Ask most executives and marketers what salespeople need to sell in this economy, and they will say one thing: more leads.

That’s why many marketing and lead generation programs tend to focus on quantity. Unfortunately, as little as 5 to 15% of all marketing inquiries (aka leads) turn out to be genuinely Sales-ready opportunities.

Marketers can help sales perform better by focusing on higher-quality leads that have better odds of converting into pipeline opportunities and customers.

However, according to MarketingSherpa’s data, generating “high-quality leads” is the B2B marketer’s No. 1 challenge.

Most marketers realize the more validation and verification of each lead or database, the better the quality of the lead. So, what’s the best way for B2B marketers to efficiently verify the accuracy of their lead data captured online before turning said inquiries over to the sales force?

Create a marketing funnel 

The purpose of the marketing funnel is to bring inquiries (aka leads) into one spot (your marketing database) and qualify them. It creates Sales-ready leads and nurtures the leads that aren’t sales-ready.

Lead qualification first must classify leads according to their “Sales readiness” and business fit. Second, it must manage all the incoming leads.

Give useful and helpful info to prospect

It is important to remember that most people coming to your website aren’t coming to purchase right away. They come to your site for information. An early-stage lead shouldn’t be expected to give up the same kind of details as a later-stage lead. People start to question the value of providing too much information on forms before you’ve earned their trust.

You’ll do better by thinking of lead generation as a process of micro-conversions that build an opportunity profile over time. Start with requesting necessary information such as an email address. In the next step, ask the first and last name. Later, ask more detailed insights as you earn trust.  I read recently that a company trimmed its registration form to include an extremely basic two-field form and found its conversion rate more than tripled with this simplification. At the same time, the company expanded its email follow-up process and was able to increase the amount of personal data collected over time.

Create the universal lead definition, and apply it for MQLs

There are things your sales team must know before an inquiry is worthy of being called a lead. You should:

  • Identify company size, industry, and geography. You may choose to remove inquiries based on specific marketing requirements or limitations at this point, including non-U.S. or student email addresses, or contacts residing in locations or industries that you don’t serve. This step can reduce your leads by as much as 10%.
  • Ask business situation questions, such as the number of users, current systems platform, etc.
  • Determine the inquiry’s role in the organization or authority in the buying process.
  • Determine if your organization can help based on the lead’s business need.
  • Identify the prospect’s stage in the buying process. Many “leads” are still early in the buying process and are conducting extensive market research. Although these contacts are essential and should be nurtured and managed over time, they clearly aren’t ready to buy.
  • Purge those inquiries containing any false information. Remove duplicates and invalid names and email addresses. (Simple forms tend to generate less invalid information than long, time-consuming forms.)
Prioritize leads based on activity and behavior

Use your CRM or marketing automation suite to prioritize based on:

  • The size of the organization: Is there an organization that fits your “sweet spot” better than others?
  • Fit: Can you meet leads’ immediate needs?
  • Differences in activity based on time frame: Emphasize recent activity. The ongoing uncertainty about the health of the economy doesn’t necessarily reflect every prospect’s current situation. Even in beleaguered sectors, reliable companies will see opportunities for growth. Activity within the past three months — such as downloading a whitepaper or responding to emails about upcoming events — receives a higher score.

The same events that took place six months or a year ago receive lower scores if a prospect has not engaged in additional marketing activities since then.

This technique allows Sales to focus its attention on opportunities that have demonstrated a keen interest in recent marketing campaigns.

Definitely, maintain older leads in your database, and keep these lower-scoring leads in the nurturing program until their activity increases again.

Use inside sales team phone (or email) to qualify based on lead scoring

Some companies may use third-party list providers to verify the information. Just remember, the phone is the gold standard for qualifying most leads.

A good conversation is the best way to assess a company’s interest. For example, email can be an excellent way to create a one-on-one dialogue by asking questions as well. Use data from your lead-nurturing and lead-scoring systems to have relevant chats with prospects.

Based on your company’s value proposition research, ask questions that show you understand the challenges your prospects face. Introduce ideas about how your business can help them meet those challenges.

Most salespeople are excellent at what they do, and they want to help prospects respond to their challenges. Make sure you give them the highest-quality leads you have.

It’s worth the effort to move through the qualifying process slowly. In this economy, prospects’ buying cycles are getting longer, making it even more important to start out slowly. You’ll earn trust more quickly this way, and you’ll build relationships that actually impact your Sales pipeline.