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Four Key Steps to Better Leads!

Align sales and marketing’s definition of a “qualified lead” to deliver maximum sales impact. Here’s how.

Guest Blog by Barry Trailer

All hands up to the beach ballCan we agree that sales reps have plenty to do today and that, without wanting to seem unreasonable, you’d like them to do more and/or better?

Is it also possible for us to agree, without loads of assessment or hours of argument, that having reps pursue business that is a poor fit—and some that you actually don’t even want—is a waste of time?

If we cannot, or simply do not, agree on these items, then stop reading and keep doing whatever it is you’ve been doing: encouraging, cheerleading, demanding, worrying, whatever.

However, if we can and do agree on these premises, then please answer one more question before we start. Why do the majority of firms (56%) have no or only an informal agreement about what defines a “qualified lead”?

The firms that have a formal (i.e., documented, consistently referred to) definition of what constitutes a qualified lead are further ahead in every metric we track regarding sales and marketing alignment. Their sales reps are shouldering a lighter (though not necessarily smaller) load, because everyone knows what they are aiming toward. Marketing generating leads, yes! These leads being higher quality and lower cost than sales generated leads, Yes! Everyone pulling in the same direction, “Yeah baby, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

And yet, only 44% of firms responding to our 2011 Sales Performance Optimization survey have a formal definition agreed upon by both sales and marketing. As a result, many related metrics (e.g., quality/quantity of leads generated by marketing, percentage of leads generated by reps versus marketing, etc.) remain largely frozen in place or, improving at a glacial pace. Can we heat things up just a little?

You can and if you’re going to compete successfully, you must:

  1. Engage sales and marketing in reaching this mutual definition;
  2. Measure the quality/quantity of leads, pipeline and revenue opportunities generated;
  3. Improve your web site’s engagement of prospects; and
  4. Provide your marketing team with the toolset they need to compete in today’s digital marketing world.

Sounds like a lot of work but not doing these things is creating even more work and less result because the efforts of your associates are scattered.

A favored expression is “putting all the wood behind the arrow,” meaning aligning all your resources for maximum impact and minimal dispersion. Easier said than done, but a strategy paying high dividends to those who manage it. Think of the difference between laser light and diffused white light. Both are useful but while white light can help illuminate a scene, lasers are used in creative and highly concentrated ways to routinely accomplish things once thought miraculous—if not impossible.

Aligning your sales and marketing efforts may seem equally challenging, but if you’re waiting for some technological breakthrough to ease it occurring, know that the technology already exists but must follow the vision. There are systems available today to empower your marketing teams and assist your sales efforts, but there is more basic work to do than simply throwing dollars at technology. Having these two groups mutually agree on a formal definition—as opposed to a casual understanding—is the place to start. No magic or big budgets required; no room for smoke and mirrors or big egos, either.


Head shot of Barry TrailerBarry Trailer is the co-founder and managing partner of CSO Insights. He brings more than 25 years of professional selling experience to CSO Insights, and is an expert on sales processes and methodologies for complex business-to-business environments. In addition to writing, speaking and consulting Barry also serves on several advisory boards of emerging companies.


4 Responses to Four Key Steps to Better Leads!

  1. Great post Barry and I agree with most of your points. While marketing and sales need to agree on a definition of a lead, I believe they need to agree on more than what just ‘a lead’ means. There are many types of leads – marketing qualified, sales qualified, sales accepted, scored lead – all of these need to be defined. But more importantly, the two teams need to agree on a lead-to-revenue process (L2RM) that both will use.

    Most of the problem with sales receiving poor quality leads from marketing is that the L2RM process is broken, misunderstood or virtually nonexistant. Without a common process in place any definition of a lead will be not adhered to for long. Additionally, one can not measure lead quality or marketing’s revenue productivity if a process is not in place.

    In my experience, sales and marketing resist sitting down to agree on a process because it sounds like a lot of work (which it isn’t), requires commitment and a healthy degree of transparency. That explains why only 8% of companies have sales and marketing aligned.

    The good news is that our growth-challenged economy is forcing sales and marketing to the table to figure out how to work together to drive revenue.


  2. Christine:

    Thanks for your sage remarks. It’s about time that sales and marketing got serious about working together. Too bad we had to experience a global recession to initiate these important conversations.

    • Bill Wiersma says:

      Misalignment between Sales and Marketing is one way to describe this problem. A downright Hatfield and McCoy feud between the two departments is another. The Marketing/IT interface is also troubling…as it too is typically less-than-desired. A big dose of fence-mending and future-focused collaboration would go a long way in serving Marketing’s best interests.

  3. The Sales/Marketing divide is very similar to the Marketing/IT divide, so with those two insights, you might blame Marketing since it’s common to both. But that would be wrong since the truth is that nearly all departments act as silos, semi-independent from others creating a divide between them.
    In systems terms, each is its own system with its own repetitive processes and where systems meet there is the need for an interface. As in a coffee shop, there are waitpersons and cooks and each has specific duties that must work together smoothly for the sake of the customer. This used to be a problem, very much like Marketing and Sales so very early they decided the cook would cook and let someone else take care of customers and get the order, deliver it etc. This was a good start but the problem still existed that the cook worked to optimize cooking while the waitpersons wanted to optimize the efficiency of taking care of a lot of customers. They would yell and fight until someone invented that little wheel thingie that holds the orders and lets the cook spin it around, deciding what to cook in what order to get the food ready for a whole table all at once, while making the cooking of many meals reasonably efficient.
    Marketing and Sales, or Marketing and IT or whatever, need to work out the same interface and then learn how to use it well. This requires communication, some mutual respect and insights on simple design tradeoffs, then sticking with it. Its not complicated.
    So why do so few companies do it right? Agree on what the order is, then cook it.

    So thats what is needed and its been done before, lots of times. Why is it still so hard to do with marketing and sales? At most companies this is an intractable problem: it never gets solved, yet we know how to solve it. What goes wrong? Where do we go off the track?

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