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.