SiriusDecisions recently launched the Demand Waterfall Conversion study, a new survey that focuses on conversion rates of leads as they progress through stages of the demand waterfall. The objective is to determine what best-in-class performance looks like for different types of B2B businesses. This is the second in a series of posts focusing on the questions the survey is designed to help answer. Today’s topic is the automation qualified lead (AQL) in the marketing qualification phase of the demand waterfall.

Several new stages were introduced to the demand waterfall last year. One of the most misunderstood, and incorrectly utilized, is the automation qualified lead, or AQL. The AQL is the stage where inquiries, both inbound and outbound, are loaded into the marketing automation platform (MAP). The AQL is the clearinghouse for capturing, cleansing, scoring and routing the best inquiries to downstream functions. Without clear definitions and processes triggered at the AQL stage, quality suffers and marketing’s contribution to pipeline farther down the waterfall is called into question. Specifically, the AQL stage is critical for:

  • Balancing volume with quality. The processes executed during the AQL stage inform some of the considerations during the inquiry capture phase before it. For example, the marketing automation platform, when integrated with third-party services, processes new inquiries for cleansing and enrichment. De-duplication, contact record matching, phone and email validation, and record appending and enrichment can all be automated at this stage, highlighting the importance of the work of the marketing automation platform at the AQL stage in maintaining a clean marketing database.
  • Prioritizing the work of the lead development team. Lead scoring occurs throughout the demand waterfall, but at the AQL stage it should serve as a gate for determining when inquiries should be passed to a lead development team for phone qualification (or to a quota-bearing sales rep when there is no teleprospecting team). The problem is that many marketing organizations define lead scoring programs, but then don’t use them. There are many reasons why this happens. Lead development and sales teams may not buy into the scoring and prioritization concept because they played no part in defining it; or marketing fails to simulate the scoring model and test output with the receiving functions in pilot fashion before deploying the scoring model against the database. Marketing may have failed to define a measurement model to determine if lead scoring is more effective in identifying and prioritizing high-propensity leads against a control group of unscored leads. Or it has over-complicated the model by scoring against too many attributes, confusing everyone. The result is that the lead development and sales teams don’t trust the scoring model and insist on access to all inquiries, afraid they’ll miss something that could be next quarter’s big opportunity. They then end up calling on a broader pool of inquiries, with fewer contact attempts per lead, instead of focusing efforts on a smaller pool of higher-scored leads with greater propensity to move forward. Or worse, they ignore marketing-sourced leads altogether.
  • Triggering rapid responses to route-around leads. The workflow rules defined in the marketing automation platform for processing inquiries should include criteria for determining when leads should bypass the lead development function and be routed directly to the salesperson for expedited followup, regardless of scoring criteria to determine fit or interest. Examples could include matching a new inquiry to an existing opportunity, or a strategic account. Or triggering route-around rules for “contact me” or “free trial” requests that satisfy certain other criteria. The key theme, again, is to leverage the technology tools at the marketer’s disposal to define processes for identifying and expediting the response for high-value scenarios.
  • The processes defined and executed by the marketing automation platform at the AQL stage play a critical role in teeing up the downstream lead development and sales functions for greater productivity by identifying, cleansing, scoring and prioritizing the best leads. Failure to get these processes right, and to utilize the technology correctly, will lower the quality of what passes to the teleprospecting accepted lead stage and beyond.