Let’s face it, “leads” have become a commodity for you software vendors. The glut of content on the internet has armed buyers with more information for make buying decisions than ever before. We put forms in front of some of this content thinking that those downloaders are prospects for a potential deal, when in fact they are merely just trying to learn more about a problem they need to solve.
I’m thinking about buying a new car and last week I wanted to go visit a dealership. It has been a while since I bought a new car – what new cars are out there and am I better off buying used? How much does new versus used cost? How many MPGs do trucks get these days? I didn’t want to be bothered by a sales person because I am not yet ready to buy, so I went at 10 p.m. when the dealership was closed. I was just looking for information to make a better buying decision and I wasn’t alone, there were other “tire kickers” out there alongside me. Apparently, this is a good time of day to start the process of buying a car!
I wanted some information but I wasn’t ready to buy. When I am ready, I’ll narrow my choice down to a handful of dealerships or private sellers based in-part on some type of ratings or reviews system. But I might go to 30 different websites and spend a few days, weeks perhaps, before I phone the seller or step into their dealership or driveway.
If you are a software or IT services vendor, my car-buying experience is not that much different from your potential customer experience. The potential lead — let’s call them a “contact” — will peruse your site, perhaps download a whitepaper and/or case study and do the same from several (perhaps dozens) of your competitors. But are they a “lead?”
Going back to my car-buy experience, if my first visit was downloading a car datasheet from 10 different dealers, chances are I would have already been called and emailed multiple times by each. Obviously, quite an annoyance but I am in the market for a car and I did “stop by” and kick the proverbial tires. Does this make me a lead?
In 2015, where the potential buyer has the power of options — millions of information-bearing websites — [stopped here; talk about now versus 15 years ago].
The “leads” or downloaders you are buying from what I call lead aggregators are in essence, me kicking tires last week on the car lot at 10 p.m. Unless these downloaders go to your “contact me” page and send you a note saying “I want a demo” or “where do I send the check?”, they are not ready to be dumped into your pipeline with a close date assigned to them.
This is why “leads” are really just downloaders or contacts. Call your friendly neighborhood Gartner, Forrester, Frost & Sullivan, or EMA analyst and ask them to give you a definition of “lead” and you will be lucky if you get an answer and if you do, you will most like get 4 different ones. Your best definition of lead will come from inside the walls of your organization. And while you are at it, you are going to need two definitions for these downloaders as they move through the customer acquisition lifecycle. Definition one is the downloader that passes the initial sniff test and fits your buyer profile. This is a marketing qualified lead or MQL. Definition two is the MQL with a little more buyer information from the rep you are giving the contact to. Here you are defining a sales qualified lead or SQL.
The point we marketers all need to understand is that this is a big problem if you think the tire kicker downloaders are ready to be called and prospected by a rep. They are not ready to buy and they never will be if you start bugging them to sign the dotted line after their first download of your nicely written content.
Where do you go from here? I’ll talk about that in a little more detail in my next blog.
What are your thoughts on this topic?