Lead Generation – Which Sources Convert to Sales?

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Recently, I’ve been doing some consulting to help a company optimize their B2B lead generation program.  This company is a successful services firm currently struggling to meet their new customer acquisition growth goals.  Their questions were:

  • Which lead generation activities convert into more sales?
  • Are we investing in the right lead generation activities?
  • How many leads do we need to drive a healthy sales pipeline?

During the discovery interviews, I learned that this company currently generates the majority of their sales leads from digital marketing, campaigns, sales prospecting, events, partners, and referrals.  The Discovery Deliverable endeavored to answer the 3 questions listed above.

Which lead generation activities convert into sales?

This question was very well stated, because it allowed me to dig into lead generation program specifics.  There is a difference in lead generation programs, depending on how success criteria is measured.  Most of my experience revolves around measuring success based on how many Marketing Qualified Leads, MQLs, are generated.  From my research, lead sources for obtaining MQLs, leads that convert to opportunities are, in order of outcomes are: company website, referrals, webinars, social, paid advertising, paid search, and sales prospecting.

There’s another way of measuring lead generation and that’s to measure conversion rates of leads to deals.  The research tells an interesting story about lead generation sources when measured this way.  B2B lead sources, in order of desired outcomes, are referrals, social, email campaigns, paid search, & sales prospecting.

Referrals are, by far, the best performing lead source.  We all know that, right?

Are we investing in the right lead generation activities?

Well, yes and no!  Here’s how the activities at this company lined up, in order:

  1. Digital marketing, website and social
  2. Event, face-to-face and webinar
  3. Partner
  4. Campaign
  5. Referral

Based on my research, lead generation activities might be realigned to focus on:

  1. Referrals
  2. Digital marketing
  3. Sales prospecting

Partner, campaign and event lead sources, while interesting, are below average conversion B2B leads.

How many leads do we need to drive a healthy sales pipeline?

This company had a good handle on how many leads to generate to accomplish their sales goals.  The discussion about how many quickly became, how many leads should we generated from each lead source?  By re-staging their lead generation sources, the goals for numbers of leads remained the same.  The focus was on increasing the quality of each lead, from the perspective of investing in obtaining leads from sources with above average lead-to-deal conversion rates.

What were the lessons learned?  For me, one important lesson is that high value lead sources, like referrals, should be engineered into a business process.  The second lesson was that referral marketing, as part of a digital marketing program, can increase the quality of leads.  Higher quality leads, measured using a lead-to-deal conversion lens, will generate more revenues.  That’s what we all want.

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