After a decade of dominance, people are beginning to doubt—seriously doubt—the validity of demand generation. In the last three weeks alone, I’ve had more than eight conversations with prospects who flat-out proclaimed “We’re not interested in demand generation; that’s for low-price consumer commodity products. We sell high-priced, complex [fill in the blank] solutions. We need something more sophisticated.”
Despite the last five years, when lead generation has exploded, revenue and customer acquisition growth has actually declined per dollar invested/spent on growth initiatives, leading to a crisis of confidence for a core component of the modern revenue growth playbook.
What Is Lead Activation
Lead Activation is the process of generating active engagement from buyer personas at companies that meet your ideal client profile, before they’ve reached the point of buying intent. The Lead Activation Process purposefully advances engagement and increases their probability of becoming a high-quality sales opportunity.
There are 5 components to an effective Lead Activation approach:
- A strong teaching point-of-view and point-of-view message.
- A strong lead nurture strategy.
- A strong system design and tech stack, especially CRM, marketing automation and conversational platforms.
- A strong email deliverability strategy.
- A series of Lead Activation Plays.
Lead Activation Syndrome (or Bulging Funnel Disorder)
Companies are generating leads at a record pace, but they are failing to generate engagement. Think for a moment about the ingredients necessary for a good sale. At its simplest, I’ve identified three ingredients:
- Fit (there has to be mutual fit if you’re going to make a good sale)
- Intent (the buyer has to have intent of there is no reason for them to buy)
- Engagement (if the buyer isn’t engaged with you, then you won’t even have the opportunity to make a sale).
From a customer acquisition strategy perspective, there’s a critical question that you must address: at what point are you attempting to create engagement - before or after intent?
Your answer to this question is the crucial inflection point to the game you’re playing and the marketing and sales playbook you follow.
How A Lead Becomes a Customer: The Real Lead Lifecycle
(I’m just a bill, yes I’m only a bill. And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill. Well, it’s a long, long journey...)
Oh. Sorry, you caught me daydreaming there. I think a lot of the Schoolhouse Rock lesson on how a bill becomes a law when I think about how leads become customers. If you don’t understand the real mechanics behind how a bill becomes a law, it’s unlikely you’re going to get one passed.
And, if you don’t understand the mechanics of how a lead becomes a customer, you won’t create predictable, scalable or sustainable growth. You may fool yourself into thinking you have (as many companies are experiencing today). The reality is that more than half of the customer acquisition growth occurring in businesses today is happening despite the strategies being implemented, not because of them. Growth rates are slowing and burn rates are increasing—and that’s a dangerous place to be. Oh yeah, and don’t forget how much angrier your addressable market is becoming because of your tactics.
Here’s the path for how leads become customers:
- Blissful ignorance - They’re not even thinking about anything that connects to you or your solution.
- Awareness - They get a ping or make an observation and their mind begins to open. They don’t do anything measurable at this point, but they notice things more.
- Attention - They begin to think actively, run Google or Bing (does anyone actually use Bing?) searches about a question they’re pondering or a problem/opportunity they’re thinking about.
- Curiosity - Their attention becomes even more active and they engage their full brains in the process. They are still very much in the early (often very early) investigative process and have no idea if they’ll actually do anything, but they are actively thinking.
- Intent - At some point, attention or curiosity turns into intent. Not intent to buy from someone, but intent to do something about it (whatever "it" may be).
- Consideration - They are now in a full-fledged process of attempting to address whatever it is they’ve identified needs action or change.
- Decision 1 - They make a decision to do something.
- Decision 2 - They decide who (if anyone) they are going to buy from.
You may notice that “engagement” (the focus of this post) is not on the list. The reason is that engagement doesn’t happen at any set point in the journey. It can happen anywhere (but make no mistake—it happens) along the journey. When it happens is as important as any other factor in determining the actions you need to take, how to take them and determining the probability that you’ll be success.
The problem for companies seeking faster growth is that “intent” is a structural element of their markets. There’s a set amount of intent that exists, and lead generation tactics do not create intent—a business/person either has intent right now or they don’t.
As you generate more leads, you increase (in absolute numbers and percentage) the volume of pre-intent leads in your funnel. If you treat pre-intent leads the same way you treat post-intent leads, well, it’s kinda like trying to teach a pig to sing—it doesn’t work and all you end up doing is annoying the pig.
Lead Activation Plays—The Secret to Faster Growth, Higher Margins & Lower Customer Acquisition Costs
Lead Activation Plays are simply the coordinated actions of marketing, demand generation/capture and the sales team to generate and advance pre-intent leads towards intent at higher velocity. When Lead Activation Plays are run effectively, you generate larger volume of quality sales opportunities with less competition, you shorten the sales cycle and sales time needed to manage the sale and you greatly increase the probability of successful outcomes.
The Purpose of Lead Activation Plays
- First, and foremost, the purpose is to generate “conversations” (however your company defines that term).
- Move leads from awareness through attention and curiosity to intent.
- Create ownership of the problem on the part of the prospect.
- Reduce the hold of the status quo. Movement begets movement. The more someone engages with your company the less risky you become and the less risky change becomes.
- Generate greater awareness and understanding of the problem(s) you solve and the implications of those problem(s)
Components of a Lead Activation Play
- Lead Activation Plays are low (and in the early stages, even better, no) risk for the lead/prospect.
- Low effort (on the part of the lead/prospect). The risk and effort can increase as you advance engagement.
- Low pressure.
- High impact/High Value.
- They “teach” the problem and are not focused on the solution.
- Aligned with your buyer journey progression.
If sustainable, scalable and predictable growth are important to your business, add Lead Activation Plays to your playbook (you do have a documented playbook, don’t you?) and you’ll see how much less discounting and stress is needed to meet your monthly, quarterly and annual number.