How to Convert Inbound Leads – The Ultimate Guide

By Daniel Threlfall

How to Convert Inbound Leads – The Ultimate Guide

To convert inbound leads successfully and effectively, you need a bulletproof inbound lead conversion strategy.

This guide lays out exactly such a strategy.

If you want to convert inbound leads, your inbound marketing methodology needs to be data-driven, consistent, and highly tactical.

So how exactly do you create a winning lead generation process in 2020?

After reading this guide, you will have a comprehensive understanding of both basic and advanced techniques to convert inbound leads quickly and effectively. 

And, yes, this works even in the turned-upside-down state of the economy with COVID-19, lockdowns, and all. 

Disclaimer: Much of the information below can be applied to nearly any business in any vertical. However, the detailed techniques in this guide are geared specifically towards SaaS and other software businesses.

Convert Inbound Leads: The Basics

Before we get into the details of how exactly to convert inbound leads, let’s look at some general concepts relating to inbound lead generation.

Basic, but important stuff.

There’s a lot of misinformation and vagueness out there, so I want to make sure we’re on the same page.

First of all, we need to establish exactly what an inbound lead is and go over some B2B sales terminology.

What is an inbound lead?

An inbound lead is defined as a person who approaches your company with the intent of learning more about and potentially buying your product or service. 

Typically, an inbound lead will make first contact with you by filling out a contact form or sending an email.

Inbound leads are different from outbound leads. Outbound leads are people whom you reach out to directly, as with a direct email or phone call. 

Both types of leads have their pros and cons, but most businesses today prefer inbound leads. 

Why? Inbound leads are prospects that engage your brand based on their own volition.

By doing so, they are expressing both awareness of and interest in your brand. In a sense, then, they are qualified as an MQL. More on that below. 

These prospects want to know about your product. You don’t have to go to them. 

Instead, they come to you.

convert inbound leads - inbound vs. outbound

While inbound leads tend to be warmer than outbound leads, they’re still not guaranteed sales. 

You need a robust, lead-centric process if you want to successfully convert your inbound leads.

There are also different types of inbound leads. Depending on how serious and how far along they are, leads can fall into one of three main categories.

inbound lead conversion process

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is someone who has interacted with your marketing but isn’t yet ready to get a sales call. This could be someone who has downloaded a white paper or watched a webinar.

A sales qualified lead (SQL) is someone who is seriously considering becoming a paying customer. This is usually someone who has filled out your contact form to get more information about your product.

You can read more about MQLs vs. SQLs here.

A product qualified lead (PQL) is someone who has used your product and is now interested in becoming a paying customer. PQLs are common to get if you offer a free trial or a freemium level.

convert inbound leads using a PQL strategy

PQLs are a less common form of qualifying leads, but they do have their place in some businesses. 

Each of these qualified lead are at very different stages, so you can’t treat them all the same. In other words, you have to proceed differently based on what level they’re at. 

Fundamentally, if you want to convert inbound leads, you need to actively generate those leads in the first place.

If you want people to approach your business, you need to make them aware of your business. 

This is where a great lead generation strategy comes into play.

Inbound Lead Generation 101

The best way to understand lead generation as a whole is to break it down into its fundamental parts.

Broadly, inbound lead generation is the process of getting people interested in your product and then turning those people into paying customers.

As we explore below, this most commonly involves using your website and social media to generate interest and brand awareness. 

For a quick intro to the subject, check out this video:

Remember that inbound leads come to you out of their own volition. 

You’re not cold calling these people or emailing them.

So how do you get people heading your way? 

By putting out lots and lots of value that gets people invested in your brand. This is the basis for converting inbound leads.

Here’s a flowchart that breaks down the lead generation process in its simplest form. 

basics of inbound lead generation

There are three simple steps here, but there’s a lot packed into each one, so let’s explore them.

Convert Inbound Leads Step 1: Create Value

First, you put out valuable resources. 

You can do this via email marketing, social media marketing, and blog content. 

You can also create lead magnets, which are resources that are offered in exchange for an email address, so the recipient gets a ton of value and you get their email.

The purpose of a lead magnet is both to provide value and to capture information about the lead so you can start a conversation with them and begin the conversion process.

Here’s what the landing page for a lead magnet sometimes looks like:

sample lead magnet for inbound lead generation

Here are a few other examples of lead magnets:

  • An hour-long webinar that covers a specialized topic
  • A how-to guide that teaches readers something simple and actionable
  • A free ebook on a hot topic in your industry

At this step, the goal is to spread the word about your brand and get people interested. 

A lot of the people who consume your content will be MQLs, but some will be SQLs. In both cases, you can convert inbound leads into sales.

The bottom line here is that it’s important to put out the best possible content so that people see how awesome your brand is.

