B2B Marketing Zone

The Missing Link to Marketing ROI: Lead Qualification

The Missing Link to Marketing ROI: Lead Qualification

The Missing Link to Marketing ROI: Lead Qualification

Lead qualification may not seem like a sexy topic, but it’s the key to lead conversion, sales and marketing alignment, and ultimately revenue. In numerous accounts I managed as a demand generation consultant, the solution to a lot of problems was to solve for lead qualification.

Let’s lay out the problem:

There’s a famous saying: “The enemy of every sales person is time.” Keep the following numbers in mind:

  • It can take between 3-20 touches (phone calls, emails, etc.) just to connect with a prospect.
  • A good lead conversion rate is 10-20%. That means that out of every 10 leads – 8 or 9 are not worth working on right now.

In other words, connecting with and qualifying prospects takes a lot of time. In addition, sales cycles take a lot of work. Once you get a qualified lead, it takes 5 or 6 sales steps to close the deal: Quoting, pitching, presenting the value proposition, negotiating, etc., together take the bulk of the day.

In the end, it’s not a good use of a sales rep’s time to do the work necessary to convert a lead to a qualified lead, and once 3-5 good deals are on their forecasts, they won’t want to divert their energies. And furthermore, you don’t want them to.

The solution is lead qualification, which I define as a multi-channel process including dedicated phone-based resources and automation designed to determine whether a lead fits the agreed-upon Qualified Lead definition and is so deemed ready to speak with sales.

There are five key success factors in effective lead qualification:

  1. Agreed-upon “qualified lead” definition
  2. Lead scoring (marketing automation)
  3. Lead nurturing (marketing automation)
  4. Dedicated phone-based resources
  5. A plan


1. How to define the “qualified lead
Create a formal definition of a qualified lead that both sales and marketing agree on, that defines the moment at which a prospect is handed off from marketing to sales. Brian Carroll calls this the “unified lead definition.”

Recommended steps:

  • Ask sales to characterize the ideal qualified prospect including company size, role, psychographic data (such as pain), deliverable (an appointment is an example of this)
  • Counter- propose based on what’s possible to gather via phone
  • Sign a “service level agreement” that makes clear the definitions and actions you’ve agreed on, including a follow-up plan from sales
  • Send only send qualified leads that meet the definition of “sales-qualified” from now on
  • Meet weekly to discuss progress or lack thereof

2. Lead scoring 
Programmatically score raw inquiries based on both demographic data (for example company size) and activity data (e.g. clicked on the pricing page). Lead scoring is the first filter that allows organizations to spare expensive resources such as sales people from wasting their time.

3. Lead nurturing
This is a marketing process that uses content (offers, tools, whitepapers…) and distribution tactics (email, phone, retargeting…) to engage known prospects over a period of time until they become more receptive to sales.

In the old days – pre-internet, and pre-marketing automation – sales was responsible for following up with dormant prospects, which (remember our 1-20% conversion rate) was a giant time-suck. Leveraging marketing automation, marketing can hold onto leads longer and spare sales the agony of following up with unqualified leads.

4. Dedicated phone-based resources
A best practice for complex selling is to have a dedicated phone team following up on raw inquiries and turning them into qualified leads. If you have a face-to-face field sales team, then you have to follow this step. If you have a lower average selling price and adding an additional human touch cannot work, then you likely have an inside sales team doing all your selling.

5. A plan
Sit down and draw the process from raw lead/inquiry to qualified lead. Make sure you understand the human and mechanized processes involved. Generating a qualified lead is hard, and to be successful you will need to optimize. In order to optimize, you will need a standard set of practices as well as an understanding of the steps along the way.

Lead qualification will bring you the following benefits:

  • Sales and marketing alignment
  • The highest lead conversion rates you’ve ever seen
  • Marketing ROI

Mark my words: Lead qualification will have sales begging you for more.




