Everyone says they’re working for higher win rates on sales from high intent buyers. Maybe they are, but they’re probably working at it from the wrong direction. Very little is as annoying to a sales rep as being told a lead is market qualified only to learn it’s not even a little bit sales qualified! Yet it happens all the time.
What makes for a good lead? One word. I’ll tell you what it is in a second. It’s not qualification criteria, though it helps. It’s not market segment, or even budget. Are you ready for it? It’s INTENT!
HIGH INTENT BUYERS
A lead with an intent to buy is the Holy Grail of leads. It means the lead has decided to buy, and they’re just choosing what, when, and with whom they’ll partner. High intent buyers get every Account Executive’s heart pumping. They’re what gets ‘em out of bed in the morning. They’re the leads they’re least likely to get from Marketing. (Sales mostly generates those high intent leads on their own.)
Unfortunately, many marketing departments are still focused on lead volume, and are missing the boat on lead intent. They’re still working the old Demand Generation Waterfall. As a result, sales doesn’t get the actionable leads is needs. Why? Because we structured it that way. Yep, we (the business community at large) structured a sales and marketing relationship where we rate marketing on the number of MQLs they supply, not on the quality of buying intent. Marketing is on a hamster wheel repeating the same exercise, but the output they’re trying to achieve isn’t delivered. They deliver leads that are likely suitable for nurturing, but few who have any intent at all. That’s what we asked them for.
It Wasn’t a Great Idea
When you step back to think about it, it was a flawed concept from the beginning, but we did it with the best of intentions. For decades we believed that sales was strictly a numbers game. (i.e.: Knock on enough doors, and one of them will open.) We also pictured one buyer, the famed Decision Maker, not the whole team of stakeholders. Ooops!
Then we learned we don’t have to do it that way. Enter qualification! It had a good run, too, but now it needs to be re-focused. A lead that is market qualified or sales qualified just means they have the capacity to make a purchase. In other words, they look good on paper. What about intent?
Where do you find these “Holy Grail” leads? The high intent buyers? You find them in your first party data. (Click for a deeper dive.) They’re in your CRM and Customer Success Platform data, Customer Success department notes. They’re people and organizations interacting with your content or brand across all channels.
To clarify, more levels of, and higher numbers of engagement across more channels = higher intent to buy. Fewer engagements across fewer levels = lower intent to buy. More direct outreach or phone calls or email replies = higher intent to buy. Lower numbers = lower intent to buy.
THE X FACTOR
We’ve tried to create intent out of thin air by automating certain engagements and content delivery. We have emails or video releases that are triggered by prospect actions, and it’s a good start. Demonstrating interest, meaningful content, and a willingness to engage to a prospective buyer is going to build traction with some prospects. However, we need to build on all interactions, including some that are harder to track, or considered more passive. You know, the X factor. Eyes on a post, or similarly, email opens that don’t result in a click, are still relevant actions – and they’re more common in the early stages of the buyer’s journey. Creating the tech stack that will allow you track “passive” acts and integrate it with your other first party data matters now more than ever.
The majority of the buyer’s journey now takes place entirely, or is supported at every step, online. This is true more than 85% of the time. Different sources list the number as higher, but Deloitte, Gartner, Accenture, and many others agree that 85% is the minimum, even in B2B purchases. In short, this means our content has to be spot on, up to date, easy to digest, and lead to the next right action. (For more on these changes in buyer behavior, read this.)
Remember, an Intent Qualified Lead, or IQL, is what we’re looking for. These leads close the most often, and allow your sales team to shine. The prospect is getting the engagement and education they want, and the sales team is zealously engaging the prospect to meet their needs, wants, and goals.
CREATING AN INTENT CONTENT FUNNEL
Most importantly, content marketing should be built to engage each of the roles, goals, and knowledge levels of the buying team. Procurement has a different set of needs from management, which is different from the end user, which is different from IT. You need to educate and engage each of your prospective buyers respectfully, from end to end of the buyer journey. Their needs differ, but they are all part of the high intent buyers group.
As you know by now, links, backlinks, well written content, video, content across multiple channels, SEM and SEO, and fresh content will help you get found. What’s next?
