No more "Tire Kickers!" 8 Simple Ways to Avoid & Weed-Out Bad Leads, Fast

Sean Lund-Brown

Leads are at the core of any marketing plan. For them to be worth their weight in gold, they need to be correct, complete, and easily accessible. Otherwise, their impact can be a hard hit to your campaign. Every salesperson who works off of bad data ends up wasting valuable work hours to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

Bad leads drive down your conversion rate while you wave goodbye to your target audience. They can diminish team morale and weaken your company’s performance benchmarks.

The solution? Clean up your leads before you use them. It’s true that bad lead data will find its way into your database no matter how careful you are about data entry or lead qualification. Just make sure you know what bad leads look like, where they're likely to come from, and how to avoid them.  

Most common types of bad lead data

Bad lead data comes in all different shapes and sizes—and collecting or hanging onto this bad data can be avoided.

Incorrect data can be as simple as an email address with a missing character or a phone number with too few or too many digits. In most cases, though, here’s what bad lead data looks like:

Incomplete leads

Incomplete data requires more details before it can be actionable or qualifiable. If left incomplete, it reduces campaign ROI and can turn potential leads into bad ones if not resolved.

For example, the more fields you stuff into your lead capture form, the more incomplete the data will usually be. Why? Site visitors don't feel comfortable sharing excessive information right off the bat. They end up skipping fields important to your data.

Unstructured leads

Lead vendors are common suppliers of leads—but the data you receive may be unstructured or unstandardized. This can be harmless in terms of establishing initial contact, but it can complicate CRM integration and lead to wasted resources.  

Invalid leads

A wrong phone number, an email address without the domain, or a fake name can make a lead invalid. Like other types of bad leads, an invalid lead can waste resources and derail sales campaigns.

Many brands allocate a good chunk of their marketing budgets toward annual in-person marketing events, but many leads generated from these initiatives are unreadable scribbles. In other words, they are invalid leads.

Non-compliant leads

Complete and reliable leads are an asset to any marketer, but not if you've violated regulations or the terms of user agreements in order to acquire, store, use, or distribute them. Violating these rules or agreements can have a major impact on customer trust, so this is not the time to be a rule breaker.

Duplicate leads

When a consumer’s information overlaps with the same consumer’s information from another source or entry point, it's considered a duplicate lead. This can cause excessive engagement, inconsistent messaging, and lower conversion rates.

A bunch of duplicate leads can also distort performance metrics. Only one of the duplicates may convert and then your average conversion rate lowers, or both may record as a conversion and reflect false growth.  

The profile of a lead that won’t convert

Lead data includes bits of information that point to a human (or the actual lead). In the context of maintaining a high-quality lead bank, you'll want to clearly separate bad data from bad leads that won’t convert.

We already know what lousy lead data looks like, but there's a whole other side to study—their profiles. When a customer is not likely to convert, here’s what their profile might look like.

Financial constraints

Sometimes, a lead is bad by default for the simple reason that they can’t afford what you have to offer. This is a dead-end, although it can be tricky to decide whether or not this is the case. If you ask them to buy right off the bat, they might run away. If you never ask them for the sale, you’ll end up wasting your time later on. So what do you do?

Try talking to your salespeople and explaining why this qualifying metric is crucial. The approach you take to qualifying whether or not a lead has the financial capacity to buy depends on the type of business you’re in. Sometimes, it’s okay to skip the budget factor and just have your sales rep connect with the lead.

You may want to be cautious when it comes to obtaining the information you need. Instead of mentioning the cost within the first form they fill out, wait until they get a little further down the funnel. This way, you give your lead time to get to know you and build trust in your product. You’ll have a chance to help them see the need for what you have to offer.

If you feel like you have to ask the question right away, use a drop-down menu with wider ranges rather than specific figures as options. This way, you’re not being too aggressive, and you’re less likely to leave a lead cold when there could have been room for negotiation.

Lack of decision-making power

When making an offer directly to a business, make sure you have the person with decision-making authority. Focus on connecting with senior executives or those who have a say, especially in terms of the budget.

If you feel like these people are way out of your reach, you should reassess your marketing plan to align it better with these decision makers’ needs and build your networking strategy accordingly. Consider their availability when scheduling your social content or try to invest more energy on platforms where they're likely to spend time.

Absent need

It’s good to know that a lead’s goals are consistent with your products or services. You want to understand exactly why they might consider giving you their business.

That’s why, at the top of the funnel, you need to put something that reveals more about your website visitors than yourself. For example, this can be a landing page that asks them more about their relevant problems that may fall within the scope of your solutions. This way, you can learn about their struggles and see if you can help in any way.