Craig Rosenberg is a well-known and respected thought leader on marketing and sales topics with an emphasis on demand generation. He speaks frequently at both live and virtual conferences and other events on a number of topics in which he is immersed, including demand generation, lead management, marketing trends, social media, and marketing technologies. Craig also contributes to e-books, webinars and a range other digital content. Many in the industry also know him by his blogger handle: The Funnelholic. You can also follow him on Twitter (@Funnelholic).

  • This is packed with great info. I think the hardest step is definitely defining what a “qualified lead” is. Every sales person and marketing person is going to have a different idea on that. Once you can get past that, you can focus all of your efforts on getting to that point with the leads and it should be pretty straight forward after that. If the lead can go through the rest of the process and still show interest, you’re on the right track!

  • Nuala

    These are all great points. Lead qualification allows the sales team to stay focused and hit their targets. ActOn’s lead scoring functionality has enabled me to improve this process.

  • Qualifying the lead and nurturing them is great especially if it comes from a service like ActOns lead scoring system. I think one of the most important aspects of closing the deal is preparing the sales rep with the most accurate information on what the prospect could want and making sure they are able to present the information in a concise matter. Also finding out a prospects core objects and overcoming them is very important as well.

  • I love the points that are list here, I’m not sure how many people reading this have sold and have made the phone ring? I would love to see this topic when it is applied to picking up a call:) Sales people will dive at the inbound phone call and they struggle to follow up on website form submissions. We use a tool that modifies lead distribution based on the completion of ALL lead forms. Don’t close all leads, then when you pick up the phone it will be transferred to another rep:)
    Cheers, Chris

  • Tim

    Great article. I think it is VERY critical for marketing and sales to come to an agreement as to what a qualified lead is. I’ve found it is best for marketing to own all leads until they meet a certain threshold of criteria for what a qualified lead is. Act-on’s lead scoring certainly makes this easy. Also, the progressive profiling allows a lead to be nurtured until a certain amount of qualifying questions. We also have a “get a quote” CTA that automatically qualifies a lead when the form is filled out. Sales doesn’t like to work disinterested leads, so coming to an agreement on what they consider qualified is definitely the way to go about it. They are much more appreciative of getting sales-ready leads than those they might have just filled out a form or read an email.

  • Dani Calvert

    We depend on Act-On’s lead scoring. It’s so important for us to determine what our qualified leads are and then to nurture them based on the assigned points. It makes our process and our follow-up much more stream-lined and allows our sales team to determine real leads much more quickly. This article is packed with good information, and is exactly how we primarily use Act-On. Our Sales and Marketing teams are working on alignment to make sure that we send a clear, unified message to leads.

  • Great post Greg!

    An other tip is to add a customer survey just to see hove close your customers are to be a ambassador for your brand.

    • Act-On Software News

      Thanks for sharing, Niclas!

  • Greg Palmer

    Two biggest takeaways here for me are having a plan, and meeting weekly (or just on some regular pattern that works for everyone). Going into something like this blind is a sure shot for failure and will put off a lot of people from seeing value and wanted to continue similar programs.

  • The biggest things for me are consistency and the lead scoring. We have just started instituting this and it is helping the sales people immensely on setting up their calls for the day.

  • Cory

    With regard to point 2, I am curious to know how others have gone about creating their lead score scale and assigning value. We are in the process of developing our lead scoring in Act-On and I am finding it difficult to define the range e.g. 1-20, 0-50, etc.

    • We’ve kept our range pretty low, assigning a couple points for opens, a couple more points per click; then segmented out leads with more than X number of points to create a segment we call “Hot Leads” – essentially leads that have checked out our site and are a little more engaged than just those scanning the offer email.

  • Really helpful data. I agree with a lot of the concepts behind lead qualification, but I must add that I believe an important element in increasing the percentage rate for conversion is also making sure that you have something of value to offer in addition to your product or service. Our company is a strong believer in giving potential clients something of value , whether they purchase or not and that seems to have helped our conversion rate along with the Act-On software we use 2 fold.

