t mean we start forwarding everything that comes inbound, does it? There’s a better way - one where the leads that get routed to reps are actually qualified to talk to.

And because not all leads are created equal: do you know what lead types are out there? What’s the right way to process each lead type? How about finding the right time a lead is hot enough to talk to? These are just some of the questions we’ll answer in this video.

By the way if you’re new to the channel: I’m a full-cycle account executive turned manager and on this channel I cover topics from prospecting to closing and everything in between.

And in today’s episode I’m joined by Emi Agg. Emi is a Global Growth Marketer with over ten years of experience. She’s worked at startups, but also at global brands, such as LinkedIn, Orange, and Nokia. Today, she runs her own marketing consultancy business, doitrightmarketing, and will share her insights for getting leads from cold to closed.

Let’s jump into the interview!

Interview transcript

Viktor (00:02.024)

Hi, I'm E, welcome to the show.

Emi (00:04.238)

Hi.

Viktor (00:06.138)

First quick question, can you count on one hand how many times sales reps have complained about lead quality or not getting enough leads?

Emi (00:15.214)

No. I need many hands for that.

Viktor (00:19.304)

Yeah, I figured that I've had my fair share of these as well, but to be fair, and I'm really interested in what your thoughts are on this. The real problem at hand isn't that sales reps are routed, unqualified leads and they end up wasting their time. It's the problem is much larger than that. Although sales reps will likely disagree with me here. The problem is that especially when we are in a downturn, we cannot afford as a business to, to.

We can't afford as a business to waste leads. So, but what happens when a lead gets routed unqualified? They get scared away, never return. And that will seep its way into the revenue numbers and revenue stalls. So what's your experience with handing over leads to the sales reps at the right time?

Emi (01:20.334)

Yeah, well, first of all, there's a lot of different types of leads and I think it's very important for us to treat different lead types in different ways. So for example, depending on what engagement this lead has taken before the team deems it ready to be talked to sales or ready for sales to talk to them, there's a lot of different engagement that can happen. And

Because of that, you might want to define them in different ways. So for example, you could have a lead that literally said, I want to talk to sales. Those are, I think, the best quality leads and the people that are the most qualified and ready for sales to want to take over. Because also it's an experience that it's an optimal customer experience because this person said, I want to talk to sales and then you send them over to sales. That's a very...

Viktor (01:59.336)

Agreed.

Emi (02:14.094)

easy and clear cut way, but that's not always the type of leads that marketing is handing over. Another one is, for example, an event lead. So in a B2B world, a lot of webinars or actual in -person events when you scan their information or they attended that webinar, a lot of times marketing teams take those leads and hand them off to sales. And while this can work, you need to make sure that this experience

is more seamless than that. I see that you're in disagreement there.

Viktor (02:47.08)

Yeah, don't even get me started. Like I, whenever, when I started my career, whenever I was routed an event lead, I was like, this is crap. I know it's going to be a complete rubbish. Let's just go through it and, and get it over with. Let's go back to pipeline building. And this is something that we discussed with Rita on how to generate events leads in a previous episode. I'll have it in the show notes below. But yeah, fully with you. Not.

all leads are created equal and should be handed over to sales. But yeah, these are already two lead categories. Are you telling me that as long as we categorize leads in different buckets and say, this can go to sales, this shouldn't go to sales, we're all good, or is there more to it?

Emi (03:21.486)

Mm -hmm.

Emi (03:37.55)

Well, I would also take a few steps back and define what a lead is because a lot of times there's a lot of confusion among teams when someone is defining a lead a different way than someone else. And because it's not been defined together, there might be confusion about what we mean by leads. And so what I really want to make sure that everyone understands, or at least this is how I see leads is when you get someone's contact information. So someone filled out a form in some way or.

some shape or form. We now have their contact details. We know their name. We know where they work. We know their position. It doesn't mean that that's a lead to give to sales. It doesn't mean that they actually want to be contacted by sales. They might still be very much top of funnel. They want to engage with your content. They need to be added into a nurture flow for marketing to actually qualify them for them to be ready to talk to sales.

