In a new report, The State of B2B Lead Generation: 2013, the BuyerZone published data stating that the “speed of lead follow up might not be as important as everyone thinks.”

Specifically, 64% of marketers surveyed respond to leads within an hour (this percentage is down from 2012), and of those who respond, over 50% stated they route leads directly to sales.

I found this last stat astounding! Why? Because a person who downloads a white paper or an e-book isn’t a lead, he/she is an inquiry. Before an inquiry is sent to sales, the person needs to be qualified first.

Let’s Define Some Terms

When defining what is a lead, it helps to clarify terms that often get thrown around interchangeably.

  • Contact – A name within a database or on a list.
  • Suspect – Someone who might need your product or service but hasn’t expressed interest.
  • Inquiry – First inbound contact from a prospect (inquirer or prospect).
  • Prospect – Individual or company who has expressed interest.
  • Qualified Lead – A prospect that’s gone through the qualification process; leads that have been qualified are then passed to sales; those not ready to buy are put into the nurturing cycle.

When someone visits your website for the first time, she’s considered a “suspect.” If she then downloads a white paper or responds in some other way, she’s now an “inquiry” — meaning, she’s expressed some interest.

HOWEVER! She’s not a lead. Why? Because she hasn’t been qualified.

Therefore, sending an inquiry directly to sales is one, a complete waste of time and two, aggravating for the inquirer. “Gee, all I did was download a white paper and now I’ve  got salespeople pressuring me. Grrrr!”

A lead, therefore, is NOT an inquiry, or a comment left on a blog, or a page view or any other ridiculous nonsense.

A lead IS an inquiry that has met specific agreed-upon qualification criteria by marketing AND sales (usually budget, need, timeframe, authority, etc.).

Once a lead is qualified, it’s then scored. Sales says to marketing, “We want leads that score a certain number or higher as these are sales-ready leads.” All other leads then go into nurturing until they’re ready to buy.

“A shift is needed”

In their report, the BuyerZone authors state that responding within an hour to earlier stage inquiries — those who download a white paper or an e-book — isn’t really necessary as these people aren’t ready to be called anyway.

In fact, they state that perhaps marketers need to shift in how they respond to leads (inquiries). I agree with this statement — and would further add that marketers should have a firm understanding of what is a lead and what is an inquiry.

What can you do to qualify inquiries?

1. Offer calls-to-action tied to your sales cycle — One mistake I see companies make is offering only one call-to-action, usually a demo or trial offer. People like to get to know your company; it can take a few visits to build trust and establish credibility.

To capture people wherever they are in the sales cycle, have different types of offers: e-newsletters, collateral, webinars, demos, etc.

2. Use marketing automation — Over the summer I downloaded a white paper from a company. A few days later, I received an email that said something along the lines of, “Hey! Since you downloaded that white paper, you might enjoy this blog post.” Of course, I clicked through; I know my action was tracked by this company.

I periodically receive emails from them, but since I haven’t been back to their site or taken any other action, I’m sure their sales team has figured out I’m not their target prospect.

And in fact, data from the BuyerZone report bears this out, as companies that use marketing automation “understand the right way to follow up on leads and track lead performance and ROI.”

3. “Go look, go see” — For smaller companies, it shouldn’t be too difficult to check out inquiries yourself if the inquiry used a branded email (vs. a Gmail or Yahoo email). You should be able to see, pretty fast, whether you’ve got an inquiry who fits your persona type.

The BuyerZone report has lots more information so be sure to download your copy. It’s free, meaning you don’t have to register for it.

Dianna Huff is the founder and president of Huff Industrial Marketing, a full service agency that tackles a host of marketing and communications challenges for manufacturing companies.

See more articles by Dianna »