Lists or leads?

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Are you building lists, not leads?

How many times do you or your partner sit and scroll aimlessly through your social feeds, blogs and websites to have something simply pique your interest? “Oh look, a guide to help me sleep better” “A top tips on how to get fitter and eat what I like”, “The 10 things I need to do before I invest in the stock market”.

Most of these fancy headlines and free assets have a legitimate use and benefit to the recipient almost immediately – it is what they are designed to do. This is the purpose of what becomes known as a lead magnet. According to Investopedia, a lead magnet is

…a marketing term for a free item or service that is given away for the purpose of gathering contact details; for example, lead magnets can be trial subscriptions, samples, white papers, e-newsletters, and free consultations.

We [Team Plan. Grow. Do.] think lead magnets are great, don’t get us wrong. But there is a real risk that we see these list building exercises and opportunities with a sense of urgency to get something sold with the same immediacy in which the prospect so nonchalantly downloaded the content in the first place.

It’s never been easier to build lists. It’s how Facebook and the other social media giants make their fortune; by selling your data!

The problem we are seeing more and more as we engage our partner organisations is this may well be creating unrealistic and meaningless KPI’s and expectations on those in the sales function. This can create disquiet across the departments even though neither are in the wrong and both may actually be hitting a realistic target but our attention is focussed elsewhere we don’t see the real results.

The problem may be in what we are measuring in the first place.

Lead magnet

“measure what is important, don’t make important what you can measure” – Robert McNamara

We see businesses driving behaviours to hit targets and there is a list of hundreds of names and numbers yet the conversion is nil or limited.Why is this? Perhaps this company is focussed more on the output, rather than the outcome, meaning the list volume is measurable output and if we assume this to be a qualified list of suitable leads in which to measure our sales performance, we are missing out the opportunity to measure, manage and adjust our sales efforts in a more meaningful – outcome focussed – way.

How much do lists & leads cost?
According to Marion and Databox, the average cost per lead sits about $25 (£20). But my concern here is that Facebook has changed the language to assume that anyone in a list is a lead and therefore are treated as a hot one and should be followed up as if they are ready to buy. But we must ask ourselves….are all leads really the same? To help us understand this, let’s take a look at demystifying some jargon that we might be tangled in!

There is some good reading over on who dissect the differences between an MQL and and SQL and this article isn’t wholly about these definitions so please take a read over there for more in depth analysis but I will refer to their definitions to support this article.

Defining the importance and understanding the difference between marketing leads and sales leads.
A key part of our sales training helps organisations distinguish the importance between suspects and prospects and how the selling journey must align with the buying journey of the best kind of customers.

What is an MQL – a Marketing Qualified Lead?
According to Evenbound, an MQL is…

An MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) is a reasonably qualified lead who has downloaded a content offer or interacted with your marketing team, but who hasn’t yet entered into your sales funnel. –

What is an SQL – a Sales Qualified Lead?
So we have a stack of MQL’s – but what’s next? What by definition is an SQL?

An SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) is a lead your sales team has qualified as a potential customer. SQLs are in your sales funnel, and your team is actively working to move them closer to a deal. –

Can you see the gap?
By building lists that we assume are already in a buying mood we are putting a lot of pressure on our sales teams to hit numbers based on a list of people who in reality have signalled zero interest in actually buying what it is we want to sell them. Your exchange of valuable insights to a broadly defined market is not a signal necessarily yet that this person is ready to buy from you. You’ve achieved a first goal, you’ve made someone aware of who you are – you are building what we call the holding pattern for sales.

So why the disparity in lists and sales success?
In a very interesting piece of research we stumbled across on LinkedIn, it was suggested that a whopping 98% of marketing lists never turn in to customers. So only 2% of those people are in any sort of position or mindset to buy something from you.

We know deep down that just because we downloaded an interesting report, an effective how-to or a whitepaper relating to our industry doesn’t mean we are ready to buy from that company, yet when we hop over in to our sellers’ shoes, we expect our latest list addition to be ready to jump at the opportunity to buy our stuff!