  • Brad

    Craig, this was very well said. We are just now starting to engage in lead scoring and qualification and our sales reps are ecstatic. The sales reps used to rarely even follow up with leads because they quality was so bad, but not anymore :)

  • Bobby Holt

    Determining whether a lead is qualified is a huge step in the sales process. It determines whether your time is well spent or just wasted. Having multiple touches with a prospect to determine their legitimacy, which can seem tedious in the beginning, really can save you time in the long run. All great points.

  • Joe Goehring

    There’s a huge breakdown in lead qualification in a lot of organizations. For us, leads are not ‘officially’ turned over to sales when they are qualified and Sales has little insight into what they should be focusing. We need better sales cycle definitions in place in our marketing software.

    • bri44any

      Remember that nurturing can improve your sales cycle and direct your efforts more carefully.

  • Act-On is helpful for lead qualification by providing a lead score for known contacts and allowing for marketing automation – however, I feel that fully implementing automation in Act-On isn’t simple enough. Any time I need to apply another metric into all of our website forms, or I need to do something like apply a drip campaign to our forms, it’s never a simple process. We have hundreds of Act-On forms on our site, and applying a mass change to all forms is simply not possible at the moment.

    Back to the topic, sometimes the plan can be difficult. Not all qualified leads come in initially through the website and Act-On – for example, if a list is purchased. It’s hard to qualify much further than title and company/industry before emailing the list and trying to get raised hands.

    • Mike Compeau

      I agree, Matt. From an automation standpoint, there’s always room for improvement, it seems. Particularly since we should always be aiming to have our automation reinforce or strengthen an existing business process which we have mapped out, but which is inevitably bound to evolve once you begin utilizing it to any degree. I don’t have hundreds of forms by any stretch–I’m wearing quite a few hats here at a small firm–but the problem still exists. No one likes to chew their cabbage twice, as it were.

      With respect ot your next point, qualifying is quantitatively different based on where those leads come from and what info you are likely to have for them at any given point. One of the points I constantly make (to myself as well as others) is that a No is as good as a Yes. If Sales effort is best leveraged against qualified leads, then getting a ‘No’ for 50% of those folks who are destined to not flip to a sale, then getting that qualification status determined as soon as possible is VERY important…and it’s absolutely VITAL in a small company. This is a lesson we learned very well in the months before I got Act-On set up here. It’s a process that continues.
      There’s always a balance between moving that boundry between ‘marketing’ and ‘sales’ owning the prospect due to the qualification status and understanding if status should be “prospect trickle” or “early stage opportunity” — at least with Act-On, we have a way to help quantify this.

  • From my standpoint and the experiences I’ve had, the most effective way to qualify leads is through lead nurturing – grooming leads into, hopefully, a contract. I can also say that phone nurturing is probably the most common but most effective way to do that and provide a personal. Act-On does help, though, assist in organizing those lists properly.

  • Zachary Winnie

    This article had great information, and it’s apparent that my company needs to be doing more of this. We’re very good at face-to-face sales, either over the phone or in person at trade shows, but I know we’re not doing enough to capture leads through Act-On.

  • I’m curious how people at B2B companies are nurturing leads to shorten the sales cycle. In some cases one of our sales cycles can take two years. Any best practices you’re willing to share?

    • Sarah

      Kristen, I’m not sure what business you’re in, but at the B2B I used to work for we used e-mail questionnaires to qualify our leads. If a lead didn’t mean certain marks we would cater our messages to them to help them boost the quality we’re looking for. I hope that helps.

  • bri44any

    I think everyone can get excited about leads that aren’t qualified. This is a good reminder resource to really evaluate the lead before moving ahead and what the next steps should be.

  • Stacy Gentile

    Its also important to understand why exactly leads are not being qualified

  • Sarah

    Lead qualification is HUGE in the marketing world! In my previous job experience once a lead qualified they were eligible for a personal/phone touch to help push the business to the next level. After that it went directly to a face-to-face meeting to seal the deal.