Lead Generation: Understanding Challenges and How to Overcome Them

August 23, 2019
min to read
Geoff Whiting
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We’ve never met a sales team that didn’t want more leads or better quality ones. Lead generation remains the top desire for your average marketer because a flood of inferior leads can quickly harm a business’s viability today and in the near future.

Lead quality can be the difference between keeping your doors open and seeing the entire sales team cleared out. So, generating those leads and making sure they’re the right kind of leads is essential for your business. This lead-generation presents some exciting challenges and needs.

We’ve put together this guide to look at the state of lead gen, what you need to know to do better, and a few practical elements to understand to ensure your efforts meet what customers want. Let’s dive in with the data.

Why is lead-gen a big deal today?

lead generation challenges
Lead generation challenges are abound. Here is how to overcome them.

We crunched the numbers of some of the most prominent studies around and found that, when looking across as many industries and sizes as we could find, roughly 15% of marketers say that they can efficiently and effectively generate leads for their business.

Narrowing down to the data to those who could do this consistently had the number fall to 10%. That means the majority of people reading this, and the majority of your competitors struggle, to always have a pipeline of potential targets that are a good fit for their business.

So, if a customer closes their doors or a downturn in the economy hits them, somewhere between 85% and 90% of marketers won’t immediately have a prospect they can turn to and fill the gap. Every moment of delay in that process is time where revenues drop and sales decline.

top lead challenges
It’s often hard to find the right fit.

The longer it takes you to fill a gap or the greater the number of clients who leave (just imagine an exodus after a bad product batch or a major outage of your SaaS service), the more likely you are to suffer a wound where you can’t recover.

Lead gen and qualification of leads to focus sales teams is your safeguard against the future. For most businesses, it’s all they can do to ensure the doors stay open tomorrow.

Top lead challenges

The same data review showed us that leads are a major concern. Here’s what marketers and sales teams like you say are some of the biggest challenges.

  • Generating enough traffic and leads (63%)
  • Ineffective or only slightly effective lead-gen practices (80%)
  • Lack of resources (61%)
  • Leads that go through the sales process are low quality (84%)
  • Roughly 80% of leads never convert, and about 70% of all leads fail due to nurturing issues
  • Lead generation is difficult to keep up on new channels and when target habits change (49%)

Defining high-quality leads

Your favorite leads are those that turn into business. These high-quality leads keep you running and if you spend your time focused on them, you’ve got a better shot at maintaining high revenues and continued growth.

Determining what is a high-quality lead is the challenge, but also an established practice that you can put into place and teach your sales team. This is how leadership moves from “they feel like a good fit” to “they match the facts of our past good fits.”

Get there by implementing a lead scoring plan. Lead scoring is a methodology you can use to rank leads and potential customers by multiple factors, and there are two common ones:

1. How interested are they in you and your product/service?

2. How ready are they to buy?

You want to spend more time on companies interested particularly in you and ready to make a purchase. These “hot” leads are the fastest to lead to a sale and the most likely to stick with you for the longer term.

high quality leads
Hot leads are those ready to raise their hand.

Think about it another way. If someone is ready to buy but doesn’t know or like your brand, you’ve got a lot of trust-building to do. If someone likes you but isn’t ready to buy, you’ve got to either wait for the right moment or try to convince them to spend sooner than they’re ready. If they don’t know you and aren’t ready to buy, you’re looking at someone who doesn’t have the problem you solve.

Targets need to fit the problem you solve and be interested in how you solve it. When you believe they do both, follow-up as soon as you can. If someone has a high interest, you can work on creating the sale. If a company is just a good fit, you’ve got to build interest so then you can push the sale.

The specific scoring methodology you do will depend greatly on your company and offering. However, you should look to qualify leads using both fixed characteristics and individual behaviors.

Fixed characteristics are ways to describe a lead and easy to match this to your targets. Think of the size of the company, the title of the individual, the industry they operate, geographical location, employee count, and more. Hard facts.

Individual behaviors concern how a target acts when you start the research and lead gen process. It’s information you can gather such as the websites they visit or when they sign up for your white paper. Advanced techniques also include looking at how they respond to your emails or LinkedIn messages. Do they engage or demonstrate an existing knowledge that means you don’t have to educate them as much? When you ask about their problems, do they list issues that your company solves? This is more subjective and can vary at any point in the lead prospective process.

Putting a lead scoring practice into place will help your nosiness by:

  • Highlighting the most promising leads
  • Downgrade poor fits so you don’t waste precious sales time and resources
  • Point out medium leads who need to be nurtured, so your team can move to these when they have the time and capacity

All said, that’s why NuGrowth’s data says 68% of “highly effective and efficient” marketers cite lead scoring as a top revenue contributor.

