Is it possible to reactivate a dead lead?

Is it possible to reactivate a dead lead?
An experienced digital marketer who has owned and run agencies for almost 15 years, Adam is the head of cross-channel marketing automation specialist Force24. Combining his love for cutting-edge tech with a passion for lead nurturing best practice, Adam has developed a platform that is built by marketers, for marketers. An outspoken advocate of the ‘less is more’ approach, Adam is a regular commentator on industry topics including intelligent multichannel marketing, holistic eCRM strategies, optimising customer journeys, personalisation, digital marketing and retargeting.


With so much focus on ROI in the modern business environment, it’s understandable that marketers want to maximise conversion rates from every campaign.

Efforts to personalise communication journeys and effectively nurture prospects through the funnel have never been so great. So, it’s pretty disheartening when the time comes to face the cold hard fact that a promising lead has gone dead.

But can that lead be resuscitated? Is there a best practice process to ensure the line of communication doesn’t grind to a halt? And does marketing tech have the right to take the glory for keeping the conversion potential alive?

The answer to these three questions, essentially, is yes. However, before the detail can be explored it’s important to firstly define the subject matter. Marketers don’t just need to understand exactly what a dead lead is; they need to be much clearer on what actually constitutes a lead, and the different lead stages too.

What’s an MQL?

Many marketers jump the gun, categorising someone as a ‘lead’far too quickly, when they’ve shown only a small sign of engagement. But a marketing qualified lead (MQL) is very different to a sales qualified lead (SQL).

An MQL is a target who has performed a particular action such as downloading a brochure or hitting a specific lead score. Only then, when there is a clear opportunity to sell, should this MQL be passed over the line to sales.

It is important to remember that this person may not have actually enquired at this stage – they may simply be in the early phase of the buying cycle, therefore the role of sales is to qualify the opportunity and support the individual. At this point sales can convert the MQL into a SQL.

At this point of conversion, it’s important to find out as much about the individual as possible – these learnings will be used later if we need to resuscitate the lead.

It would be impossible to manage such meticulously timed yet incredibly responsive comms without the help of marketing tech

A series of relevant questions should therefore be asked during the email or telephone qualification period, such as Do you have a contract renewal date?’ or ‘What particular pain point triggered your enquiry?’

The findings then need to be stored so that, if the lead becomes unresponsive moving forward, the insight can be used in an attempt to reignite interest.

Perhaps, during the conversion from MQL to SQL, the contact states that they cannot buy now, for example. That individual should then move into a ‘dormant SQL’ pool – a much nicer name than’ dead leads’ – so that they only receive relevant communications moving forward.

Is it possible to breathe life back into dormant SQLs?

Yes, by creating a series of targeted and personalised campaigns which draw upon the findings from the resurrection questions. The tone should be sympathetic and the content should be carefully worded. But what guise should it take?

It’s possible to use marketing tech to send automated yet carefully-worded emails from a designated sales person for example. The content could perhaps say: I know your contract is coming up for renewal. I can offer you a better deal which promises to save you a further 15% if you act before [date].”

But marketers must also remember that their brand can talk to the individual too, in which case the message would be different. In this instance, an email might say: “We understand your contract is coming to an end.

So, ask yourself, when you come to renew, what will you be looking for in a supplier? As a brand, we’ll give you X, Y and Z.”

So what exactly should come when? When do we communicate to these people from the brand and when do we send automated messages from the sales individuals? And how should the whole process be managed?

An effective strategy is to place the individual in an accelerated brand communications journey which lasts for a specific period of time, such as three to four weeks. This journey should instil the virtues of the brand concerned, but be overlaid with a series of personalised communications from an individual sales person, gently pushing the need to talk and reaffirming the helpful nature of the staff.

The role of the brand communications isn’t to convert the dead lead – it’s to remind the individual why they first showed a level of engagement. Perhaps the brand is faster, bigger, cheaper, stronger or more successful. This should be emphasised in the content, complemented by passive, lightweight CTAs (calls to action) instead of prompts such as Call me’ or ‘Click to start’.

Personalised plain text communications, sent directly from the sales person, should be interspersed between the above. This dialogue should be less frequent, i.e. used only on two or three occasions.

The emails can even be automated based on when the individual previously engaged with the brand, with a similar subject line perhaps. The purpose of this activity is to elicit a response hence the CTAs should be more direct but with very little -pressure. Popular choices include ‘would you like to have a chat about this’ or ‘perhaps it would be best if I gave you a call this afternoon’.

Don’t be pushy

The comms can’t appear pushy of course. That’s why it’s important for marketers to think about what to do and when. The first plain text email should perhaps be sent after the first observed brand email open.

If the individual doesn’t open again, the comms should reflect this and possibly go quiet for a couple of days, before the plain text email is re-sent as a forwarded message. This ‘in case you missed it’ tactic draws attention to the original email.

However, if this is also unsuccessful, the individual should be pulled out of the channel, and the marketer must wait for the next engagement with a brand piece or the website.

After this, there should be one last, soft attempt to reignite the lead via email. The message could even warn the individual that the communication will be taken away from them if they don’t respond – an approach that often proves effective for brands. This ‘Very quickly, before I go…’ content should be no more than three lines long if it is to pack the necessary punch.

Thereafter, marketers need to think beyond email. Does the dead lead merit a more traditional piece of direct mail? If so, automate that into the process too, perhaps by sending a personalised letter which reinforces the virtues of the brand.

It would be impossible to manage such meticulously timed yet incredibly responsive comms without the help of marketing tech. The journeys are complex but they need to be built so that they are quick and easy to administer. Our research shows that emails sent to a lead within 24 hours of a previous email can expect to achieve up to an 80% open rate.  This is a pivotal time to convert an ‘open’ into ‘action’.

Plain text emails that are seen to be sent from a particular sales person are also more likely to elicit a reply. However, it is crucial that the ESP can robustly handle reply forwarding, so that the notification is delivered to the real human being for attention. After all, the role of marketing automation is to convert more by doing the right thing, intelligently, at the right time.

Only when these details are considered, will marketers stand a real chance of reactivating dead leads. Don’t stop talking to an individual when they enter a dormant phase – just change how. Don’t simply say more of the same thing. Evolve the message, change and adapt.  

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