By Cheryl Engelaer, Results Count Marketing

Online Lead Generation: Squeezing the Funnel for More High Quality Leads

What if you could take your online contacts and generate super-targeted, high quality leads that are “proofed” and sales ready – i.e., leads that convert well and remain loyal to your company? Improving lead quality results in better use of your marketing budget, better use of sales time, and bottom line impact that delivers greater ROI.

This article covers the five steps to gain the insights necessary to turn your current online marketing lead flow into cost-effective, targeted leads that are ready to buy. These steps will help you recognize your best customers, capture critical customer data for scoring, and shift your website and targeting strategies to boost lead quality. The steps progress from generating to converting quality leads, including the critical step of nurturing these highly valuable leads.

1. Identify High Value Clients

A quality lead should be a lead that not only converts, but converts at a high contract value AND stays with your company. Start with an analysis of who these customers are in your client base. This is the first step toward moving away from lead quantity and toward lead quality.

Typically, this activity is performed with your finance and marketing departments and will require examining sales to new customers from the last 3-5 years as well as sales to existing customers. The aim will be to gather as much data on your best customers as possible. This will allow you to quickly identify these high value prospects as they enter your sales pipe.

This task cannot be underestimated as it will not only allow you to identify your best prospects but it will allow you to adapt your marketing message and sales approach to yield a higher rate of conversion. For example if your highest value customers were architects, set up a specific landing page that speaks their language. Tailor the message and offer and provide testimonials specific to their industry (more on this on our website optimization section).

Below are some specific questions and examples to help identify your highest value customers:

What are the demographics of your highest value customers?

  • Segment – small, medium or enterprise
  • Vertical – healthcare, construction, IT etc.
  • Function – Marketing, IT, Sales
  • Title – Manager, Director, VP
  • Role – Decision maker, influencer, end-user, information gatherer
  • Other demographics include: years in business, geography, etc.

What has been the value of these customers over time?
Value is usually determined by the total profits each customer has generated for your company over time. It is important to consider the number of purchases within a historical time frame, how recent the purchases were made, and the frequency of those purchases. A series of smaller, frequent and recent purchases is a better indicator of a relationship than a one-time large purchase.

Another aspect to consider is what you have done to specifically retain this customer. Have you offered yearly incentives for early renewal, or discounts on their favorite products? Track these incentives and their impact on customer retention. This data will be valuable in helping to ensure the loyalty of your newest customers. A best practice that can be used over time is a regular customer survey – some of your best retention tactics will come from your customers.

What marketing channel or path did they take to become a customer?
This is an absolutely critical factor in determining strategic online marketing direction and marketing budget. Here is a simple example that will help illustrate:

When we look at the table above, some key learning becomes evident:

  • Social media is not an expensive channel but does generate the lowest quality leads. Recommendation: begin to actively score these leads and create a marketing response to the low quality leads that may give them a white paper where as the high quality lead may be followed up with a live call.
  • Email to your purchased list is producing a fair amount of high quality leads (50%) and the cost per lead at $25 is acceptable.
  • Website leads are the highest value but are costly when compared to the leads generated through the email and social media channels. I would begin an aggressive assessment of the channel to determine where costs could be cut without sacrificing lead quality.

2. Score Leads with Implicit and Explicit Data

Now that you are armed with the characteristics of your most valued customer, begin to filter your leads as they convert. Examining demographics like title and company size (explicit) and behavior like time spent on your website (implicit) will help you identify the highest value leads. Set up rules that score your leads from immediate action to nurture. Use the demographics on the lead form, vet cross-departmentally between sales, marketing and finance. A best practice is to test your lead form for drop-off and always be aware of the amount of info you ask for relative to the information or action your lead is receiving.

Remember that your lead form can be used to prequalify a lead as well. Asking questions related to: budget, estimated time to purchase, reqesting a sales follow-up call, purchase decision making authority, etc. will help to route the “warm” lead to the most appropriate sales rep.

Here are some of the implicit and explicit measures to evaluate:

3. Optimize Your Website

Knowing the demographics and behavior of your highest quality leads will help you make smart choices on your website. Think about tailoring the experience for this lead – set up an optimized landing page with the key words and products/services that really appeal to them. This will now drive free organic, high quality leads to your website and into your database.

When designing or updating a website, always keep the experience of your prospects and customers in mind. Analyze the activity on your website at least monthly using the following metrics as a start:

  • Visits
  • Time on site
  • Bounce rate
  • Page views
  • Time on site
  • Lead form completes and drop off

Finally, know where your highest value leads are going on your site and where they spend the most time. Regularly perform a path analysis to determine what paths are leading to booked revenue. Knowing the click path also prevents you from removing a page that is part of the natural flow to becoming a lead or purchasing your product.

4. Invest in Strategic Lists

Now that you know what your highest quality leads look like and how to capture them on your website and into your database, think about adding to your lead pool through strategic list purchases. Be prepared to nurture these leads along with those who have indicated they are not ready to buy in the short term with high value content and promotions from your company.

In most cases, be prepared for a purchased list to underperform your in-house list at the onset. It has been my experience that only 10% will become active. This is an indication to keep working with the lead database. The best method is to generate new and interesting content, whitepapers, blog and webinars. This type of valuable information may drive your active leads to 80+%. After producing valuable content, I have found that within 3 to 6 months the purchased list starts to behave more like your in house list. This is great news given that the list buy had targeted your high value demographic.

Finally, be very clear with the list broker what demographic you require in the list. Request 50 to 100 contact names from the list to test. This will allow you to determine preliminary metrics like: open rate, click through rate and bounce rate.

5. Nurture Those Quality Leads

Finally, now that you are producing some great high quality leads, nurture your leads and have different programs depending on the value of lead. This is important, as not all leads are ready to buy when you are ready to sell.

Differentiating the marketing program across the lead value continuum is fairly straightforward. Periodically ask the nurtured leads to update their profiles. Do not assume once scored as low or high value that the lead will remain in this state. Additionally, with each touch, give the nurtured high value lead the opportunity to raise their hand with some form of engagement to trigger a sales touch.

Here are some good components of a great lead nurturing program:

  • Consistency – in timing and message
  • Respectful – messages should be crafted with value in mind and how your company builds solutions that will solve your lead’s problem
  • Tracked – keep a close eye on the results of your nurturing program for conversion rates and ROI by campaign
  • Communicated – ensure your company understands that the buying process of a nurtured lead is different than a customer who is ready at this moment to do business

Look for these leads to convert over time, anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.  The good news is: with steps 1-4 in place, leads should convert at a high value and be easily retained over time.

In summary, to develop a steady stream of sustainable high quality leads, consider the following:

  • Learn to accurately identify a high value lead
  • Score the lead to ensure the marketing mix is driving the right contacts
  • Track all leads across implicit and explicit measures to determine any change in lead quality, results and ROI on your marketing campaign
  • Maintain a good strategy from the website experience, to targeting and nurturing new leads in order to improve your online lead generation ROI.

Cheryl Engelaer ( is a principal at Results Count Marketing ( Ms. Engelaer specializes in delivering measurable and increased ROI across all online sources. A performance ROI Marketing Executive, she focuses on end-to-end strategies and revenue producing results in the interactive and online environment.