Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lead Management – Sales and Marketing Playing Nice

by Mark Walker

My two young daughters frequently squabble. From what I hear, that is pretty normal stuff. When pressed, they admit they can generally tolerate each other and are glad they are in the same family.

Similarly, there is a “natural tension” in the Marketing and Sales relationship in most companies. Ideally, they have similar strategic goals but the tactics and day-to-day priorities can differ a bit. Toss in a little additional end-of-quarter pressure for good measure and you have the ingredients for some friction.

One area for head-butting is lead management. Sales complains that there are not enough leads or they are not qualified. Marketing complains that their hard-fought battle to attract leads is wasted or not followed up on effectively. Both groups have their points.

Marketing dollars are moving more and more to online activities, in no small part due to the fact that it is more easily measured. Marketing sweats blood to get more leads and higher quality leads. Sales loves more quality leads. So what’s the problem? Nothing that a little more alignment and communication won’t fix.

Over the next week, I’ll cover some high payoff areas to help manage incoming online leads and get sales and marketing talking the same language.

Scoreboard, baby
Unless you have unlimited resources, you need to make some decisions about leads. Not every lead is equally valuable. Score your leads by agreeing on what criteria and priority and then rank them. The criteria might be slightly varied for different products or target markets but try to keep it as straightforward as possible to gain agreement.

Use a simple, reproducible rating system (A,B,C,D) that takes into account key criteria (some ideas listed below). Agreement between sales and marketing is critical because it dictates what resources and efforts will be employed in the next steps.

Try this exercise today. Grab the last 100 leads you received and try to rank them yourself. If it is difficult or confusing to get the report or prioritize them, you have a good idea of how difficult this process might be.

Develop Rating System Content
Your rating system should be aligned with your market goals and objectives. Does everyone know what those are? Here are some common areas for discussion:
  • Target customer – You may be surprised that marketing and sales have different ideas about what the target customer looks like. Flush out the areas of disagreement and come to a consensus. There is a right answer to this.
  • Lead Source – This relates to where your key customers are online and how compelling your call to action is.
  • Product (s) – Short sales cycle or long sales cycle will impact the selling time frame. Understand what customers need for each to move the decision process toward a conclusion.
  • Buying influence – Is the requestor responsible for purchase or just collecting information? Researchers may not have final purchase authority but they can be the key influencer in the purchase decision.
  • Anticipated purchase timing – Match your effort with the customers anticipated needs. If they want to buy in the next 30 days, they will need time to review information and evaluate competitors, so plan ahead.
  • Current customer or new prospect – You are already ahead of the game with a current customer. They have purchased from you already and have a relationship with the company. However, their expectations for service and discounting may be higher.
Mind the Gaps
This process might identify some gaps in your information gathering. Are you missing information from your leads you need to make better decisions. That’s a pretty nice insight in itself. Don’t let these deficiencies delay the process of making decisions. You will never have perfect information but improve where possible.

Are all the questions you ask on your lead form necessary? If not, get rid of them, quickly. Unnecessary questions take time and reduce the chances for a completed lead. What questions would be helpful to sales? Ask the sales team and add it. Are the questions consistent across all sources so you can compare effectively? If you have differences, at least have a valid, measurable reason for it.

Part 2 …
In the second part, there are some additional ideas where marketing and sales can come together to improve the lead management process. Read Part 2 Here


  1. Mark,

    Great article. As a scientist on the other end of the spectrum, I've rarely thought this deeply about sales and marketing in the companies that service my lab. I am curious about the questions a company would ask me to qualify me as a lead.

    Can you give an example of good question and bad one from your past experiences?


  2. Different questions for different situations but one key focus needs to be on the customer's buying cycle and what their role in it is. In-lab/in-person qualifying benefits by (potentially) being a dialog and is different than online form questions.

    There is no single magic question, of course, but one that we used was "What is important to you about that?" It's a great qualification question because it digs a bit deeper into why they are engaged in a purchase process-where is the pain? It's customer-focused and open-ended and it may make it easier to discuss the (sometimes) more difficult questions dealing with the who, when, how much questions of the buying cycle.

    There are a ton of bad questions but one of my favorites is, "Can you show me who purchases for the lab?" There are a whole family of related questions that give everyone else the feeling that they are less important than one that places the orders.