We tend to think about – and blog about – B2B website lead generation as exclusively a long-haul proposition:  receive initial landing-page hit, capture email address, nurture via e-newsletter for 6-12+ months … then finally ring up the sale.  While that’s certainly the most frequent case – and hence our e-marketing surely has to provide for it – it’s far from the only case.

In fact, B2B website leads can arrive in any temperature range, including the absolute hottest.  A prospect may have already done their preliminary research anonymously, and now be in heavy product/company-comparison mode.  Or they may have already short-listed your company based on a referral, and are ready to entertain sales presentations leading to a decision in 3-6 weeks.  Or – as with one case we heard of recently – the prospect’s need was so critical that only 3 weeks elapsed from an initial website hit to sale!

In light of this, it’s probably worth taking another look at the categories of leads and ensuring that you have the right processes in place for each.

Hopefully, your B2B website lead-capture form includes a question of the form, “Our need is…” or “We expect to make a purchase decision in…”, followed by a menu of time intervals.  If so, then your leads have already done Step 1 for you, which is to classify themselves by “temperature” …with time-to-decision being the usual proxy for temperature.  Sometimes inquiries will either not check one of those categories, or will come in free-form (e.g., in a mail to info@yoursite) …in which case someone will have to read the text – and perhaps actually contact the prospect – to determine their temperature.

B2B firms generally use a lead-classification scheme similar to the following:

A  =  90 days or less
B  =  3-6 months
C  =  6-12 months
D  =  12+ months (or disqualified)

Typically, Groups A and B will be distributed to Sales, in the expectation that personal contact will be initiated with these prospects within a day or two …if not within hours for the “A” group.  Groups C and D will usually stay with Marketing for ongoing nurturing. Some companies give the B and C groups to a telemarketing function to obtain additional information (Company size? Budget? Decision process and authority? Timeframe? Other vendors in play?);  and based on the responses, make a more informed decision as to whether/when to give the lead to Sales.

The key point here is that, while Marketing naturally tends to focus on those longer-term leads (because they’re the ones that will need all their skills for the longest time), it’s vital to ensure that there’s a reliable process for identifying “hot” leads and handling them with the appropriate urgency.  They do happen, and they can sometimes mean the difference between the company making/exceeding its quarterly plan or falling short.

Also, the customer lifetime value resulting from that one sale can repay your entire website investment.  Which makes us scratch our heads when we hear marketers say, “I’m not thinking about our website right now… I’m focused on short-term revenue.”  As we’ve just seen, there’s no incompatibility between the two:  B2B website marketing can and does result in short-term revenue …in addition to underwriting the future.

If your site is not giving you hot leads – or not enough leads in any category – it’s time to investigate.  Obvious places to look include your PPC campaign (fine-tuning your current one; starting one if you haven’t yet), and ways to make your site better at engaging and converting visitors.  Our several white papers can provide a guide;  but if you’re having difficulty after applying those, professional help may be indicated.  You don’t want your company to miss out on real sales that could be going somewhere else as you read this.

For a more complete discussion of lead handling & response, see our White Paper, The Complete Guide to B2B Web Strategy