But what if the signs suggest that your product or service isn’t a fit? Just remember to be sensitive to the signals. If they’ve indicated that they don’t have any problems that match your solutions, take the hint. On the other hand, maybe they do—but they already have a contract with your competitor and can’t get out of it. This just isn’t the best place to focus your efforts.

Mismatch

Let’s say you’re selling point-of-sale software designed for small businesses, but somehow, you’ve captured interest from a few big companies. Although bigger enterprises will naturally have more money to buy your product, you can’t offer it because you know it’s just not a great fit.

There’s no problem asking your leads directly about the problems they’re facing. It’s the easiest way to distinguish leads that have a realistic chance. However, don’t forget about your currently non-workable leads completely. Hang onto them and go back when you've expanded enough to be able to support them.

Geographic restriction

One of the most significant benefits of online marketing is its unlimited reach. As a small business owner, it feels great to know that you've connected with people around the world. Still, you can also get leads from areas you don’t or can’t necessarily serve.

In some cases, you won't be allowed to do business beyond certain geographic limits, so make sure you know where your leads are streaming from. Otherwise, make an effort to customize your customers’ experiences based on their location.

Poor content

If you had it your way as a marketer, all your leads would be interested in everything you say. It wouldn’t matter whether you were talking to them in your emails, a blog, YouTube video, Facebook or Instagram pages, etc. They’d eat it up.

But that’s not how it goes, and you need to work actively on pushing those leads down the funnel. Some will resist more strongly than others, but one thing that can melt even your toughest recipient or audience is quality content. This is where that old saying comes from: “content is king.” Good content naturally invites engagement, and the more engaged a lead is, the more likely they'll move down that funnel with you.  

Quality content also provides additional value and gives your audience a strong foundation to work from. When you’re ready to have them chat with your team through website chat, by phone, or a receptionist service, they should already be familiar with the basics and ready to learn more about how you can help.

When your emails remain unopened or your social media posts aren’t picking up interactions, you might want to work on your message and build clarity about your business. Try creating articles and social posts that hit your audience at every stage of the funnel. Many small businesses worry about having content that’s too simple—don’t.

Your customers will come in at every stage. If they’re already familiar with some topics, they’ll see you as a knowledgeable source and look for the material that’s more relevant to where they are.

Fake contact information

If you come across leads with silly contact details, take it as a sign that these people just aren't interested. You can always tell when someone enters asdfasdf@gmail.com as their email address or +12 3456189 as their phone number. Yeah, we know all the tricks.  

When a visitor leaves impossible contact information, they’re telling you that they don’t want to hear from you—at least, not right now. Of course, they can always change their minds, but at the moment, it’s for the best that you don’t force a sale that’s not going to happen. This is definitely a lead to delete.

Why you have bad leads and how to avoid them

Knowing the face of bad lead data is a huge step in spring cleaning your CRM. Before you get to the nitty-gritty of the deleting process, here’s one last question you need to address: How on earth did you accumulate all that rubbish in your contact database?

When you know the factors behind the problem, you can plug them at the source. Here are the most common possibilities that led to your bad leads and what you can do to avoid them:    

You don’t qualify your leads

One of the worst mistakes you can make in lead generation is thinking all leads are created equal. Whenever someone calls or emails to inquire, you may automatically pass them along to the sales department. That can be disastrous.

If you don’t ask qualifying questions and begin prioritizing your leads, you’ll be left with so much data you don’t even need—and with precious time and effort wasted.  

Ask qualifying questions

Just because you’re asking questions doesn’t mean you’re doing a good job. You have to ask the right ones to make the process truly effective. For example, don’t ask them if they can pay right away or if they’re ready to make a purchase.

You don’t want to be too aggressive or put too much pressure on them. Don’t ask too many close-ended questions either, or you may not get the information you want. Most likely, this will put them on the defensive, and they’ll shoot the conversation down. The idea is to know more about your potential customer because that will help you decide how to take them down your funnel.

You take too long to follow up

Think of all the sales that people could have made if only follow-up had happened earlier. Let’s say you received an email inquiry and have successfully forwarded it to your auto-reply system. Auto replies have their purpose and do it well, but many people will still want to hear back quickly from a real, live customer agent.

Take note that some buyers initiate contact with a strong desire to make a purchase decision at that very moment, so if you take too long to respond, you’re practically throwing them in the hands of your competitors.

Twenty-four hours is too long. If you keep delaying your replies or follow-ups, you’ll find yourself with tons of bad leads over time. If you’re taking too long, you can delegate customer communications to a virtual receptionist service. They can have agents available any time to give your customers the help they’re looking for.

