In 2009, HBR wrote this about the 2008 recession “by all accounts, this recession is the severest since the Great Depression. (source: HBR). Today, the World Ban says that the covid 19 pandemic would plunge economies by 5.9% globally, which is, according to World bank, “the deepest recession since the Second World War”. (Source: The World Bank). Both these observations are true, taken in context. It is also true, that the resounding message that recessions carry for all marketers is to, “market now, and market aggressively”, or, as one publication puts it “When times are good you should advertise, when times are bad you MUST advertise” (As seen in Odesign)
This brings us to the steps that your brand should be taking to survive this recession, particularly with regards to lead generation. What kind of leads should you be generating? How should you go about generating these leads? How will your brand benefit, by focusing on generating MQLs? More on these questions below.
How Should Marketing And Sales Teams Relate?
To understand the reason why marketing should focus on MQLs, we must first appreciate the relationship between sales and marketing. We must also appreciate the responsibilities of a sales team and the challenges that the current environment poses in the execution of said responsibilities.
The purpose of marketing in the sales process include:
Attracting the interest of potential customers.
Consumers make enquiries on the internet when they have a need. During this inquiry, marketers collect consumer information through forms.
This includes communicating with leads once they are in the funnel, to educate, respond to lead enquiries, and in the process, source for lead contact information. Emails, phone, and automated systems are some of the mediums of communication.
The processes outlined above include continuous review and analysis of the actions taken by potential leads. Marketers then decide what actions to take, such as how to distribute leads based on prior agreed lead qualification methods.
Customer experience is also a big determining factor for whether or not a consumer deals with a brand. marketing’s responsibility in this case is to provide enough information that will enable leads to make a decision. In addition, aspects of customer experience such as responding to enquiries on time are important.
The Roles Of A Salesperson In Lead Generation
The role of sales when it comes to lead generation can be a bit blurry at times, given that “70% of B2B buyers surveyed said that they were well into the buying decision process before engaging a seller”. (source: CSO Insights)
It is possible for sales, through direct outreach, to generate SQLs, without those leads having to pass through marketing. That is okay and should be encouraged as you need to leverage your entire team’s ability to generate opportunities for your business.
But at the end of the day, the main job of sales is to close leads. Alignment between your sales and marketing teams makes that funnel process seamless. Therefore, as you focus on lead generation, the first thing you need to do is align your teams around lead definition and lead nurturing.
Figure 1: Your organization needs alignment on lead generation (source: CSO Insights)
Lead definition should be based on:
- Demographic information such as location and organization
- Lead scoring
- Intent data (actions that prospects take on your website)
- Similarities with existing customers
- Fit for new niches (based on
With that said, how then, and why, should your organization focus on MQLs?
Why You Should Focus On Marketing Qualified Leads
The definition of a marketing qualified lead doesn’t change, even with recessions or economic downturns. MQLs are leads that demonstrate high interest to engagement with your brand. Such engagement tells your marketers that a lead is genuine and will be easier to move down the funnel. MQLs are usually generated through inbound marketing channels, such as content marketing.
Given the challenges that your salespeople are likely to face selling during difficult economic times, it is important that they deal with leads that are as close to closing as possible.
What Defines a Marketing Qualified Lead?
Awareness of Problem
Qualified leads must have a need and be aware of it. They should want to solve that need and once they go online, they need to find you through your ads and content (more on that below).
Able To Buy
B2b sales processes involve multiple decision makers. You should not be wasting time on chasing prospects if they cannot make a purchase decision.
Once you find a contact in a company, ask them:
- Is there anyone else that we should involve in this discussion?
- How do you decide how to buy and when? (Pivot here. The messaging needs to change. There is more urgency now more than ever before. Your messaging needs to create that urgency and get prospects to be more flexible with their buying decisions. More on pivoting to follow.)
