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Why Generating More Leads Doesn’t Always Lead to More Sales

piece of paper with multiplication tables on it

I started my career in finance, so it’s safe to assume that I enjoy a good math problem. In my job as a digital marketer, I am inundated with channels, tools, data, and a shortening attention span from consumers. So, wherever possible, I like to impose a sense of structure and order to solve problems.

When clients come to us with a sales goal, we at Element Three like to develop a long algebraic formula to show how that sales goal translates to the number of leads we need to generate. The formula often combines a few constants, a few variables, and a dash of “best guess.” Using historical data and professional experience, here’s how we do it:

Leads x (percentage A) = MQLs x (percentage B) = SQL x (percentage C) = Customers

Percentage A is the rate at which leads turn into marketing qualified leads (MQLs). This can be based on qualification criteria, but it absolutely needs to include a 10-15% buffer because we know that not every single lead is going to be valid—we'll run into fake email addresses, employees testing forms, etc.

Percentage B is the rate at which an MQL turns into a sales qualified lead (SQL). Percentage C is the rate at which an SQL turns into a customer.

What seems like a simple math problem turns into something quite complex when we think about putting it into motion. First, each part of the formula is likely owned and executed by a separate group of people. The number of sales needed is probably directed by the executive team or c-suite. Converting an SQL into a customer is the job of the sales team. Generating and qualifying leads is the responsibility of the marketing team.

So, what happens when the math problem breaks?

As our trusty math problem illustrates, capturing a lead is just the start of the user’s journey to becoming a customer. In the B2B space, the time between becoming a lead and becoming a customer can be weeks, months, or even years, depending on the complexity of the product. In other words, if your goal is sales, simply generating tons of leads isn’t the one-stop shop to get you there.

What you really need, in conjunction with your math equation, is a marketing campaign blueprint. If you’re taking a road trip, it’s not enough to just know your starting and ending point—you need to map out your journey, identify roadside attractions you want to see, hotels to stay at, gas stations, etc.*

Definitely lost gif

*This metaphor assumes your cell phone is broken and you’re using Rand McNally rather than Google Maps.

You need to think through what channels and content you’re using in each phase of the math problem—which is really just tying your math problem to your marketing funnel.

Capturing leads

So, you’re getting a ton of leads, which should mean the math works out to hit your sales goal—but are you capturing the right audience? Even if a campaign is running well, there’s likely opportunities to refine the targeting, ads, or landing pages—and while tighter targeting might impact the volume of leads, it might also increase the likelihood that the individual becomes a customer. Really, we’re playing the quality vs. quantity game.

Qualifying your leads

After you capture someone’s information, what’s next? Companies usually do (or should) have some criteria that helps qualify someone as an MQL or SQL—such as company size, geography, or what they converted on, like a free trial or demo.

So, if the number of leads you’re seeing is great, but the math starts to break down in terms of converting them into MQLs or SQLs, you’re likely not answering a lead’s questions. You might be missing content. Or maybe you have a ton of great content, but your users can’t find it.

In the time between getting a user’s information and the sales team talking to them, email can be your best friend. Set up an automated workflow to get relevant content in front of users and help them qualify themselves. Marketing automation also helps alleviate the workload of your sales team—the volume of leads coming in might be too much for your sales team to keep up with otherwise.

Turning leads into customers

Just because a lead is now ready to talk to a salesperson, it doesn’t mean marketing’s job is completely over. Does the sales team have the tools to be able to have effective and meaningful conversations?

When you were setting up your forms and qualification criteria, did you talk to your sales team about what helps them do their jobs? What information is imperative for them to have? What information is nice to have? What information is useless? If you have a longer purchase cycle, progressive profiling in forms is very useful. It helps justify gated content because users are being asked different questions. By asking different questions, not only are you building out their profile, but you’re getting primary data on what your persona profile looks like.

Another question to ask yourself: is all the information you’re collecting on an individual making its way over to your sales database? Clean data is happy data—not only does it make reporting more efficient, but it helps other people do their jobs better. A salesperson can tailor their conversation and approach better if they know all of the touchpoints a potential customer has had with your brand.

Often when we talk about lead generation, we associate it with paid media, which can be a quick, efficient way to generate leads.

You’re missing an important opportunity within your existing database

This doesn’t explicitly fit into the math problem metaphor we were going with, but I think it’s so important to acknowledge. There’s a finite number of people in the world who need your services. That means at any given time, you’re working against a ceiling of leads you can actually get.


A prospect segment I often see overlooked: your existing customers. There’s numerous studies and articles that talk through how much more expensive it is to attract a new customer than to retain an existing one, yet they still often don’t get attention when companies are thinking about ways to grow their business.

A treasure trove of opportunities lies within your database. What upsell or cross-sell opportunities exist? If you grew your business 10% within your existing database, what would that mean to your bottom line?

I recommend developing a customer engagement strategy to make sure you’re not leaving dollars on the table.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

Remember that math problem from earlier? It’s not a map—it’s just a framework. It can help identify where things aren’t going according to plan, or where your numbers need to be updated or adjusted. Once you figure out your starting plan, that math equation, you need to think about your map. You need to figure out how you’re going to get from point A to point B.

Lynsey Johnson Team Photo at Element Three

Lynsey Johnson is "mostly a Hoosier," but she's a digital marketer through and through. Marketing leverages her love of reading and writing, but her skills in math – honed in school and her past work as a financial analyst – help her find the best ways to maximize our clients' digital spend. And she's also an expert gardener, as it turns out!