How to Properly Follow Up With Marketing-Qualified Leads

Contributed content / By Tim Edwards / 12 May 2020

Business-to-business companies need a consistent process for following up with marketing-qualified leads if they want to get maximum ROI from their marketing efforts. A specialized follow-up team — along with the right qualification framework and touchpoint cadence — is the most effective way to nudge MQLs further down the pipeline.

Business-to-business (B2B) marketers know the struggle between marketing and sales teams over what a qualified lead looks like.

If you’re experiencing this divide, you might be missing a key piece of your lead generation strategy: proper follow-up.

Working as CEO of EBQ, an Austin-based sales and marketing firm, I’ve encountered many companies that generate a decent number of inbound leads but end up seeing those leads turn stale. 

The common roadblock is a sales team that doesn’t have the capacity to convert every marketing-qualified lead (MQL) to an opportunity, especially inbound leads closer to the top of the funnel.

But with a specialized team and an established follow-up process, companies can close the gap between marketing-qualified and sales-qualified leads.

How to Follow Up With MQLs

  1. Use a specialized team to engage leads
  2. Create a lead qualification process
  3. Develop call scripts and email templates
  4. Establish a follow-up cadence
  5. Enhance follow-up with email automation

1. Use a Specialized Team to Engage Leads

A sales development rep (SDR) is a specialized sales rep who follows up with marketing leads via phone and other channels in order to qualify them and set sales meetings for a closing rep.

Employing an SDR team is especially helpful for B2B organizations and offerings that:

  • Endure long sales cycles over many touchpoints
  • Have a high selling price or average contract value
  • Require winning over a group of business decision makers to close

SDRs are solely focused on converting leads to sales-qualified, so they’re able to make the high number of touches needed to warm up high-value leads for a sales conversation.

These reps also accelerate prospect discovery, identifying buyer motivations and other decision makers who are involved in the purchase.

Most importantly, an SDR team ensures your closing sales reps don’t waste their time on leads who are not likely to buy.

According to the 2019 Sales Development Benchmark Report by sales research firm TOPO, 58% of sales-qualified leads converted by an SDR are later converted to an opportunity by sales, with 22% of those eventually won on average.

SDR conversion rates by target ACV

Source

For many B2B industries with high-end offerings and involved purchase processes, these conversion rates prove that the specialized sales development role increases deals won.

Using an SDR team to engage with marketing-qualified leads before they’re transferred to your sales team provides higher quality leads for sales reps, increases the overall number of conversions, and helps narrow the sales-marketing divide.

2. Create a Lead Qualification Process

When following up with MQLs, sales development reps need a defined lead qualification process to determine when a lead is sales-qualified. Establishing a qualification process helps marketing, sales, and sales development stay on the same page about where prospects stand in their buying journey.

Lead qualification criteria are the factors that define “sales-qualified” for your company. Generally, I recommend converting a prospect to sales-qualified once you know that these two criteria have been met:

  • The prospect and their company match your ideal customer profile
  • The prospect you’re speaking to has authority in the purchase decision

These qualification criteria are a derivative of popular qualification methodologies, such as BANT (budget, authority, need, timeframe).

In my experience, however, knowing that the right person at the right company is interested in your offering qualifies them enough to speak with a closing sales rep.

Of course, any additional discovery info an SDR picks up over the course of follow-up, such as their budget and timeframe, will be an added bonus for the closing rep.

Once everybody agrees on qualification criteria, establish a lead rating system to help SDRs track prospects’ progress toward becoming sales-qualified.

The SDR teams at EBQ use a proprietary lead rating system that we call EBRating. The EBRating system gives us a more detailed look into our lead pipeline, instead of just seeing “hot,” “warm,” and “cold” leads.

EBQ lead rating system

Our SDR teams can easily record a prospect’s readiness to buy at each touchpoint using a simple number rating using the EBRating.

