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Misleading leads with Sam Kuehnle at Refine Labs

A VP of demand gen at Refine Labs, Sam Kuehnle, joins the pod to talk about misleading leads. He shares a story of a seemingly disqualified opportunity that ended up in a meeting with the CEO. We also talk about demand generation, category creation, win-loss analysis, and CRM software.

Show Description

Where marketers come to talk about sales. Ideal for heads of marketing and founders who support a sales team. Topics include lead qualification, sales-marketing alignment, cold outreach, and more. Learn from B2B growth leaders like HubSpot, Refine Labs, Powered by Search, and Close. Hosted by Harris Kenny, founder of Intro.

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Show Notes

In this episode, Harris asks Sam to share his thoughts on a few topics: 

  • Understanding buyers: Sam tells the story of a lead that came in—an intern. Why this lead could have been considered disqualified, but he encouraged the client to take the meeting and it ended up in a meeting with the prospects' CEO. Hear the whole story in the show.
  • Big vs. small companies: There's a difference between decision-making and buyers committees at companies with 10 vs. 10,000 employees. Sam shares how the focus on the person that literally signs the contract can be misguided. 
  • Defining your ICP: Refine Labs has a unique process for defining an ideal customer profile. Sam sheds a little bit of light on how they think about it, and more importantly how they consider it a living document—not a static one.
  • Using the CRM: When looking back, using CRM data, you can conduct win-loss analyses and expand your understanding of who the buyer and buyer's committee are. Sam also talks about leading CRMs like HubSpot.
  • Human touch: Sam and Harris talk about the balance between automation and human intervention, and how high intent vs. low intent actions should weigh into how you route and respond to leads. They touch on lead scoring and using group updates as tactics to consider.
  • Following up: When you have an exciting lead come in, how do you handle the follow-up to ensure the lead doesn't fall flat?
  • Defining demand generation: Lastly, as leaders in the space, Sam defines demand generation from Refine Labs' perspective.

If you found this episode interesting, learn more by visiting

Learn About Our Guest

Refine Labs helps companies consistently launch new revenue programs, improve the buyer experience, and build a sustainable competitive advantage with Revenue R&D.

Visit Refine Labs to learn more about their work.

As VP of Demand Generation, Sam works with Refine Labs' clients to make demand generation their competitive advantage.

Find Marc Thomas on LinkedIn. 


Welcome to Pipeline Meeting, a sales podcast for founders and sales leaders. You're going to get ideas that you can apply today to close high-ticket deals and find repeatability in your sales process. Pipeline Meeting is brought to you by Intro, learn more at

[00:00:20] Harris Kenny: I'm excited to have Sam on today. We're going to talk about inbound lead qualification and really the art and science of knowing who is a good or not a good lead. And he had a really good story that, I think, counterintuitive might, people might be surprised by how it went based on how that lead started.

[00:00:34] But, so we'll jump into all that in a second, but Sam, you just want to introduce yourself. Great to have you on the show.

[00:00:38] Sam Kuehnle: My name's Sam Kuehnle. I'm one of the VPs of demand gen over at Refine Labs. We work with B2B software companies, have been in the B2B space for a while, so I've seen a lot of anything and everything that can come about in this business.

[00:00:50] When you reached out to have this conversation, it's definitely a topic that's near and dear to my heart, so glad that we'll be jumping into it.

[00:00:56] Harris Kenny: Let's just go right to this story cuz I thought it was so good. Basically this is a post that Sam did on LinkedIn. Long story short, they've got a client who's generating leads, and they had a lead come in that fit their ICP, which is ideal customer profile. In other words, the company was exactly a good fit, but the person who reached out their job title was intern.

[00:01:17] And so the client was thinking that they should disqualify this lead because the person wasn't senior enough, it wasn't the right buyer within the organization.

[00:01:25] Sam discussed with them and they decided to do a discovery call with this intern anyway. And the next call is with the CEO, who is actually who you'd want the buyer to be.

[00:01:35] What happened there? How do you go from a call with an intern to a call of the CEO? And what do you think the common mistake is that people make maybe being aggressive in trying to like filter out leads?

[00:01:46] Sam Kuehnle: Unless you're targeting really small companies, like less than 10 people where the decision maker is also the day to day end user or someone that's working in the business, they're gonna be delegating that to other members of their team, which they should be, if they're an effective leader.

[00:02:00] When instances like this happen, we've been trained for so long to think that buyers are the people that sign the contract. So you're like, "Hey, our buyer's the CFO or the VP of finance. So we're only going to target the CFO or the VP of finance, but in reality, they're just the one that's signing the contract at the end of the day.

