Back To Basics Marketing 101: How To Classify And Qualify Inbound Leads To Maximize Sales

Robin Robins IT Marketing, MSP Marketing

How To Classify And Qualify Inbound Leads To Maximize Sales

Did you know IT services firms lose THOUSANDS of dollars every year due to very poor or non-existent follow up on the leads they generate? Recently we’ve been getting a LOT of questions from members wanting clarification on how to properly classify and qualify inbound leads to maximize sales.  I would suggest you read through and then go back to listen to the 2019 December Marketing Deep Dive posted to the Dashboard, where I also covered this topic in more depth.

General Classifications For People On Your List

Where people are getting confused (often) is in the definitions used to describe various groups of individuals in your house list. To clarify, here’s a brief overview of the generic LIST CLASSIFICATIONS we suggest you use. Some of these are unique to my organization because I’m the ONLY marketing consultant I know who stresses the importance of cleaning and qualifying a list BEFORE you spend money and time marketing to it. Therefore, I’ve created my own specific definitions to help my clients in classifying prospects and qualifying inbound leads so they can manage their lists properly. Here they are:

Suspects: These are individuals on a list or in a group who we suspect would be good prospects for us. This could be a list you’ve bought or acquired, the people at a trade show you’re sponsoring, or at an event you’re speaking at. Until they are qualified, they are merely suspects.

Prospect Farm List: A prospect is a suspect who has been qualified on paper but has not shown interest in your services yet. In other words, they have not responded to a marketing campaign or directly reached out to inquire about your services. The most common people in this group would be from a list you bought and scrubbed or scraped and qualified from the Internet. They would have the general characteristics you would look for in a qualified prospect (geographic location, niche, business type or industry, size, number of employees, etc.) but they have not responded yet. To be clear, they may end up being UNQUALIFIED. We won’t know that until we talk to or engage with them in some manner.

Lead Or Unconverted Lead: A lead is an individual who has shown INTEREST. They have stepped forward out of the masses, inquired about your services, and/or responded to a marketing campaign. Their interest may be limited to downloading a free report you offered on your website (slight interest) or calling your office for more information (high interest). Therefore, a LEAD is NOT a name on a list you rented or otherwise acquired, even if you’ve carefully qualified them, sent them multiple marketing campaigns, had a telemarketer call them, or connected with them on social media. Leads can and should be broken down into various categories as well (see below).

    • Unqualified Lead: This is an individual you have discovered to be unfit for further marketing and sales efforts. Perhaps they want something you don’t deliver, are outside of your service area or are simply not the decision-maker. You may elect to keep them on your list and send drip-marketing campaigns for some future purpose or because they may lead to an opportunity indirectly; however, these are NOT people you want to invest money and time into the mailing, calling, or directly communicating with to secure an appointment. I would keep them on your e-mail drip-marketing list since that costs nothing, and eventually, that may lead to an opportunity down the road. For example, our sweet-spot prospect is the CEO/owner of an IT services company in the US. If the marketing manager of an MSP opts into our list, we won’t delete them or suppress them from e-mails, but we won’t mail them packages and conduct telemarketing calls to try and get an appointment either. Only sweet-spot prospects are tagged “sweet spot” so that we can pull a list of them to conduct.


    • Avoid: This is a tag reserved specifically for prospects AND clients we do NOT want to do business with, or who have told us to stop marketing to them. We don’t delete them from our CRM because we want to keep a record of how they got on the avoid list and to prevent us from accidentally adding them back into our CRM and marketing to them. To be clear, these are different than Unqualified Leads. We may continue to send e-mails to Unqualified Leads, but NOT to those on the Avoid list.


  • Clients: A client is anyone who has given you money for services at some point. Like leads, clients can and should be in a CRM that allows you to segment and track their spend, interest, and other characteristics so you may intelligently communicate with them. However, that’s a topic for another time.

Could there be additional qualifications you need or want? Of course. The above are general, high-level categories we use. As you drill down into segments in each category, you will (and should) get more granular. We use tags and fields in our CRM for this purpose. For example, I can segment and pull lists of clients based on what they bought, their level of membership, how long they’ve been a client if they are a refund or late pay (usually for suppression), and various other data points. But we put them ALL into the category of “client.” [bctt tweet=”A study from Harvard Business Review revealed that 71% of qualified leads are never followed up with. Of the leads that are followed up on, they’re only touched an average of 1.3 times.”]

How To Classify & Qualify Inbound Leads All The Way Through To Closing The Sale (Your Sales Funnel)

Here’s how I personally track the marketing and sales activity in our organization. Using Infusionsoft, this information is tracked via a number of fields and tags we use and then rolled into a report. With Infusionsoft, I can pull all prospects who scheduled an appointment but didn’t sit. I can pull all prospects who SAT a consult with a sales rep but didn’t buy. I can also pull a list of sweet-spot prospects who never booked an appointment. I can also pull these lists by source, attendance on a webinar, age (meaning how long they’ve been a lead), location, etc.

These classifications are high-level “buckets” of prospects that allow me to see conversion percentages from stage to stage, giving me a baseline or forecasting, for working backward from a goal and for spotting problem areas, such as prospects who are sitting appointments but not converting tied to a particular rep or source, which gives me the ability to identify and troubleshoot problems shutting off the flow of money to my organization.

