We asked pros from 60 SaaS businesses to share tips for converting trial users to paid customers. Here’s how they’ve improved their paid activation rates.
Product and Design | Jun 26
Elise Dopson on July 10, 2019 (last modified on July 18, 2019) • 21 minute read
It’s tough to point the finger and tell who’s to blame. Is it the marketing team’s fault for sending poor-quality leads? Or the sales department’s fault for failing to convert them?
There is no clear-cut answer.
However, we wanted to find out how companies overcome the problem of poor-quality leads making their way into sales pipelines. Their answers are compiled here.
Before we dive in with the details, it’s important to note that there are two types of lead you might want to increase the quality of:
Hill Gaming Company‘s Casey Hill explains the difference between the two: “In general, the MQL is a lead that fits the parameters set by the campaign (company size, role in organization, revenue etc.) whereas a SQL is a lead that has undergone a talk with sales who has vetted the specific client’s needs with a finer lens.”
Uku Inbound‘s Nathan van Zyl adds to that by saying: “MQL’s can be defined by a couple of firmographic and demographic factors like company size, job role, and industry as well as intent. Booking a meeting, requesting a quote or signing up for a free trial all show high intent.”
“SQLs should, on the other hand, be based on manual qualification from a conversation between your team and your MQLs.”
Here’s Mobials‘ Samantha Kohn explaining how their behaviors differ: “An SQL is currently engaged in the sales cycle — they have been qualified by sales because they are ready (or near-ready) to buy.”
“An MQL is not quite there yet — they are online researching something related to your product and have engaged in some way — maybe they checked out their vehicle’s trade-in value on your website or downloaded a piece of your content — but they’re not quite ready to be sold yet,” Kohn explains.
MQLs don’t have a thorough understanding of the need or problem–something our survey found is one of the most important lead qualification factors:
Delta Growth‘s Troy Fawkes also notes that “an MQL will ask short abrupt questions with little to no context and be hard to get on the phone. An SQL will readily commit to a call and share information to come out of the process with a high level strategy, even if that strategy doesn’t include us.”
Hey Marketers‘ Corey Haines adds that “the difference is simple: MQLs look like good leads, but SQLs show that they’re good leads.”
…That’s not an easy question to answer. You’ll need to rely on MQLs in the early stages, with the hope of turning them into a SQL.
Andrew Swindlehurst of AHM Installations explains: “The biggest difference between MQL and SQL is that an MQL is a lead that fits your marketing criteria and could potentially be a lead in the future, whereas an SWL is a lead that is ready to buy right now.”
“The difference is that MQL are leads who have shown interested and match your demographic requirements, but might be missing something such as a reasonable budget or authority to purchase.”
“With some work, these leads can be upgraded to SQL if for example, they get approval from their superiors for the purchase. SQLs are leads that are ready to go and should have less (if any) problems when closing the sale,” Swindlehurst says.
But Makenzi Wood of Kenzi Writes thinks “MQLs aren’t always as valuable as SQLs. That’s because sales and marketing are often siloed and have different ideas of what qualifies as a “lead.” But if the idea of a lead is to bring in business, an SQL is more valuable.”
Wondering why it’s important to categorize your leads as either a MQL or SQL?
LeadCrunch‘s Emma Valentiner explains: “It’s incredibly valuable to understand the differences between the two for your specific sales cycle – you don’t want to delay a sale with an SQL that’s ready to sign by continuing a nurture campaign too long. Just as you don’t want to push a sales conversation on an MQL when they’re not there yet.”
So, how do your sales and marketing teams attract high-quality leads?
Our experts think you should:
“To improve lead quality, you want your marketing team and your sales team to work together,” explains Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers.
It makes sense, right? You want to turn MQLs into SQLs.
“The sales team will tell the marketing team the kind of content they need for each step of the funnel. The marketing team will create this content and also suggest other types of content,” Aufray says.
But as Wes Marsh of BCA Technologies, Inc. explains, “there can be huge variances between companies on what they considered “qualified” between departments.”
Marsh thinks “the key is to closely align marketing’s definition to the sales department’s definition of what qualifies a lead. After all, if the sales department is unable to close the deal and generate revenue, the marketing department can’t show an ROI for their efforts so they must work hand-in-hand.”
Josh Brown of Helpjuice agrees: “You want to get to a point where what your sales team knows informs how your marketing team markets to potential customers.”
“The reason this can help with improving lead quality is because the nature of sales is to build and nurture relationships with customers, giving your sales team direct insight into customers such as their pain points, their objectives, buying behavior, how they speak (their unique jargon/lingo/language), etc.”
“All of this information can help marketers with how they form their messaging, the type of content they put out, the channels they use, etc. all of which will allow a business to generate more qualified leads,” Brown concludes.