[00:02:17] And what you need to think about is who are the people that are the end users of your product, the people that are feeling, the pain that you're solving for, or your service. And these are the people that are usually either being tasked with the research, proactively or reactively.

[00:02:30] So proactively sometimes they want to excel in their career, take on additional responsibility. I have a pain. If I can surface a solution to it, I'm gonna take it to leadership. And they'll say, run with it. You know, go get a demo, bring us back information.

[00:02:42] Or CEO gets called down from their board, you need to solve this ASAP. Go find the solution to it. CEO task, someone else lower down and they do it.

[00:02:50] Long story short, it's very rarely the CEO or this, this C-suite, you know, director level title that's coming inbound. If it is, that's great. That's a cherry on top, but more often than not in today's day and age with how purchase decisions are being made, especially by committees. It's not gonna be that target persona who you think it's going to be in the initial calls or doing that initial research.

[00:03:11] And I think that's where the biggest gap is today with you have to think beyond that, that title and start going after those who are experiencing the pain the most.

[00:03:19] Harris Kenny: I think you're really saying to put some chips in because, to take a discovery call, that's 30 minutes, you've got 10 minutes of prep before 10 minutes of follow up after. Maybe do some stuff in the CRM. That's around an hour of work, plus. And if, if you're an account executive who's closing big deals, it's a pretty big time commitment.

[00:03:35] I do think the context here, is of course that the company was a good fit. And I think this other point is understanding that the person who's reaching out is close to the problem. And so understanding the job titles of the end users around your product. The people who sort of interact with it around the product within the company.

[00:03:54] What's the process that you recommend people go through when they're thinking about that?

[00:03:57] Sam Kuehnle: There's a couple steps that we take, and my mind is notorious for going down the rabbit hole, the second thing. So remind me that there is a second thing, and it's in the CRM.

[00:04:05] The first one. So the first one is when we start with a client, one of the initial things that we ask for and have them populate is the ICP questionnaire.

[00:04:13] We're asking them tons of questions about who is their ideal customer. Where are they located at? But within there, what we do is we nest it into two categories.

[00:04:20] Who are the job titles of the decision-makers? That you are often targeting. These are typically going to be the C-suite, the VPs, all of that. And then we ask who are the influencers or the day-to-day users.

[00:04:31] That's forcing them to go down. Because while say they're selling an email marketing tool, the decision maker might be the CMO, but I can promise you the CMO is not the one that's executing those emails, going out to all of their different prospects, clients, things like that.

[00:04:43] That's where it might be the email marketing manager, just a regular demand gen marketer, someone like that. That helps us to triangulate, not only who's signing it, but also who are the people who are experiencing the pain. So that's the first part.

[00:04:55] Once we have them fill out that questionnaire, as time goes on, what we also do is we start to run an analysis for them using their own CRM data, their marketing automation platform. And what we'll do is we'll go find trends. It's typical win-loss analysis.

[00:05:09] In a win analysis, we're going and seeing who are all of the people that were a part of this committee. Who are the campaign members? The opportunity memberships that are associated to the opportunity, and seeing if there's anything that was missed.

[00:05:20] Sometimes there's one off. That's like, hey, that's not gonna be too common.

[00:05:23] But more often than not, there are a couple titles that pull out there and say hey have you thought about this person, we're seeing them pop up a lot. And unfortunately this a downside is of—a lot of times organizations build their ICP or their personas and they don't come back to them for years.

[00:05:38] That's another way where we're going in there practically saying like, what. Title 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Should we be adding these and more often than not, it's yeah.

[00:05:45] Harris Kenny: I do wanna talk about the tech stack a little bit there on your second point. I feel like you have to be, you have to be a certain size, the company, your business has to be big enough where you have deals coming through, right?

[00:05:55] If you have like less than 10 customers or whatever, you're probably still discovering, right? It sounds like you need some level of critical mass before this type of analysis is gonna work for you.

[00:06:04] Is that generally true? So if I'm like a one person bootstrapper and I have a few customers, this process is maybe too heavy, right?

[00:06:12] Sam Kuehnle: With the tools and everything, yeah. So a lot of our clients are gonna be, you know, Series A, B, C, D. So they do at least have some type of infrastructure in place. But if you're a bootstrapper, I mean, I don't know if everyone's as analytical or detail oriented as I may be, but I'm keeping a spreadsheet of like, who am I talking to at this organization?

[00:06:29] I'm just power washing houses, like who's the owner of the house.

[00:06:33] Harris Kenny: You get some level of repeatability and then as you guide that repeatability, you're gonna be missing stuff. So what types of CRMs do you see customers typically using? What do you have default ones that you support?

