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How to Build an Inbound Lead Qualification Flow

Stan Rymkiewicz
April 4, 2024
17 min
How to Build an Inbound Lead Qualification Flow

With a 61% lower cost per lead, inbound has the potential to be your most cost-effective B2B marketing channel. But without a strategic inbound lead qualification process, you expose yourself to the following business risks: 

  • Missed opportunities as qualified leads slip through the cracks
  • Misallocation of resources as sales reps spend time with leads who will never buy
  • Poor user experience as sales processes aren’t aligned with buyer needs and wants

No matter your business size or growth stage, inbound lead qualification is critical for growth, accelerating pipeline, and improving business efficiencies. 

This comprehensive guide to inbound lead qualification will cover the following topics:

  1. Inbound Lead Qualification for Dynamic Customer Journeys
  2. How Lead Qualification Streamlines the Inbound Sales Process
  3. How to Create Seamless, Automated Inbound Lead Qualification Flows
  4. Nurturing & Closing Inbound Leads Post-Qualification
  5. Beyond Inbound Lead Qualification: Building a Revenue Engine for the Future

If you already have an inbound lead qualification strategy in place and need an integrated platform to support that strategy, learn more about Default here

1. Inbound Lead Qualification for Dynamic Customer Journeys

HubSpot recently reported that the majority of marketers don’t understand their customers. And we’re not just talking about surface-level demographics. This applies to deeper buyer engagement: 

  • 71% don’t understand their audience’s pain points or challenges
  • 76% don’t understand the social causes audiences care about
  • 59% don’t understand where their audience consumes media
  • 58% don’t understand the products they’re interested in purchasing

This lack of understanding can be fatal to your GTM efforts, especially when you consider the non-linear, highly dynamic nature of B2B customer journeys. See the following infographic from  Gartner illustrates: 

Source: Gartner

So B2B marketers are faced with a two-faced problem: 1) lack of customer knowledge, and 2) increasingly complex customer journeys that require more customer knowledge, not less. To address both these challenges requires a new approach to how we think about inbound lead qualification, customer-centricity, and what constitutes an active buyer. 

Ideal customer profiles (ICPs)

As B2B buyer journeys become more complex, knowing your audience becomes a more involved exercise. Without that knowledge, your inbound lead qualification checklists and workflows won’t address the core question of whether the lead aligns with your ideal customer profiles (ICPs)

Here are three examples of ICPs that require very different buying intents, which will need to be qualified differently:

  • ICP #1: Mid-level marketer at a Series A SaaS startup
  • ICP #2: C-suite financial executive at a Fortune 1000 company 
  • ICP #3: Education administrator at a public, state-sponsored universities

While you could capture or enrich your CRM with demographic data to figure out which contacts fit which ICPs, there are still nuances demographics won’t capture:

  • How much of your content have they consumed? This includes the channels and platforms that you can’t easily track (e.g. social media, events, PR). 
  • How ready are they to buy? Is this a discovery call or product hunt for a 12-month budget projection, or are they looking to buy in the next 30 days?
  • Which other stakeholders are involved in the buying decisions within their organization? 
  • What has their previous experience with similar solutions or competitors been? How will that impact how they view your product? 

So while demographic data is a good start, it only gets you halfway. You also need behavioral data, tracking lead engagement across all channels. The only way to measure this data is with a unified, centralized platform—otherwise, you risk losing data across a patchwork of integrations. 

Behavioral data answers the following questions:

  • Which content or action attracted leads to your website? What actions did they take upon engaging with that content?
  • How long did they remain on the page?
  • Did the prospect’s actual stage in the customer journey align with what you assumed based on the content and conversion offer? 
  • Where else did they engage with your brand before/after that initial conversion? 

Once you’ve captured, enriched, and behavioral data at your disposal, only then will you have the information you need to engage in effective inbound lead qualification. 

How to map non-linear customer journeys

In dynamic markets, customer journeys are non-linear. Rather than tracking awareness, consideration, and decision in a straightforward funnel, you need to account for a more complex journey map.

Omnichannel customer touchpoints

Customers come into contact with your brand at many points. It’s important to map out those areas where customers enter your inbound flow, both online and offline. 


Because customer journeys are nonlinear, customers will loop back, skip stages, and enter your inbound flow at different points. It’s important to account for these behaviors.

Behavioral triggers

Emotional and behavioral triggers influence customer decisions more than an ad or email. In B2B, for example, a job promotion can turn an internal influencer into a key stakeholder or decision maker, opening the door for a deeper conversation. 

Decision-making units

B2B buying decisions rarely rest on a single person. As such, it’s important to map out not only an individual contact's engagement with your inbound flow, but understand (as much as is possible) the internal dynamics impacting their decision. 

Visualize dynamic interactions

Outlining all of these complex variables is challenging. Consider using mapping tools or visualization software, like Figma or Miro, to create dynamic and interactive customer journey maps.