Are people who download a whitepaper ready to buy something from you? Click the photo to see the poll on Linkedin.

So what are you measuring your success in sales on?

Create Prospects, not leads.
In the absence of any qualification from your lists or your marketing activity, or any definition in the urgency in which this potential prospect emerges in your sales universe, you run the risk of trying to sell your stuff to people who simply don’t know who you are.

But they downloaded my e-book! You may cry, and whilst we agree this is a fantastic way to build lists of leads, without any qualification on that list you are not creating and Prospects.

Your sales team needs to contribute to better marketing conversations help create Prospects not leads.

Read the full post introducing this outcomes vs output approach on Steve’s LinkedIn profile.

How can you measure sales outcomes based on marketing output? If you measure your sales team on marketing output and expect them to be effectively closing on their targets you may risk affecting their confidence. By applying better measurement to your stuctures and processes you can see with much more relevance the results and numbers that are more meaningful to the whole team.

Not all leads are the same
I wanted to touch on this topic very briefly here as we can be lured in by the effectiveness of social media and digital assets to help create those lists. And to re-iterate – we think lists are good, very good! A solid and growing list of the best kind of Suspects in your eco-system and sales universe can only be a good thing. But to assume these leads are in the same buying phase or buying moment as say someone who see’s the ‘need help fast’ emergency number on your website is, I think, misguided.

A casual social scroller downloading some sector insights is not the same as a person seeking your website, search result or phone number is coming to your business with a different purpose; the former you are interupting their space, the latter you are answering a pre defined problem that the customer has. Two very distinct differences that should help us understand that not all leads are of the same quality, immediacy or opportunity for success.

It’s not sales or marketing anymore, it’s sales and marketing.
We wrote in our article I’m an accountant, not a marketer about the importance of looking beyond ‘job snobbery’ or the assumption the your role is above, below or beyond your remit. Every role in your organisation should have a customer centric approach to its application. If you allow internal politics and operational tendencies prevent you from developing an effective and aligned approach, you run a real risk of not being as effective in your outcomes as you would like.

This fantastic article from Super Office talks more about sales and marketing alignment and the benefits you as an organisation might identify.

You can read more about the digitalisation of the B2B sales process on our news pages.

And what is customer centricity?
According to Gartner, customer centricity is “…the ability of people in an organisation to understand customers’ situations, perceptions, and expectations. Customer centricity demands that the customer is the focal point of all decisions related to delivering products, services and experiences to create customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.”


If your operational behaviour is focussed solely on the output of the sales team and is in fact measuring the wrong thing, how can you genuinely be putting the customer at the heart of your business? If we can take a step back and consider how our sales team impact on the outcomes we desire, not the outputs of misaligned KPI’s, we think you can find better customer focussed activity across the business.

Sales leads

So what can you do to ensure you are building better leads, not just creating lists?

  1. Lead scoring. Not all leads are the same quality, yet if you treat the measurable output as simply one master list of data and treat them as hot leads, you could find yourself frustrated. This article from Fresh Works outlines how you might build a lead scoring process.
  2. Listen to feedback from the customer. Are you capturing and listening to feedback about the real customer experience? See our article about feedback in sales.
  3. Create better customer personas. We find benefits of building out customer personas to include better communications, better relationships, more efficient sales teams and better marketing. But what benefits can you find in really creating customer personas?
  4. Build a content plan across the sales process, not just at the top. How can your sales team be more active in the early stages of the buying journey and what would that best customer persona expect to engage with at this moment in their buying journey?
  5. Be aware that because someone is aware of you, it doesn’t mean they are ready to buy. Watch the webinar how to talk to your customers before they’re ready to buy.
  6. Engage sales professionals at the top of the process to work with marketing. Your sales team most likely connect with the emotions of your best customers, but how is this fed back to support the marketing effort to build new MQL’s for the team to filter out the SQL’s?
  7. Collaborate. We must remove the silo culture in business and by collaborating across business we will create, over time, a customer centric and future proofed joined up approach to buying and selling.

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