And so I think that's what's very important that leads and contacts aren't the same thing. And so we need to think about what, like how we define a lead and what that journey is that they need to take for them to be then handed over to sales. Does that answer your question?

Viktor (04:50.12)

Right. Yes, it does. But then what's the problem that we're left with? Marketing is capturing contacts in this case, and then starts nurturing them to pre -qualify them, nurture them so they become MQLs. But the sales team is left hungry for leads and they're complaining on marketing whenever they're having the pipeline reviews with their VP of sales or whatever, you know.

They're going to complain that, I don't have pipeline because marketing isn't feeding me any leads. So how do you balance lead nurturing and handing over qualified leads to sales reps?

Emi (05:31.854)

Yeah, so there's a few different things that you can do. One, you can take leads and call them different types of leads. So when I worked at LinkedIn, what we did is we actually had different lead types that depended on the engagement that they took before. So kind of what I was saying. And then based on that, when that lead came in, the sales team knew exactly what type of lead this is and how ready they are actually to talk to sales.

However, their teams were also structured in a way where this team only followed up on this lead type and this other team only followed up on that lead type. And this way you can really prioritize the leads that are coming in because everyone within that team is getting a same type of lead and you're not going to just totally not focus on a lead type that you don't deem to convert as well. So I think this is one way of going about it.

The other way of going about it is to find ways to fast track leads. So let's say someone's very interested in downloading a white paper, an ebook, some sort of content or signing up for a webinar. You can also still give them within that same form, a little tick box for them to tick that, yes, I'm also ready to talk to sales or yes, please contact me after the webinar or once I've read this ebook.

And then because this lead came in this way, the sales rep also, one, they're ready to talk to the sales rep, but two, the sales rep has a great entry point of connecting to the content that this person engaged with before. So that's another way to drive more leads.

Viktor (07:10.568)

Right. Assuming that's an opt -in, assuming that's an opt -in checkbooks so that it's actually a worthwhile pre -qualification from marketing side. Right.

Emi (07:21.294)

Yeah, so this is someone who literally the tickbacks would say, yes, I want to talk to sales. And then that is how you are then turning this lead into a lead that's ready to actually talk to sales. It might be a lower interest than someone who's only filling out a form to talk to sales. But if your sales team is hungry for more leads, this is the way to drive more.

Viktor (07:44.744)

I like that. And there's another thing that it's the first time I was hearing about it, where you basically had specialization on who handles what type of leads. And the reason I like that is because it's easier to set up a nurturing flow for a lead and a warmup process than it is to teach a sales rep on how to not be salesy and do demand generation instead.

But with this specialization, everyone knows how to handle a lead in that specific stage of awareness. So, I love that. However, it's the first time I'm hearing of this and because of that, I'm pretty sure that others will be on the same page as me here. So, instead what tends to happen is just all leads are either handled by marketing in a given stage or handed over to sales.

And we discussed that qualification is just the first step. How do you then know when it is the right time to hand over leads as an MQL to the sales team? What would be your approach or recommendation here?

Emi (09:31.982)

Feedback is key. So I think feedback is the number one thing that we need to focus on that this needs to be a two -way street. So not only is it marketing who's handing sales leads, but also sales needs to then give feedback on those leads. And by having this two -way conversation about whether these leads are quality, what trends sales is seeing, are they all talking about a very similar topic that maybe marketing should take back and create a campaign around it?

Or perhaps there is misunderstandings coming from marketing messaging that is part of the campaign that sales is the one who notices because several leads are saying the same thing and seem misaligned with what the company actually stands for or what the product is. And that is actually a great way for marketing to then take that feedback and change what they're doing, what their messaging says, how they're talking to these leads to drive them.

to sales. So I think that's very important that this is a two way street. And as it's a two way street, you can also always get better and better and make sure that you're driving the right leads with the right messaging.