The dynamic role of data in inbound lead qualification

You can’t assume you know how prospects will engage with your inbound flows. Mapping nonlinear customer journeys is a good start, but you never really know what those journeys look like until you go to market and engage them. 

Once you create an ICP, be open to the fact that it will inevitably change. You’ll learn more about your actual customers (not just your theoretical frameworks) throughout your GTM efforts, requiring tweaks and adjustments.

What’s more, you’re certainly going to have outliers. For example, you may only work with Series A startups or later, but what if a seed-level startup that works backed by a highly reputable VC firm comes to you? They may be a good fit, especially in the long term, so you don’t want to automatically unqualify them. 

2. How Lead Qualification Streamlines Inbound Sales Processes

Inbound lead qualification helps you sift through all the visitors and leads your website generates to find those who are actually likely to buy. It can also surface non-buyer leads who, for a range of reasons, could be a valuable resource for your business.

This information, in making your salespeople more efficient and effective, drives following sales benefits. 

Reduced sales cycle length

According to data from Ebsta, sales cycle lengths increased by 32% last year. For virtually every B2B organization, this has serious downstream effects: 

  • Longer sales cycles increase likelihood of slowdown, bottlenecks, and loss of enthusiasm
  • Sales cycles that extend past two months have a significantly lower change of closing
  • The longer the sales cycle, the more active management it requires from the rep, increasing acquisition costs
  • As the number of stakeholders in B2B purchasing decisions increases, the downstream impact on B2B sales cycles can become exponential

Inbound lead qualification helps to reduce sales cycle length by ensuring you’re talking to the right person. That way, you’re not wasting salespeople’s time on people who can’t and won’t buy. 

Improved sales forecasting

Although a myriad of factors play into forecasting sales income, one of the most impactful is calculating a deal’s likelihood to close. A powerful indicator of whether a deal will close is whether the rep is talking to the right person at the right company. The more sophisticated—and automated—your inbound lead qualification engine, the better sense you’ll get of their likelihood to close. 

Increase meeting acceptance rates

The more reps know about a prospect, the more tailored their communications can be. For example, if you already know your contact doesn’t have decision-making power, you can send a message saying there’s no pressure for a snap decision. Which, in turn, can lead to a higher likelihood of accepting a meeting. 

Increase cross-sells and up-sells

Inbound lead qualification doesn’t just apply to new prospects. If new or existing contacts within a current customer’s organization engage and convert on your website, you can gather valuable information that could help with cross- or up-sell them.

For example, if a UTM code triggers a decision maker visiting a product page for a feature they don’t currently subscribe to, their CS rep can reach out and help them through the decision making process. The more information that rep has at their disposal, the more likely they are to close the additional business. 

Recover lost revenue

According to SalesLion, 60% of pipeline is lost due to “no decision,” not a competitor. By helping salespeople only initiate conversations with leads likely to buy, inbound lead qualification can reduce revenue leakage.

Simplify revenue operations

Inbound lead qualification can provide a single source of truth around which you can orient all your revenue operations. Routing, scheduling, nurturing, and CRM management can all function more effectively when lead quality is clearly defined. 

3. How to Create Seamless, Automated Inbound Lead Qualification Flows

80 percent of B2B buyers expect an experience as personalized, contextual, and seamless as B2C. So as you set up inbound lead qualification processes and workflows, make it easy for leads to contact you. 

Consider this: it takes a new user 50 milliseconds (!!) for your website to make a first impression, and the average user spends only 5.59 seconds looking at your website’s written content. You need to get their attention and show them the next step quickly and seamlessly. 

What’s more, the followup experience needs to be equally speedy and seamless. If you respond to inbound leads quickly (less than 30 minutes), you’re 21X more likely to qualify that lead than if you waited even half an hour. And if you do so within 5 minutes, you’re 100X more likely to reach them

Source: Revenue.io

The price of getting this wrong? 78% of customers are more likely to buy from the company that replies first. If you go too slow, you’ll inevitably lose business.

But how do you build an inbound lead qualification experience that meets these needs? In this section, we’ll go into more detail about the “nuts and bolts,” as it were. By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to adopt an inbound lead qualification platform that provides:

  • Real-time alerts and updates on lead progress
  • Automated lead capture, qualification, routing, scheduling, and follow up nurture
  • Seamless advancement through each stage of the buying journey

Data capture

Once you’ve plotted inbound lead journeys, you need to map out all the demographics and data that could signal where the lead is on that journey. There are any number of lead qualification frameworks out there. Some of the most popular are:

  • BANT. Budget, authority, need, timeline.
  • MEDDIC. Metrics, economic buyer, decision criteria, decision process, identify pain, champion. 
  • FAINT. Funds, authority, interest, need, timing. 
  • CHAMP. Challenges, authority, money, prioritization.

