Where Are Your Leads Coming From?


Most B2B marketers spend a great deal of time analyzing the performance of their programs and initiatives. The reason is obvious: With the growing pressure on marketing to produce measurable results, it's critical that every marketing dollar is invested wisely.

That's why I'm surprised when I come across companies selling complex products or services that fail to accurately track their lead sources -- arguably one of the most important pieces in the performance metrics puzzle.

Every lead has a "source" -- something that drove that individual to contact your company. Whether it is a clear, obvious reason -- or a combination of reasons (campaign that led to a Webinar? that led to a white paper? that led to an inquiry) -- if you fail to properly classify the inquiry's source, you will invariably end up with flawed data. And flawed data can lead to poor marketing decisions.

Of course, many organizations have their campaign information and web request form data automatically fed into their CRM system. But the lion's share of the leads may still be coming in via incoming calls, direct mail, and outbound telesales -- and that's where many of the "lead coding" problems occur.

**Are You Properly Tracking Lead Sources?**

I know of a very successful technology company that still clings to an inadequate, overly simplistic lead source tracking system. As leads come in, their inside sales folks are forced to code them with one of only four "source" descriptions:

1. Telesales Outbound

2. Account Executive Outbound

3. Web Lead

4. Customer Referral

The problem with these limited definitions is obvious: There's no way to account for leads generated through direct mail, email campaigns, trade shows, advertising, press coverage, webinars, or any of the many other marketing vehicles this company employs.

Secondly, this approach mixes the reason a prospective customer made an inquiry ("customer referral," for example) with the vehicle the lead used to contact the vendor (the vendor's website). Not a good idea.

When I asked them why they limit their "source" categories to these four, they explained it had something to do with their financial reporting -- not with gathering marketing intelligence (I'm not kidding!). Bottom line: marketing is making budgeting decisions every year based on very limited and misguided information.

My recommendation to this company -- and something I'd urge you to consider if you haven't already -- was to develop a much broader lead source classification system. I recommended they develop methods and rules for classifying leads. Rules and definitions that made sense to everyone (including the accounting department), and provided marketing the information they need to make better decisions.

**4 Steps to Improving Source Tracking**

Here are some suggestions on how you can improve the tracking of your lead sources:

* Brainstorm a list of every possible lead source you can think of. Don't judge any suggestion yet. At this point you're simply trying to generate a thorough list of possible sources.

* Narrow the list down to a manageable number of categories. For example, if you typically exhibit at both, trade shows and conventions, you may decide to combine these categories into "trade exhibits".

* Agree on the rules for classifying inquiries. Tracking lead sources is not always as clear-cut as it may appear. For example, a trade show could have generated a warm inquiry that never materialized. Yet, because of your lead nurturing program (email, telesales, and direct mail, for example), you were able to "revive" this prospect into a true opportunity 8 months later.

How would you classify it the second time around? You may decide to use the last vehicle that triggered the interest (direct mail, for example), or you may want to give full credit to the trade show that sparked the initial inquiry. Or maybe even split the credit between the two. The important thing is to get complete agreement from your team as to how leads will be classified, and to stick to your agreed-upon rules when classifying.

When you properly code incoming leads, you end up with more accurate data. That means you'll have a better grasp of what's working and what's not, and will be in a position to make more effective marketing decisions.

© Copyright 2005, Ed Gandia. All Rights Reserved.


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