B2B marketing success hinges on qualified leads that result in revenue. This is true whether you’re promoting an SaaS recurring revenue model or one-time IT hardware purchase.
This does not mean, however, that B2B success metrics should only be defined by qualified leads and revenue. On the contrary, the most actionable data can be found when metrics align with each unique stage of the often complex B2B conversion funnel.
These metrics could be anything from impressions or video views for top-funnel brand awareness to sales-qualified leads toward the bottom of the funnel. What is important to recognize is that not all leads are qualified the moment they enter your site, but over time a variety of touch points and interactions can turn a site visitor from an engaged prospect to a sales qualified lead. This is why it is critical to accurately define the path a prospect travels as they become a customer.
Although some aspects of the funnel may be obvious, such as knowing when to engage the sales team, other stages are more ambiguous — and properly defining your conversion funnel influences marketing channels and targeting more than you can imagine.
For example, it’s almost never appropriate to promote a free trial or product demo via a banner ad to an audience that has never engaged with your brand. Instead, you would use a campaign such as site- or email-based retargeting to effectively influence those who have already engaged with your brand and become qualified leads to now proceed to a demo or free trial. It seems simple, but many B2B marketers go for the home run on each swing rather than implementing a systematic approach tailored to the business’s unique conversion funnel.
conversion funnel audiences
Every B2B organization has its own set of audiences and definitions for its unique conversion funnel. On principle, defining these segments is an exercise to help us understand our audience.
Since 76% of business buyers prefer different content at each stage of the purchase process, you can imagine how much impact can be found by tailoring your marketing tactics for each group.
marketing engaged leads (MELs)
MELs live at the top of any B2B organization’s conversion funnel. They’re defined as being a form submit or touch that has not yet fit the criteria of being qualified.
Typically, prospects that fall into the MEL category are those that have submitted only a small piece of information or converted on a piece of content that is mapped to the top of the funnel. In general, the form submit or touch associated with the MEL is lacking the information necessary to qualify the lead. This does not mean a MEL cannot become qualified — it simply hasn’t happened yet.
Within the MEL category, there are two sub-audiences:
- Suspects are leads that have only provided one or two pieces of self-identifying information, such as an email address.
- Prospects are leads that have provided more identifying information, such as name, email and phone, but have not yet reached the criteria around qualification.
Usually, qualification is considered lacking because of the content being converted on and interest level indicated by the lead. For example, someone converting on a top-of-funnel, industry-focused piece of content is highly unlikely to have a strong sales interest in your product or brand at that moment. This is likely their first interaction with your content or brand, and they likely still need to warm toward what you offer as a service or product.
In general, MELs are the largest pool of potential customers, and the content they consume and where that content fits in the larger sales funnel should reflect this. The goal for MELs is to guide them down the funnel with appropriate pieces of content marketing to convert them into Marketing Qualified Leads, or MQLs.
marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
MQLs are leads that have reached the level of qualification defined by your marketing team. These leads usually enter your funnel as a MEL, by reading a blog post or submitting a limited amount of information to receive a piece of content focused on their industry.
Through retargeting initiatives or other marketing channels, these leads were then presented with a product-specific piece of content, a brochure, or some other sales-related asset that led them to complete a form, resulting in qualification.
Typically, this qualification is a result of their interest in your brand or product, beyond what a prospect would have expressed in the MEL stage of the funnel. This interest signals their readiness for a pitch from your sales team.
sales engaged leads (SELs) + sales qualified leads (SQLs)
Each B2B organization has its own qualification standards, set by the marketing and sales departments based on size of lead, potential revenue, and likeliness to convert into a customer.
SELs and SQLs are marketing-qualified leads that have reached the sales team. The transition from SEL to SQL simply takes a phone call or demo to understand the needs of the customer and scope of the potential purchase.
Social retargeting based on email addresses and onsite interactions, such as a demo request form submit, are excellent targeting methods to use in nurturing a lead into a closed deal. This is especially true when assets such as case studies, new product features or blog posts about recent awards are available. Promoting these materials through social advertising and retargeting work in tandem with the more business-focused sales conversations to effectively shorten the sales cycle and close the deal when it’s down to you and a competitor.
Just because a lead has entered into the sales team’s realm does not mean marketing should stop trying to close the deal.
funnel-focused b2b marketing
There are many moving parts in B2B marketing, and the definition of a business’s conversion funnel is just the tip of the iceberg.
Nevertheless, this definition is critical to setting in motion marketing conversations around who to target, what marketing channels to use, and what content to create to effectively hit each stage of the funnel and drive a lead from a MEL to a customer.
The ability to market to each of these stages effectively is what truly defines B2B marketing success.