Depending on the sector your business serves, there is likely to be more urgency to buy now, more than ever before. To gauge urgency, you must determine on a client by client basis, the general direction that a company is heading, spending wise. Your sales team could use a few wins, and, a client with an urgent need to purchase is easier to close. A bit of social listening could be of great use here.
Want To Partner
Leads buy if they trust a company or its people. Asking the right questions will determine the level of trust that prospects have for your brand and if that will impact their buying decision. Content goes a long way in building trust. Be visible with the right messaging. Remember, your messaging should remain sensitive to the times we live in and position you as the right partner to have during the current crisis.
Want To Engage And Listen
Engagement and readiness to listen is important. Anyone who unsubscribes for instance, doesn’t want anything to do with you. If you are prospecting on a call, asking the right questions earlier on in the call will give you clear signs of a client who not only wants to listen, but also buy. This way, you won’t spend too much time on a prospect only to have them fail to buy.
There is nothing wrong with profiting. However, if you find that you wont profit now but will do so in future by upselling, lower your price. A lot of companies are lowering their prices now and you might want to go the same route. Another option is to show that your proceeds are going to support communities that cannot afford necessities during covid 19. If you decide to still sell your product at full price, then the percentage you offer to charity should be significant enough to make people want to spend that much.
Messaging is important and how you structure it can convince people to even pay more if your reasoning of how you are contributing is worthy and convincing. Again, here, pivot like a pro (see below).
Does Your Buyer Persona Change With Covid 19?
As you consider what defines an MQL for you now, ask yourself, has my buyer persona changed?
There is no definite answer here. As a matter of fact, it depends. It is possible that your niche market will not change. It is also possible that you could tap into markets you have never before explored.
Example: If you own accounting software which you sell to enterprises, you could find ways to market the same to individuals. Right now, most families are struggling with finances, hence a good budgeting tool or financial management tool might be a great asset to help them plan better.
All this depends on the process outlined above, for defining WHO a qualified lead is and the characteristics they should possess. In addition, to navigate the issue of buyer personas, look for signs that tell you where the buyer is in their journey:
- Have they read or downloaded your content?
- Are they signing up for demos?
- Have they filled a form?
- Have they opted into your mailing list?
- Did they go all the way to checkout? Did they check out, bookmark products, or add to cart or wish list?
- Are they repeat visitors? How much time do they spend on your site and what do they do?
- Have they shown interest in your ads?
- Are they actively looking for you on search engines?
- Have they contacted you for more information?
If Your Persona Has Changed, Change Your Messaging: Pivot Like A Pro
How you sell must change. The thing for you now, should be to find that one pitch, that core offer, or message, that will survive and sell no matter the environment you operate in. Until now, you have probably focused your attention on one target group. And that is okay, because stable times usually call for that type of approach. But now, with covid 19, you have to figure out, if there is another persona, that needs your product or service more.
As yourself WHY. Why does target X need this product more than target Y?
Then, pitch them. If your service has “nice to have features” that have been previously ignored, show how such features are absolutely crucial now. Examine your offering, find your value and pivot on that.
Dyson is a manufacturer of home appliances such as vacuum cleaners and air filters. With the shortage of ventilators faced by the British national health service, DYSON, in 10 days, designed a new ventilator. (Source: CNN Business)
Example 2: Cruise
With the covid 19 pandemic, Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, redirected the focus for their self-driving vehicles to food delivery for food bans in San Francisco Bay Area. (source: The Verge)
Why Focus On MQLs During Covid 19?
61% of B2B marketers think generating high-quality leads is one of their biggest challenges.
B2B Technology Marketing Community
But here’s why high quality leads should be your area of focus starting now:
Since MQLs are leads that are already vetted based on the criteria earlier discussed, this will save salespeople time they would otherwise spend collecting lead data and taking it through a vetting process.
Focusing on good leads improves the closing rate for salespeople, and this directly translates into more revenue.
When you have a clear lead generation process and a method of lead qualification in place, sales and marketing are better coordinated and work with more harmony.
