Tips to nurture marketing qualified leads to sales accepted leads

Studies show that 65% of companies don’t have a lead nurturing strategy in place. Why is this an issue? Because companies that have a working lead nurturing strategy produce 50% more sales-ready leads, at a staggering one-third of the cost. All too often, we see IT and tech organizations make this mistake in their pursuit of sales accepted leads (SALs). They are spending too much focus on the top of the sales funnel.

This will leave a huge gap in your lead conversion capabilities.

Sales funnel

Consider this: Marketing focuses on the top of the funnel, generating Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) through inbound and outbound marketing. Meanwhile, Sales focuses on the bottom of the funnel, tasked with converting high-quality Sales Accepted Leads (SALs) into buyers.

That is the top and bottom covered, so who focuses on the middle? More often than not, nobody.

The middle part of the funnel is where you nurture MQLs and turn them into SALs. This is an important step because MQLs are not ready to buy, and time, cost and resources need to be spent on nurturing, educating and fostering trust in them about your organization and its services. In fact, some studies show that 96% of MQLs are not ready to buy (Marketo).

This is a critical juncture where you hand over high quality leads to the sales team. Without it, you effectively defang your sales team by asking them to convert leads that are the wrong fit for your organization or are the right fit but need further lead nurturing.

Lead nurturing takes time. 48% of businesses require a “long cycle” in the middle of the funnel, nurturing leads in a variety of ways (Ascend2). So, why do so many IT and tech companies ignore the middle part of the sales funnel? Because many decision makers believe that the same strategies used to sell to consumers will work on businesses.

B2B is more complicated, with potential buyers requiring considerable knowledge of your organization and its services before they dedicate large sums of money to buy from you.

At IDG SDS, we understand that lead nurturing is a craft that requires dedication over a long period. The organizations we have helped have faced challenges in trying to convert MQLs into SALs too quickly, without a full qualification process in place.

So, in this article, we will explore top tips on how to nurture MQLs into SALs, ensuring that the sales team can focus on converting to leads that fit your organization and are ready to buy.

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?

A Marketing Qualified Lead is a lead that has shown any type of interest in your organization. These leads sit at the top of your funnel and typically arrive through methods such as:

  • Webinar registrations
  • Webpage visits
  • Downloading gated content
  • Social media interaction
  • Clicked CTAs

While these leads have shown interest, this does not mean they are ready to buy your solutions. To get to that stage, they need further nurturing to turn them into an SAL.

How to identify a good MQL

MQLs are vetted by the marketing team according to specific criteria. If a lead becomes an MQL, they are deemed a good prospect for further nurturing, and ultimately a potential buyer.

To determine criteria, Marketing and Sales need to agree on an ideal buyer persona and the scoring system used in the lead qualification strategy.

  • Ideal buyer persona
    This is the customer that you believe will be the most likely to convert into a buyer. You are likely to have multiple buyer personas depending on how many products and services you have.

    Criteria for an ideal buyer persona include: Job titles, demographics, challenges and pain points, financial information, and also attitudes and behavior.

Lead qualification is scoring leads to determine the likelihood of them becoming a customer. This scoring system is set against your ideal buyer persona. Points are assigned for every action a lead takes, and some points are worth more than others. For example, a lead downloading an ebook might be worth 5 points in your lead qualification system, but registering for a webinar might be worth 10 points

It will take fine tuning to determine the threshold score in which a lead becomes an MQL. There are multiple frameworks for a lead qualification strategy.

Both an ideal buyer persona and a lead qualification system are vital for ensuring that you provide your sales team with high-quality leads that are more likely to convert.

Marketing tips to nurture MQLs further down the funnel

  • IT decision-makers are spending more time engaging with online content: 49% are increasing the amount of time they read online and 48% are increasing the amount of time they watch online videos (IDG)

To successfully nurture MQLs, marketing needs to engage leads with educational content that shows how your organization can solve their business challenges. You need to be able to speak to them on a personal level. The more you educate them, the greater trust there is between the lead and your organization.

Here are some of the best methods for nurturing MQLs that will fit most organization types.

Send the right content at the right time

Converting leads into customers isn’t as simple as sending one-off emails. It is a strategic process that requires sending the right information, to the right type of lead, at the right time. You can do this effectively by creating content for each of your buyer personas and sending it at each critical juncture in the customer journey.

The key here is personalization. Each piece of content, no matter the format, needs to address a specific challenge so that the recipient will feel that their needs can be addressed by your expertise. Learn more about content and lead nurturing here.

Create drip campaigns (automated email campaigns)

Drip email campaigns are automated emails that trigger according to set marketing criteria. These are great for ensuring consistent communications with leads, which will go a long way in building trust. You can create email drip campaigns for many scenarios.

For example: onboarding new users, listing product features, delivering a content series, showcasing upgrades and free trials, marketing upcoming events, upselling and cross selling, and even reengagement.

Again, personalization is the goal here. Nobody wants to feel like another number in the system. In fact, research shows that relevant targeted emails can produce 18-times more revenue than globally broadcasted emails that lack personalization.