You buy your leads

It’s tempting to take the “easy” route and buy leads, especially if you’re new and you want some instant affirmation of your marketing efforts paying off. The truth is that purchased leads can waste your efforts. Imagine your perfectly crafted email ending up as spam.

They also tend to be annoying to potential customers and can even get you in trouble with the law. On top of that, bought lists aren't always that productive. Put yourself in those people’s shoes. How happy would you be to buy something from a company you haven’t heard of? How convinced would you be that they’re right for you at first contact? You’re trying to force them into a sales funnel they didn’t even know existed.

Purchased leads can be bad leads that harm your business. Developing your own lead generation strategy is worth the effort.

You don’t understand your leads

If you have a first-time visitor on your website, don’t make the mistake of thinking that they’re there to buy something already. Most likely, they’re just looking around and trying to get to know your site, or maybe they’re just trying to study your industry. Even if they were actually planning on buying something, they might be at the stage where they’re just weighing their options.

In short, not everyone who peeks into your sales funnel from the top actually plans to slide all the way down. Most of them go through stages, and at the start of the process, they’re just soaking up information, both general and specific. This is why you need to invest in quality content, whether through a blog, an ebook, or simple Facebook posts.

You can give browsers a good sense of who you are and what you can do for them through good content. If you want quality leads, you need to give them something valuable and tangible to help them trust you with their information.  

Analyze your audience

A blog can be an impeccable lead generator, especially if you update it consistently and promote it often. With each post you make, you're creating another opportunity to draw leads.

You may realize that blogs can be a worthy addition to your lead-nurturing efforts. The question is: are you writing for the right readers?  When looking for quality leads, nothing works better than knowing your audience—and there’s modern analytics software to help you do that with maximum efficiency. These applications will give you names, ages, and other demographic information about your customers, including their needs. When you use this data to inform your content, you can reach customers who have a need for your expertise.

Let’s go back to your blog. You know it can be helpful, but not if you’re tapping the wrong audience, which can give you bad leads. Don’t waste time meeting the information needs of people who aren't good sales candidates. Other bloggers will handle these people.

So, take time to think about your marketing strategies and keep them consistent with your real audience. Eventually, this will increase the quality of your leads and rid you of the bad. The same goes for your website and even your social media pages, too.

You’re using the wrong form

When you ask people to fill out a form in exchange for your asset or content, many of them will drop it. Others will stick around to finish all of your questions, and if they do, it’s a sign that they're likely to be more engaged. After all, they just gave you what you wanted.

Determining how to design fillable forms can be tricky. Asking fewer questions in these forms may give you more leads, but not necessarily the right ones. The bottom line is: You have to decide between getting more low-quality leads (by asking for less data) or fewer high-quality leads (by asking for more data).

At the end of the day, the choice you make will depend on the needs of your business. Sometimes, creating basic contact forms to produce more leads is good enough, especially if you're, say, a retailer.

It’s a different story if your business is focused on fewer high-value clients, like medical equipment reps for example. In this case, the smart thing to do is to ask for more information on your form, even if you end up losing those leads who are less engaged.

The key here—as it is with content creation—is to know your audience’s needs and tailor your forms accordingly.

8 ways to weed out and avoid bad leads

Finally, you're ready to remove anything that doesn’t belong in your lead directory. Here are eight steps that can help you do it, surely and quickly:  

1. Define your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Your Ideal Customer Profile describes the type of consumer that would benefit the most from your product or service. Defining your ICP is the first major step in keeping your database clean and accurate.

If you can maintain your database, you can boost your marketing efforts by generating high-quality sales leads. With a well-defined ICP, you can speed up movement through your sales funnel and thereby increase conversions. You can also focus on scalable techniques that, in turn, invite even more engagement and conversions.

2. Track the source of bad data  

Needless to say, the quality and workability of your database depends a lot on how you manage bad leads. By putting a regular system in place that weeds out the bad data, you should be covered.

How often does your lead database change hands as employees come and go? Keep in mind that the more frequent this change of hands occurs, the shorter your contacts’ shelf lives may be.  

3. Make quality a priority

If you want a well-kept contact database for your business, you need to put in some dedicated work, beginning from the top of your funnel. Then, you can define and implement preventative measures. You can’t just stop there, though, because there’s more work to do to maintain your lead database and keep it from getting disorganized or disheveled.

First off, you need to know exactly what bad leads give you problems. Look for leads that may be incomplete, unstructured, invalid, non-compliant, or duplicate—any of the issues we mentioned earlier. Lastly, determine if any lead-generating channels are causing you more issues than the others and clean house!

