Marketing is About People, Not Leads

Or, Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was a Young Marketer.

Hindsight is 20/20.

True story.

When you’re young in a marketing job, you have people shouting at you about leads. “We need more leads,” you’re told. “Leads are down,” you hear. “Lead quality sucks,” your sales team screams at you.

Leads leads leads.

Leads are people. Don’t ever forget that.

Just as importantly, leads are potential consumers. These are people who’ve raised their hands and said “okay, maybe the cure for my pain is what your brand offers.” These are people you want to turn into customers. You want to delight them. You want to turn them into brand ambassadors for you.

Because no marketing is better marketing than a trusted friend saying, “Jason. You need this. It changed my life.”

But when you’re young, you sit in the meetings, dutifully taking notes. And when your bitter boss says it, you write down “LEAD QUALITY IS CRAP.”

And then you set off to improve lead quality.


Your First Misstep

Now, you’re all pros. You’re all saying “That’s a nice clickbait statement, Jason, but lead quality is a thing. A real thing. I get reports on it all the time, and it could always be better.”

And you’re right. It is.

But what we forget is that it’s a metric. And that metric is a quality report on our marketing efforts. Because if lead quality is bad, it means we’re not giving prospects the attention and effort they deserve.

It means we’re working for our metrics and not our consumers.

Let’s take this apart. I know it’s a basic idea, but a lot of times I’ve found myself reevaluating the basic and discovering an insight that I’d missed a lot of years and months ago.

A lead is a prospect who’s raised their hand. In many businesses that means they’ve filled out a lead form, and given you name, email, telephone, and maybe some basic information. How much depends on your business.

Sometimes they do it because they’re ready to buy. Sometimes they’re kicking the tires. Sometimes they have questions. Sometimes they just want your lead magnet.

In many places, such leads go right to a sales team.

No inbound marketing. No lead qualification. No BDRs.

A salesperson.

A Salesperson is Not Who You Want Qualifying Your Leads

A commission-based, aggressive salesperson who’s goaled and incentivized toward closing sales, and who is often fired if they don’t make sales quotas from whomever they can get on the phone, is who makes those first calls.

And the salesperson gets tire-kickers. Questioners. People who just wanted the lead magnet PDF and aren’t “interested in making a decision right now.”

Of course the salespeople will complain about “lead quality.” A salesperson’s best day is when there’s a unending stream of people on their phone with their credit card out and ready who just want to read off the numbers and make that salesperson a stellar commission.

Whose fault is that?

The salesperson’s? They get paid to close. They get fired if they don’t. I dare you to go into a high-volume call center and find a team that doesn’t have high turnover. It’s a very Darwinian environment.

The prospect’s fault? How can it be their fault. They all took actions we allowed them to take. Trade their information for a PDF. Fill out the form before they were ready. Contrary to many peoples’ beliefs, prospects and consumers don’t exist to give us money whenever we want.

They consume. That’s what the word means.

Being a Lead Sucks for Most Prospects

When consumers consume the wrong things, they get unhealthy. They look around for the cause of their discomfort. And they take steps to remediate that discomfort.

Imagine you fill out a form to get a lead magnet PDF. (And okay, you’re all marketers, so imagine you use your real information.)

You get your PDF. Maybe it was interesting, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe you’re saving it for later, when you get home. When you’re on the train. For the weekend. You just wanted to get it while it was top of mind.

Then your phone rings.

Your number is in someone’s dialer, pal. You’re in the funnel now. And unless you can get yourself on that do-not-call list as fast as possible, your phone is going to ring ALL THE TIME.

You’re a marketer. You know dialer cadence. Depending on time of day, you’re going to get hit 3-5 times the first day. Probably at least 3 times a day for the next six days. Maybe it’ll fall off after that.

This is all good lead qualification logic; everyone’s leads convert closer to creation. We measure things like speed-to-lead. We get our call timings down to seconds after the form is completed.

But now put yourself in that prospect’s shoes. The numbers we just read mean she’s going to get twenty-one phone calls in 7 days. Maybe more. And depending on your dialer settings, those calls may. Never. Ever. Stop.


Remember when I mentioned unhealthy prospects? Which statement is more likely: “Man, Jason, these people are the best decision I ever made,” or “Jason. For real. They won’t stop calling. They don’t listen. They just try and sell me stuff.”

How is that helping our prospects?

How is that helping us?

But this is exactly how so many businesses work. It’s not about helping people. It’s about growing volume. It’s about ensuring lead flow.

“We need better leads. More of them. Higher quality.”

People Are Not Metrics, and Quality is a Result, Not a Measure

You can be a good marketer and care about the things you got shouted at you way back in the beginning. You can get more leads. You can recover lost lead volume. You can improve lead quality.

You can do all those things by doing your job.

You can do all those things by helping people find, appreciate and want your brand.

You can do all that by remembering that leads are people.

You need more leads? Find new ways to connect with prospects. Open new channels. Create new content. Pursue new partnerships. Take the amazing product your team sells and put it in front of new groups of people.

Treat those new groups of people with respect.

Don’t try to farm them. Recognize that your consumers, within that new audience, are waiting for you. Know that you have to craft the message for them, not a nebulous clickbait offer that will capture just the most clicks.

You need to recover lost lead volume? Do it with reengagement. Go back to those old prospect lists and retarget them with new content. Check back in with your decliners and ask if they’ve solved the pain point that made them consider you in the first place.

Treat them with respect. Don’t go at them with a message that comes across like “you really should have listened to me the first time.” Ask them if they’ve found another solution.

Congratulate them if they have.

You need better lead quality? Take a good hard look at how you’re capturing leads. Chances are, you cut some corners in the past (or someone else did) in the name of “greater lead volume.” Maybe you’re pushing people into your sales organization before they’re ready.

Talk to your salespeople. Ask them this question: “Are prospects surprised when you call? Do they wonder where you got their phone number?”

If you get a lot of confirmation from that, you can see your lead quality problem right there. You’re asking people to submit forms before they’re ready. Maybe they’re trading their information for gated content, a lead magnet or access to a course.

Maybe you just asked them to trade their information too early.

Treat people with respect.

It really is that simple.

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