One of the most common B2B search marketing practices is offering whitepapers, demos, trial software, and other assets in exchange for registration information. Many companies immediately turn these registrations over to the sales team, but this may not be the best approach based on lead quality and a lengthy sales process.

Is a registration a lead?

Marketers must determine if an online registration is really a sales lead. In my opinion, just because someone downloads a white paper doesn’t mean they should be contacted by a sales person.

It depends on the specific action, of course, but I’ve found that many registrants are actually still early in the buying process… conducting general market research. These contacts are very valuable and should be nurtured and managed over time—but these folks clearly aren’t people who are ready to buy.

If marketers pass ALL web registrations directly to the sales team, reps quickly become frustrated with lead quality and complain about too many tire kickers. Marketers must be honest with themselves, and the sales team, about what the search marketing effort is designed to achieve and is capable of accomplishing.

Or maybe just a web inquiry?

It’s important to set realistic expectations with the sales team, and terminology can be a big part of this. I prefer to use the term web inquiry or online registrant instead of LEAD. I think sales lead is misleading and ultimately disappoints people.

In fact, when multiple actions are presented, such as download a white paper, take an online tour, and complete a Contact Us form, I urge marketers to label, score and track each of these actions, and the corresponding registration data, separately. I think you’ll find that all inquiries are not created equal.

Cultivate and qualify inquiries

Instead of immediately turning registration data over to the sales team, marketers should consider implementing an interim process designed to further qualify and cultivate inquiries.

Two of the most common and effective follow-up methods involve email or telemarketing. Using these channels, marketers are able to nurture web registrants, learn more about each prospect, and provide personalized and relevant information over time. The idea is to spoon-feed prospects, provide truly valuable information, and proactively move people through the buying process.

So, for example, instead of loading white paper registrations directly into a sales tracking system (such as SalesForce.com), marketers place the data into a separate leads database. Only after a robust email and/or telephone follow-up process has occurred, are the qualified leads entered into the sales system.

My colleague, Jon Miller, recently wrote about the importance of lead management and lead scoring.

Keep registration forms simple This approach allows marketers to keep online registration forms simple and maximize response rate. The form no longer needs to include every field the sales department finds valuable—because much of this information will be collected during the follow-up process. With this approach, the objective is to get as many registrants as possible into the funnel. Then let the lead management process do the rest.

One software company I work with moved all the way to an extremely simple, two-field registration form. Conversion rate more than tripled with this form simplification. At the same time, the company expanded their email follow-up process and was able to increase the total amount of personal data collected over time. What’s an inquiry worth? All this begs the question: if I’m collecting inquiries (not leads)… what’s an inquiry worth?

This is a difficult question to answer for B2B marketers, especially those with long, complicated sales cycles, high consideration products and services, multiple buyers, and a robust offline negotiation process.

Yet in order to run an effective marketing program, every company must understand how their sales funnel operates:

  • What percentage of website visitors become inquiries?

  • What percentage of inquiries become sales leads?
  • What percentage of leads ultimately become customers?

Based on this funnel and the average value of a customer, marketers can estimate what an online inquiry is worth.

Marketing through the entire buying process

My advice: Measure what you can. Estimate what you can’t. Whenever possible, pass parameters such as search engine and keyword from your ad campaigns to your leads database, and then through to your sales management system.

Even if the metrics aren’t perfect, marketers must strive to understand what they can afford to pay for a white paper download, a webinar sign-up, and all other online actions. Savvy marketers understand what a registration is worth—not just at the very bottom of the sales funnel… but all along the buying path.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: B2B Search Marketing Column | Channel: Search Marketing

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About The Author: is president and founder of SmartSearch Marketing, a Boulder, Colorado-based search engine marketing agency. You can reach Patricia at patricia@smartsearchmarketing.com. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Connect with the author via: Email | LinkedIn



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