Lead Generation (and the evolving roles of sales and marketing)

For as long as I’ve been developing and implementing marcom program for clients, lead generation has always ranked among the top client objectives. With business conditions being what they are, the demand for leads has never been greater. Sales teams are clamoring for more names, and much is being written about lengthening sales cycles and funnel management.  With more lead-gen tools available than ever before, marketing is jumping in with programs designed to attract and capture anyone and everyone who expresses some sort of interest in their product or service.  White papers are being written and Webinars are being scripted.  Landing pages are built to welcome prospects and make them feel comfortable enough to share their name and number.  These names, numbers and e-mails are being gathered and entered into whatever CRM and/or lead nurturing system is in place and we’re off and running, right?  

But what comes next?  What is the best course of action once the leads are flowing in?  At one end of the spectrum, marketers push the leads directly to sales for qualification and follow-up.  Grading systems of all shapes, sizes and levels of sophistication are used to sort the good leads from bad leads.  The good leads get tagged “hot” and the bad leads get tagged “dead.”  On average, at least 80% of the leads fall into the dead pool, despite the fact that there is ample research indicating most of these folks will buy something at some point down the line — from your competitor, if not from you.

On the other end of the spectrum, marketers withhold the leads from sales until they have been fully nurtured and are ready to place an order.  From basic e-mail follow-up to fully-planned e-nurturing programs complete with decision tree structures, marketers try to create as many touch points as possible as the lead progresses along the sales process, all without any contact from an actual sales person.  This seems like a great idea; let sales spend their time closing sales instead of chasing leads.  But what happens to the knowledge they’ve shared with the customer along the way, not to mention the knowledge they’ve gained from the customer?  And what happens to the relationship they would have been building?  Isn’t sales all about relationships?

What strikes me odd is how most B2B marketers follow one of these models or the other.  Very few I speak with fall somewhere in between.  Either sales owns a lead or marketing does.  At some point, there is a hand-off.  A point in time where the responsibility transfers from marketing to sales.  Not coincidentally, this is also the same point at which blame enters the equation.  Almost immediately, sales blames marketing for sending them garbage leads and marketing blames sales for doing nothing with the great leads they’ve provided.  For all the progress we’ve made in CRM and marketing automation systems, it seems most firms still operate under the traditional roles we’ve all been assigned.  Imagine what we could do with a coordinated effort — an effort where sales and marketing work together from the moment a lead is identified until the day an order is placed, and perhaps even beyond that!

From a lead processing perspective, a coordinated effort isn’t much of a stretch.  It simply requires more coordination and dialogue between the groups and a unified database that coordinates and monitors all the activities.  It also means we need to eliminate the hand-off.  Sales (and/or telemarketing) should be involved from day one, but only to greet leads and ask if there is anything they can do to help right away.  If not, marketing takes over for a while with follow-up communications and offers.  Responses are recorded and after a period of time, sales/telemarketing pops in on the lead again to touch base and offer help, noting what communications had been sent and answering any questions that may have arisen.  Marketing continues with appropriate materials as the prospect progresses through the various stages of the sales cycle until they are finally ready to buy.  At this point, sales jumps back in, already having established some level of personal relationship, and closes the deal.

An oversimplification?  You bet.  But this really isn’t rocket science, folks.  Software exists to handle most of this, but software doesn’t replace communication, it can only facilitate it, and truly effective lead nurturing depends heavily on communication.  Communication between you and the prospect.  And internal communication between sales and marketing.


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