There’s no better or worse of these options. In fact, if you poll the top performing sales reps and managers in the world, each of these frameworks (and others we haven’t mentioned) will have its champions. 

However, to convert these into specifically inbound lead qualification frameworks, you need to set up your inbound lead flows to capture the relevant information on the front end. This involves the following steps:

  1. Prioritized form fields. Think through the most important information you can gather, and make sure those are the highest priority on the lead form.
  2. Progressive forms. Set up progressive lead forms, where fields for information you already have are replaced to capture new information with each subsequent conversion.
  3. Enrichment data. Leverage enrichment data to capture easily accessible demographic information, focusing your form fields on capturing more difficult, less obvious data. 
  4. Behavioral data. Use behavioral data to track contact activity on your website and other channels, deepening your understanding of their interests and enthusiasm to fine-tune your inbound lead qualification. UTM tracking codes are a common tool in making this happen. 
  5. Discovery calls. Equip your reps to fill in the gaps on their discovery calls by asking intentional, probing questions. 

Lead sourcing

One reason inbound has become more complex is the growing number of lead sources, both online and offline. What’s more, non-linear customer journeys mean that buyers at every stage of the journey can come in at any touchpoint. 

As such, surface-level lead sourcing metrics aren’t sufficient for rigorous inbound lead qualification. You need to go deeper and ask the following questions: 

  • Which search-optimized page attracted them to your website?
  • How long did they remain on that page?
  • Did they convert on that first page, or view other pages on your website? If the latter, which pages did they view?
  • Which order did they consume particular pieces of content? What can that tell you about their thought processes as they research solutions and consider buying?

A patchwork of point solutions will struggle to provide this level of detail. Instead, you need an integrated system to monitor customer touchpoints and compile behavioral data in a unified platform. 

Landing pages

Building a high-converting landing page is more than fonts and colors. Although design matters, it’s equally (if not more) important that the landing page is set up to seamlessly attract and capture leads. 

A landing page attracts leads by featuring copy, images, videos, and an overall design that responds to their buyer intent upon visiting the page. This means, before you even design the page, you need to know:

  • What’s the length of their buying cycle? Does this page entice them to “buy now” or begin a longer conversation with your sales team? 
  • What does “value” mean to them? Do you save money, make money, make them more efficient, etc.?
  • Does your copy “weed out” bad fit prospects? Well-calibrated landing page copy can help your contacts “self-quality” by making it clear your value and the kinds of businesses you can (and can’t) help. 

Once you’ve attracted leads with your landing page content, you need a streamlined experience to capture them. This means having easy-to-use forms, an automated follow-up sequence, and clear next steps.

Enrichment data

You won’t capture every piece of data you need from a lead form. Nor should you try. The more fields in your lead form, the more your conversion rate will suffer

Instead, leverage third-party data sources to enrich the information you capture from lead forms, UTM codes, and notes your salespeople leave in the CRM. The more data you have, the greater context and insight you’ll have into lead intent. 

Why you shouldn’t adopt point solutions for your inbound flows

Point solutions—or single-function software—are popular for companies building their first inbound flows. These include: 

  • Landing pages 
  • Lead capture forms
  • Email automation
  • Scheduling links
  • Lead routing software
  • Lead qualification filters
  • CRMs

Many companies will jump on point solutions because of their low price point, ease of set up, and “flexible” integrations. But, as we’ll discover below, these point solutions come with significant risks—and can often be a costly mistake:

  • You won’t save money. While there’s a lower upfront cost, the time and resources needed to set up integrations across point solutions erases whatever savings you may realize. 
  • They’re not easier to manage. The integrations required to make point solutions work in tandem is highly time-consuming, complex, and often a nightmare. 
  • You can’t replace them as you scale. Data transfers, migrations, and training on new systems is an involved process—which distracts from other growth-driving opportunities. 
  • You don’t have more flexibility. The more integrations, the more brittle your solution—which means your functionality is limited, not expanded. 

57% of companies lose $500K or more per year due to poor integrations. And 58% of buyers will abandon a business due to a bad experience. Simply put, point solutions aren’t worth the business risk. 

4. Nurturing & Closing Inbound Leads Post-Qualification

Once your inbound lead qualification has done its job, that doesn’t mean you’re done. In fact, 80% of inbound leads won’t lead to a closed deal. That means you need systems and processes in place to continue the positive experience and guide your qualified leads to a close. 

If you took our advice above and avoided a point solution, the same inbound lead qualification system you’ve already used can be applied to nurture and convert them into closed business. Read on to find out how. 

The lead is qualified. Now what? 

Once you’ve qualified the lead and determined the appropriate point of contact, you need automated systems in place to handle that lead and accelerate sales engagement. This includes the following functionality. 