Addressing the 3 concerns around quality

Gartner tells us that about 70% of leads are lost because poor follow-up. But you’ve got to dig deeper to understand that stat in its fullest. What’s happening in many cases is that leads aren’t scored and qualified correctly, so people are missing out on the good and bad without knowing about it,

If you lose half your leads but 100% are a poor fit, that’s not a big concern. It means your sales team is focused on the half of your leads that are a good fit. Lead scoring is the only way to understand if you’re there.

lead management challenges
How unrelated leads feel about your marketing.

Qualification tackles the big three concerns of time, cost, and wasted effort.

Scoring your leads means that you’re putting the right time toward people who are your best chance for success. It also ensures that costs (demos, samples, freebies, etc.) are put toward leads most likely to buy and make up those costs. You’re not throwing time or money down the drain.

And, once you’ve got your lead scoring in place, your team should start to see better sales numbers. Closing the deal will help them feel like they’re effort is in the right place, instead of getting wasted on sales that’ll never happen.

Data is your most valuable resource

Getting to a good lead scoring program requires you to know your audience, covering both existing customers and the leads you have right now. Review current customers to see who is a good fit and what attributes they share.

Physician, know thyself. Sales, know thy audience.

Build your personas around these models and when things don’t make sense, ask. Happy customers will share what is and isn’t working, allowing you to better serve them and future customer.

Look for the data prospects share with you

Companies post size and industry information on LinkedIn, and other databases might capture additional information like who uses a specific CRM or other software. Build as complete a profile as you can.

When you find an additional data source for this persona development, come back to it when hunting and qualifying targets. There are a wide range of sources available, so the ones that help you understand customers can usually help you understand targets.

The good news in this is that there are companies who specialize in developing and collecting this data. You can work to build your own tech stack and operate it with an internal organization, pay for people to setup your stack for you, or outsource your processes to companies that have a mix of people and tech to run data mining as a service.

These efforts must include a mix of data mining and measurement so you can ensure that you’re meeting challenges with the right information. Data helps you know your audience, and measurement helps you put that knowledge to use in the right ways.

Let information teach you about your audience, where they come from, goals, challenges, pain points, hobbies, and more. Then, turn on your analysis to see which of these provides the best angle of attack.

People are your most valuable asset

Getting the right data is just the first half of the equation. The right people round out your best chance at success. Understanding and even suggested action only go as far as the person trying to implement it. You need a team or partners with the right skillsets to generate leads.

Train. Test. Retrain. Retest. Let that be your mantra.

Salespeople with proven track records are a boon to any organization. You can get the most out of them by using data to teach them who makes a good lead, what qualifies people for each step, and how to look for potential beyond the current call or email.

Your team members who will generate leads will also play a role in establishing sales conversations and closing deals. Sometimes they’ll help manage those same clients through their lifetime with you. A strong team member who works with the client continuously delivers a variety of benefits because they become a single point of contact. This model can boost everything from lead qualification to repeat sales by:

  1. Eliminating the need for a client to reteach/retrain your staff on their business. Customers explain once and that’s all they need.
  2. Reduce wasted time for you and your customer thanks to the shared knowledge in #1. This translates into faster problem resolution and reduced frustration as issues get escalated to new people who need a new understanding.
  3. Enhance trust by always going through the person who your client has a direct relationship with for any issue. No more introductions or hand-offs that disrupt established communication channels and habits.

Yes, that’s thinking a lot further down the road than your lead qualified. However, choosing someone who is capable enough to handle these events during lead qualification or after the initial handoff is going to ensure your team makes the most of these leads.

Remember, leading companies across industries have dedicated selling staff and customer care managers (though different titles apply) because that means a consistent focus on sustaining lead generation while also getting the greatest value out of everyone who says “yes.” Plan for long-term success so you can be ready to embrace it.

Here’s a quick note about outsourcing this too. When you outsource sales processes such as lead generation and qualification, there tend to be steps where your partner contacts potential leads under the guise of your sales team. If you go this route, work with them to develop scripts and best practices that don’t show this division to leads. It’ll build rapport from the early outreach and make the leads more comfortable with your team from the beginning.

If you’re interested in automating elements of that work, especially the prospecting portion of lead generation, we recommend you look at this guide on how to automate sales prospecting.

Acknowledging the social component

One specific area to jump into right away is the usefulness of social media. There are a lot of lists and groups and individuals you can find on all platforms to help you target leads. Your prospects most likely have at least one account, on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Each gives you a piece of the puzzle for who they are.

Invest the time and resources into looking on these sites. In the B2B world, there are great scraping tools for LinkedIn to help you understand company values and personas as well as how to target specific individual. It’s a very rich data source that many people are using now and you just might find people asking for the solution you provide on these channels.