Viktor (10:42.152)

Love that because you know what tends to happen or I see this, I've seen this a lot, that MQL gets handed over to sales marketing is super happy. yes, we generated a lead for sales. They're going to love us. And then the sales rep is like, what the hell is this? and just goes, goes about bashing the lead without giving context as to why. So it's one thing to, yes, you can, you can absolutely disqualify a lead. You can absolutely throw it back to marketing saying, Hey,

Emi (10:58.766)

Mm -hmm.

Viktor (11:10.856)

keep nurturing this, it is ICP, it is the right persona, but they're not ready to talk. But without that context as to why you disqualified something or why you recycled that leads for marketing to keep nurturing without that, what's going to change? Nothing. You're still going to be getting crappy leads because you as a sales rep didn't give feedback to the marketers, didn't educate them on how to route.

quality leads to you because as sales reps, we're on the front line, stocking to customers. We know when someone's ready to buy a lot of marketers are often amazing at, at messaging and educating the prospects, but they don't actually have that face to face contact. So it is a sort of marriage, so to speak, between the two teams. And if there isn't that feedback culture, it's not going to.

result in good quality leads. And that's what you're saying, right?

Emi (12:13.006)

Yeah, and I do think it's very important for a marketing team to not only focus on quantity, but also on quality. So I don't think that the marketing journey or responsibility ends at the MQL stage. I do think it continues through. And I do think even if there's, you know, a bunch of sales accepted opportunities or sales accepted leads coming from these MQLs, I do think it's also important to look at, okay, so what's closing?

or which deals are actually becoming return customers who have more potential to upsell to them or their turn is lower or whatnot. So I do think that this full cycle needs to be somewhat co -owned between the revenue teams because it does matter what the quality is and what marketing is spending money on to bring in.

And I could go on and on about how efficiency is super important. And you don't want to drive a bunch of weeks that don't actually drive revenue.

Viktor (13:13.512)

Yeah, exactly. The last thing you want is for reps to follow up with leads that aren't ready to buy or just, you know, wear contacts in the first place, because then one, everyone's doing busy work, but not actually generating pipeline. And love that you called out focusing on quality, not just quantity, which is why, more advanced teams are actually putting marketers on a revenue number, revenue target instead of a number of leads targets, because that's how you get.

trials started and demo book, booked leads generated instead of, Hey, we, we generated 2000 white paper downloads have fun. so you want to avoid that, but it's still, there's still going to be some subject subjectivity in there based on my experience. So some reps usually who are, more laid back or, you know, don't or George's more junior and don't know how to generate the mandate.

Emi (13:53.774)

Mm -hmm.

Viktor (14:12.84)

They will want to get leads which are already ready to buy, ready to start a conversation or trial. Whereas there are some reps who say, hey, just give me more at bats. I know how to message these different personas to get them interested, generate demand, even when the prospect themselves don't know that they have a need. And then I can convert them to an opportunity. So you have these two different.

reps with their own individual needs on when they want to receive a lead? How do you balance these?

Emi (14:47.63)

So I definitely don't recommend to go about it in a individual sales rep preference. And I've definitely experienced this in a multitude of different places where different sales reps have different, just thoughts on, on how, you know, what a lead is or what an MQL is, what they are happy to take, but also whether marketing can continue communicating with these leads once they've been handed over. So that's a two piece thing. I don't,

I don't agree that it's the way to go about it to make it specific to individual sales rep preferences because that system is just set up for failure that you will run into issues, mistakes because you can't automize. There's a lot of knowledge bias. So let's say a marketer leaves and they don't know that you don't like to get leads that, I don't know, don't have more than three seats within their free trial, let's say. So...

That just doesn't work. So that's why it's very important that as a revenue team, there's a clear understanding of what an MQL is, what this persona needs to have as characteristics or what size company or how many engineers are on the team, like whatever it is, that logic that you need for that to be a qualified MQL, that needs to be agreed on across the board within the revenue team.

And then also this whole handling process of when is this lead, you know, a marketing lead or when is sales touching it? When is customer success touching it? When is there collaboration? You know, what is allowed? And I don't necessarily think there's an answer for what works best. I've worked at organizations where to make sure that sales pipeline was faster.

Viktor (16:24.648)

Okay.