[00:06:43] Is there some that are better or worse for this type of approach?

[00:06:50] Sam Kuehnle: Yeah, the most common ones we see are not gonna surprise you. Salesforce, HubSpot, I mean, that's just what a lot of B2B software companies are using nowadays. We have seen a couple other ones here and there, Pipedrive, a number of BI tools. So your normal Tableau, yellowfin, those ones, we typically like to be as close to the source as possible, where sales, SDRs, marketing is entering that information.

[00:07:11] So that's why we like using the CRM itself instead of it being passed through some type of data warehouse.

[00:07:16] Harris Kenny: Okay, that makes sense. In this story, the job title was intern, but they're really reporting to the CEO. So you're relying on systems and data, but it does sound like there's a level of human input required too here, right?

[00:07:27] If I had like a totally automated inbound lead routing and prioritization, that lead, just like as a, as a rep, I never even would've seen it because there could have been some rule or some intervention, hard coded in, being like, if the job title is X or if they select their seniority level and it's Y then like just enroll them in the monthly newsletter or whatever. And, and, and don't do a sequence. Don't do a sales follow up.

[00:07:52] How important is that level of human discretion having like a set of eyes and a person to kind of make a judgment call? How important is that? Or is that really unusual? And is that not important from your perspective?

[00:08:04] Sam Kuehnle: I think it comes down to a couple things like how much volume are you just getting in general, if you're getting one to two a day, it's very easy to keep an eye on that, have a human check on it.

[00:08:13] If you're getting hundreds a day, you know, it's a different story. But the one caveat to these types of things is we're only doing this with forms where the prospect is explicitly saying, I want to talk to your sales team. I want to get a demo.

[00:08:25] So these are not people that are just saying, I want to download your ebook. I want to watch your webinar. It's, I want a demo of your product.

[00:08:32] If you're running automation on that, I mean, you, you might be doing yourself a disservice if you're running those types of rules.

[00:08:37] If you do automate, because if you're getting hundreds of demo requests, your product every day, good for you, you've solved something that 99.9% of people have not.

[00:08:46] But for the rest of us, I would be very hesitant to put any automations in place that are just automatically going to rule people out because of things like, um, their title.

[00:08:56] Harris Kenny: They have strongly self-qualified, Hey, I'm so interested, I want someone to reach back out to me. I wanna put something on the calendar, at least in theory. That's a pretty high intent, um, action.

[00:09:08] It sounds like you have maybe like multiple entry points and then you would treat those different entry points differently.

[00:09:13] Sam Kuehnle: Exactly, yeah. With us, for example, we have our form hooked up to Slack. The whole company gets to see everyone who fills out those forms. Half the times, like people, Hey, I just wanna see how your form works. But there's a lot of eyes on going on to that as well.

[00:09:25] So it doesn't always have to be just one person. If you're strapped for time, you can send it to groups.

[00:09:29] Harris Kenny: Okay. That's interesting. You do have more advanced companies that do lead scoring and things like that.

[00:09:34] This person downloaded the ebook, subscribed to whatever, added this, checked that. And all of a sudden their lead score gets up, up, up, and all of a sudden, you know, they're whatever, 80 something.

[00:09:44] What do you think about that? About that type of automation? Would you say, this person's done enough things that it's like analogous to them selecting a demo, or would you say no, it's not the same.

[00:09:55] Sam Kuehnle: Yeah. I always say buyers are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They know where that button is up top to get in touch with you. I promise you they'll hit that if they want to talk to you. If they're perusing through the website, they're doing research. So there's, there's a balance between being too outbound, pushy, and waiting on them.

[00:10:13] In that instance, I think lead scoring's great for SDRs and other sales reps to use that is a prompt to start to develop the relationship. Not hey, I saw you're on the website, want a demo, but hey, saw you're on the website looking about this. We've got a number of people who know a lot about it. What's your problem? How can I help?

[00:10:29] And approach it from, let's give you value first, before we ask you to buy anything. That's probably the way that I would, I would approach similar leads scoring type activities.

[00:10:36] Harris Kenny: Yeah, that makes sense. Hey, did you find what you were looking for? You know, is there something else I can send you? Do you have any questions about integrations or whatever.

[00:10:45] Sam Kuehnle: Exactly. Exactly

[00:10:46] Harris Kenny: Let's go back to our story. We get the intern, the second call with the CEO. What do you recommend we do with that old intern?

[00:10:53] Let's say you do the demo, it goes well, and now you've got a follow up. And let's say you had a bad day and you forgot to really clearly define what the next steps are and you don't hear back from them.