Utilize lead nurturing newsletters

Newsletters are a non-invasive, low-resource and high engagement tool for nurturing leads with content. They provide a consistent excuse for you to regularly deploy content, to showcase your organization’s expertise through timely updates.

As with all content, ensure that each newsletter has a clear purpose. Whether that is introducing a new product, showcasing flagship pieces of content such as an ebook, or driving leads to a webinar – each newsletter should drive specific action from the leads who open it.

Ensure sales enablement tackles your target audience pain points

80% of companies report seeing an uplift when implementing personalized content. – (Econsultancy).

Marketing and Sales need to be aligned on buyer personas and lead qualification criteria. Both teams should work together to clearly understand the challenges each lead segment faces.

Use this information to enhance everything about your lead qualification process, from content copy and messaging to content formats and the ways in which you send content. This will ensure that the content marketing created speaks to leads on a personal level.

Testimonials and case studies

Case studies allow you to present a compelling story of how you helped an organization achieve their business goals. Unlike content such as webinars, whitepapers and reports, case studies allow you to openly and honestly depict your commitment to resolving challenges, and the positive experiences that emerge from it. Case studies can go a long way in building your brand authority and reputation as a problem you can solve.

The B2B buyer’s journey and how it impacts lead nurturing

We’ve discussed how marketing can help generate quality MQLs. Now let’s talk about moving them from MQLs to Sales Accepted Leads (SALs). This is the stage where sales development takes over, and nurtures leads until they are ready to handover to sales. Unlike the previous stage, nurturing is predominantly actioned through digital means such as emails and social and more importantly, phone calls and marketing content.

To help facilitate this, the customer journey map is a must-have to enhance your lead nurturing capabilities and ensure that you are engaging leads on a personal level.

What is a customer journey map? A customer journey map is a visual representation of a leads journey and engagement with your organization. By being able to clearly see where your leads fit into the journey, you ensure that your engagement is a natural reflection of their likeliness to buy.

This will help you avoid the pitfall of passing leads to Sales that have no interest in buying.

SDS the industrial buying process

How do sales development teams nurture leads?

  1. They ensure the right leads go to Sales: As Sales Development sits in the middle of the sales funnel; they hold the unique ability to send leads back up to Marketing, or down to Sales. Think about them as lead gatekeepers. If a lead requires more content nurturing and education about your organization, they can send them back to marketing for another cycle of trust building content. When a lead is ready for the sales process and has been nurtured enough, they seamlessly organize phone calls and meetings between the lead and sales.
  1. They clean up the sales funnel: Sales Development can help improve lead nurturing processes. For example, if you find MQLs are low-quality, such as students or those who engage with content for purely educational reasons, sales development will provide insight to reduce the chance of poor leads making their way through the funnel.
  2. They nurture leads from MQL to SAL: MQLs need further nurturing before they are passed to sales. Sales development nurtures leads from lead generation efforts and marketing campaigns, then through personalized phone calls and emails, they determine which leads are valuable to sales people and match the ideal buyer persona.

At IDG SDS, we’re experts in sales enablement and lead nurturing. We work with companies to improve the journey of their lead nurturing strategy, from the beginning, through to targeted and profitable sales. Look at our case study with Neo4j, a database management company.

Case study: Neo4j

Tips: how to nurture Marketing Qualified Leads to Sales Accepted Leads

Sales development teams are crucial. They drive conversion by bridging the gap between a lead that is interested in your organization and one that is ready to buy.

This is how sales development teams nurture MQLs, so they are ready for a sales call.

  • Multichannel approach to lead nurturing
    Sales development teams utilize multiple channels to nurture leads, and build personal connections, including phone calls, social media interactions, live chat, emails and drip emails. Highly attuned to each leads needs and challenges, sales development teams reinforce the relationship between leads and your organization and provide the human touch to lead nurturing.
  • Building lead lists and setting up meetings
    Sales development teams will build lists of key leads they have nurtured and give them to sales. They will also maintain a seamless handover by organizing meetings and communications to ensure consistent engagement throughout the customer journey.
  • Networking and social media outreach and selling
    Sales development teams live on social media and understand the importance of engaging with the social platforms where top leads congregate. They build trust with valuable leads through all key social media platforms, and present themselves as industry authorities.
  • Upselling and cross selling
    The journey doesn’t end when a lead makes a purchase. Lead nurturing is a requirement of upselling and cross selling, and sales development teams can action this by following up with leads to ensure they have achieved the most out of their purchase, and hone in on indications that suggest the buyer is ready to make another purchase.

How to spot a Sales Accepted Lead?

SALs are leads that have been reviewed by Sales Development and passed to Sales to begin the sales process. These leads meet your organization’s firmographic, and demographic criteria, and are highly engaged with your organization – and show a high intent to purchase.

What does an intent to purchase look like?

There are a lot of buying signals which show a lead is close to making a purchasing decision. Here are some of the most important ones that Sales Development teams look out for.

