As inbound marketing begins to gain traction as a marketing strategy, more and more businesses big and small are looking to adopt it into their strategy, either through use of an agency, or internally. For many of these businesses, inbound holds great promise of revolutionizing marketing results. But without deep research or education into the inbound process, they find themselves frustrated at slow results, or even lack of results, ultimately leading to the belief that inbound doesn’t work.
For real estate companies in particular doing inbound internally can be quite the learning curve. With the business combining only certain inbound methods, they wonder why their methods aren’t working, and don’t understand the need for a full inbound funnel. However, when done properly, inbound marketing can prove to not only be incredibly effective, but also a great resource for an industry like real estate that’s stagnant in their marketing efforts.
The inbound funnel is undoubtedly the most important factor to inbound success. Every action taken in your marketing endeavors should point back to a step in that funnel and how it relates to your buyer’s journey. But to understand how that funnel works, perhaps even more important, is understanding the role of lead qualification in the success of an inbound approach.
What is Lead Qualification?
When working through an inbound funnel, the goal is to qualify leads. That’s how leads are moved along the funnel, and your buyer’s journey.
But what does it mean to qualify a lead? Lead qualification involves taking a prospect and gathering information about them to figure out where they fit in the buyer’s journey, and how strong of a fit they are for your company. This is what helps move a lead to a marketing qualified lead (MQL) and a marketing qualified lead to a sales qualified lead (SQL).
The level a lead is at in the marketing funnel before reaching the customer is known as the lead’s lifecycle stage, and are as follows:
However, how these lifecycle stages are defined with regards to your sales and marketing funnel. For example, let’s say you worked at a property management company trying to attract residents into one of your many properties around the metroplex. In that case, your lifecycle might be defined like this:
Subscriber – a subscriber to your blog or newsletter, but who has not engaged in downloading an offer or engaged for rental information.
Lead – someone who has downloaded a neighborhood guide or other entry level information on your site, but has not tried to engage about renting.
Marketing Qualified Lead – someone who has asked for information regarding rentals, be it availability or price range, but has not engaged with a sale representative yet.
Sales Qualified Lead – has asked for information on renting and fits/is able to afford the space, has talked to a sales representative.
Opportunity – someone who has not only shown interest in renting, but has engaged or seen the property.
For each company, the criteria here may differ. If rents are a certain amount, or your complex is targeted towards seniors, a marketing or sales qualified need might need to match certain criteria before going forward. The next issue becomes—how do you get that information?
The Steps in Qualifying Your Leads
Information is the end all be all of marketing success. But gathering information is an increasing challenge. Digital concerns about privacy and security make the availability of information online difficult. Since information is needed to qualify leads for your sales team, it creates a need to be inventive in gathering information from leads. The best way? By creating an exchange.
The exchange of information for something else is key to the foundation of inbound marketing. Inbound marketers create offers that relate to each stage of the buyer’s journey for example, an infographic on the neighborhoods in your city, and make the offer downloadable in exchange for information, such as name, email and location. In this trade-off, consumers get valuable information, and their information is the price associated. The questions on the form of an offer in turn help the company qualify the lead, and figure out when or if it should go to sales. This helps lessen the time of the sale cycle, and improve efficiencies rather than having sales pursue leads that are not ready to be contacted.
Again, determining the necessary information to qualify your leads depends on your business, what your service or product is, and how people approach the purchase of said product. If you’re a company offering residential services to multifamily residents, you may not want to ask income or revenue questions like you would when partnering with an apartment complex.
Instead, you may want to know how often they need your service and what they value they place on it. It’s important to make sure the information is relevant to the potential lead or customer, and that you’re asking the questions in the right order. For instance, not asking sales focused questions when a lead is looking at an awareness offer like an infographic.
This can help both in keeping leads engaged, while also gathering information for business needs — i.e. knowing the answers to these questions not only qualifies your leads, but gives you a better understanding of your potential customer, letting you adjust your service and the way you target the customer.
Where Lead Qualification Goes Wrong
Now you know you need to have offers and forms to qualify a lead and engage your potential customers appropriately. How do you accomplish this? It may seem like a simple enough process, but there are a lot of intricacy involved.
