Natalie Adler Skarzynski
5 Huge Lead Generation Mistakes (and How to Avoid Making Them)
7 min read
We are imperfect creatures.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to be better!
With that noble goal in mind, here are five major lead generation mistakes I’ve seen over the years:
Not understanding your target audience, the problems they face, and how you are uniquely equipped to solve them
Not having agreed-upon goals, processes, or definitions
Marketing and sales each doing their own thing instead of coordinating efforts toward the end goal (ahem, making money)
Getting fixated on a particular metric, like search rankings, without a clear path toward conversion
Pursuing the first tactic or content idea that comes to mind without considering how it ties into goals or strategy
All these things waste precious time and resources by taking us down paths that are ultimately unproductive. This can be disastrous, especially for smaller teams with fewer resources.
Let’s dive into how to avoid falling into the traps that have been laid out for us.
1. Understanding of target audience
Any good marketing strategy begins with an understanding of your buyers and their business needs. What are they trying to solve? How urgent are these needs in the context of the rest of their business?
That’s one circle of the Venn diagram, so to speak. The other is comprised of the problems you solve better than anyone else. At the intersection of these two lie your differentiators, which should serve as the basis for your marketing messaging.
2. Agreement on goals, processes, & definitions
Conversations about your target audience and messaging need to involve leadership from marketing, sales, and the organization as a whole -- otherwise, there will never be buy-in.
While you’re having these conversations, it’s a good idea to seek agreement on a few other things:
What makes a good lead from a demographic perspective? For example, certain titles, certain geographies, certain industries where you know you convert well. This initially be based on your gut feeling and then refined as you gather data.
What makes a good lead form a behavioral perspective? What “digital body language” do you want them to exhibit before being qualified? At the outset, this might be a pretty low hurdle until you get the lead gen engine running; for example, you may want to give prospects significant lead score points on any piece of content they interact with. The end goal would be to match up behavioral scoring with funnel stage of the content (more on that later).
What happens after marketing passes a lead to sales? First, decide on a follow-up process and service level agreements (SLAs) on following up with a warm or hot lead. You’ll also want to define specific milestones to determine when a deal moves from the next stage, and tie your sales predictions to that (instead of a gut feeling about likelihood to close).
What are the goals and metrics you will be accountable for? This can include closed deals, leads sourced from marketing, new names added to the database, deal velocity, sales activity levels, conversion rates between different stages, and so on. Don’t go metrics-crazy here, but sales and marketing need to have a set of agreed-upon measurements of success to hold themselves and each other accountable.
3. Cross-functional coordination
Agreeing on the above items will go a long way towards fixing any marketing/sales collaboration problems. But periodic check-ins will be needed to ensure the day-to-day work is progressing as planned, and that goals are being accomplished.
One of the strongest ways to align both teams is to work together to develop your answer(s) to the needs of the marketplace. Most companies are likely to have more than one, but it’s critical to only focus on a handful of messages. Determine a core set of business objectives that your solution uniquely solves (see item #1) and your marketing and sales playbooks practically write themselves.
Marketing and sales tactics are different mediums, but the core messages should be the same. No matter where a prospect is in the funnel, the base message should be consistent and tied to their needs.
4. Red herrings
It happens all the time. Someone important in the organization becomes fixated on certain metrics, and teams waste valuable resources chasing red herrings.
This can often take the form of “We need to rank on page one of Google for [random keyword here].” Or worse, “We need to make 12 new videos a month.”
Now, don’t get me wrong: improving search rankings and creating content are both good things. But there needs to be a reason to pursue these tactics that ties back to your overall goals. Otherwise, vanity metrics and busy work can squander precious resources.
Instead of starting with “We need to rank for X” or “We need to create Y,” go back to all that good marketing/sales alignment work you just did about what makes a good lead.
Your first task is to identify how many potentially good leads you already have in your database from a demographic standpoint, and create a plan to get them to where they need to be behaviorally.
This is where content will come into play, in the form of lead nurturing.
Start with mapping out your existing content and aligning to stages of the marketing funnel (this can be simple: top, middle, bottom). The goal is to give prospects something to engage with, no matter where they are in the funnel, that will drive their lead scores higher and push them over to the sales team.
Much has been written about marketing funnel stages and content types. Here’s how I think of it:
Focused on best practices and thought leadership, not much mention of product
More targeted to a role or a problem, something that helps your target role do their job more easily, and should contain a bit more about the product/solution
Webinars (especially if product message is stronger)
One of these actions should drive a lead straight to the top of the pile and should have a follow-up SLA of a few minutes
Asks for a product demo
Assign lead score points to each of these behaviors, understand what parts of the funnel or which key roles are missing content offers, and build your editorial calendar from there.
That takes care of the behavioral piece. Next, determine your approach to behavioral scoring:
Binary: a yes/no In Target vs. Out of Target determination
Scored: more points are given for more desirable characteristics
Once you’ve sorted out how to nurture existing leads with awesome content, your next question is this: if there aren’t enough of the right people in your database, how can you get more?
Now you can start to think about your search visibility, i.e. keyword rankings. The good news is that you can re-purpose all that great content you created to nurture existing leads to generate new ones (yay!). There are three ways to approach this, and successful strategies use ‘em all:
“Gate” selected content pieces for visitors to download from your website (generates new names + gives them lead score points)
Optimize your blogs and create any new ones needed to drive search rankings on targeted keywords, making sure to have a call-to-action on every blog page, preferably leading to gated content for optimum lead capture
Re-purpose parts of your gated content into blogs and webpages – search engine crawlers don’t read PDFs as easily as webpages, so get the SEO goodness from the great content you’ve created while also offering the in-depth resource as a call-to-action
Your focus should be on building content for different funnel stages and then sending people there through email, organic traffic via rankings, social media, carrier pigeon, whatever works.
5. New shiny thing syndrome
Make this your mantra: “Plan the work, work the plan.” And remember, not all ideas are good.
Constantly refer back to the plans you’ve laid out for your lead generation and nurturing efforts. And since you’ve aligned to your core messaging and cross-functional goals, evaluating new projects as they come up becomes pretty straightforward – does it serve your goals and match your message? No? Then skip it. We’re all plenty busy.
What other common lead gen mistakes do you see? Let me know that you think.