(There’s a reason why companies see 36% higher customer retention and 38% higher sales win rates when sales and marketing departments work in harmony.)
Following on from that, “the difference between getting a lead and getting a high converting, quality lead is in understanding your audience on a granular, holistic level so you can speak directly to their specific needs, wants and desires and meet them where they are,” says Digital Radar‘s Katie Goodwill.
“Spending time developing a buyer persona that encompasses both the demographics and psychographics of your specific buyers will help inform every aspect of your marketing from messaging to design, to which avenues to advertise on.”
Cass Polzin thinks the team at Accelity are “able to generate high-quality leads because we really understand our target audience.”
“We have buyer personas for each of our different types of buyers and use that to govern all our lead generation activities. We consider our buyer’s experiences and pain points when crafting messaging. We look at where they spend the most time when determining where to invest effort in lead generation.”
“This has saved us tons of time and allowed us to bring in really high quality leads continually,” Polzin summarizes.
Allison Thompson of SyncShow agrees, and thinks “it is so important to know your buyers, study their pain points, and understand what type of content is important to them.”
“Once you define your audience, you can begin to tailor elements in your strategy to communicate more effectively to them. As a result, you can begin to generate more qualified leads for your business.”
Tomasz Alemany, who runs Top Whole Life (a site which generates 600+ leads per month), thinks you should ask your sales team “to describe these leads in detail:
Palm Lane Digital‘s Kayla Tarantino advises “to put together a user group, or small selection of your best customers. Meet with those people regularly. Learn what they like to read about, where they like to read, what other products and things they support, and their psychographic motivations.”
“The more you know the people, the better you can be at asking the questions that matter up front.”
Nick Leffler thinks you should “ask more questions that are more in depth and don’t shy away from asking a client’s budget”–something Leffler thinks “is the most effective way for me to improve my lead quality.”
Leffler also adds that because Exprance “don’t have a sales team whose sole job it is to convince people to pay more, I need to know I’m talking to people who know how much it costs to work with a web designer who is thorough and detailed.”
Leffler summarizes: “Not all web designers are the same so I only want to talk to clients who know this and are willing to pay a premium for true expertise rather than quick, shotty work.”
“If you want to improve the quality of your leads, start by taking a long hard look at your brand,” says Olive & Company‘s Erik Norsted.
“How is your brand perceived by target audiences? How are you positioned within the market? How consistent is the implementation of your brand messaging?”
“No matter how well-crafted your marketing strategy may be, a weak, inconsistent brand will undermine every aspect of marketing performance, including lead quality. Your marketing may still succeed in getting your brand in front of the right people, but those people won’t take action because they don’t perceive your brand the way you want them to.”
Norsted concludes: “A strong brand shapes favorable perceptions, earns trust, and, ultimately, elevates perceived value while lowering barriers for marketing and sales efforts. In other words, improve your brand to improve your leads.”
Pinja Virtanen of Advance B2B agrees: “The best long-term solution for poor lead quality is finding the correct positioning for your product or service.”
“In practice, this means analyzing historical customer data and conducting qualitative research (or participating in sales discussions) to understand what your best customers have in common and what they consider as competing alternatives to your product.”
“Once you understand who your ideal customers are and what kind of value their really extracting from your product, you’ll be able to target similar audiences with relevant messages that speak to their needs.”
Virtanen summarizes: “Correct positioning acts as a filter that gets rid of poor-quality leads and a magnet that attracts good-fit leads.”
Hey Marketers‘ Corey Haines also back-spu this theory: “Crystal clear positioning for your product or service attracts the best leads and disqualifies the worst leads.”
“A big problem with lead generation is that it can be hard to tell who really has intent to buy. Sometimes, people reach out or fill out their contact information simply because they’re not quite sure if it’s a good fit for them and want to talk to real human being to see if it is.”
However, Haines adds that “good positioning eliminates any doubts someone has about if the product is service is for them. It’s apparent. And the quality of your leads will go up because you have to do less explaining, less qualifying, and less convincing.”
Ever Increasing Circles‘ Ben Sansom thinks “the quality of leads depends on the quality of work done in order to get to that point of sale.”
“We spend hours each week engaging with businesses on various industry groups to demonstrate our knowledge and experience in the space; we want people to recognise and value us as a thought leader. We attend regular client events & offer existing clients incentives to introduce us to businesses within their network.”
Sansom continues: “By doing this, there is always a personal connection or link to the prospective client and there is a basic foundation of trust.”
“Marketers have to take funnel marketing more seriously,” writes Makenzi Wood of Kenzi Writes. “The best way to improve lead quality is to create and follow through on a funnel.”
