It would seem to be an easy question for a company to answer, but currently, a qualified business lead seems to depend on who is doing the qualifying:
- Marketing Qualified Leads
- Automation Qualified Leads
- Tele-Prospecting Qualified Leads
- Sales Qualified Leads
A business lead used be either a qualified lead or an unqualified lead.
Things seemed to become confusing with the introduction of Sales and Marketing Automation systems to the marketplace 10+years ago.
Marketing Automation may have increased the number of leads, and some of them turned into closed sales, but most of them were of poor quality and reduced Sales Effectiveness. The technical folks are doing their best to mitigate this business process issue, which has triggered a whole new technical alphabet soup of acronyms including MQLs and SQLs, a whole new army of Sales and Marketing Alignment gurus who can help create SLAs and improve SALs, and a multi-billion MarTech industry with a dizzying array of new technologies.
Technology is a great business enabler, but it cannot fix a broken business process! Unfortunately many companies are still trying to automate the same Sales and Marketing lead qualification strategies that used to be successful 10+ years ago. As previously discussed in Sales, Marketing and Automation: Promises versus Expectations, it’s not working well for those companies.
With Sales and Marketing leadership and support, there’s a more effective approach to increasing company revenues and ROI. An Acronym Dictionary is not required.
However, before we jump into defining a qualified lead, and suggesting who should do the work, let’s first take a quick look at our targeted Buyer, our prospect.
Our 21st Century Buyer
Our target buyer is not simply accessing information on the internet. The B2B Buyer Team is
- Self-educating both online and offline, when and where they please,
- Throughout their purchasing journey,
- Whether a vendor Sales rep is directly involved or not. In fact some studies even suggest that Buyers are completing 50-90% of their purchasing journey without speaking to a vendor’s Sales organization.
The buyer team follows an account-refined purchasing journey as described in Marketing, Sales and the Buyer Journey: Closing the Gap. Here’s a summary of what the buyer wants, and does not want:
- Self-Educating Buyers want compelling content that educates them about industry risks, business solution options, best solutions that fit their unique account situation, solution provider comparisons, etc.
- Buyers don’t just want compelling titles, they want the content to be equally compelling by addressing their business needs and concerns, depending on where they are in their purchasing journey.
- If the content is designed to facilitate their purchasing journey, and move them closer to reaching an informed decision, they will actually read and share the content internally, and not simply view/download/ignore it!
- Self-Educating Buyers DO NOT want to talk to a product sales person who DOES NOT understand their business challenges and concerns! It’s a waste of time, so they’ll try to do as much anonymous self-educating online as possible to avoid/delay talking to a vendor rep.
- Just because they were forced to reveal their contact information in order to view our gated content DOES NOT mean they are a qualified lead for Sales.
- Having a product sales person contact them repeatedly within minutes of downloading something, when they DID NOT want to talk to a product sales person in the first place, is not a good way for the company to develop buyer trust!
- Buyers will self-qualify themselves, and become open to speaking with a real sales “trusted advisor”, if the vendor has proactively facilitated their self-educating journey and earned their trust. Marketing and Sales gains and retains buyer trust by:
- Facilitating their purchasing journey with meaningful knowledge rather than simply “engaging” them with fluff content, and
- Talking about business issues/solutions rather than products/features, at least in the early stages of the buyer journey, and
- Respecting their concerns and NOT being so quick to start aggressively “selling and marketing” before they are ready!
- Marketing will need to educate the buyer team throughout their complete buyer journey, even after Sales gets involved
- Sales will need to interact with the buyer team throughout their complete buyer journey, including online, particularly during the early stages of the buyer journey.
- Buyers expect a consistent experience from the vendor. Marketing and Sales will need to coordinate their efforts to deliver a consistent customer experience.
- Sales and Marketing must share a common perspective of the Buyer and their needs in order to deliver a consistent buyer experience.
The Qualified Business Lead
Most Marketing-generated leads are the result of branding and engagement efforts, with the goal of attracting and identifying leads for Sales to close.
Currently, a lead from Marketing would be sent to Sales with the following Buyer insight.
- Filled in Contact Form
- Signed up for Product Demo
- Downloaded 1+ whitepapers”
- Visited 2+ “web pages”
- Download a “case study”
- High email open rate
- Auto-magical output from predictive technology
- Tradeshow badge scan
- Tradeshow business card
We increased the quantity of “qualified” leads, and say 10% turned into closed sales. A good start.
However, how did the quality of leads impact Sales Effectiveness and Company profit? Sales wasted their time on 90% of the leads. That’s a big expense and a big lost opportunity. We need to close the gap somehow.
Given the new Self-Educating Buyer, that Marketing Lead Generation Process is rapidly becoming outdated. Operating like a relay team, passing leads with insufficient buyer insight to Sales, is not working well for the company.
Only about 25% of leads generated from current marketing processes will eventually buy according to studies MarketingSherpa and others; but Sales currently has to go through 100% of the leads to find the ones that are worth chasing.
Marketing needs to continue educating throughout the buyer journey, from buyer awareness through buyer implementation, regardless of whether Sales is engaged. They also need to give Sales clearer buyer insight to help them determine if the time is right to invest resources to further qualify the prospect.
Similarly, the Sales Selling Process is rapidly becoming outdated as well. Sales no longer controls the narrative about the company, so they will need to update their sales skills to better navigate the buyer process. With the buyer team self-educating online, Sales needs to become more involved in social selling somehow. See We Missed Our Sales Quota: What Should We Do Next?
To become a qualified business lead for the company, we need to understand information like the following:
- Does the prospect match our target market as defined by Corporate, Product, and Sales strategy?