How can we improve lead quality?
Look for social clues to help narrow down your options.

Don’t overlook or discount social, especially if there’s a channel where your targets are particularly active. You never know when a post of theirs will spark your next blog, cold email subject, or even new market to target.

Generic is the enemy of lead quality

You want leads that are a good fit for you. Your leads want solutions that are a good fit for them. While you’re going to do a lot of testing and verifying to determine fit, your leads are going to do much less. They’re relying on you to set the stage.

If your initial efforts are generic and unattractive, there isn’t a big reason for your lead to keep engaging with you.

Specific messaging around their pain points and issues, or the benefits you can bring, are required to get them to be interested in moving forward. Trying to appeal to everyone with a broad message is going to backfire because you risk not being specific enough for the lead to understand how you meet their needs.

Don’t dilute your business with vague language.

This is important in your initial interactions as well as where you send people. So, cold emails and thoughts must target the individual. Landing pages you share should target their pain points. Solutions papers should at least touch on the same industry and company size. Everything needs to be easy to link to the prospect so they feel like you’re working to understanding them.

Sales funnels are built to move people from one point to the next. Messaging as leads move should be consistent and match. So, a targeted email that leads to a generic landing page is going to create a disconnect. If your white paper is about B2B lead generation but the demo page keeps talking about B2C tactics, the potential customer is going to get confused.

Create landing pages and content for each area of your campaign, specific to your target personas and ads.

Timing is everything

A core challenge for lead generation and making the most of the leads you have is understanding the timing of your audience. Some markets need more time to process information and read what you send (especially complex B2B purchases) while others are going to need more immediate follow-up to keep their attention (think low-cost B2C).

The data we mentioned earlier should inform this decision on your part, and as always, A/B test continuously. Even tweaking by a day or sending something out in the morning versus after 3pm can make a difference. You’ve just got to discover it.

Part of the timing concern is giving people the space they need while not allowing them to feel forgotten or neglected. Your mission is to engage and look for potential buying signals so that you can push to the next step so that you’re ready when they’re ready to buy.

lead management challenges
Nothing is better than taking a well-timed shot.

Worthwhile side note here: always review your CRM and the steps it takes. You don’t want to literally be forgetting about qualified leads by categorizing or sorting them in a way that removes some from your funnels. It happens and it hurts.

It can be tempting to always stay on top of your targets, but in some instances, this can overwhelm and frustrate your audience. 

For example, I bought a pair of shoes online from an e-commerce company. The shoes were supposed to arrive within 10 days, but before that I had more than a dozen emails from the company. A shipping delay caused the shoes to take over a month, but nothing in the company’s CRM monitored that or adjusted based on delivery. So, before the shoes ever arrived, I had more than 30 emails from this company including multiple that asked me to make additional purposes. That process will never make a customer feel listened to if there’s any shipping issue.

Track the data you can. Listen to customers when they offer information. Keep an eye on signals and ask questions. Don’t jump on opportunities that aren’t there. Specifically for your leads, this means contacting them regularly but not always with a sale message, and giving an opportunity for feedback to help you refine your processes.

What do they do next?

Let’s finish with the most important element in all of your lead generation efforts: telling people what to do.

This goes beyond having a call-to-action (CTA) in your email. Every thing you send a lead (email, ad, page, paper, etc.) should tell them what they need to do next to get your service. These can be broad asks, such as learning more, sharing problems, or thinking about what they want. As they move through your funnel, leads need more specific elements such as filling out forms, scheduling demo times, or signing up for a free trial.

How can we improve lead generation?
Always have an answer for "what's next."

Only a select few leads will be ready to buy at the beginning of the process. So, be sure you can accommodate this rare early sale while also ensuring those not ready to buy have a clear step forward. Inform, explain, and ask before you get to the sales push. Nurturing your leads not only means sharing with them the possibilities you can deliver, but also making it easy for them to get there.

And, finally, know that it’s okay to ask someone to wait. It’s a good tactic to prevent being pushy while also showing customers you value their time. If you always follow-up with your third email in two days, use its CTA to ask for internal reflection and tell them you’ll reach out again in two days. Then, your next interaction can call back to that thought and ask the company to address it together. Inward actions like this give your lead qualification efforts a personal feel, even though you’re asking the lead to do that heavy internal lifting.

When your leads know what to do next, they can move forward with you. If they don’t, they’re just stuck waiting on you for an unknown period of time. The risk is that they’ll become bored or take an action you don’t want, like looking at competitors.

Guide them and together you’ll move forward down your sales pipeline. This works, even if it is as simple as asking them to discover how your business works to get their thoughts.

Hayley Darden Marketing Invisible Technologies
Geoff Whiting
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