Emi (16:36.302)

marketing would help to accelerate with different nurtures. But I've also worked at organizations where once sales got those leads, marketing was not communicating to them at all. They were fully excluded. But then again, you can also go into the channel level insights of, okay, do I want to not email them because they're already receiving a bunch of emails from sales, but because the, you know, the, the deal closes within, I don't know, two years. So it's a really long sales cycle, then it might make sense for.

marketing to continue sending them paid ads so that the brand awareness stays in front of them. But then that's also a decision on budget. So there's a bunch of that and then also customer success and what happens there. How are they potentially handed back to marketing? So we continue to ensure that there's no turn.

Viktor (17:24.172)

Right. And there are two things I'd like to point out here that you mentioned. Number one is getting to a standard operating rhythm, agreeing. So instead of having this subjectivity there, so if you have subjectivity in the system anywhere, that is also an opportunity to shirk responsibility. And if you don't have that accountability in your culture, then...

then people are just going to point fingers and instead of actually working together to grow revenue, teams will be spending time fighting among each other. So you definitely want to avoid that standard operating procedures and rules of engagement, especially when defining exactly what's an MQL, what's a lead, what's a PQL, when do handovers happen. These have to be documented. And then the second point is SLAs. So when...

What the, so the same point SLAs on, on when, how, how long before, before sales should follow up with these leads. But then there were, there's this second part, which is.

might've forgotten. No, so every company is different. Almost forgot. Every company is different. And so you have to map what this rules of engagement looks like based on the buyer journey. So if you have more transactional sales or the sales cycles are much faster and rapid, it might make sense to not nurture leads that much. And when they come in,

there's an additional layer of qualification gets handed over to sales to close. But when you're talking about enterprise deals, when someone's just scouting around, maybe trying to scratch their own itch, they're definitely not ready to buy. However, if you take an educational mindset and nurturing approach, and then they loop in more users, once they loop in more users, that might be an indicator that now it's the right time to hand over to sales. So maybe they can...

Viktor (19:31.496)

talk to a leadership at that account, right? So standard operating procedures to go away from fighting to alignment and removing or creating that accountability culture. But that process has to be adapted to the buyer's journey, not just stage of forwardness, but how the buyer journey looks like. And I just wanted to make sure that everyone hears that again, because love that you pointed that out.

So, so far we've determined what counts as a lead, what counts as a contact, how do you define them and that. You have to remove all subjectivity.

Emi (20:02.478)

Mm -hmm.

Viktor (20:14.152)

But you still need to create that system internally for, again, removing subjectivity, create these lead flows so you know when a lead gets routed to marketing, to sales, to whatever. How do you recommend companies get started with lead routing if they're doing it from scratch or want to fix their current lead routing setup?

Emi (20:40.894)

Well, number one, I would take a huge step back and look at the whole organization holistically and figure out, okay, so what's our true north metric and what are the main goals that drive towards that true north metric and then take the customer journey or we can call it lead journey and take each step of that funnel or each activation that happens within that funnel and align those goals to that true north metric to ensure that we're still driving towards it.

This also really helps with cross -functional alignment. So marketing and sales are going to be on the same page if every single thing we do is driving towards that true north and is impacting it in some shape or form, because that's the number that we want to be impacting. And so once you have this journey really clearly built out, and what I mean by it is from the very first time this person ever hears of your brand or maybe becomes aware of the problem that you solve.

some organizations struggle with that, that the problem itself isn't really something that is known. And then all the way until they turn into a actual deal and then potentially upsell or become huge customer advocates. So that whole entire journey. And then within this journey, it's really important to have the understanding of, okay, what's the goals? What's the logic of who qualifies to move from this base to the next?

obviously giving your customers the opportunity to self -select how they move down this journey. And then the second point here is this will also help with understanding how teams are working together internally, so sales, marketing, and also customer success. And here examples are, for example, sales took a lead and they decided that they're disqualified, they're not someone who's ready to turn into a dealer, to even talk to a sales rep.