Set up automated post-qualification workflows

Within seconds of qualification, the lead should receive instant action (remember the stats mentioned above). The specific action will vary depending on the lead in question, but some common next steps are:

  • Routing the lead to the appropriate contact—whether a sales rep or another team member
  • Initiating a sales followup workflow if the lead doesn’t schedule a meeting—which is key to avoiding lead dropoff
  • Adding to a marketing drip campaign—especially if the contact is a good fit hasn’t indicated a readiness to buy

Automatically schedule time on their calendar

Too many salespeople waste time going back and forth trying to grab time on a prospect’s calendar. Set up automated scheduling so you can get those meetings on the books when the prospect is most engaged and likely to say yes. 

Follow up with leads that abandon your workflow

We’ll talk more about troubleshooting lead dropoff below, but right now we’ll note that it’s inevitable to have leads that abandon your lead flows. The key is to maintain regular contact with them and keep your brand, salespeople, and solution top-of-mind. 

How to run a demo with a qualified lead

If you’ve set up your inbound lead qualification engine correctly, your salespeople have a plethora of information at your fingertips. This can help you tailor your sales communications—from your email followup all the way to your live demo—to directly respond to their needs.

Here are some tips for running a successful demo post-qualification:

  • Don’t waste time on surface-level questions. Instead, use CRM data to figure out which information you have, and what you need to learn on these demo calls.
  • Reference content topics from pages they’ve visited. If you’ve been tracking the content the lead has consumed, you’ll know which topics they’re interested in. This can help you better understand their concerns and objections and respond to them persuasively.
  • Guide them toward a set of next steps. If your inbound lead qualification engine has done its job, your reps will only spend their time with highly engaged prospects. As such, you should actively guide them toward next steps—because every indicator is that they’re ready to buy. 
  • Only showcase the products they’re interested in. Your goal in this initial call is to get them to a decision as quickly as possible. There’s always time to upsell and cross-sell later—the more targeted you are in your product proposals, the more likely you are to close. 

And if, over the course of the conversation, you discover some gaps or errors in your inbound lead qualification data, then you need to give that feedback to your marketing team. That way, they can adjust and improve your efforts. 

Troubleshooting lead dropoff

As mentioned above, lead dropoff is inevitable. But even a lost lead isn’t a waste if you know why you lost that lead and how to keep it from happening again. Your inbound lead qualification engine should have the data to help you troubleshoot lead dropoff.

Generally, lead dropoff happens for three reasons:

  • The messaging and positioning didn’t resonate with the lead
  • Your sales team didn’t follow up with them quickly enough
  • The overall customer experience was poor

When a lead drops off, it’s important to identify, as best you can, which of those three reasons drove the lead away—because they require wildly different solutions. A messaging and positioning problem requires a hard look at the overall GTM strategy. A delay in followup, on the other hand, can be fixed through automation. 

5. Beyond Inbound Lead Qualification: Building a Revenue Engine for the Future

So far, our conversation around inbound lead qualification has focused on the basics: how do you set up a system that captures, qualifies, and converts inbound leads and accelerates pipeline? For any business, whether you’re a startup or mid-level company, this is the baseline—without revenue, there’s no business.

But once you have a functional revenue engine, you can start to think about the future. Inbound, as the name suggests, requires a steady influx of qualified traffic to your website. So after you’ve set up the systems to capture, qualify and convert the traffic you already have, the next step is to increase your top-of-funnel traffic.

This involves a broader, more brand-centric approach to your GTM strategy:

  • Content & thought leadership. Only the most active, interested buyers will flock to you because of what you’re selling. If you want to broaden your audience, you need to position yourself as a thought leader in your space. 
  • Community. Like attracts like. The more you build a community around your brand, the more people will invite their colleagues to join in.  
  • Reputation. As you invest in content and community, your brand reputation will grow, and people will start to see you as a trustworthy source of information—which will trickle down to more sales. 

It’s difficult to attribute sales to brand growth, but it’s worth investing in all the same. Because, if you don’t invest in it, your inbound success will be limited to how well any one campaign is executed—and even then, performance marketing can be more effective when paired with a reputable brand. 

However, the revenue will only come when you have the systems in place to capture and qualify leads from your inbound traffic. As such, inbound lead qualification is a critical place to start. As people get to know your company, your systems will capitalize on that growing footprint. 

Build your inbound lead qualification engine with Default

Inbound lead qualification only works if you have the systems and processes in place to capitalize on it. As such, your choice of platform is critical. 

With Default, you have inbound lead qualification, routing, and scheduling—all in one platform. This enables your team to streamline sales operations, accelerate your inbound pipeline, recover lost revenue, and empower your sales team to close more business. 

The sooner you build an inbound lead qualification engine, the sooner you’ll accelerate revenue. Get started with Default today.

Inbound Basics
Stan Rymkiewicz
April 4, 2024
17 min
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