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Nurturing Your Business Development Leads

Not every contact you capture through webinars, blogging, social media, emails, websites, and other marketing efforts will be interested in your services.

Basics for Client Relationship Management and this CORE CRM webinar are great introductions to marketing, business development, and the benefits of using a CRM. While consuming this content, you may have seen how a business development lead carries multiple characteristics and also progresses over time.

The progression refers to growing the interest of a potential client from lead (mildly interested) to prospect (qualified and open to learning more about your firm) to opportunity (engaged and deciding). Of course, you want the opportunity to become a won lead, meaning you have acquired a new client. 

Not every contact you capture through webinars, blogging, social media, search engine clicks, emails, website, and other marketing efforts will be interested in your services. Some do not become interested until much later, while others may never become interested.

NOTE: A referral lead is usually an exception, as your referral source has qualified the lead for you. The lead contact trusts the person who referred them to you. Thus, as explained in Basics for Client Relationship Management, a qualified lead is a “Prospect”.


Marketing Qualified Leads

With a few exceptions, every lead you capture will be a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). In other words, the person has not demonstrated the level of interest that justifies the valuable time of a business development representative (staff, manager, or partner). Some people refer to the MQL’s level of interest or “readiness” along a scale from “cool” to “warm” to “hot.” Others put a number on the MQL readiness using a scale, such as 1 to 5. 

Demonstrating interest or readiness can be done in a number of different ways. In addition, your experience will indicate where the lead falls on your readiness scale.

Engagement Type


Warmth of MQL

Via a chat or email on your website, a lead says "I have a 'situation.' When can we talk?"

'Situation' is a very warm word.

Very Warm MQL

At a networking event or other gathering (in-person or virtual) a lead says, "Can I call you tomorrow around 10?"

The lead recognized you could provide some needed expertise. What's not known is whether the person's needs can be resolved with answers to a few questions or your services.

Warm MQL

On LinkedIn, a visitor reads a post about an issue important to your clients and potential clients. With the post is a short e-book about the issue. The visitor clicks, indicating he is sensitive to the e-book topic. He provides contact information and downloads the e-book.

The visitor reacted to the topic but you don't know the visitor's needs. More proof via marketing is needed.

Lightly Warm MQL

The LinkedIn visitor above sends an email to your firm wanting more information.

Some level of “need recognition” was triggered.

Warm MQL

The LinkedIn visitor emails asking for an appointment to talk about a “concern.”

“Concern” is another “very warm” word.

Very Warm MQL

You pay a local association of Architects to email your webinar invitation to its members. The interested architects register (provide contact information).

All you know is the topic that interested some architects. More proof via marketing is needed.

Cool MQL

An architect that attended your webinar emails or calls with a few questions.

You will likely try to increase the temperature during the conversation.

Warm MQL

When the architect speaks with you, their issue is not one that requires your services. You amiably answer her questions.

A goodwill move – You create a good impression and hope she will remember you for a future situation and mention you to others.

Slightly Warm MQL


How do you know when MQLs are ready?

As the examples show, you need to watch for indicators. How they translate into a grade for an MQL is dependent upon your experience – your grading will become more refined over time. The key is an indicator or series of indicators that determine when to actively pursue a lead. The  level of business development representative – staff, manager, or partner – also depends on the indicators. 

Marketing and business development are not passive pursuits: the cost to capture leads is high. Thus, you can’t waste even a single one – for example, a webinar typically results in “cool” MQLs. Still, you spend the time to email the attendees with a link to your new video (your website or YouTube). 

In the email, you encourage the attendees to share the link with others in their company and peers in other firms. Registrants who could not attend also receive emails with a similar message. Everyone is encouraged to ask questions in order to generate discussions and help you with grading MQLs. In addition, you call the webinar attendees (and non-attendees) to remind them about the video link and offer to answer questions. 

In short, you open the door for conversation. By asking them questions or asking if they have questions, you trigger a decision process in their mind and force them to consider what the topic means to their company now. This deliberation can last microseconds or can go on longer; regardless, you will obtain better indicators about their readiness. This information helps you decide how and where to deploy your business development and marketing resources.


What do you do with MQLs that are not ready?

It’s simple: you continue to market your firm to them. While you might offer financial incentives such as discounts, most of your marketing will revolve around content. Through content, you are able to encourage, motivate, and inform MQLs through a process called “nurturing” leads. Through your marketing efforts, you build firm credibility with valuable information and inform MQLs about your firm and its successes. In other words, you want to persuade potential clients to think about the situations, issues, and challenges they face – which leads them to recognize their need for your services.

Content can take many forms:

  • Webinar

  • Ebook

  • Podcast

  • Blog post

  • White-paper

  • Video

  • and many more

A valuable element when it comes to content is called “evergreen.” This refers to a topic that remains relevant for a long time. You can promote evergreen content via social media, blog posts, and email marketing. In addition, evergreen content in one medium can be reworked into several other mediums. For example, a webinar can be transformed into an ebook; a specific part of a webinar may be turned into a series of blog posts; a series of blog posts may be combined into an ebook or webinar. Not everyone consumes information in the same way, which makes it important to have a variety of content types. Because it is evergreen content, you can use and reuse it for marketing emails, social media, and other marketing campaigns over time.

