The ultimate objective of marketing is to increase revenue performance, and one key way to achieve this is to optimize the entire sales funnel. Brian Carroll, CEO of InTouch and author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, addressed the critical hand-off between marketing and sales as he spoke to a group of marketing professionals at MarketingSherpa’s 2010 B2B Summit.

In his presentation, he covers a five-step process to optimize lead management, get marketing and sales alignment, and make the most of your entire sales funnel.

Step 1: Refine universal lead definition of “sales-ready”

Many organizations struggle with the exact definition of “lead”. And the biggest difference of opinion usually lies between sales and marketing. The question marketers should be asking is: What do salespeople really want? What do they need in order to sell?

Salespeople need to manage their precious time. They are acutely aware of the relationship between it and value to the company.  A rep has to continuously ask him or herself: what is the probability of this deal closing, and what is the value?

Sales-ready can be defined in many ways. SiriusDecisions, for example, presents a Spectrum of Sales Readiness consisting of five distinct levels, ranging from Level 1: a response to a marketing campaign, to Level 5: the individual has responsibility, budget and timeline to make the purchase.

Step 2: Qualify Leads Based on a Universal Lead Definition (ULD)

Regardless of the model you choose, it is vital that this choice is made jointly by sales and marketing. Effective demand generation teams will often have an internal, documented Service Level Agreement (SLA) between the two departments, an agreement which defines what a lead is, who follows up, how the lead engagement takes place, and how quickly a lead must be processed.

Once a common lead definition has been found, it is the marketing team’s responsibility to filter leads based on their qualification against that definition. To get there, remember:

  • Less is more
  • Consolidate and centralize inquiry information
  • Pick up the phone and qualify prospective leads
  • Clear hand-off on every lead
  • Measure sales pursuit on every lead

Marketing automation and lead scoring lay the foundation for lead qualification, allowing the marketer to automatically assess leads for sales readiness. But your tele-qualification team, a.k.a. sales development reps, will play a key role in ultimately qualifying leads for sales. The human, qualitative interpretation, will fill in any gaps that automated measurement isn’t able to fill.

Step 3: Nurture early stage leads until “sales-ready”

What do we do with the leads that didn’t meet the sales-ready definition?

According to Brian Carroll, lead nurturing is “the process of having a relevant, consistent dialog with viable potential customers, regardless of their timing to buy.” With lead nurturing, you are strengthening the relationship you have with future customers. You add value, even if they never buy from you.

In order to nurture effectively, offer leads content which is relative to their needs at any given time. This is best done by segmenting lead lists for nurturing tracks based on, e.g. role, industry, company size, or lead source.

And remember that in B2B, you nurture organizations, not people. By providing an individual with meaningful information, you are helping that person have meaningful dialogue with others in that organization.

Step 4: Define hand-off process from Marketing to Sales

The hand-off between marketing and sales is one of the easiest things to mess up in the demand generation process. As in a relay race, the lead hand-off between marketing and sales should be an actual hand-off, not a toss.  Problem is, sales reps can often earn more by closing an existing deal than creating a new opportunity. In order to make the lead transition as smooth as possible, have a documented process, a process which is agreed upon by both sales and marketing.

Step 5: Close the loop via Sales and Marketing “huddles”

How well would a football team do without huddles between plays?

Effective sales and marketing organizations are ones that communicate well. And this can’t be achieved through software alone. Hold meetings to gauge progress and celebrate joint successes. Both marketing and sales must ask: what are the things we should start doing?

These five steps, when built in succession, will increase sales and marketing effectiveness, and maximize your company’s opportunity in the entire sales funnel.