- Buyer Company Size
- Price/Value orientation
- Buyer industry challenge?
- Buyer business issue/concern?
- Buyer-defined purchase stage?
- Buyer Team Member Persona?
- Buyer budget range?
- Installation location?
- Timeline for installation?
- Demonstrated buyer team interest in the company solutions
- Information actually consumed by buyer versus simply viewed/downloaded
- Buyer interest demonstrated by buyer actions via progressive profiling techniques
All of this information is possible to obtain, today, if we design our marketing campaigns to simply ask the prospect for it at the right time. See Creating The Best Marketing Leads for additional detail.
We can’t expect to have 100% of the prospects give us 100% of the information, but for those prospects that do share at least some the requested insight, three very important things will happen:
- Sales Effectiveness and Response Time to prospects will dramatically improve. It’s much easier to track the closure rate of a lead that is 30% fully qualified or 60% fully qualified, then it is to track an MQL of unknown qualification level.
- Marketing revenue contribution and ROI will dramatically increase. With better conversion insight, lead quantity and quality will continue to improve with lead scoring from big data and other technologies.
- Company revenues and profit will increase. With improved Marketing ROI and Sales effectiveness, overall cost of sales will decrease, increasing overall profits.
Our Sales and Marketing Alignment Challenge
The buyer has fundamentally changed their purchasing process. We must effectively adjust our outdated Sales and Marketing strategies to be aligned with our customers and targeted buyers.
We can no longer cling to the strategies and processes that worked well for us 10 years ago.
Simply operating as a relay team, passing a lead from Marketing to Sales, is no longer sufficiently aligned with the buyer.
- Sales is currently deploying an increasing amount of their budget towards lead creation/qualification resources (i.e. inside sales, SDRs, BDRs, field Sales prospecting). Unfortunately, this results in deploying less resources for field Sales to sell/close new opportunities, limiting revenue growth!
- FACT: According to a studies by McKinsey & Company and the Sales Management Association, a buyer-focused selling approach results in double digital annual sales growth.
- Marketing-generated, Marketing-qualified and Marketing-nurtured leads are much lower cost to the company than a leads requiring Sales resource to identify, qualify and nurture. Automating an integrated sales and marketing customer acquisition process can dramatically increase the quantity of qualified leads and drive increased revenues for the company.
- FACT: According to studies by CSO Insight, 45 to 52 percent of a company’s business leads come from Sales while 28 to 35 percent of the leads currently come from Marketing.
- FACT: According to a study by Aberdeen Group, high growth companies have 47% of the Sales forecasted pipeline generated from Marketing-generated leads.
- Sales and Marketing will only achieve sustained revenue growth with significantly improved Sales and Marketing Alignment to the Buyer Journey.
- FACT: According to MathMarketing and others, companies with Sales, Marketing and Buyer Alignment outgrew their competitors, closed more opportunities, and retained more customers.
- FACT: According to a studies by Aberdeen Group and McKinsey & Company, companies with better Sales, Marketing and Buyer Alignment increased their revenues at double digit growth rates over the industry average.
To accelerate revenue growth and ROI, Sales and Marketing must become a high-performance team.
We need to operate more like a basketball or football team, by passing leads between Marketing and Sales as we collectively move down the field, until we score a win for the company
- Marketing attracts and facilitates the Buyer journey with one-to-many communication techniques
- Sales facilitates the Buyer journey and closes with one-to-one communication skills
Sales and Marketing Alignment to the Buyer
We need to evolve our separate Sales selling strategies and separate Marketing lead generation strategies into an Integrated Sales and Marketing strategy/process, which is buyer-focused, and leverages the inherent strengths of both Marketing and Sales.
The inherent strength of Marketing is one-to-many communication techniques: marketing communications, digital marketing, content marketing, email marketing, and eventually, mastering marketing automation.
The inherent strength of Sales is one-to-one communications techniques such as probing, account-specific needs assessment, understand buyer member needs and influence, solution selling, strategic selling, and one day, social selling.
To become a high performance Sales and Marketing team, we must create a common play book that leverages both our Sales one-to-one skills and Marketing one-to-many skills throughout the complete buyer journey.
- Sales and Marketing Collaboration to combine their knowledge and insight to create a common perspective of the targeted buyer purchasing journey.
- Sales and Marketing Collaboration to define a common perspective of the ideal qualified business lead.
- Sales and Marketing Collaboration on a meaningful Service Level Agreement with the goal of delivering improved Sales Effectiveness AND increased Marketing-generated Revenue.
Sales and Marketing Alignment strategy is about being aligned with our target Buyers and their purchasing Journey so that the company is successful, profitable and growing.
It is about Sales consistently meeting its quota goals, Marketing demonstrating ROI and contribution to revenue, and our Buyer and Customer Experience being improved.
We need to be buyer-focused first and foremost, not internally focused.
Getting Sales and Marketing to collaborate can often be challenging; Where one sits often determines where one stands. I fully understand the challenge and dynamics; Half of my career has been working within the Marketing function and the other half within the Sales function. Having this unique combination of Sales and Marketing expertise has allowed us to quickly work through the meaningful issues and reach a balanced conclusion.
With the sponsorship of your Sales and Marketing leaders, we would be happy to lead the alignment and collaboration to help you achieve improved sales and marketing results quickly. Please connect with author for a free consultation.
What will you do to improve Sales and Marketing Alignment?
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Images of “2015 Millrose Games – Armory Women’s Club Distance Medley Relay” by Steven Pisano on Flickr, and images of basketball team by DoD News Feature on Flickr, were licensed under CC BY 2.0