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Organisations often invest heavily in top of the funnel programmes to drive pipeline, however there are common points of failure in the machine which often lead to sometimes significant under-performance.

It is common for the front end of a business to be referred to a ‘machine’. In fact, the analogy of a machine is very fitting. The modern lead generation machine is a complex set of interdependent technology, processes, norms, strategy and initiatives, all designed and highly-tuned to deliver a reliable, smooth and ongoing stream of sales-qualified leads for the sales team to convert. The modern lead generation machine is ‘controlled’, in the sense that flows are predictable based on given inputs. The organisation which has control will understand which levers can be pulled to impact on performance in the right way, to allow for the rapid scaling of efforts to align with sales and contact centre capacity and overall business requirements.

Like machines however, they are prone to breakdown and need constant tuning and maintenance.

This brief article explores some of these areas to support efforts to optimise your lead generation machine.

Data quality

Contemporary lead generation is heavily data-dependent, whether it takes the form of electronic direct marketing, programmatic display advertising, or conversion optimisation. They require data collection, collation, storage, cleansing, maintenance, enhancement and protection from threat. The alternative is using outdated, inaccurate and piecemeal data which can limit reach, result in compliance issues, prohibit personalisation, drive significant manual cleansing and re-work, and innaccurate performance visibility and reporting.

Lack of lead nurturing

Organisations implement modern technologies and embed new processes to drive volume in the top of funnel, yet typically neglect nurturing those prospects already in the funnel. To manage the cost of acquisition, organisations need to consider the ROI on each dollar spent on each inititative. This often can mean that it is more efficient to be focussing marketing effort on those prospects with whom you have established a relationship already and may have overcome significant early-stage objections as the ‘path of least resistance’ when it comes to conversion. A nurturing programme should ensure those prospects receive ongoing contact from the organisation consisting of the right type of content which addresses their informational needs as well as helps drive them further down the funnel. A triggered phone call or email campaign may be required to keep momentum in the emerging relationship.

Prequalification process and SLAs

For the modern lead generation machine to work optimally, it requires performance measurement, not only to assess the outputs but more importantly to diagnose issues in the internal system. Without strong measurement, managers risk misdiagnosis, allocating resources to address the wrong issues or potentially not uncovering there is an issue at all.

A critical initial stage of designing the lead generation machine is in the pre-qualification process and SLAs. In a typical scenario, the acquisition team develop campaigns driving volume into a pre-qualification team. How does one define qualification? This requires a set of rules mutually agreed upon which a prospect must meet in order to progress further down the path towards conversion.

In addition, SLAs must be formed between acquisition, pre-qualification teams and sales, typically around conversion rates. This ensures one function in the chain is accountable to the others for a benchmark level of performance, which then allows for managers to set clear performance KPIs. Acquisition will aim to deliver a set volume of new leads per month, whilst the prequalification team will aim to convert at 50% in order to deliver Sales a predictable flow of sales-ready leads to engage. Sales will aim to convert at a benchmark rate of 20%.

Of course there will be variations in performance against these benchmarks, due to innumerable factors such as lead source, timing, market conditions, competitor activity, data quality etc. What is criticial however, is that these SLAs and pre-qualification rules drive regular, ongoing conversations between the teams in order to uncover issues and implement efforts to resolve them proactively. The least optimal scenario is where the three functions operate in a silo without any communication and therefore feedback loop – this effectively prevents the possibility of any meaningful optimisation of the machine.

Aligning these three component parts can be challenging and requires strong management to gain consensus and fully understand the specific challenges of each team within the machine.

Lack of front-to-back optimisation

Without regular maintenance and tuning, performance improvements are effectively left to chance. The organisation needs to invest in data-driven optimisation to eke out every performance gain possible from their spend. Each and every conversion point needs to be encompassed in these efforts, whether it is at early stages of the process or latter stages. Mathematically, focussing on earlier-stages can have the largest impact (consider the impact on lead volume of lifting a click through rate from 1 to 3% on a campaign with reach of 10,000 for example), however optimising latter stages can drive immediate revenue performance results.

Lack of a pass-back mechanism

There will occasionally be disagreement between pre-qualification teams, sales teams and marketing teams about whether leads meet the pre-determined criteria. In many organisations, lead generation flow is ‘one-way’, i.e. once a lead fits certain rules then it progresses to be worked on until a decision is made and that lead converts or fails to convert and gets recycled.

The reality however, lead progression is not linear and that eligibility is only on a point in time. The manual nature of pre-qualification in many organisations also means that there is scope for inaccuracies in qualification assessment.

The solution to this is a ‘pass back mechanism’, allowing a team to pass back a lead to the previous team if it is found not to meet agreed criteria. This ensures that those leads do not ‘disappear’ into a pool where they will be deprioritised for nurturing, and that they can quickly be placed back into the prior pool (or a separate pool) for recycling.

The basis of a streamlined process, delivering best possible experience for your customers, is of course trust – in process and people. The importance of alignment and relationships cannot be overstated.

CRM platform and adoption

Technology plays a significant role in the modern lead generation operation. The value of technology per se is that it hard codes process, enforcing rigour on your teams and in the process drives data quality. The selection of a platform is therefore critical. The ideal platform decision should not necessarily be based only on the feature set, but also factors such as user-experience and which platform will be most readily accepted and embraced by the team and its managers. The establishment of an internal user forum is recommended to ensure users have a sense of ‘ownership’ over the platform they interact with. Ideally, your teams will organically start to drive innovation and evolution of the platform, as the value of the platform as a performance enabler becomes apparent. Engage teams early in the process and canvas their views on selection, configuration and adoption strategies.

Culture of measurement

Taking a scientific, technology and data-driven approach to lead generation is taking the path of the modern lead generation organisation. Placing value in measurement, optimisation and reporting is critical to delivering performance gains, and all parties need to be fully aligned around the benefits of taking this approach, and the composition of the various metrics and data sources. Having a foundation of trust in the metrics is critical to ensuring the machine runs smoothly.

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