4. Eliminate email addresses of unengaged leads

Every time someone gives you their email address, you might want to immediately consider them a lead. Not so fast.

They may have only done that to get whatever freebie you promised you’d give them in return. Which, unfortunately, is often the case. When dispatching your usual emails, watch out for that.

Another thing to look out for is your email bounce rate. If an email has been returned to you, that account has likely been deactivated—remove it from your list. If you keep sending the same emails to the same accounts, you could be marked as a spammer, which is the last thing you want.

As to any emails that have actually landed in someone’s inbox but have remained unopened for a month or two, take that as a cue that they’re just not interested.

5. Implement a lead-scoring system

Sometimes, assessing the quality of a lead can be a gray area. If you develop a system that assigns a score to each type of lead, your lead assessment process becomes scientific and reliable, rather than based on instinct or intuition.

Let’s say you create and send two emails: one with an offer that directs the recipient to the second stage of the sales funnel, and another offer that keeps them at the first stage.

The lead that takes the valuable offer and moves through the sales funnel is obviously of a higher quality. You can now determine a lower quality score for leads that choose the non-valuable offer, especially if those leads continue accepting more non-valuable offers. Such leads may end up staying at that initial stage of the funnel for eternity.

That doesn’t mean they can’t help you in the future, but of course, you’ll want to dedicate more of your current resources to higher-quality leads. Don’t keep holding on to leads who don’t want to get past the first stage. Give them a couple of months and then kick them out.

6. Where possible, convert bad to good

Sometimes, a bad lead is secretly a really good lead in disguise. They just need a little nudge before heading down the funnel.

How do you nudge them? Nurture them. Always be available when they have a few questions to ask. Even if you can’t be there, you can delegate this to an on-call agent to reply. Give them a demo. Reassure them of the value behind the pricing. Slowly, they may warm up and decide to move forward.

In the end, if they still don’t seem ready to move forward, then cut your losses and remove them from your database. Don’t waste time and resources when you can instead turn your attention to leads who actually deserve it.  

7. Install data nets  

Installing data nets simply means putting a system in place to make sure that you can keep your lead quality high. While some bad leads will find their way through from time to time, data nets should ensure that these are kept to a minimum and won't significantly impact your sales and marketing efforts.

For example, make an effort to organize data from all your sources, such as forms, events, reps, and so on. Lay down the rules as to who’s in charge of importing the data and how this process should go. As you pare down your database, keep in mind your target accounts and persona. Standardize your data cleaning process to ensure that all good leads are at your disposal and ready to be migrated to your main lead database.  

8. Invest in lead management service like Smith.ai

As a business owner or manager, you can only handle so many things at one time—and cleaning your contact database usually hangs out at the bottom of the list. Whether you like it or not, you have to do it at some point, right? If you don’t, those bad leads can wreak havoc on your sales plan. They can reduce your conversions and erode your performance metrics along with your morale as a team when you start missing your targets.

The good news is, you don’t have to remove those bad leads yourself. Smith.ai is a lead capture and management service you can trust. Businesses both large and small can start to get help with qualifying and converting leads through our virtual receptionist services. How does it work? Our agents learn about your business, deliver the information your customers need, and screen potential leads—all while you focus on the other important areas of your business.

We can connect with your customers through services such as:

● 24/7 call answering and phone follow-up

● 24/7 availability for website chat

● Lead qualification and client intake

● Web-form follow-ups

● Appointment setting

● And more

Avoid dealing with bad leads and leave your lead capture and screening services to our team. You’ll feel confident knowing that leads coming your way are getting the right treatment. Smith.ai agents have significant experience and training to know what leads will hold value for you, which ones you’ll have to wait to mature, and which ones you shouldn’t spend another minute on.

The point here is efficiency. Wouldn’t you rather put your resources into reliable options like Smith.ai, where you can count on your ROI instead of saving up your money just to burn it on bad leads?

Avoid bad leads with Smith.ai

Once you've developed a concrete and holistic lead data refining process, don’t waste any time. Implement it immediately to start reaping its benefits for your marketing strategies. Don’t think this is a one-hit-wonder, though. The process has to be scalable and repeatable. That way, you can run it regularly and maintain good lead hygiene, no matter how large your depository gets.

By pairing your lead generation process with a virtual receptionist service like Smith.ai, you can get qualified leads to start driving more conversions. Meanwhile, you can focus your energy where it’s actually needed—acquiring new traffic and taking your business to new heights.

Learn more about our 14-day, money-back guarantee by booking a free 30-minute consultation.

Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

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