Consistent qualification criteria and a strategic lead rating system keeps your MQL follow-up organized and ensures those hard-earned marketing leads don’t get left behind somewhere in the sales funnel.

3. Develop Call Scripts and Email Templates

Sales development reps need phone scripts and email templates to use as a guideline during MQL follow-up. A good SDR doesn’t read a call script verbatim but will use it to steer the conversation in the right direction while maintaining a natural, conversational tone. 

Start by developing an elevator pitch that reps can use to introduce who they are and why they’re calling. These are the 5 elements I recommend including in an SDR elevator pitch:

  1. Introduce SDR and company
  2. Confirm the right point of contact
  3. Give a reason for contacting them
  4. Explain the product’s core benefit
  5. Ask to schedule a sales meeting

5 steps to elevator pitch

This structure helps you create call scripts and email templates that concisely explain the value of your offering and introduce the rep’s motive.

It’s important that SDRs lead in strong to convey your product’s benefit and their goal of setting a sales appointment as quickly as possible, or they risk losing the contact’s attention.

Some other advice for writing SDR scripts and templates include:

  • Focus on specific benefits for your ideal buyer, not just product features
  • Ask open-ended questions to get prospects talking about their needs
  • Keep evolving your scripts based on prospect feedback 

You should continue revising your scripts as SDRs learn and document which messaging resonates best with different types of marketing leads.

A call to action that interests an MQL who downloaded a certain piece of content may not be effective for a trade show lead, for example.

Succinct and adaptable call scripts and email templates give your follow-up reps a roadmap for nurturing marketing-qualified leads and converting them to sales-qualified.

4. Establish a Follow-Up Cadence

A follow-up cadence tells the SDR team how many times and how often to follow up with a marketing-qualified lead.

Having a cadence strategy ensures that reps follow up often enough and use the appropriate channels, without overwhelming prospects by contacting them too frequently. 

Here’s an example of a follow-up cadence the SDR teams at EBQ use for their outreach:

follow-up cadence steps

This cadence chart tells SDRs which channel to use at each touchpoint. It also tells the rep exactly how long to wait between touchpoints, indicating different wait times for leads with different lead ratings. 

I suggest a shorter cadence for warmer leads — think of it like striking while the iron is hot. Colder leads typically need to be warmed up over longer stretches of time.

Our touchpoint cadence also specifies when a lead’s rating should be changed due to non-responsiveness. 

A defined touchpoint cadence establishes the optimal follow-up rhythm for SDRs to use. Find the cadence that works best for your ideal buyers to keep your MQL follow-up optimized and consistent.

5. Enhance Follow-Up With Email Automation

Your email marketing efforts don’t have to stop once a lead is marketing-qualified. Running drip email campaigns in addition to one-on-one SDR outreach keeps leads engaged with your company during lulls in the SDR’s follow-up cadence.

Once a lead is in contact with a rep from your company, let the rep handle buying conversations. Your email marketing strategy at this stage in the sales cycle should focus on providing value and education, not a hard sell.

I recommend sending marketing content, such as blog posts and guides, which increases awareness of the problems your prospects experience in their day-to-day work, and the problems your product or service solves. 

Marketing automation platforms also allow you to measure prospect interest by tracking which emails they open, click through, and which content they download.

This information can be useful for SDRs as they discover more about individual prospects’ priorities. 

Combining your email marketing strategy with your SDR follow-up strategy helps you nurture marketing leads more efficiently and keeps your company top-of-mind. 

Align Marketing and Sales With Proper Follow-Up

A specialized sales development team ensures your marketing-qualified leads receive the attention they require, instead of letting them fall through the cracks and out of your pipeline. 

The SDR team at my firm once helped software company Opus build a pipeline worth $860K by following up with marketing-qualified leads who would have turned stale otherwise. This is just one example of the impact that a defined follow-up process can have on the quality of your leads. 

Proper MQL follow-up generates higher quality leads for your sales reps, allowing your marketing team and your sales team to work together in harmony and win more customers.

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