Few organizations take the time to validate leads from their Internet marketing campaigns before turning inquiries over to the sales team for follow-up. This creates two immense, though often invisible, problems:
- Without lead validation, follow-up by the sales team is inefficient, clogging up CRMs, and causing new business acquisition and sales department morale to suffer.
- Without lead validation, marketers cannot effectively test and improve campaign variables — and in fact, can be led to implement changes that detract from results.
Quick Definition of Lead Validation
Lead validation is the time-consuming, labor-intensive process of listening to recorded phone calls and reading form submissions generated by Internet marketing campaigns (SEO, PPC, email marketing, etc.).
In an ideal lead validation setup, these phone and form inquiries are reviewed in real time, or near real time, identifying leads as rapidly as possible and turning them over to sales. Non-leads (spam, job applicants, auto-dials, misdials, empty forms, forms with missing fields, sales solicitations, customer service inquiries, inquiries for a product/service not for sale, etc.) are categorized as such and funneled into a different follow-up process or discarded.
Sounds boring and time consuming, so why do it?
Half of Your “Leads” Are Not Leads
Our agency has been validating leads for our own marketing campaigns and those of clients, exactly as described, for more than 18 months. The statistics, which are covered in the slide presentation accompanying this article, surprised even us:
“Based on collection and analysis of more than 373,000 inquiries, 172,000 were not sales leads (about half).” (See slide 7.)
Ponder that for a moment.
In typical Internet marketing campaign reporting, inquiries are lumped together based on a tracked conversion activity; e.g., clicking a “submit button” or placing a phone call. No distinction is made regarding whether these actions represent a real sales lead or something else.
However, over time, campaign managers and company leaders tend to regard these lumped-together inquiries as “leads” — and by doing so, are overestimating their true results by as much as half.
If you think you are doing twice as well as you are, you will be powerfully tempted to overspend on underperforming marketing activities. It’s a recipe for mediocrity.
Failing to Validate Leads Derails Continuous Campaign Improvement
Beyond the high-level reporting flaws inherent in non-validated data, relying on inquiries rather than validated leads for campaign testing and optimization cause all kinds of problems that can actually de-optimize campaigns. Here is an example that illustrates the point well.
Suppose a PPC campaign manager is looking at the following data for a given month of activity:
Keyword A: 300 Inquiries
Keyword B: 150 Inquiries
The campaign manager will put more emphasis on Keyword A, since it appears to be twice as effective. However, if lead validation were used, perhaps the results would be as follows:
Keyword A: 50 Validated Leads
Keyword B: 75 Validated Leads
Keyword B turns out to be the one on which to add emphasis!
Multiply this mistaken methodology by every campaign variable that can be changed, and you quickly see how non-validated data can totally disrupt campaign effectiveness! In a PPC campaign, for instance, the same errors will almost certainly cause the wrong changes to be made for:
- All target keyword prioritization
- Optimum time of day to bid
- Optimum day of the week to bid
- Comparative offer effectiveness
- Comparative landing page effectiveness
Here, this slide presentation takes a deeper look at lead validation data and stats. Perhaps the most important: the critical importance of the first website visit (slide 11).
How to Implement Lead Validation
Lead validation requires an investment in time, and either a little or a lot of setup activity, depending on how thorough your current tracking system is. Here is a checklist of the bases to cover for a lead validation system:
- Form tracking. Obviously, you need forms on your landing pages and website. Forms must be easy to find and easy to submit. Also, you must be able to determine the marketing source of all form submissions, by using referral URLs and cookies.
If your website does not have forms, or uses forms that are improperly formatted, and/or have poor usability and conversion optimization features, these issues must be addressed well in advance of implementing lead validation.
- Phone tracking. Since Google Analytics and many other analytics packages don’t track phone calls, many companies don’t bother to track them — a blunder for any organization serious about online lead generation. Phone leads are often the best leads, and with the explosion in mobile Internet access, this method of contact is likely to grow.
As with forms, phone calls must be trackable back to their marketing source, and also recorded. There are a number of excellent call-tracking providers; the one you want has the ability to assign a unique phone number to each website visitor, as this enables you to determine the precise referral URL used by the visitor to reach your website.
- The lead validation team. The grunt work of reading form submissions and listening to phone recordings requires patience, methodical work habits, and the common sense to interpret communication as either a lead or something else.
Lead validation is an excellent entry-level position for aspiring marketers and salespeople — something that may benefit your long-term nurturing of high-quality sales and marketing teams.
- Inquiry distribution. You must have a documented, thorough process for distributing inquiries once the validation work is completed. There’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye:
High-quality leads — large-volume inquiries, inquiries from big companies, etc. — should be directed to business owners, sales directors or top sales reps as quickly as possible.
Leads of lesser quality may follow a different path, for instance being entered into the CRM for a designated sales manager to review daily or weekly.
Certain non-leads may still represent potential sales opportunities; for instance, an inquiry from the president of a large company for a product you don’t currently sell. Email addresses and other contact information for contacts such as these should be loaded into the CRM or otherwise collected for future marketing or sales efforts.
Inquiries for other types of non-lead inquiries also must be channeled properly — inquiries about customer service, complaints, job applicants, vendors, etc., must be handled with every bit as much care as a sales inquiry.
- Data collection and reporting. All reports used by Internet marketers and reviewed by company leadership must clearly distinguish inquiries from validated leads. Validated lead data empowers campaign managers to test the right campaign variables and make changes that will increase lead generation, as well as enable companies to get a true sense of how well their marketing investments are paying off.
The bottom line to all of this: Everyone in the organization sleeps better knowing the marketing activities are being conducted as intelligently and efficiently as possible.