Nearly a decade ago I learned the key to a successful marriage.  The marriage of Sales and Marketing that is.  It was somewhat earlier in my career and I was interviewing for a marketing position at an early-stage tech SMB.  The person I was meeting with was the global head of sales.  The interview was going well and then almost out of the blue he asked me, “So what’s the most important thing for sales?”  To be honest, a number of different answers ran through my mind and before I could respond, he leaned forward in his chair and enthusiastically answered: Leads.

I did not know it at the time but that was probably the most important question that I’d ever been asked in an interview as it set me on a lifelong quest for quality lead acquisition.  Anyway, I wound up getting the job and I learned that the key to a happy sales and marketing marriage was quality leads.  From that moment on, the sun shined down on the Kingdom of SaaS and the marketing princess and the sales prince lived happily ever, right?  Wrong.

The anatomy of a lead is very complex.  Leads mean different things to different sales people.  They vary from company to company, industry to industry, and sometimes even product line to product line.

Because of this complexity and variability, it’s actually very hard to deliver quality leads to sales.  And, once it’s delivered it’s often very difficult to know if they are being leveraged which in turn makes attribution extremely difficult.

Why is it so hard?  Sales want leads and marketing works hard to generate and deliver them. Everyone wants to do the right thing.  So why do most lead generation programs fail?

Distressed lead generation typically happens because sales and marketing are not aligned.  They often don’t agree on what a qualified lead is and they also lack unanimity on the topics that are relevant to the prospect.  They even disagree on the language that the prospect or client would use.  Ever hear of the expressions: “Marketing Fluff” or “Sales Speak”?

Process is another point of failure – lead scoring and qualification processes. Unfortunately, most SMBs don’t have integrated CRM and Marketing Automation (MAS) systems.  This makes scoring inaccurate and lead hand-off wasteful.  Qualification is also a problem when an inside sales function does not exist or is removed from the lead-to-pipeline process.

Another behavior that causes distress in lead programs is premature abandonment.  Many marketers feel pressured to adjust and optimize their programs just because early results are not what they had hoped. This is very problematic.

Lastly, it all comes down to the content.  In my experience, I’ve seen it take a prospect between 10 – 18 interactions with content before they convert into a marketing qualified lead (MQL).  That means you need a lot of compelling, relevant, progressive content.

So, what can you do?

  • Align with sales on the definition of a qualified lead.
    • Understand what is productive for sales to follow up on and educate sales on the extent of your qualification capabilities. Set expectations on both sides and mutually agree.
  • Build or redesign your lead scoring and qualification workflows.
    • Once you have agreement on the definition and what the stages of a lead are, put a process in place for scoring and handling of both on and offline leads.
    • Lead scoring protocols are key to sticking to the “agreement” and making sure lead plans and expectations are met.
  • Fill in the “qualification gap”.
    • Inside Sales teams must be part of the qualification process. Automation only goes so far.  Leverage Inside Sales (ISR) aka Account Development (ADR) reps to not only schedule appointments but to qualify inbound leads.  Qualifying means probing the raw interest and stimulating demand so that a quality appointment is being scheduled for sales.
    • Working with sales, provide the ISR with clear and precise qualification tools such as scripts and questionnaires. If it doesn’t meet the criteria of a qualified lead, throw it back in the bucket and nurture it.
  • Understand your target buyer.
    • Analyze your lead program performance data but don’t rely only on your data.
    • Interact with clients, sales, and support and services teams so that you can truly learn what makes the client tick at every stage – during pre-sales information gathering, during the buying process, and their experience as client.  This will make your content much more relevant and therefore productive.
  • Target your prospects and clients with relevant topics that make them “self-identify”.
    • Forget the “sales-speak” and “marketing fluff” languages and focus on the buyer. What are the words and phrases that resonate with them? Whatever they are, use them in your content.
    • Build progressive content streams that frame their challenges, offer them empathy, provide them help, and finally give them confidence that your solution is the “right rescue” for them.
  • Don’t abandon or change the program too early.
    • Let the programs run their course. Give them a chance to work.
    • Leveraging performance data to optimize programs is of course best practice but if the program is young, that means your data is immature or minimal  and you are essentially making uneducated guesses with every change.  We need control and historical data to identify trends and take effective action.