And at this point, it's very important, for example, for sales to say, okay, so these are the main disqualification reasons of why we disqualify leads. And then marketing can take that knowledge and automate it and okay, this person just signed with the competitor. So they're not ready to be talked to again for the next, I don't know how many years. And so we're going to have to put them into a nurture that focuses on winning against the competition of.

Emi (22:57.39)

of what our value props are that we're really strong in. Or let's say they're disqualified because they're not the right size. And then it's also something to think about, will they actually grow into a size where they could be a prospect? So just because sales disqualified a lead today doesn't mean that marketing can't work their magic. And with time, they will become marketing qualified again for sales to be able to talk to them again.

Viktor (23:22.076)

that feedback culture, right? It's basically, it's a tag team activity. And I recommend this all the time. Love that you call it out. So just because you disqualify, well, first of all, the only time you should disqualify a lead is if they're not the right ICP or not the right persona. Let's say if an elderly gentleman is just trying to figure out what to spend their retirement with learning. Yes, you might not be the...

Emi (23:25.262)

Mm -mm.

Viktor (23:49.672)

You might not want to sell a SaaS product to them because they'll never buy. Right. But so that's the only time you should disqualify a lead any other time. Like they just signed with a competitor to your contract. You still might want to start reaching out before the contract renewal and then educate them on, on the updates that your product has and how it helps that given contact compared to what they're using today. But.

Is that something that sales has to do? No, but all too often what can happen is if you disqualify a lead like that, there's no touch. And then when you're manually trying to reach out again, guess what? They already forgot who you were in the first place. So if you instead put them in a nurturing step and give context as to why you, why you, put them back into nurturing marketing can work for you in the background.

Emi (24:33.39)

Mm -hmm.

Viktor (24:46.536)

So by the time you reach out a year later, they already heard about all these cool new features and they're open to evaluating if it might be the right time to switch vendors. That's what you were saying, right?

Emi (24:59.534)

Yeah, yeah, exactly. And then also to connect to the point of what who's doing what, for example, when we're talking about this customer journey, and we have a lead that then turns into an MQL, then turns into a sales accepted opportunity or sales accepted lead, that's also very important of who's actually spending that time to qualify that lead from a marketing to a sales qualified lead.

before it then gets sent over to a sales rep who sells the product. So I think that's also important to think about how you structure your sales team and who does what to ensure that everyone's skillset is used in the right way. And there's a clear journey even within the sales team of how these leads are being handled.

Viktor (25:48.68)

Right. And that deserves its own podcast episode because structuring a team is again, something that you have to factor in a lot of things to know like how am I going to structure it? Is it going to be full cycle? Is it going to be specialized BDR, a account manager, customer success, whatever. But still the lead journey still has to be mapped on to know however your revenue team is structured.

Emi (25:55.502)

Yes.

Viktor (26:18.776)

who gets the lead and when. So what would a typical lead journey look like that most companies can start adopting and then apply it to their own company?

Emi (26:33.39)

If we're thinking about, we're going to talk about it from the point of view that marketing has already captured this information. And then once they captured the information, it's a lead at this point. And then you take that lead and you qualify it so that it becomes a marketing qualified lead. Already, let's hope that anyone whose information you captured was the right target audience. But then when it runs through marketing logic that you might work on with sales operations,

Viktor (26:40.424)

Right.

Emi (27:02.542)

coworker and this is personally my favorite part of figuring out lead logic and lead flows and all of that. I've always really liked working with sales operations because I feel like it's a bit of a science, like looking at the data, but also some creativity mixed in there to figure out how it works. But anyway, so once you got into that MQL stage and you've qualified from a marketing perspective, this person seems like the right fit for sales to talk to.

then you hand it over to sales. And then at this point, depending on what you call this sales person, it could be a business development rep or a sales development rep. This person will qualify this lead and turn it into either a sales accepted opportunity or sales accepted lead, and then we'll hand it over to a sales rep for them to sell to them. And at that point, it becomes a, my goodness, I'm going to...

Viktor (28:01.032)

opportunity.

Emi (28:01.978)

Yes, at that point it turns into the opportunity. So first they accept it to be an opportunity, then it turns into an opportunity, and then hopefully it's a closed one and not a closed loss.

