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random acts of marketingThe No. 1 reason SMB companies abandon their lead generation strategies is that they don’t believe they got results. Companies invest time and money, but when they look back on their sales results, they can’t attribute closed sales directly to campaigns. Marketing qualified leads aren’t a metric. Closed sales is the metric. But when the marketing qualified leads aren’t converting into the sales pipeline, there are no sales to close.

Why aren’t more marketing leads converting into sales opportunities?

If everyone knew the answer to that, sales pipelines would be fatter. Companies would close more net new business, sales reps would be richer, and business owners would be smiling all the way to the bank.

Why Marketing Leads Don’t Convert

In all seriousness, when your marketing leads aren’t converting, there are 5 reasons, and most are a result of how your sales team approaches your leads.

  1. There are no words. This is the most common concern we hear from reps when we pass marketing qualified leads. “What do I say when I call?” Because they didn’t make the first approach, salespeople are often fearful they’ll say the wrong thing. Unless it’s an inbound lead that includes some information, reps don’t know how to start the conversation. The call feels exactly like a cold call to them.
  2. What follow-up? Few contacts will answer on the first call. Many salespeople will make one attempt, maybe two, then give up. Reps expect that a contact who has clicked through and read their content, downloaded a checklist, or viewed a video, will be magically waiting for them to call. That’s not the case and without a follow-up plan, the 90% of prospects who don’t answer the first call become dropped leads.
  3. Email. Email has become the preferred prospecting approach for most salespeople. In their mind, an email is the equivalent to a call – sometimes even better. With email, a prospect can reply quickly. Well, a prospect can hit “delete” even more quickly. Since most contacts still listen to at least part of a voicemail, calling leaves a more lasting impression.
  4. Target who? When you design your campaign, you want to frame it around your ideal target market with a clear picture of the contact you’re approaching. Many times, this information isn’t communicated to Sales. When the salesperson receives their marketing qualified leads, they don’t know enough about the target market to have a meaningful conversation. Prospects don’t see any value in meeting and the lead doesn’t convert.
  5. Failure is the only option. Marketing qualified leads get a bad rap from reps. If salespeople haven’t had success converting them in the past, when new ones come in the door, reps expect the leads to be bad and never pick up the phone to call. This is when you begin to hear how they’ve got too many other things to do and can’t you hire a telemarketer to call instead?

How to Convert Marketing Leads

You can overcome each of these challenges with some planning. Recognize that you or your reps may be reticent to follow up on marketing qualified leads, and develop a strategy to break past the concerns. Here are 5 ways you can convert a higher percentage of your marketing qualified leads.

  1. Plan the conversation. Be sure you’ve reviewed the campaign content and use it to plan what you’re going to say. Don’t expect that your prospect will remember a particular blog post or video. Instead, recognize that it was the topic of the campaign that the prospect cared about. That’s what you want to lead with.
  2. Create a bloodhound follow-up strategy. That’s what we call it in our prospecting training! Know how many times you’re going to call, email, drop by, and reach out on LinkedIn before you give up. Then, don’t really give up. Throw the contact back in the campaign. If they’re really interested, they’ll bubble up as a lead again.
  3. Ban emailing. Okay, you can’t ban it because email should be part of your follow-up strategy, but break past the phone phobia and PICK UP THE PHONE. Make it a requirement to call every marketing qualified lead at least 3 times before throwing them back in the campaign. Depending on the type of campaign, you may decide you should keep calling until you reach a contact and have a conversation.
  4. Share the details. You do great strategy work when you plan your lead generation campaign. Be sure your sales rep knows the target market and persona details. When we complete a lead generation strategy, we lead a company meeting to share it so the reps know who we are targeting and why. Not only does it improve their campaign follow-up, it changes how they’re selling on a daily basis. Pull those details out of the drawer and use them.
  5. Change your perception. Marketing qualified campaign leads are contacts who chose to click and read, view, download or attend something you sent them. They are not a guaranteed appointment. They are a show of interest. They allow you to call, learn a little more about the contact, and start a relationship. Maybe the prospect needs help right now, maybe not for a while. Approach these leads from the perspective that 10% of them will convert to an appointment. The rest are future opportunities. That’s not failure. That’s the sales job.

How To Increase MQL Conversions in a Recession

In times like a potential recession, prospecting and selling take more effort. Marketing must step up its efforts to generate the number of MQLs the sales team needs. Increase SEO. Strengthen your website messaging and publish more content. Run more email campaigns. Post more frequently on social media. Step up your digital advertising.