For example, if you’re offering a prospect an awareness offer — that is, an offer like an infographic that offers basic information that helps them identify a problem — then you’re not going to ask a bunch of detailed information about their background, job title, etc. That’s because the value of that information is held in higher regard to the prospect than the offer.
The lead’s lifecycle stage doesn’t match up with what you’re asking at the time. By the same token, you wouldn’t want to offer a demo of your resident management software to a property management company by only asking for name and email, otherwise you might get a lot of parties not ready to buy, or not within the scope of what your product supports. These issues can cause loss of leads, or even an inaccurate funnel.
Another issue companies face in lead qualification is failing to follow-up on their leads. It’s great if you get a lead that downloads your awareness offer, but you can’t be sure of their intent (i.e. how close they are to purchasing) or of continued interest without further engaging the lead.
This can be anything from sending a series of nurture emails, to following up with another offer, or even adding them to a curated newsletter based on the offer they downloaded. This nurturing not only lets you measure their continued engagement, but gives you more opportunity to further qualify the lead with a consideration offer or other content that may be of interest to them.
Per Marketing Sherpa, 79% of marketing leads never convert to sales, often due to a lack of lead nurturing — the leads going to the sales team aren’t qualified yet. With lead nurturing however, companies can see up to 50% more sales-ready leads at a lower cost. Why? Because lead nurturing can be automated, it’s simple, and it helps measure the readiness of a lead.
The most important thing about lead nurturing however, is to keep doing it. On average, it can take up to 10 marketing touches from a top-of-the-funnel lead to a closed-won customer. For many of your leads, it may take even more. That means continuing with your nurture and follow-up with leads to ensure sales has a strong close.
Understanding Intent vs. Interest
Perhaps one of the biggest hangups in qualifying a lead is failing to understand a lead’s intent versus a lead’s interest. A person in the neighborhood where you just built your big,swanky new apartment complex might have interest in your content because of location and proximity. But if they don’t fit the budget and aren’t looking to move—namely, they haven’t clicked on or looked at anything related to floor plans or visiting the site — the intent is not there.
Marketers mistake interest for intent all the time, often leading to a marketing qualified lead being passed off as a sales qualified lead when that’s not the case. There are two options to help in this predicament though—lead scoring, and decision-based offers.
If you have access or interest, a marketing automation software like HubSpot offers lead scoring as a means to qualify your leads. Lead scoring involves tracking any lead in your CRM across your site. With lead scoring you can ascribe value to different blogs or page views, offers or email interactions. When a lead reaches a certain score, decided on by both the marketing and sales team, they become sales qualified. The value you give to each item helps determine intent and level of interest, which helps guarantee that a lead will meet your needs.
The secondary option if automation software isn’t available to you, is to use decision stage offers as a means of qualifying leads. This can be anything from making an appointment to see a space, to offering a demo or trial of a software. Creating a broader base of options for these offers at this bottom of the funnel, and using them extensively in the nurture process can help you determine which leads are ready to buy. Leads who fail to engage with a decision offer when you have an array to choose from are likely not there yet.
Passing the Baton to Sales Qualification
So your leads are ready for sales—now what? Just because a lead is Sales Qualified, i.e. ready to talk to the sales team, doesn’t mean they’re a good fit. Sales Qualification is what makes a lead an Opportunity and closes out the inbound funnel, and it falls in the hands of the sales team to do this qualification. The reason? Just because a lead has interest and intent, doesn’t mean they meet the criteria of your product or service. While lead qualification up to this point can certainly help weed out those who don’t fit, it takes the sales team to assess fit, often using BANT (Budget, Authority, Needs, Timeline). What BANT does is ensure that the lead has the money, authority and ability to use your product or service. Leads with poor BANT scores aren’t necessarily a waste of time, they may not be ready yet, but if that’s the case, it’s better for them to go back into the cycle rather than have Sales try to close a deal.
As a marketer, you’ll likely never know off the bat if a lead meets sales’ needs. That requires sales engaging with the lead first, instead, it’s imperative to use the lead qualification methods provided to make sure that the lead is qualified from a marketing perspective and ease sales’ jobs on the rest.