Viktor (28:12.744)

Right. You know what I love about this granularity? So if you actually just don't just have leads, MQLs, what is even an MQL and then turn from MQL into an opportunity or not, you have that sales accepted lead in the middle or sales accepted opportunity in the middle. What happens is, you track conversions and ideally you should be able to track conversions at each step of the funnel. And guess what? If you see there's a dip somewhere, there must be a problem. Are we targeting the right?

Emi (28:35.63)

Mm -hmm.

Viktor (28:41.48)

Persona at all. Are we using the right messaging? Is it a problem that nurturing didn't happen the right way and we need to fix the lead nurturing flow? Or is it that the sales reps or the BDRs in this case would need a bit more training on how to create demand or how to create interest to move into an opportunity by having this granularity in, or at least in the tracking, tracking part of lead handovers, you...

Emi (28:49.646)

Mm -hmm.

Viktor (29:11.432)

know what's working and what is and where you need to jump in to fix a conversion point so that more MQLs make it to an opportunity and then more opportunities convert to a customer. So love that you pointed that out.

Emi (29:13.998)

Mm -hmm.

Viktor (29:31.112)

And I think we've already been talking about this topic for 30 minutes. So one, two, wrap this up. We've talked about a lot about what are leads, how to clarify them, how to hand over, creating that accountability culture. If there was only three takeaways you could highlight that everyone should take away from this talk that we just had, what would those be?

Emi (29:59.022)

Well, first off, collaboration is key. So I think what's important for any team is to address leads and driving revenue as a holistic revenue team. I think that really helps to align the marketing and the sales side more if we're all thinking about the fact that we're all driving towards the same goal, which is revenue. So making sure that there is very strong collaboration. Second off, defining everything. So you want to make sure that

you defined what a lead is and that everyone is talking about the same thing, that you're defining all of these different steps, you're defining what the logic is that you need for a lead to become a marketing qualified lead, for example. So if all of this is defined, that also really helps with cross -functional alignment to make sure that everyone's driving towards the same thing. Next up, and I feel like all of these are somewhat connected, is feedback is key.

So I also think it's very important for any system to not be too rigid. So based on feedback, you can optimize. So you can optimize what marketing is doing. You can optimize what sales is doing or potentially optimize the logic that you've built in or the route routing that you have in place or potentially the customer journey is broken and you need to re rethink how it's done. So this is why it's really important for there to be feedback and for it to be going both ways. And then if I'm allowed to add a fourth,

point, and I think this is important for any customer facing team is to really think with a customer first mindset, because your most important quality of a brand or product is trust. And you want to make sure that you're building that trust. And this is true for the whole funnel that the customer is engaging with. So make sure that anything you do or all of the, you know, the way you're lead routing or the way you're messaging, it's all very customer first. So don't have a sales rep reach out to someone that

hasn't asked for that reach out because you're already ruining that customer experience. So make sure that that customer first mindset is front and center.

Viktor (32:02.12)

Love it. That additional point was definitely one to include there. Thanks for pointing that out. Emi, appreciate having you here today. If some of the folks still watching and listening want to reach out to find out more or have a talk about how to manage the lead lifecycle, where can they reach you? Where should they find out more?

Emi (32:23.213)

Yes, you can either reach me on LinkedIn, Instagram, or my website. And my website is doitrightmarketing .com.

Viktor (32:31.656)

I'll have the details in the show notes down below for everyone who wants to reach out. Thanks to me for being here. Had super, super amazing time and have a great rest of your day.

Emi (32:43.502)

Thank you. You too.

Outro

If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to our newsletter so you get notified whenever the next one goes live!

Viktor Hatfaludi
May 29, 2024
Share this post

Meet Your Trainer

Viktor has 10+ years of full-cycle experience in tech sales.

His latest contribution was helping Bitrise (YC W17) scale from 3M to 20M+ USD in recurring revenue.

Today he’s a Sales Consultant and Trainer at Revenue Ramp helping B2B Startups go from $0 to $10M ARR.

View Frameworks