NOTE: You should encourage every MQL, client, and person you email to subscribe to your blog, LinkedIn and Facebook pages – plus any other social platforms that are part of your marketing strategy. These mediums can help a candidate evaluate your firm. A great way to do this is via your email signature.

Another type of high-value marketing content focuses on the quality of your services. For example, you can post pictures and short commentary about your projects on social media as they progress. This can be a way to show the quality of what your firm does. 

The most powerful marketing content comes from the “power of peers.” To tap into the power of peers, you want to capture client ratings. This can be done by adding apps to your website that exist to capture client ratings. Your webmaster can also add rating capabilities to your site, if you don’t want to handle this yourself. Of course, you want 4 and 5 stars from all your clients for your work. This metric tells potential clients you know how to satisfy clients and can help convert your leads.

Within a rating, a client may include comments about your firm and its services. You may also receive positive comments from clients through emails and phone conversations. Again tapping the power of peers, you can use these comments as client testimonials. Firms include testimonials on their websites as a way to show client feedback and satisfaction, even posting it to social media as part of their marketing efforts. 

Finally, a client case study is another powerful marketing resource that can be used. Typically, it is shared with active MQLs and prospects. Clients that provide positive testimonials are strong candidates for a case study. A case study usually focuses on the quality of the work provided and the financial benefits received by the client.

NOTE: Always get permission from your client before publishing a testimonial or case study.

Sales Qualified Leads

Your marketing efforts will result in leads that are ready for your investment in business development. When ready, an MQL becomes a Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs).

NOTE: Not every MQL will be ready at the same time. Don’t worry about losing substantial billable time because you need to make numerous calls and emails. In most firms, a manager or partner will simply set aside a certain amount of time to stay in content with SQLs. In other firms, a specialized business development rep will be employed to handle SQLs. A staff person with some training can handle initial conversations.

Some firms refer to initial conversations as “intake.” They gather important information about the SQL’s situation, issue, or concern. For example, in a firm specializing in family law, a staff person or business development representative gathers information about the situation (child custody, adoption, divorce, etc.). If the situation falls within the law firm’s expertise, they will conduct a conflict check. Ethics rules from national and state law societies do not allow the same law firm to handle matters for opposing parties. In a divorce situation, the law firm cannot provide services to both the husband and wife. This is, of course, a simple and obvious example. In more sophisticated matters – such as intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, and litigation – the process digs deeper into a firm’s past matters for conflicts.

Once the intake about the SQL’s needs is done, a representative (or manager or partner) seeks more detail about the situation. You want to convince the SQL to move forward with the resolution of their situation- and a good way to do this is by asking the right questions, which can often impress the SQL. In addition, you will share information about the professionals in your firm. If you have evergreen content related to their situation, this is the time to share it too. 

As the conversations progress, you will change the SQL status from “No Contact” to “Contact” and so on. As you convince the SQL they need to deal with the situation now and your firm will do the best job for them, the status becomes “Qualified”. As explained in Basics for Client Relationship Management, a qualified lead is a “Prospect”. You’re closer to gaining a new client and a new project!

If they are not convinced, they will lose interest. The SQL status may change to “Not Interested” if they are not ready to move forward at the time. This makes them an MQL again, at which point you will continue to nurture them through your marketing activities. If they ask never to be contacted again, the status changes to “Dead”.

NOTE: In your marketing efforts, MQLs will tell you to stop emailing them (called “unsubscribe”). Federal law (and the European Union) require you to stop. You don’t want to pay a fine. Again, your MQL is “Dead”.

More Lead Attributes

An MQL can have many attributes. For example, they might include:

  • Industry

  • Region

  • Referral source

  • Marketing campaign

  • Type of service needed

  • Content consumed

Some attributes will be standard fields that make up the lead record. Others will be custom and specific to your business or services. In CORE CRM, you can add tags to the lead record for your firm-specific attributes. Lead attributes (which carry forward to the Prospect and Opportunity stages) can be used to filter reports, dashboard widgets, and displayed lists. Here are a few examples of attributes:

  • Leads from a specific referral source (e.g., vendor, clients)

  • Leads from a specific marketing campaign (e.g., email offering an ebook)

  • Leads that consumed specific content (e.g., new structural regulations, selecting the right architect)

  • Revenue and gross margin by marketing campaign

  • Number of new clients/projects by industry (e.g., architects, engineers, franchisees)

It is important to identify the attributes you want to use for tracking leads. They can provide enormous insight into the people you serve (and the kind of services demanded), the profitability of various services or industries, successes and failures to learn from, and much more. 

Nurturing any business development lead is crucial to the success of your business. Make sure you and your staff understand what is  required of them at every step of the process. This might take some refining, but in the long run the pay off will be big.

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