Raw Leads: This is the total number of responses (leads) from a campaign BEFORE qualification, and may not be worth pursuing. These leads should be IMMEDIATELY reviewed, qualified, and followed up on. If they are completely bogus, or spam, delete them. If they have incomplete information, you should attempt to gather more information and continue to follow up. In our CRM, we have a tag called “sweet spot” that we apply to leads that match our ideal client (qualified leads). Those are the ones we put the most effort into following up with and converting to a client. However, we keep non-sweet-spot leads in our CRM and allow them to be on e-mail drip sequences, but don’t invest money into direct mail or telemarketing to them to get an appointment booked.

Qualified Leads: Sometimes called “Marketing Qualified Leads,” these are individuals who make the cut from “raw lead” to qualified, usually determined by a set of characteristics and traits that give them a higher probability of becoming a client (see the above five criteria as a starting point example). Those characteristics may include (but are not limited to) geography, type, and size of the company, the title of the person (which may determine authority to buy), number of employees, lead source, etc. Essentially, they “look good on paper,” but we don’t know for sure whether or not they are truly interested in buying at this point. Obviously, you want to put your full effort into following up with qualified leads vs. treating all leads as equally important, particularly if you are short on resources, people, and time. It’s not uncommon for up to 50% of all raw leads generated to be unqualified for one reason or another.

Appointments Set: Sometimes called a “Sales Qualified Lead,” this is a QUALIFIED lead who has been vetted by a sales rep (usually by phone, but it could be at an event, trade show, self-booked from your website, etc.) and an appointment has been scheduled. This means the prospect is interested enough to meet with a consultant (sales rep) to discuss outsourcing their support to you, or buying what you sell, and is qualified. This is the stage where a Shock-And-Awe box would be used to presell the prospect and prepare them for the initial consultation (appointment). If a prospect is “just-looking” and doesn’t want to schedule an appointment, simply keep them in your CRM as an Unconverted Lead, where you continue to send drip-marketing campaigns and other promotions.

IMPORTANT: Depending on how the appointment is set, you might want to call to qualify this opportunity BEFORE sending a Shock-And-Awe and before meeting with them in person. In some cases, such as a good referral who called your office and spoke to you, you can just set the appointment. If the appointment setter generating these appointments for you is relatively new and inexperienced in qualification, you might want to have them schedule a 10-minute phone consultation with you FIRST, or you can call the prospect AFTER the appointment is set and say, “Hi, XXX, this is <> from <>. I’m the person coming to see you Tuesday. I was hoping to get five to 10 minutes with you to better understand your situation so I can prepare for our meeting.” This 10-minute call is also a good “punt” if the prospect is interested but not ready to schedule an audit or in-person meeting. That way YOU can answer their questions, qualify them a bit more and determine if there is a real opportunity here (and book an in-person appointment) or if they are just starting to look and need to go into a drip sequence with follow-up.

IF THERE IS A REAL OPPORTUNITY HERE and you or a qualified appointment setter has vetted them, you would create an OPPORTUNITY in your CRM (Infusionsoft has this feature, as do most CRM systems).

Appointment SAT: A prospect is put into this stage when the initial appointment is completed. Not all prospects who schedule an appointment will keep them, which is why we track this metric; I want to make sure the percentage sat stays consistent. For most MSPs, you should see less than a 10% drop-off from appointments scheduled to actually sitting down with you. If a prospect cancels the appointment, follow up with them as directed; however, you would keep them in your CRM as an Unconverted Lead and continue to send drip-marketing campaigns. So why the drop-off, and why track this?

Sometimes prospects simply change their mind and cancel the appointment without warning. In other cases, unexpected events happen that derail them from the buying process, and they cancel the appointment, requesting a callback a month or two later. Sometimes they were never that interested, to begin with, but an energetic telemarketer talked them into booking the appointment, which they later regretted (and canceled). We fired an appointment setter because he was setting appointments that didn’t stick (only about 30% actually sat). Setting such appointments is highly unproductive and worse than setting NO appointment because it takes a spot on my senior sales rep’s calendar that could be filled with a productive lead. This appointment setter wasn’t enthusiastic; he was setting bogus, tentative appointments.

After meeting with the prospect and determining the Opportunity is solid, move the Opportunity to the “Proposing/Negotiating” stage. If it’s not solid, move it to the “Lost” stage for reporting. Unless you determine they will never do business with you OR they’re someone you DON’T want as a client, keep them in your CRM as an Unconverted Lead. Otherwise, add them to your “Avoid” list (or tag).

Proposing/Negotiating: A prospect is put into this stage AFTER the first appointment is completed, you have determined there is an opportunity and you are in the process of quoting and closing them. At this stage, you would be conducting your technical audit or assessment, gathering intel to propose a solution, and/or negotiating the terms of the agreement. During this process, you should be discussing the price and terms of the solution you are selling. NOT ALL prospects will make it to the next stage, which is “Contract Sent.” That’s okay; you want to avoid wasting time putting together a proposal for a prospect who won’t buy, can’t buy. If they don’t buy, they are moved to the “Lost” status and put back into Unconverted Leads, OR, if you determine they just aren’t a right fit for you, they are marked “Unqualified.” If they are truly unqualified, suppress them from campaigns that actively attempt to get an appointment with them. You may leave them in a drip campaign if you choose.

Contract Sent: A prospect is put into this stage after you’ve sent the final contract and are expecting a signature and a check. Better than 90% of these should close.

Closed (Won/Lost): If the sale closes, you put them into “Won” status and update their “Person Type” to “Client,” removing them from all prospecting campaigns (you should have different campaigns specifically for clients). If they don’t close, they are put into “Lost” status and back into your prospect list for additional drip campaigns as an Unconverted Lead.

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