You Improve Your Marketing Strategy
A lot of leads come into the funnel, but most of them don’t convert.
Figure 2: 80% of leads don’t convert (source: Invescpro)
The solution for this, is implementing a lead nurturing process that is more targeted. As mentioned above, one of the roles of marketing is lead nurturing.
Lower Cost Of Selling
Prioritize And Focus On Quality
Quality over quantity always wins anytime when it comes to lead generation. A lot of people will come through your site but not all will want to engage with you. Generating MQLs will help you to focus only on leads who fit your criteria.
You Generate Brand Awareness
Statistics show that over 60% of prospects don’t know your brand. You can bridge this gap and improve trust with lead nurturing tactics such as content marketing.
How Should You Generate MQLs?
The lead generation strategies you choose to invest in should look beyond the covid 19 pandemic. Things will not suddenly recover even after a cure is found. So, what you need to do now, is prepare, not just to stay afloat today, but to regain your mileage 2, 3 even 5 years from now.
Most b2b businesses rely on face to face or in-person selling and typically interact through:
Tradeshows, Conferences and Live Events
These aren’t happening now. we mentioned in a previous article that we expect them to be back, albeit gradually as health measures are put in place.
One of the primary roles of inhouse teams is to generate leads through means such as calls. The job of an inhouse team may become harder, because their whole script has changed. Normally, after calling, such a team hands over prospects to sales reps. But since sales reps cannot work right now, how do you rework such a team without outside help?
A lot of b2b salespeople have to meet their prospects for pitching, demos, training and closing. New clients may be a lot harder to onboard in this fashion given the social distancing rules.
As far as lead generation goes, these methods are a no-no right now. All lead generation efforts will mostly happen virtually now through:
There is nothing like word of mouth when you are down and out and seeing as covid 19 has rendered most plans redundant, your old clients can be a great source of business right now. This is also a great way for you to reward their loyalty. So, craft a really great reward and reach out to those old clients with something that will be worth their while.
2. Cold Calling
The irony of recommending cold calling is not lost to us, given the flak that cold calls have drawn their way these last few years. But here we are, once again relying on the good old cold call.
What’s great about cold calling is that customers might actually be waiting for your call, given the general low level of interaction. This however doesn’t mean that you should relax or forget to put in your best during your nurturing call. Your main aim is to call for work. Therefore, don’t get diverted and don’t for a moment assume that your clients need you more than you need them. No, that part of the equation will never change, so make every cold call count.
3. Cold Email Outreach
Now would be a great time to get a long list of email addresses and just “shoot in the dark” or “cast a wider net”, as it were. This might be tedious and not the best use of your resources normally, but we live in unusual times where we have nothing but time.
Note however that cold email outreach is best for top of the funnel and then you take the whole list through the usual nurturing process.
If you have any special expertise that you think your audience would take a moment of their time to listen to, build something around that, get your forms ready and generate some leads.
5. Digital Advertising
Digital advertising, especially PPCs, are sure to get you noticed during this time. Statistics show that digital ads are more popular now than ever before.
6. Content Marketing
Content marketing is the surest way to reach prospects now. Content will:
- Inform new customers that you exist and that you have value to offer them
- Reassure existing customers to stay and order from you
If you have been doing content before, you need to up your posting frequency. We’re not saying that you should spam. No. What we are saying is that you should not disappear into the background. There’s a lot of digital noise right now and if you aren’t visible, you will disappear.
You will need to invest in automation software to handle your new workload. With your team working virtually, you need a high level of coordination to efficiently manage your team, marketing projects and calls with customers. Ensure that you cover your bases at every step of your funnel, with good software. It will cost you now, but you’ll thank us later.
That’s it. Lead generation must continue, but the ‘WHO” of your lead generation focus is what must change. MQLs have a lot of benefits and to win now and in the future, your focus should be on generating such leads.