The methods discussed above — blog content, lead magnets, social media, etc. — are really basic. Elemental though they seem, they are the tactics that are used by most companies today to generate inbound leads.

Don’t let that constrain you. Inbound lead generation is the realm of creativity and imagination. 

You may not have the chutzpah to pull a Richard Branson, but you can still get creative and employ guerilla marketing tactics to see what works

richard branson uses inbound lead generation strategies that are...unique

Explore, test, iterate, and find the method that works best for your brand and product. 

Convert Inbound Leads Step 2: Get Information

Second, people find those resources and get directed to a landing page with a contact form. 

At this point, people are heading to your site for the express purpose of learning more about your product. Many people will even have serious intent to purchase, and these folks are your SQLs.

At this stage, sending leads to a contact form is integral. 

This is how you’ll get critical info about the lead, like what kind of company they work for and why they’re considering your product. This is the first step in qualifying an inbound lead (which we’ll discuss below).

Convert Inbound Leads Step 3: Capture The Lead

Third, the lead fills out that contact form and begins engagement with your sales team.

By now, a lot of the hard work is done, but it’s still important to seamlessly transfer the lead to sales as quickly as possible. This will give you a much higher chance of converting the lead.

At this point, you can consider the lead to be captured, and this completes this portion of the lead conversion process. 

Now that you understand the general process of how to convert inbound leads, we’ll look specifically at how to qualify each type of lead.

How to Qualify Inbound Leads

 Qualifying a lead means determining the likelihood of the prospect turning into a customer. 

To do this, you need to understand the lead’s goals and their level of interest in your product. This will help you engage inbound leads effectively.

After assessing each lead, you can determine if they’re an MQL, SQL, or PQL. 

Then you can assign the lead to the correct department, and in doing so, move them further down the marketing funnel.

Inbound Lead Qualification Methodology

First, let’s talk about the actual methodology used to qualify inbound leads. It’s a holistic process based around attracting a lead, engaging them, and then meeting (and exceeding) their needs.

the attract, engage, delight approach to inbound lead conversion

The way you determine if a lead has purchasing interests is by collecting information from them and then analyzing that information. 

Different types of leads will give you different types of information.

You should also consider how the lead has interacted with you so far. What kind of content have they consumed? How have they contacted you? 

Lead Qualification Examples

Here are three example scenarios:

Lead A has downloaded a report from your website. In exchange for that report, the lead has given you their name and email address. You don’t know anything else about them, and they haven’t interacted with any other forms on your site. Based on this qualification, this lead would be classified as an MQL.

Lead B has filled out the contact form on your site to request a product demo. They’ve completed a full lead generation form (see below), and you know quite a bit about them, including their company, their role at the company, and the reason why they’re requesting a demo. This lead is an SQL.

Lead C has been using the free version of your product for a week and has recently emailed you about a feature that’s only available in the pro version. Since this lead has been using the product already and is asking about upgraded features, they’re a PQL.

Most of the time, you’re going to be moving people toward becoming SQLs. This means you need to direct them to your contact form so you can collect information about them.

But what information should you collect in order to convert inbound leads? 

Enter the lead generation form.

Creating a Lead Generation Form

This is where the magic happens. 

To convert inbound leads, you need to have an amazing lead gen form.

However, creating a great lead generation form can be tough. It needs to give you enough information to qualify the lead, but it can’t be too long or else no one will fill it out. It also needs to be well designed, so make sure you work with your web design people on this one.

You need to figure out what information you absolutely need and what would just be nice to have. Communication between your marketing and sales team is critical here.

There are some form fields you should absolutely have:

  • Full name
  • Email address
  • Company name

The rest is really up to you. Here’s the form we use here at Chili Piper:

Chili Piper's lead capture form

This gives us all the info we need to qualify a lead, yet it’s not overwhelming for a lead to fill out.

There are seven fields in the form, which tends to raise friction just enough. 

On the one hand, we want to make sure that leads are interested enough, which means that they will carry out the slightly arduous task of seven fields.

On the other hand, we want our sales team to have enough information to qualify the lead and route him or her to the correct SDR. 

Salesforce, another B2B SaaS, has eight fields and one checkbox. 

Salesforce lead capture form for inbound lead conversion

Your form might look different, of course. 

For example, you might need to know the lead’s specific role at his or her company. This is something you’ll have to decide by having discussions with your team.

How to Manage Inbound Leads

Now that you have a good idea of what it takes to manage inbound leads, the question becomes “so how do I actually do that?”

First of all, think about your sales processes. How do you route calls, contact inbound leads, and convert those inbound leads? 

If you want to convert inbound leads, you need to have processes that support lead conversion. 

This sounds pretty simple, but so many companies have poorly optimized processes that result in poor lead conversion.

