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 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.

“Stop calling me. I’m not a lead!”

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 and I was wondering what new cars are out there, how are they rated by professionals/consumers, and am I better off buying new or used? 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 from the dealership but again, I’m just kicking tires. 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” for now — 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-buying experience; a couple of sites wouldn’t list vehicle prices so I inquired online and now I’m a “lead” at those dealerships (and unlikely purchaser from there too). Obviously, I am in the market for a car and I did virtually “stop by” and kick the tires, but does this make me a lead?

Today, any good or service, B2B or BtoC, is first shopped online (top of funnel) and buyer has the power of options. Then the buyer settles on a few vendors s/he has a favorable online experience, where the product meets the need (marketing qualified to sales qualified). This is the point where the buyer becomes a lead (notice that there are no quotes around this lead). This is the point in the funnel the lead wants to engage.

If you are embarking on a lead generation buy from an “aggregator” vendor (think TechTarget or Integrate, both great companies IMO), you must first define what a lead means to you and then find that lead vendor who will cater to your lead definition then let the lead be marketing qualified. Have a marketing automation system (HubSpot, Marketo, Eloqua, etc.) that will let the lead percolate and generate enough web activity (lead score) to be elevated to sales-qualified status. And then, let the sales team or proper channel take it from there.

At first glance, this approach may thin out your pipeline, or at least push some of the SQLs back up to the top to pre-lead status. In terms of forecasting (and valuation) of your business, it’s better to be more realistic with pipeline. The end result will be a better assessment of what’s working/not working when you go back and do Win/Loss Analysis, a topic for another blog.

The point we software marketers all need to understand is that prospecting and sales are different today versus 10 years ago. Prospects will be ready to buy on their timeline, not yours. What you can do about it now is have marketing events (campaigns, conferences, etc.) with regularity and frequency to get your brand out there. Do this across multiple vehicles so that when the top-of-funnel browsing for solutions commences, you will be in the mix of “I’ve heard of thems.” This is also the better way to greater conversion.

If your business wants to build a better pipeline with greater conversion metrics, I would love to have a conversation with you.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.