Expand your marketing to capture as many new contacts as possible. In a recession when fewer people may be searching, you have to be more visible to be found by those who are looking.

As part of the increased efforts, marketing also may loosen lead scoring. This will allow them to pass more leads to Sales in hopes that the reps will find some good opportunities hidden in them.

For a refresher on how MQLs and SQLs differ, read this article: The Important Difference Between MQLs and SQLs.

When you are facing uncertain times like a recession, add these strategies to your MQL follow-up to increase conversions.

  1. Extend your Bloodhound Follow-up Strategy – Prospects may not be ready to engage. In a recession, interest is still there, but contacts are slower to accept appointments. They’re carefully considering their needs and balancing it with their budget.  This is when they need your help determining if it’s important to address that problem now. Sales has to follow up with even more discipline to connect with them. Extend your Bloodhound Follow-up for MQLs to 3 weeks.
  2. Engage with the prospect using multiple methods – If a prospect isn’t responding to email and phone, reach out through LinkedIn. Start a nurturing conversation sharing an article or commenting on their posts. Consider sending a video email. Share an article in email. Sometimes seeing how hard you’re working at connecting will get a response even if your prospect isn’t prepared to schedule an appointment.
  3. Confirm interest – As you engage, confirm that the prospect is interested in the topics they seem to be paying attention to. It may be they are only doing some research. Or, it may be that they’re interested, but don’t want to engage until they know they have budget. Knowing what led them to read, watch or download content from your campaign will help you determine when they may be ready to start in the sales process with you and what your right next step is.
  4. Leave the prospect in your marketing campaigns – If your prospect isn’t qualified to move into the sales process but is a potential future lead, leave them in your marketing campaigns. This will keep them warm until the time is right. Sure, you want to follow-up yourself, but during a recession there are more prospects warming than you may be able to call consistently. This ensures prospects don’t fall through the cracks.

Push Reps Past Their Complaints

Get your reps past all their complaints (they’re really fears) about their marketing qualified leads and help them pick up the phone. The more conversations you have, the more appointments you set. The more appointments you set, the more new sales opportunities convert into your pipeline. Guess what happens if you have more opportunities in the pipeline? Yup. Eventually, you smile all the way to the bank.

Photo: Vasin Lee / Shutterstock

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Kendra Olney Lee

Posted by Kendra Olney Lee

Revenue Generator Kendra Lee is author of The Sales Magnet and founder of KLA Group, a sales consultancy and marketing agency that helps MSPs get seen, get heard, and get traction in their markets.


  1. Spot on post! Some of sales success truly does come down to simple math. And the data over decades has rarely changed – on average, reaching a prospect or closing a sale takes at least EIGHT sales call, but most sales reps quit calling after just 2 or 3. Stunningly. nearly half of all salespeople drop a prospect after only ONE follow up call.
    Mindful persistence and natural resiliency are traits of sales reps who consistently convert MQL’s into customers.


    1. Agreed, Moss. Many salespeople give up too soon. And, if it’s a marketing lead, they may discount the value, only calling inbound leads and ignoring MQLs. It’s critical that sales reps use their prospecting skills with strong value propositions and consistent follow-up. Sales leaders who coach and guide reps help them to build their skills. Thank you for sharing.


  2. Great article, very thorough.


    1. Thank you, Larry. I believe you need details so you can take action. Glad you liked it.


  3. Interesting article about marketing strategies.


  4. Great post!


  5. Passing along this article to our marketing team.


    1. As you check back in with your marketing team, Scott, share what grabbed your attention so they know what to keep you updated on as they implement different strategies.


  6. Good article. We use active campaign to keep our target audience engaged. With the right tags and follow up emails, we can warm them up a bit more for sales so it doesn’t feel like a cold call action as much and there’s more ground to cover.


    1. Thank you, Nicki. Whenever you can connect email campaigns to website activity do it. Once a website visitor is engaged, they appreciate hearing from you. Your emails will more likely land in their inbox where prospects will see them. Through your marketing automation system your sales team will know what interested prospects and can tailor their first approach.


  7. always welcome for a refresh on getting ideas and ways to get things moving again


  8. Great insight! Sales and marketing must work jointly in order to feed the fire.


  9. Marketing and sales are constantly evolving. Glad you appreciate the ideas, Dave.


  10. Very insightful! Thank you for sharing.


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