“It helps you give timely marketing to users depending on where they are in their relationship with your brand. A shotgun approach is going to bring in scattershot leads.”
“Be specific in your marketing and better leads will come in,” Wood says.
Pointy‘s Lisa Sills recommends taking your funnel to the next level by “properly segmenting these leads and giving them the option to self-identify particular pain points.”
“Say for example they download a checklist as step one. You can ask for their basic information: name, email address, maybe where they’re located. They can then be entered into an email workflow or retargeted with paid ads for a follow-up asset. This time, ask them to identify a pain point or issue.”
“This issue then becomes the basis of the insight you use to improve their warmth as a lead – and to increase the possibility of them becoming a paying customer,” Sills summarizes.
Alexander Kesler of INFUSEmedia explains how this could help you spot the type of lead you’re working with: “An MQL is a prospect that shows interest in your product by downloading one of your assets, such as a white paper. But if that prospect is not currently in the market for your product or is not a decision maker with the authority to make a purchase, then he or she is not an SQL.”
*Editor’s note: Quickly inspect every stage of your marketing funnel with our Ecommerce Full Funnel template. You’ll be able to see the key stages your leads pass through as (and when) they do it.
“People have bought in to the myth that the best lead magnet to capture emails online is just name and email,” says Hill Gaming Company‘s Casey Hill.
However, Hill argues that “asking a few more qualifying questions not only gives you better lead quality but it also allows you to better serve that customer by having more context”–naming the strategy a “win-win.”
Pest Rank‘s Dan Christensen agrees: “Qualifying leads doesn’t have to be difficult, in fact, all you have to do is raise the barriers to entry.”
“In order to work with you, the prospect HAS to be qualified. The quickest way to weed out bad leads is by having each one fill out a form/application with lots of details. This will dissuade casual lookers, and questions about budget specifics will weed out low price shoppers.”
“By doing this, you may experience fewer leads as a whole, but those that make it through the process will be ready and fully qualified to work with you.”
…But what should you be asking to qualify your leads?
Fischer Unitech‘s Jackie Tihanyi thinks “these specifications can be basic such as full name, valid email, valid phone number, etc. More in-depth specifications can be industry type, job level, age, etc.”
Andrea Moxham of Horseshoe + co.adds that when you’re qualifying “top/middle of the funnel offers, skip asking for a phone number and instead ask for more meaningful answers like Company Size, Current XYZ Provider, or Job Title.”
“A vital step to improve lead quality is to keep your length of forms short,” says Anne Fairfield-Sonn of CiBO Technologies.
“Track how many times leads come back to your website and follow which pages the lead spends the most time on along with what content they interact with on your website.”
Fairfield-Sonn continues: “Rather than starting with a long form and no other interactions, limit the number of questions on each form but cycle through important lead scoring questions to build a detailed profile of the contact.”
Revenue River‘s Diana Nguyen agrees: “The most effective way to improve lead quality is simplify the fields on your forms and move prospecting questions the thank you page. It is a great way to capture more form-fills while also lead-in to ask prospects about their role, job tasks, or challenges.”
When looking to increase lead quality,Mobials‘ Samantha Kohn thinks the answer lies within high-quality incentives because “consumers are more willing to provide contact information if they are doing so in exchange for high-value information.”
“For example, automotive dealership websites that offer simple, online widgets providing information consumers are actually looking for, like trade-in values, insurance quotes or free credit profiles, generate big numbers of high-quality leads. Why? Because online car-buyers need this information as part of their pre-purchase research.”
Kohn continues: “On the flip-side, dealerships that try to earn leads through offers like ‘Schedule your test drive,’ will not generate as many leads, and the leads they do receive will be of lower quality because the consumer wasn’t being offered anything unique or helpful in exchange for their personal information.”
Jason Yao ofCanvasPeople recommends to “qualify your leads by hyper-targeting your ads to your audience.”
“Whether you are looking to promote your product or service to those in a certain location, age, gender or even more unique qualifiers such as recent life events such as birth of a child or marriage, use Facebook’s hyper-specified demographics to find your most qualified leads.”
Andrew Swindlehurst explains how the team at AHM Installations do this for their paid search ads by looking at their relevancy score: “If you’re running PPC ads then dropping as many irrelevant keyword phrases will help you improve your quality.”
“The number of leads might end up decreasing overall, but the quality of the ones you receive will be much higher,” Swindlehurst concludes.
LeadCrunch‘s David Green adds that “the single most effective way to improve lead quality is smarter targeting. Better targeting starts with lookalike models of your best customers and improves as you train the model by providing feedback of your initial results.”
You can do this with Facebook Lookalike audiences. Simply upload a customer file to your Ads Manager, and Facebook will create a list of new people who have the same online behaviors and interests.
