When lead generation is a bad thing

Most marketers are fixated on generating leads. It's not uncommon, in fact, that their compensation is related to how many leads they bring in.

This fixation on leads is particularly true for us software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketers. Cost-efficiency and a high return on marketing expenses are critical to a successful SaaS business model. (See "Ten Essentials of SaaS Solution Marketing.")

But generating leads isn't always a good thing. You can get too much of a good thing. Here's how:

Unqualified leads

Leads that consist of people that are unqualified - that is, they have no real need for your service - aren't worthwhile leads. The fact is these leads don't make you money; they cost you money.

Think about it. You're spending money on SEO, pay-per-click, PR, webinars, or other marketing programs that bring people to your door. But if those people have no need for your service and no compelling reason to purchase anything, the money you spent to attract them has been wasted.

That's not to say that 100% of leads should convert into actual buyers. But most leads should at least be potential buyers.

One clear sign that you're generating unqualified leads is a low ratio of qualified opportunities-to-leads. It indicates that few leads convert into real opportunities and eventually paying customers.

Here's a second sign. In an organization that sells through a sales force, you'll hear about "worthless leads" loud and clear from the sales people. You won't even need to check the ratios!

Leads that get stuck in the pipeline

If you've spent all your money and effort bringing leads in the door, much of it will be wasted if there's no process in place to nurture those leads into opportunities and paying customers. Those leads get stuck in the pipeline.

To get them "unstuck" requires building a system that moves prospects through the complete acquisition process - from initial interest to lead to qualified opportunity to purchase to renewal. Generating leads is only the first step.

Again, tracking the leads-to-opportunities-to-paying customers ratios is one way to identify a pipeline problem.

Remember: Generating leads isn't the goal; paying customers is the goal.


Creative Commons License

This work by Peter Cohen, SaaS Marketing Strategy Advisors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.