Close More Sales with Lead Validation

Brad Shorr

Lead validation is the labor-intensive process of listening to recordings of phone inquiries and reading form submissions generated by SEO, PPC, email marketing and other Internet marketing campaigns, to separate true sales leads from non-leads such as spam, sales solicitations, customer service inquiries, etc. Ideally leads are validated in real time, so leads can be handed off to sales quickly.

Our own lead validation data, culled from agency and client campaigns, indicates that as many as half of campaign-generated inquires are not sales leads.

In theory, lead validation makes the sales department far more efficient, because the sales team is no longer bogged down sifting through non-leads to find the good ones. Also, when sales reps are given a constant stream of non-leads, they lose confidence in their own marketing departments and sometimes overlook good leads because their experience tells them these leads are poor quality.

How Lead Validation Boosted Our Agency’s Sales Production
That’s the theory of lead validation, but does it work? Based not only on our agency’s quantitative results but also from my own experience, I can say without hesitation that it does.

Our agency implemented lead validation for our own Internet marketing campaigns over a year ago. At the time, my desk was smack dab in the middle of the sales department — I was surrounded by Straight North sales reps whose job was to be on the phone following up on our website leads. As lead validation was implemented and began to take root, I was thus in a unique position to hear first-hand how the new process was affecting our sales team.

The results were pretty amazing.

Before Lead Validation
Prior to lead validation, it was painfully clear the sales team was wasting a lot of time getting sucked into lengthy conversations with people who were poor fits, looking for a service we did not offer, or trying to sell us a product or service. Roughly half of the time or more our reps were on the phone (my sense of the time proved accurate as we collected lead vs. non-lead data), they were dealing with dead ends. This frustrated them nearly to the point of being cynical, of not believing they would ever reach their new client goals within the framework of our system.

After Lead Validation
Five or six months after our lead validation process was firmly in place, the change was dramatic. Now, the vast majority of calls I heard were legitimate sales conversations with people interested in one of our core services. Now, very little of our reps time was wasted on dead ends — and all the practice they were getting working with real prospects was making them ever sharper in their ability to convey our capabilities with precision and persuasion.

The whole sales team’s morale began to soar — along with new client production, which continues to track at strong double-digit growth, and periodic triple-digit growth, for new clients and new client revenue in our year-over-year new business reports.

Lead Validation Powers Up Internet Campaigns
Lead validation is not only improving our sales team’s productivity, it is also improving our Internet marketing campaigns — enabling us to target and convert greater numbers of high quality prospects.

Typically, when Internet marketing campaign managers and company leadership review campaign data, sales leads and non-leads are lumped together in a category called “conversions” or “inquiries” or “leads.” This type of categorization is very misleading, since as many as half of these conversions are not leads. If the numbers are growing, company personnel may assume their marketing campaigns are improving — which may not be the case at all:

If conversions are growing because non-lead inquiries are growing, Internet campaign effectiveness is actually declining.

If conversions are growing because non-lead inquiries are growing at a faster pace than actual sales lead inquiries, campaign effectiveness is growing at a much slower rate than assumed.

On a tactical level, being able to distinguish leads from non-leads leads to much more effective campaign management.

For instance, if in a PPC campaign, keyword A generated 100 conversions and keyword B generated 60 conversions, the PPC campaign manager will put more emphasis on keyword A. However, if lead validation shows that keyword A generated 30 leads and keyword B generated 40 leads, B will get more emphasis.

In our case, we have used keyword data in just this way to vastly improve the targeting of our PPC campaign. In addition, we have found lead validation quite valuable in assessing the performance of referral websites on which we were paying for a listing: we discovered that certain sites were sending a lot of inquiries, but no actual leads. What we thought was a useful monthly fee turned out to be not very useful at all.

The following lead validation slide presentation provides more detail, data and insight. If your company is looking for a way to fill the lead pipeline, lead validation may be the answer. It has certainly proved to be a major source of improvement for our agency and our clients.

Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, an Internet marketing agency.