Do you confuse a lead for a prospect? Is there even a difference? Yes, there is. Do not worry if your company confuses the two. It is not uncommon.
However, properly distinguishing these two from one another is vital to winning business. In fact, an argument can easily be made that lead scoring and prospect qualifying ultimately comes down to how well you define, manage, and dispatch a lead to a prospect before moving the prospect towards demand generation. Your content is the linchpin throughout the entire process; how you structure that content at each stage ultimately determines success or failure.
Properly differentiating between leads and prospects is the all-important first step to ensuring that your demand generation strategies work. You simply cannot guide potential customers through your buyer’s journey without properly understanding each of these critical steps. Digital marketing teams that try to accomplish lead generation, prospect qualifying, and demand generation all at the same time are sure to muddle the message and lose the opportunity.
In digital marketing terms, lead generation comes from securing customer contact details and customer buying information in exchange for providing content. Ultimately, lead generation is about information gathering.
Think back to the days before digital marketing. It was a time when business-to-business (B2B) marketers generated leads through cold-calling, trade shows, conferences, and exhibits. Word of mouth was also a strategy, as was advertising in industry and trade magazines. These outbound approaches were the best ways that B2B marketers had to reach their target audience.
Ultimately, these outbound strategies were meant to gather intelligence. They were meant to capture contact details. Attending a trade show or conference typically involved gathering customer business cards. The contact’s name, title, phone number, address, and responsibilities could all be determined. While these outbound strategies are still in play, today’s B2B marketing teams must focus on digital strategies that gather this contact information in real-time.
The Essence of Lead Generation in Digital Marketing
The basic principle of lead generation is to use digital strategies as the hook to securing customer information. Content marketing, organic SEO, digital advertising, and social media all represent opportunities to drive traffic to a specific landing page. Optimizing that landing page means conversions are more likely to occur. Once a conversion happens, your team has all the contact information it needs to start a conversation or, at the very least, enough information to move that lead onto your buyer’s journey.
- Content Marketing: Your content speaks to a business audience by providing them invaluable insight into your market, recent news and emerging technologies. It defines your value assertion and allows you to showcase your core competencies. It ends with an enticing call-to-action (CTA) that moves the prospect to your simplified lead capture form.
- Organic SEO: Optimized landing pages and mobile-friendly websites are critical to lead generation for today’s fast-moving customers. Equally important is excelling at local SEO by focusing on simple strategies such as rich snippet (HTML) programming. Rich snippets have vital company and product information embedded on landing pages that are not seen by viewers, but are seen by search engines.
- Paid Search: Digital advertising combined with organic search results helps to protect your PageRank while also driving targeted traffic to specific landing pages. Pay-per-click (PPC), text link, and banner advertising all play a role. However, emerging solutions like native advertising are becoming increasingly popular in a marketplace where ad blocking software is making digital advertising a more complicated approach.
- Social Media: Consider social media a buffer to the constant search engine algorithm changes. Lead generation through social media works when gated content encourages users to provide critical contact details. Accessing that content is only possible once the user provides their contact information.
Imagine if you were to put together a list of what you consider to be the ideal customer or ideal contact for your business. You would base this list on the criteria of your existing customers. You would use the marketing data you already have. Much like the aforementioned example of gathering the business card at a trade show, you want information about the contact's position, their responsibility, their intentions, and their company’s position in the market.
Can the company buy from you? Is this specific individual qualified to make a purchase? Does he/she have the budget to make the purchase? The answers to each of these questions help you define whether the lead is qualified to be a prospect. However, those answers don’t come on their own.
Using a simplified lead capture form that is tied to your existing CRM or marketing database software should instantaneously provide you with everything you need to qualify the prospect. If not, then it may come down to marketing seeing one thing and sales seeing another.
- Marketing Qualified Prospect:A marketing qualified prospect is someone that marketing has qualified as capable of purchasing the company’s product. They have made an inquiry, responded to your company’s content, followed your company on social media, or have clicked on a digital advertising campaign and been converted after visiting your landing page.
- Sales Qualified Prospect:A sales qualified prospect is one that sales considers to be qualified. In this case, they have been converted through your lead capture form and sales has followed up with an in-depth call to discuss the contact’s position and company’s need. Sales has determined that prospect to be qualified after the call.
Why is Qualifying a Prospect Important?
What makes qualifying a prospect so essential? First, qualifying a prospect allows you to backtrack through your digital marketing strategies so you can pinpoint which digital strategy worked or which one fell short. You can then determine whether a qualified prospect emerged from a given content strategy or digital advertising campaign. Conversely, it allows you to isolate why an unqualified prospect got through to sales.
Second, it simplifies lead scoring. You can quickly define a set of pre-determined criteria that new contacts must complete before marketing considers them to be a prospect. That reduces the number of prospects sent to sales and ensures their efforts are spent on driving the right opportunities.
Third, it dramatically improves the quality of information in your marketing database software. Enriching your data and acting upon it is much simpler when the top of your lead funnel is optimized. Otherwise, it is a case of garbage-in, garbage-out.
Fourth, it simplifies your marketing automation platform. Your content is more specific to your buyer personas. Improved customer data leads to a marketing automation strategy that provides the right content or digital advertising strategy to the right prospect at the right time. Timing is everything.
Understanding Demand Generation
Consider demand generation as your selling phase. Your initial content generated a lead that was converted on a landing page. You secured the contact's details. Now you are going to drive the qualified prospect through your buyer’s journey and engage them every step of the way.
Content: Your content will now be focused on moving your customer towards your value assertion. You are shaping their perception of your product, your offer and your company’s value. This is where you remove the shackles and allow them to share that content with likeminded individuals, ones they know will be interested in what your company is offering. This is not gated content. You have generated the lead, qualified the prospect and are now engaging them directly with content that defines your product's value.
Your initial content was meant to pique your contact’s interest. It was meant to drive them to a landing page with just enough information to convert them. That content may have been more broad in scope. It provided a big picture view of what a new customer can expect from your company. It converted them. However, content that drives demand is more about guiding your prospect along their journey.
Marketing automation and marketing database software are critical to demand generation. They aim to keep your contact engaged with the exact offer they need at the right time. Each action taken by your contact initiates more content and each content piece aims to guide your customer to the end of their journey, one where they buy your product or service.
Email Marketing: Driving demand comes from an email marketing campaign that offers incentives for early purchases. It involves increasing demand by offering discounts, inventory liquidations and special offers. Your contacts are now incentivized to buy from your company and you will review your email campaign's analytics to optimize sales. This means checking links, images, fonts, and how emails are received on different email servers.
Social Media: Leveraging social media content to coincide with your customers’ or market’s buying cycles is a proven demand generation strategy. End-of-year sales, holiday discounts, and special event pricing are all meant to spur demand. Running social media content campaigns to established social media followers is another way to drive demand.
These demand driven strategies work differently with different buyer personas. Segregating your market and customers is one thing, but targeting specific buyer personas is that final step you simply cannot ignore. These strategies must focus on different buyer personas. It is the surest way to make sure your demand generation strategies lead to sales.
The top line of this funnel is focused on driving traffic to your website and converting as many visitors as possible. A well-written CTA and simplified lead capture form increases your conversion rates. Leads are then reviewed by marketing and or sales to become prospects. Your demand generation continually engages these qualified prospects with more focused content. At each stage of this journey, your marketing database software enriches your data so you can make more informed decisions. It is a continuous loop and critical to your company driving sales.