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Fixing a Fundamentally Flawed Marketing-to-Sales Process

By Lisa Cramer
May 23, 2011 5:00 AM PT

It's long been discussed that marketing and sales need to "get along." But the reality is that marketing and sales actually need to work smoothly together along a defined lead management process.

Fixing a Fundamentally Flawed Marketing-to-Sales Process

The lack of this cooperation costs companies more than wasted leads. It increases sales costs and reduces revenue growth. I'm not suggesting that sales and marketing can become best friends, nor am I even suggesting that there's no friction at all between them. However, it's apparent that the legacy marketing-to-sales process most companies have let evolve is flawed. Today's buyers, equipped with the Internet, have changed the way they reach decisions about products and services.

There are two main components needed for establishing a smooth lead management process between marketing and sales. The first component requires extending marketing's role by moving it further into the sales funnel and evaluating its effectiveness based on the quality, not quantity, of leads.

Second, sales teams can increase their sales effectiveness by receiving better quality leads, learning to prioritize those leads and utilizing greater sales intelligence. With these components in place, sales will be able to follow up and spend more time closing business versus sourcing new leads.

Marketing's Role

Today's buyers are no longer waiting to talk to a sales rep to gather data. They are sourcing tons of information, competitive matrices, articles, analyst reports and much more, all online without the assistance of a salesperson from your company. Because buying behavior has changed, sales and marketing within companies must also change to maximize opportunities.

Marketers themselves already know that one of their prime challenges is to create higher-quality leads than they do currently. According to Marketing Sherpa's 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report, 80 percent of respondents said they continue to pass unqualified leads to sales. In another Marketing Sherpa study, 78 percent of marketers list generating high-quality leads as their top challenge. So if this need is so well known, the question becomes, how do marketers accomplish this goal?

First, marketers need to start with a system that is designed to give full visibility into the lead-generation and qualification process. However, such a system does not live on its own; it must also integrate fully with the organization's sales system (usually a CRM system). With a system and processes in place that capture inquiries at the very top of the funnel, give greater insight into the prospects' interest based on their digital footprint, and continuously and intelligently nurture the lead until ready for sales, marketers can then take increased responsibility for providing quality leads to sales.

Understanding that marketing departments are not flush with extra resources and money, we suggest that implementing a new lead management process with marketing automation technology can be done in small, incremental steps.

First, marketing should work with sales on the definition of a "sales-ready" lead -- one that is ready to be passed to sales. Second, marketers can start gathering new metrics and behavior from leads beyond simple opens and clicks. Third, they can start planning and implementing basic nurturing programs. This of course assumes they've planned out and created relevant content for the prospect. Fourth, marketers can implement the concept of scoring leads so that the hotter prospects are sent to sales and prioritized. Finally, marketers can gather relevant metrics helping them to understand true campaign ROI.

As you can tell, the outcome of marketing's growing role in the pipeline is greater if sales receives what it considers "sales-ready" leads. But again, this definition is something both marketing and sales must agree upon.

Sales' Role

The sales team's role in this new lead management process includes spending less time sourcing their own leads and more time following up on better quality leads being handed to them by marketing. According to CSO Insights, 20 percent of a rep's time is spent sourcing his or her own leads. And if only four to seven leads out of 100 become actual opportunities, that means reps are wasting a lot of valuable time.

As we've already discussed, sales must work with marketing on deciding when a lead is "sales-ready" -- meaning what it looks like. What demographics, firmographics, behavior and other criteria should be identified before it's sent to sales for followup? Additionally, sales reps need to continue to give feedback to marketing about what's working and what's not regarding the leads that are ultimately passed through to them.

Sales must be committed to following up with "sales-ready" leads within a reasonable time period (something determined by your sales process). With marketing automation technology in place, they should also be receiving additional sales intelligence about the lead that could make for a warmer call. Reps will have a better understanding of who should be called first through prioritization, derived from lead scoring that will be automatically applied by the marketing automation system.

Additionally, the leads sent by marketing should also come with an indication of what each respective lead is interested in through its digital behavior (i.e., which emails they clicked on, which pages they visited, etc.). With this, salespeople will be able to understand more about the profile of the lead before they even pick up the phone.

Finally, as sales teams work leads through the pipeline into even better qualified opportunities and then into sales, tracking those stages with a CRM tool will be of tremendous value to marketing. Marketing automation systems automatically pull a lead's status through the updates in the CRM system. This gives marketers visibility to understand which campaigns were successful and which were not.

The Marketing and Sales Connection

Simply suggesting that marketing and sales must align isn't enough. However, revising a company's lead management process in the ways discussed can work to both lower costs and increase revenue attainment.

Not sure if your company is stuck with a legacy marketing-to-sales process? It's easy to tell. Look at your metrics -- what's the ROI of your lead gen campaigns? How many leads that marketing passes to sales become opportunities or revenue from won sales? Do you know how much of your sales team's time is spent generating leads and ineffectively nurturing them versus actually selling?


Lisa Cramer is president and cofounder of LeadLife Solutions.


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