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Buying Sales Qualified Leads from lead suppliers – what are the challenges?

Nobody said working in B2B marketing is easy. Whilst in consumer marketing there is often far more opportunity for brand activity, B2B (particularly within the technology sector) is target driven to an extremely high degree – usually on a quarterly basis. These targets can cause a lot of pressure to achieve lead volume, which might not convert to pipeline at the normal conversion rates. Here we look at how this can happen and how it can be prevented.

SQL vs MQL

Most B2B marketers will know what they need at each stage of the funnel to convert to the right amount of pipeline. They probably know exactly how many marketing qualified leads (MQL) are required to generate a sales qualified lead (SQL). It is worth noting not everyone uses these definitions but as these seem to be standardising I shall for the purposes of today. 

Also worth noting is that most companies have their own scoring system for what qualifies as an MQL and an SQL. Usually an MQL will be ‘right person – right job title – some level of engagement’ and an SQL will be ‘ready to talk to sales’. So when a marketer is presented with the option to buy SQLs rather than MQLs on a cost per lead (CPL), unsurprisingly they jump at the chance. 

Ultimately buying an SQL skips the entire nurture process and should bring in a lead ready to talk to sales. And if you know the cost per lead you’re buying at and you know the average SQL/ pipeline conversion rate, shouldn’t this be a zero risk strategy?

Can you cheat the funnel?

Buying in SQL leads will usually involve some kind of BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timing) process, which realistically means they must have been tele-marketed. This in of itself isn’t a problem. There’s nothing wrong with telemarketing, but you should be realistic. 

If an MQL content syndication lead costs you £50, what is an SQL really worth? I suspect the answer isn’t the £100 – £200 CPL price tag that we often see charged. If a company could truly sell tech organisations leads like this for £150, would tech companies bother doing anything else? Surely they’d just plumb all of their money into this and half the size of their sales teams?

These leads might be slightly better than MQL leads but buying “off the rack” SQLs is unrealistic. Why? Because you can’t put an internal definition on something you can’t fully control. Unless you have call recordings, a tele-marketed lead of this type is unlikely to convert at the rates you want or expect.

There are also other externalities to consider. Telemarketing is push marketing rather than pull. Your lead suppliers will be calling an awful lot of people, on behalf of an awful lot of companies, to generate these leads. For each successful lead, how many people got annoyed? And how many people heard ‘Hi I’m callin on behalf of {Insert your company name here} before hanging up?

Ultimately buying in a SQL is cheating the marketing funnel. If you know that this activity will rely on telemarketing, then for a business/publisher to provide a service where they sell SQL leads on a cost per lead model they have to:

  1. Know they are making a healthy margin to risk a CPL business model
  2. Be doing the same job as your new business sales team

If you’re a small business starting up then it can make complete sense to outsource new business to an outsourced telemarketing firm. But only where you have a great deal of control – at the very minimum you must be able to see the call scripts.

If you have an internal sales team, and as a marketer you’ve chosen to outsource like this, then it indicates you don’t have faith in internal sales – and that indicates far bigger problems that are worth fixing before introducing any third parties to the mix.

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