Beware of buyer intent: why all leads aren’t created equal

June 12, 20245 min read

That was it. We spent our entire budget with the marketing agency to generate hundreds of dumpster fire “leads” that drove no new opportunities or sales. I ended my call with the agency and knew this campaign was going down as one of my worst.

I was a new marketing manager who had just graduated college a year prior. I managed the marketing for a B2B SaaS vendors that was a client of ours at a large tech distributor. I was to market this vendor’s product to our partners and prospects and help generate sales. I knew a little bit of marketing - went to school for it, studied it, but that’s about it.

As we entered Q3, the sales team was short on opportunities. The reps who sold this specific software were underperforming and marketing wasn’t doing too much to help them. We ran webinars, blasted people with emails, and repeated. It didn't work great but I didn't know what else we should be doing. 

Both reps felt they just needed more leads and they’d hit their number. The vendor also wanted to invest more into a new channel to drum up interest. We happened to recently hear about another vendor's campaign who generated thousands of leads and we wanted to try it too.

The trendy tactic they used was called content syndication. It’s where you promote a piece of content like an e-book or whitepaper on industry websites and get people to download it. In exchange for the content, they give you their contact information. From there, you start emailing them, calling them, or a combination of the two. It’s a good ‘ol lead magnet, a tactic that’s been used in marketing for decades.

It’s an extremely cheap way to generate “leads” and typically drives hundreds, if not thousands of them. It seems like a no-brainer - tons of leads at a really good cost? What’s not to like? We figured we’d get a bunch of leads, toss it over to the hungry reps, and they’d magically convert them to sales. 

And we did generate a ton of “leads”. 

But we drove zero sales. Zero.

“But wait, I thought leads convert to opportunities and opportunities convert to sales?” - me at the time

We generated a TON of leads, but none of them were interested in buying our product. Why? Probably because all they did was download a loosely related piece of content.

So, did we actually generate “leads” after all? Well, sure. But it depends how you define a lead. Leads come in all different types. Think of it like a spectrum with the variable being “intent to purchase.” On one side you have leads with zero intent (they don’t want to purchase a solution like yours) and on the other side you have high-intent (they’re dying to purchase a solution like yours). 

In my case, these leads were extremely low intent. These individuals probably just wanted to learn about the contents of the e-book. 

And that makes sense. I was just naive enough to think that because someone wanted to read a piece of content, we could arbitrarily force them through a funnel and get them to purchase our solution. After they downloaded the e-book, they started to receive “nurture emails” which would try to get them to book a call. Reps would feverishly call them daily asking if they wanted to see a demo. 

Sadly, this doesn’t work as well as we’d like it to, especially in a B2B environment.

That’s not to say driving ebook downloads is bad. I just wasn’t realistic about what we were actually doing. We were really just gathering people’s contact information in exchange for something they wanted. And people who want an educational e-book are about as likely to buy your product as someone you randomly pick up off the street. I mistakenly treated these leads the same as someone raising their hand asking to be sold to. Which is a huge mistake.

You can call them leads, MQLs, or anything you want. It’s someone’s contact information. What really matters is their intent. Do they have any intent to purchase a solution like yours? If not, that’s OK - just expect to market to them for many months and years until they are.

It is important to note: the type of content people download makes a HUGE difference in indicating their buying intent. A buyers guide, for example, is a good signal of intent. An educational e-book (like this example), not so much. 

Was it the e-book that sucked? No, it actually worked great, it just wasn't the correct tactic for what I needed to accomplish. I needed to drive opportunities and sales, not email addresses. If I was tasked with bringing in an audience that we planned to market to via email for the next 12-18 months, this would have been the right tactic. But that wasn't the objective.

This is a massive mistake I still see B2B marketers making all too often: not selecting the correct tactic to achieve the outcome they want.

And when it comes to things like content syndication, asset downloads, it’s often a trick that marketers have implemented, knowing that they can point to the data later on and say “look sales team, we generated you a bunch of leads.” When in reality, you generated a bunch of contact information, sometimes contact information that you already had. And you didn't even glean any buyer intent from it.

So instead of driving sales, you typically get mad sales reps who sift through hundreds of people to find nothing and a waste of time and money to gather contact information for people you could have found on the internet.

Define your goal. Pick the right tactic. Be realistic about what you’re actually doing.

leadslead genbuyer intent
Back to Blog

Local Marketing Made Simple

Own or operate a small-medium sized service business? Check out

B2B Marketing

I help companies build a marketing strategy for growth, retention, and efficiency. I use my years of experience to help formulate the correct strategy and plan for businesses.

Local Business Marketing

I work with small businesses to get their marketing to the next level and generate leads, appointments, and sales through tactics focused on small local businesses. See for more information.

Zack Chewning

B2B Marketing Manager | Strategist | Consultant


© Copyright 2024. Zack Chewning. All rights reserved.