[00:11:03] And it's been like two weeks, um, do you think you go back to the CEO? Do you loop the intern in or vice versa? Do you just, now keep your eyes on the prize with the CEO? How do you keep that?

[00:11:14] Because when you, when you know that it's a buyer who's has the time, maybe it's a director level person or a VP, you know, you can go back to them, but in this case, maybe it's a little murky.

[00:11:23] Does the intern still own the project or is it, is it the CEO now the person who wanna lock into, um, what do you think about for that follow up process?

[00:11:32] Sam Kuehnle: I do both me personally. I mean, at the end, the day, people are people. If they're holding their title over you, do you want them as a customer or client in the long term? Probably not. So, I mean, whether it's an intern and CEO, I'm having the same exact conversation with them, you know, the results and the outcomes are gonna be different.

[00:11:46] Cuz one cares about revenue for the company. One cares about how do I do my job better, but I'm still approaching them with, how can I help you? You know, what, what do we want to do to make this partnership work? So I'd reach out to both whoever replies is, is the person that's more or less, I'll call it project managing the potential purchase, but I'd go after both of 'em in the the same. same thread.

[00:12:05] Harris Kenny: That makes sense. Yeah. I'm with you on that. I think it's, it's hard to know. And, and sometimes, maybe the intern is the one that nudges the CEO. I mean, they're, they're gonna be much more likely to see the email, if nothing else, right? And they're much more likely to be like, Hey, did you see that, Hey, do you want me to respond?

[00:12:17] Sam Kuehnle: Right? Yeah.

[00:12:19] Harris Kenny: I just thought it was such, such a good example and something that comes up all the time. And I think customers so quickly wanna just cut the noise and only talk to the, the quote unquote, best leads.

[00:12:28] I did have one rather, which is sort of big picture question that I wanted to ask you about.

[00:12:32] Looking at Refine Labs and how you define yourself as a company, how would you define this phrase demand generation? Because I like I've heard it used in lots of different ways, by lots of different people.

[00:12:44] I think Refine Labs is a thought leader. I'm curious how you would say, what is demand generation exactly.

[00:12:51] Sam Kuehnle: That's a good question. To me, demand generation is it's essentially playing the long game with it where you're not asking for some type of purchase or action right off the bat, but it's understanding who are the people that would benefit from your product or service, how do you get in front of them, how do you generate future demand?

[00:13:10] That's the difference between demand and lead is, are we going after a lead right now or are we going after long term demand?

[00:13:15] How do we insert ourselves so that when they do become ready to buy we're top of mind?

[00:13:19] Usually it's through case studies, blog posts, again, how do you, how do you help me do my job better? How can I get better results?

[00:13:26] Coming at from the lens of make your prospects and customers, the hero of the story versus your brand or company.

[00:13:32] Harris Kenny: Some companies I think are in this business of category creation where they're, they're trying to do demand gen but they're, they also have this problem of informing the customers that they have a problem in the first place, where they may not know it.

[00:13:45] And then trying to help them understand that they need to solve that problem that they didn't know they had. And then trying to understand that the way to solve the problem that they didn't know they had was with this tool they didn't know existed.

[00:13:54] And so I do think that sometimes people take on these really big boil the ocean type problems without realizing it. When you talk about generating demand for a product or a service or whatever, creating categories is a lot harder than potentially operating within a category.

[00:14:07] Sam Kuehnle: Yeah, it's a balancing act. When you create a category, you end up owning it. Anyone that thinks of your category, chat bot, you think of Drift. If you are in a category like marketing automation, your mind immediately goes to HubSpot, so well-defined category, but there's already market leaders there and you're not gonna outspend them.

[00:14:26] Yes, you can say I'm in marketing automation, you can show up in those pages on G2 and Capterra and all that, but it's a lot harder to unseat those incumbents.

[00:14:34] Harris Kenny: Yeah, totally. I wanna encourage people to check out Sam on LinkedIn and check out Refine Labs. I don't know Sam, if there's anything else you wanna talk about?

[00:14:41] Sam Kuehnle: Yeah, we've got content coming out of our team left and right. All over LinkedIn, podcast, so it's, it's not hard to find us if you just look up Refine Labs on, on LinkedIn, or Spotify or podcasts, anything. Really just trying to help create the next wave of B2B marketers.

[00:14:55] Harris Kenny: I can tell you that we have customers who send me your podcasts already. So you're doing something right. And, uh, thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.

[00:15:02] Sam Kuehnle: Yeah, thanks Harris. This is a good one.

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