MQL engagement tools

Lead nurturing requires time, a team and resources. MQLs have very limited buying intent after the first interaction and require more convincing.

However, implementing all of this can be a huge amount of work if you don’t have an in-house sales development team.

IDG SDS are lead nurturing experts, and can take these challenges out of your hands by creating effective and unique lead nurturing workflows according to your business needs.

Having the right lead nurturing technology in place

Businesses that use marketing automation to nurture prospects see a 451% increase in qualified leads, according to Fronetics.

Lead nurturing tools are a must for driving your lead nurturing capabilities at scale, so you can seize opportunities to move your leads down the sales funnel seamlessly. Lead nurturing tools integrate with other marketing tools, such as CRMs and marketing automation, which will go a long way in taking the pressure off of your marketing and sales teams.

Here are top lead nurturing tools you need for your sales development strategy

  • Workflow management: A lead nurturing workflow software will allow you to automatically track and process leads through the customer journey. This will help you get the best from lead nurturing and help identify which leads need immediate nurturing, and which ones can be engaged later.

    A good lead nurturing software system will help you establish clear goals for your campaigns, identify target audiences and map content throughout the customer journey.
  • Tracking real-time data: These tools enable you to measure and optimize your lead nurturing activity in real time. Driven by real time results, lead-based analytics will help you streamline processes and tweak your outreach efforts. This will provide a clear picture of who is investing in your technology and why.
  • Data and analytics: Data and analytics tools will help you leverage lead data so you can build stronger and faster connections. Features typically include conversation analytics, real-time notifications, buyer intent data, industry benchmark data and visualization tools. Having the right metrics to understand what is working and what isn’t will supercharge your team’s ability to adapt quickly and improve processes.

When implemented correctly, lead nurturing tools can automate several parts of your funnel, ensuring that your sales team spends less time finding leads, and more time converting nurtured leads.

Using personalization to generate sales accepted leads

In B2B sales, studies show that 48% of businesses require a “long cycle” in the middle of the funnel, nurturing leads in a variety of ways (Ascend2)

At the MQL to SAL juncture, personalization is king. Sales development teams are the ones who put all the lead data you have gathered to good use, by grabbing the attention of MQLs, through bespoke personalised phone calls, emails and social media outreach, as well as lead generation software and other CRM platforms.

This is a step above lead nurturing through content and marketing – which focuses on demographic data, potential buying interests and broad lead segments.

MQL to SAL personalization takes time, experience, confidence and understanding. Through lead nurturing and lead monitoring, Sales Development can:

  • Identify high-value prospects and create outreach lists
  • Review prospects to identify their specific challenges
  • Ensure seamless handover from Sales Development to Sales
  • Educate leads and show how your organization can resolve challenges
  • Nurture leads through emails and phone calls
  • Organize appointments for leads to talk with Sales

The right sales development team in the right place

The purpose of a sales development team is to research, validate and nurture SALs so that they are ready to pass onto the sales department. Why can’t Sales and Marketing do that? Because it is a vast amount of work, and a well organized team should focus on specialized roles.

Sales Development comprises a team who specifically works on converting these leads; who use the right technology and understand the business challenge each lead is facing.

Therefore a functioning lead nurturing system has a clear linear path:

Flow of MQL to SAL

If Marketing or Sales have ownership of step 2, you are splitting their time, work capacity and diluting their ability to succeed in their primary roles.

Step 2 requires a dedicated team that is available around the clock in order to reach the global market in various languages.

But, does your organization have the capacity to do all this in-house?

Outsourcing lead nurturing to the experts

We asked companies what their biggest reason for outsourcing sales development (single choice), and the results were:

  • Gain access to better technology than we have in house (16%)
  • For transparency into activity and results (14%)
  • Scale the sales development team (13%)

IDG SDS are lead nurturing experts. We will create a bespoke lead nurturing program to deliver high-quality leads that fit the buyer persona of your business development strategy.

How do we know when we have nurtured leads that are ready for your sales team to close?

  • They are decision-makers with clearly defined needs
  • Their needs align with the services your organization offers
  • They engage in your content and express interest in your services
  • They are ready to make a purchasing decision
  • They match up with you ideal buyer personas

Our program nurtures leads for a minimum of 60 days, building their trust in your services and establishing your brand as an authority. We do this in 40+ languages and 24/7 in any time zone.

We save you time, energy, and ultimately your bottom line – as you will spend more resources converting high-quality leads and less time looking for new ones.

Working with IDG SDS you will benefit from:

  • Experience working with other companies in the tech market.
  • Transparent services that offer you insight every step of the way
  • Expertly trained team of experienced BDR’s that we will manage to meet your goals
  • Inbound and outbound lead nurturing campaigns that are optimized in real time
  • Execution of your workflows according to your business goals
  • Deploying the right lead nurturing resources at the right time

Outsourcing lead nurturing and sales development will take care of all the lead nurturing challenges and costs with a single package. And you gain the expertise and speed of the company that specializes in sales development. Learn more about our services here.

Work with us and you’ll be in good company