So, you’ve got your advertising audience nailed. The next thing on your to-do list is to craft a message that converts your leads.
However, Kevin Geary of Digital Gravy thinks “if you’re too quick to get people in the door with shiny objects and crazy offers, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of junk leads. This is common with advertising campaigns that target cold traffic with offers instead of content.”
“By only showing conversion offers to people who are already aware of you and who have previously engaged with you in the past, you’ll ensure your lead quality is much higher,” Geary says.
Have you started to run Facebook ads to get more high-quality leads? You could use the Lead Form feature to do that.
But as AdEspresso‘s Paul Fairbrother explains, “the lead volume is high but the lead quality can be low. This is because Facebook reduces the friction too much, by filling in most of the fields automatically based on data from the user’s profile.”
To overcome this, Fairbrother recommends to “include an open ended question within the lead form. This makes the prospect stop and think, and then they have to type a response rather than just quickly clicking the submit button.”
*Editor’s note: Grab our Facebook Ads Purchase & Leads Breakdown template to see which leads are converting, how much they’re spending, and your total conversion value all in one place.
According to Uku Inbound‘s Nathan van Zyl, “great leads start with great content.”
“Content helps establish your business as an authority in the mind of your potential customers and when accompanied with enticing gated content, it becomes an effective lead magnet.”
Van Zyl adds that “93% of B2B buying processes start with an online search so creating content to educate and inform your target audience is key if you want to improve the quality of your leads.”
Mailbird‘s Andrea Loubier also says that you could “allow users and potential customers to read a snippet of a high-quality piece of content, and then require them to input an email address before they can read the post in its entirety.
Loubier explains that “this will “qualify” the lead and help you to compile a list of leads that are interested in your particular niche and the services that you provide.”
To summarizes, Chane Steiner of Crediful says: “The more accurately your content draws in qualified leads, the better. Remember, quality over quantity is what counts. Create content that provides specific actionable advice for readers who closely fit your customer profile.”
It’s important that the content you’re creating is uber-targeted to your ideal customer, as My Creative Mark‘s Christian Nahas explains: “The more your content is relevant to your target market or even to a specific persona within the target market, the higher the lead quality.”
That’s why you’ll need to optimize your content for the keywords they’re searching for, as Her.CEO‘s Stacy Caprio notes: “The most effective way to improve lead quality is to target high conversion intent keywords across all campaigns, whether they are SEO, paid, email or other marketing channel.”
Caprio continues: “This means not going for the big, broad, general, high traffic keywords, but instead focusing on keywords where the user has a high intent to purchase or use your service or product such as “buy + Product” or other keywords with very clear purchase intent.”
Purchase intent is what it says on the tin: A person typing something into their search box, and looking to buy something.
“A convenient way to figure out the searcher intent for a keyword is to simply search on Google and check the results on the first page,” writes Hassan Alnassir of Premium Joy.
“Through checking Google results including the related search terms, you can get a clear idea of what people are looking for when searching for that keyword. When trying to target a product name in blog posts, it’s typically enough to check Google image results to confirm the keyword is relevant to your audience.”
Sunlight Media LLC‘s Angelo Frisina also shares how she uses keyword modifiers to target sales-ready leads: “For instance in our field someone can search for “website development” which is generally someone looking for tips & advice on DIY website development.”
“However, if we add a city string to the search string, such as “website development Los Angeles” it generally means someone is searching for a website developer in Los Angeles, thus making this a more qualified lead for potentially selling our services,” Frisina explains.
When we asked for Matt McGee’s best tip fo improving lead quality, the answer was simple: “Market to your existing clients and turn them into your best fans and ambassadors. The leads they’ll send you — friends, family, co-workers, etc. — will be about as high-quality as you’ll ever get.”
The proof is in the pudding.
McGee said the team at Cari McGee Real Estate Team “generated 480 leads from paid methods [in 2018], but those led to only three transactions.”
“On the other hand, by marketing to our existing clients, we earned 98 unpaid leads — these were referrals, past clients coming back to use our services again, friends/family, and so forth. From those 98 leads, we converted 43 transactions.”
McGee adds that “with results like that, we’ve since stopped advertising on Zillow and Google, but still spend a bit on Facebook. We’re big believers in getting great leads by creating a rock solid referral network.”
Are you ready to start filling your sales pipeline with high-quality leads?
Although the techniques we’ve listed work for the company sharing them, you might need to spend some time tweaking your strategy to see what works for you.
Palm Lane Digital‘s Kayla Tarantino explains: “Lead quality is more than fields of information in a CRM that mean “good or bad.” Behind those fields are human beings, and it’s hard to apply a black and white methodology to what makes a human being more valuable to speak with than another.”
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