Sales or Marketing: Who Spilled the Leads?

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A direct marketer's job used to be done when the responses came in. The leads were sent on to sales, and it was their job to close deals. But I've got news: Those days are over!

In today's business-to-business marketing and sales environment, the processes of lead management include so many sophisticated new tactics and strategic methods that marketers can't manage leads successfully without tight collaboration with sales.

On the marketing side, responsibilities have expanded. The job no longer is bringing in leads and passing them on. Marketers must take responsibility for generating responses, qualifying the responses in real time using business rules approved by sales and creating formal communications to ensure top-of-mind awareness with all leads.

Direct marketers have been improving the methods to generate responses for years. But many marketers have failed to focus on the second and third of those three responsibilities. That most marketers have not put the same energy into creating tight lead qualification and lead nurturing systems has led to some broken lead systems.

How broken is the average lead system? Here's one way to tell: A 2002 report by Aberdeen Group found that nearly 80 percent of marketing efforts to generate leads are ignored by sales. That means sales thinks so little of the marketing efforts or the leads they get from marketing that four out of five leads are ignored.

We know why the sales team drops leads we spend so much effort and money to give them. You've heard the complaints: "The leads are not qualified; there are too many leads all at once; the leads are only looking for the premium; the leads don't have budget, authority or immediate need to be worth pursuing right now."

These complaints frustrate marketers to no end. But don't immediately assume the sales team is lazy. They do want leads. They just want qualified leads they can work.

What salespeople don't want, and can't use, are leads that lack interest or lack authority to make a buying decision, or a lead system that doesn't match the sales timelines.

The sales timeline problem. Marketing communication timelines tend to work over the course of months. Sales timelines tend to work on much shorter horizons.

According to a "did you buy" study, 45 percent of BTB responders will make a purchasing decision for your product or your competitors' products within a year.

Combine that with the conclusion by Cahners Publishing that six months after responding to a lead generation campaign, only 23 percent of business people purchased a product. That left 67 percent in the market planning to buy who eventually did buy, with only 10 percent deciding not to purchase.

Of those who eventually did buy, the Cahners study found, only 11 percent of responding leads bought within three months, 17 percent bought in four to six months, 25 percent of sales were made seven to 12 months after responding to lead generation packages and 47 percent of purchases occurred more than 12 months after the initial contact.

It's great that so many leads eventually buy, but what sales team has the time to wait for these long-term leads to ripen? How do you make the sales process fit that new, attenuated timeline and help keep food on your sales force's table?

Marketers must break away from all-at-once "thundershower" efforts in which you dropped all your mail at once and saturated the sales force with leads - qualified, unqualified, semi-qualified, whatever. It didn't matter, as long as the phones rang.

This approach frustrates everyone. The sales team has no time to figure out which leads are qualified before they get cold, so they ignore them. Then marketing gets frustrated with the "lazy" sales force that refuses to work with the vast number of leads.

As a result, 80 percent of leads get dropped into a "no-sales land" where marketing doesn't own them - they've passed them on to sales - and sales doesn't own them since the leads aren't good enough.

Both teams need to accept that most leads fall into a continuum between "inquiries" and "ready to buy." Who owns the lead at various points along the continuum cannot be left to chance. That's why marketers need to realize that leads need a warm, friendly place to mature.

If giving your leads a nurturing atmosphere were simple, you could just buy a lead management program and stop worrying about it. But those 80 percent of dropped leads say differently. You've got to carefully define strategies to keep them on the right road to deciding in your favor.

Who will own the leads? It's a matter of how the leads are qualified. If you review the timelines and can qualify timelines for purchase, along with budget and authority, you're on your way to figuring out whether marketing or sales should shepherd which leads.

The next question is: How do you stay top-of-mind with the lead?

A good communication strategy should make highest use of the most effective technologies for the audience. E-mail can be cost-effective as well as interactive for the lead.

There are countless things you can do cost-effectively for your leads to keep them tagging along with you. Offer tips to make their lives easier. Give them perks just because they're your special friends. Just ensure the communications are relevant and clear. All of these favors endear them to you and your product and keep them on track for that final - positive - decision in your favor, whenever it comes.


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