I want to make this crystal clear. You can have leads banging on your door all day long, but if your processes aren’t lead-focused, there’s no guarantee you’ll convert them.

This means having a concrete plan to convert inbound leads and making sure that your team can execute that plan without any friction.

To begin with, you obviously need a well-organized team. If your team is unbalanced or if resources aren’t properly allocated, your ability to convert inbound leads will suffer.

Next, ask the important questions about team management. How are you going to deal with lead distribution? Who will handle MQLs? SQLs? How will each department help to move the lead further down the funnel? By making sure that your leads are taken care of at every contact point, you’ll optimize your chances for conversion.

Another important thing: Call your leads.

While chatbots are becoming increasingly popular, there’s still no substitute for a personal call

Chili Piper’s product is all about optimizing and streamlining this process. 

For example, many times the inbound lead conversion process happens when prospective customers book a meeting in a single click on your website or schedule an immediate call. 

book a call instantly is a smart lead conversion strategy

If the prospect does want to talk now, they can do so instantly. 

inbound lead conversion - instant booking using chili pper

(To the best of my knowledge, Chris Hemsworth hasn’t actually contacted us directly, but I’m not ruling it out.) 

Calling and building a personal connection with a lead is vital. 

This is especially the case if you offer a high-ticket SaaS product in contrast with a more transactional, low-fee, self-serve product. 

If you are selling a product that has a $300+ monthly subscription cost for a single logo and if your account executives maintain regular contact with the customers, you probably should be getting on the phone with prospects. 

How to Use Speed to Convert Inbound Leads

When you’re considering how to manage inbound sales leads, there’s another element that matters: speed.

How soon do you think you have to contact a lead to have the best shot at converting them?

The answer is about 5 minutes. And nope, that’s not a typo.

In fact, you should ideally be even faster––within one minute.

That’s not a typo. 

Speed to lead statistics show that responding to a lead within the first minute can increase conversions by up to 391%.

convert inbound leads speed to lead data

One influential study from the Harvard Business Review was instrumental in proving that speed is critical when qualifying leads. 

Automatically Engage the Lead to Convert Inbound Leads Effectively

You need to automatically engage the lead so you don’t lose your shot at converting them.

Of course, the hard thing is being that fast, and that’s why you need a robust software solution to help you manage sales leads. After all, the inbound marketing tools you use are just as important as your approach.

You need lead management software that can respond to clients quickly and automate qualification

This will greatly reduce the time and effort it takes to manage leads and allow you to actually focus on the leads instead of getting bogged down by administrative work.

And if you’re currently using underpowered software, making the switch to a more powerful solution could double or triple the amount of leads you get.

That’s why we’ve made Chili Piper do what it does. 

Our Concierge product automatically engages warm leads who respond to your contact form and helps gather information quickly so you can assign the lead to the right sales rep and begin the conversion process.

Scheduling Instant Calls Isn’t Always Possible

Converting inbound leads right away is ideal, but won’t be possible much of the time.

In this case, your inbound lead generation process should allow these prospects to book a meeting with a sales rep when it’s convenient for them.

Again, whatever software you’re using should have this feature baked in. 

chili piper call scheduler

Popular and free calendar apps are not designed to function both as booking calendars, routing tools, and Salesforce integration powerhouses. Chili Piper is. 

To optimize your process and convert inbound leads effectively, you need something more robust. 

Convert Inbound Leads: FAQ

Need to save some time? Here’s a quick-and-dirty rundown of some frequently asked questions about inbound leads:

What are inbound leads? 

An inbound lead is defined as a person who finds your brand and comes to you. This is based around the concept of inbound marketing , which is the practice of bringing people to your site.

Inbound leads are excellent because they’re people who approach your brand out of their own free will. Outbound leads, on the other hand, are the direct result of your advertising interacting with people. This is why outbound lead generation is sometimes called “interruption marketing.”

How do you deal with inbound leads? 

The volume of inbound leads you receive will vary depending on your specific inbound marketing methodology, so you should have a scalable software solution in place. Ideally, the software will have a range of functionality to qualify and onboard leads without any hiccups.

How do you engage inbound leads? 

There are several ways to engage inbound leads, but they’re all dependent on time. 

As speed to lead statistics show, the faster you get to a lead, the better. 

To make the most out of your first contact with a lead, you should ask them to do something, like schedule a call to discuss your product. (Chili Piper does this for you.)

How do you qualify inbound leads? 

In a nutshell, you want to get crucial information about the lead and then match up that lead with a sales rep. 

Again, speed matters here. It’s important to contact the lead immediately.

Ready to convert inbound leads more effectively?

The right software will not only help you convert inbound leads but also manage and assign those leads without any roadblocks.

That’s where Chili Piper comes in. If you need a better lead generation solution, Chili Piper will be your new best friend.

Want to see how Chili Piper works?

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