Ten Steps for Closing the Gaps in Sales Lead Management

Generating leads is a challenge for organizations. But rather than being a question of numbers, B2B companies need to focus on generating quality leads that can be converted and retained. Here are 10 steps that business leaders need to successfully do so.

For business leaders, generating high-quality leads is often a major headache.

In fact, Marketing Sherpa's 2012 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report notes that producing high-quality leads is a challenge for more than 70 percent of marketers, highlighting the extent of the problem. Here are 10 steps to help sales organizations close the gap in sales lead management and reduce the pain involved with generating quality leads.

  1. Agree on the right definition: Often marketing and sales departments are not working off the same definition of what a quality lead should look like, explains Dan McDade, president and CEO of PointClear. "You need a universal definition of [what constitutes] a quality lead, especially between marketing and sales," he stresses. Having the right definition to work from will keep marketing teams focused on what they need to deliver to sales. While this is likely to reduce the number of leads passed on to sales teams, they're prone to be of better quality, giving sales the ability to focus their efforts on leads that can be closed rather than waste time analyzing ones that lead nowhere.
  2. Create a culture of collaboration: Although their jobs vary, marketing and sales departments are working towards the same goal-increasing the organization's bottom line. However, many organizations are suffering from an "us versus them" mentality where the two divisions seem to be competing against each other rather than collaborating, which leads to miscommunication. James W. Obermayer, executive director of the Sales Lead Management Association, explains, "Sales will say they didn't get a good lead and marketing will say they weren't told what was a good or a bad lead." A solution starts with representatives of the two divisions sitting down together to determine their common goals and come up with a collaborative roadmap to achieve them. This involves sharing information, for example about what sales is looking for from a lead for a particular product and what questions marketing needs to ask to get the needed data.
  3. Decide on mandatory information: Obermayer notes that while marketing can often get some data from prospects, there're often unanswered questions when the lead is handed over to sales. "Make it mandatory for some questions to be answered," Obermayer stresses. This will reduce the number of unqualified leads sent to sales. McDade recommends going a step further and introducing structures in place to really understand prospects and their needs, since providing the information to sales teams can be conversation-openers and also help sales address the individual client's pain points directly.
  4. Don't follow a linear path: One main problem is the fact that organizations are still following a linear sales funnel but customers rarely behave in such a straightforward way, notes Jonathan Gray, Revana's vice president of marketing and leader for revenue generation. Clients, he explains, often take a step forward and then backtrack or move to another topic, requiring organizations to keep track of prospects' movements through a robust data analysis system. This means that brands need a 360-degree view of their clients' journey, and adapt their strategy accordingly, tailoring it to the client's distinctive needs.
  5. Provide customer journey information: Gray highlights the importance of providing sales teams with as much information as possible about prospects and their purchase journeys since this additional information can help them have a more tailored conversation that is more likely to lead to a sale. "Help the sales team become more knowledgeable about the customer journey," he notes. This information is very relevant in understanding the customer's persona as well as his readiness to purchase and can be the basis for improving the customer experience.
  6. Focus on quality, not quantity: McDade notes that many times marketing teams are more interested in the volume of leads rather than the quality. He uses the example of a major software company which generated thousands of leads but less than 2 percent were qualified and actionable. Instead, organizations need to have processes in place that qualify leads early on, ensuring that only the right leads are passed on and the sales team is not wasting time pursuing low quality leads.
  7. Overhaul the compensation system: One challenge that is afflicting lead generation relates to the way marketing and sales are compensated. Lack of clarity about what constitutes a high quality lead is often creating tension between marketing and sales, especially if compensation depends on each other's work, for example if marketing teams' bonuses are tied to the number of leads passed to sales that close. McDade recommends establishing a judiciary branch made up of high-level sales and marketing executives who decide whether to accept or reject specific leads. This will provide marketing and sales the peace of mind that their work is being recognized.
  8. Don't depend solely on marketing automation: As Revana's Gray notes, marketing automation tools are only as successful as the people who are using them. While marketing automation has made it easier to qualify leads, McDade warns that it can often mean that companies miss out on some of the most strategic and profitable leads since higher level executives are experienced at making sure they don't reveal too much through their digital body language. Therefore, marketing teams need to make sure they conduct their research and effectively use information they gather from other sources.
  9. Manage sales capacity: Organizations need to make sure their marketing divisions aren't feeding sales more leads than they are capable of following up on, notes Gray. This makes it even more important to make sure that any leads delivered to sales are high quality ones which can be acted upon immediately and don't require sales to spend time sifting through leads to determine which ones they can follow.
  10. Develop systems to help sales: Organizations need to take a look at their business models and determine opportunities for improvement that are unique to them. This was the case for Cisco, which realized that lower value service renewal quotes weren't given the attention they deserved. In fact, according to John Richard, the company's director of distribution service sales, the close rate for these opportunities stood at less than 20 percent. When the organization analyzed the problem, it realized that sales partners weren't focusing on renewal quotes under $25,000 since the cost of following up exceeded the potential for profit. Cisco implemented a solution by MaintenanceNet to automate the quoting process, thus removing the administrative burden from its sales partners, and leading to a drastic increase in renewals of these service agreements. In fact, the company wrapped the 2013 financial year with a close rate of about 55 percent and according to Richard has generated "hundreds of millions of dollars" in incremental revenue since implementing the solution three years ago.