Lots of Levels, Lots of Places
Content marketing needs to meet each buyer persona everywhere they are on their research journey: social media, news reports, videos, webinars, white papers, and websites can support all phases of research and awareness. A variety of types and knowledge levels of content allow customers to opt for a deeper dive when they’re ready to learn more. Leave out a piece or two, and you’ll be surpassed by someone who met them every step of the way. Additionally, remember different people and different buyer stakeholders learn and make decisions differently. Their journey will take them on different paths, even if they represent the same purchasing team. Make text, graphics, videos, info-graphics, podcasts, and live webinars available to help different learners absorb and engage with your information.
Every piece of content should lead to another action or piece of content. Create a logical path of learning and intent building. Place links within and at the end of each content piece. Make a chatbot or live chat available for quick questions.
In addition to a variety of content paths, it’s time to create customized triggered engagements. Your Customer Success Platform may have a few triggered engagements, like responding to an intake form, pre-programmed. But what about more complex triggers? Make sure that as you add content at different levels, your CSP is supporting outreach to different personas for different reasons. Did your prospect open a newsletter link, attend a webinar, and fill in a form? Are they getting the same automated email as someone who filled in a form in an ad? Personalization and customization will make a difference between an email or call that delights and an engagement that ends the customer’s interest.
Think of who your content is designed for, and what next action is most relevant for them. Is it more learning? Is it sharing content? Maybe it’s speaking to a rep. Maybe it’s attending a webinar, or visiting an FAQ page. Plan carefully. Some content paths should converge, while others will be solo. Some will lead to a rep, while others should be purely educational.
Existing Customer Content Matters
Similarly, don’t forget to create content for current customers! Remember, it also will be read by future customers. New visitors will see it as an example of your service level, while current customers will lean on it for processes they utilize less often. Prepare your content for both sets of viewers, and always link to other content and to Customer Success.
These pieces are all key to a basic intent content funnel. Your funnel may have/need additional pieces, based on your sector or business model.
WHAT ABOUT MY CURRENT FUNNEL?
It’s time to reassess and reorganize your current funnel plan to meet current buyer behaviors across all the stakeholders of the purchasing team.
- Split your current funnel plan into categories – Analyze lead-to-win percentages by lead sources. Your holistic content funnel has by far the best conversion rates to closed won. Other parts of the funnel should continue to exist, but call them by their intent and stage: Nurturing, Brand Awareness, etc.
- Cut out or reassess all the lead sources with poor conversion rates and/or untenable Customer Acquisition Cost. For example, some of these might be Awareness campaigns, or Special Events. If they don’t have a clear relationship to your high intent buyers funnel, they may just need to go.
- Optimize the inbound buying experience for your customers, not what’s easiest/cheapest for you to do. This is a common, and very expensive mistake! High intent buyers want to navigate quickly and easily to the next step in their information-gathering. For instance, lot’s of whitespace and clear visuals matter. Tell the same story in words, pictures, and videos, allowing for different preferences and different viewing devices. Create easy-to-navigate categories, pricing or buying information, and specs regarding timelines, measurements, services, etc.
- Set your content KPIs – engagements, education, high intent leads, qualified pipeline, revenue. Subsequently, measure category successes and changes in deal velocity.
- Set your leading indicators – demo page views, contact form completions, organic/direct traffic volume, content shares, awareness channel engagement metrics, responses to triggered actions, etc. Track what’s working, and of equal importance, what’s changing.
- Use this data to restructure your outreach, engagement, and support of buyers. Your closed/won rate will go up while you focus on fewer, higher intent deals.
IT’S A FIRST STEP
There may be more you have to do to support this current buyer’s journey than just re-tooling your content funnel. It’s likely to be an organizational shift. If you don’t have one, it’s probably time for a Sales Enablement manager to keep the project on track. You may have to restructure your KPIs for different job roles. You may need to improve your tech stack to track, capture, and manage your first party data. The compensation plan for sales and marketing may need a revamp.
The buyer’s journey will continue to migrate. The stakeholders who make the journey will continue to change. As sellers, it’s our job to meet the needs of our high intent buyers, and educate them on how they can make their best, most productive and appropriate choice. Don’t try to force buyer’s decisions into your favorite boxes – they’re breaking out.