For B2B companies that sell complex products or services, keeping the sales pipeline filled with qualified leads is vital to sustaining both revenue growth and profits. When it comes to acquiring new sales leads, B2B companies must address two distinct but related issues:
- How can we acquire enough sales leads to enable us to meet our revenue objectives?
- What is the most efficient and cost-effective way to acquire the volume of leads we need?
Historically, most B2B companies have relied primarily on their salespeople to identify and acquire new leads. “Prospecting” was considered to be a core part of every sales rep’s job, and effective prospecting has long been a popular topic at sales training events. Unfortunately, the traditional approach to lead acquisition no longer works very well for many B2B companies.
Today, buyers can go online and find most of the information they need to evaluate products and services. So, many buyers are delaying conversations with sales reps until later in the buying process, and as a result, it’s becoming a lot harder for salespeople to create the initial engagement with potential buyers.
In recent years, a growing number of B2B thought leaders have argued that marketing, rather than sales, should be primarily responsible for lead acquisition. The proponents of this view make two compelling arguments.
First, they contend that lead acquisition is an inherently inefficient activity that has a high input (work required) to output (success) ratio. Because of the inherent inefficiency, it’s important to acquire leads using low-cost resources when possible. Salespeople are expensive resources, and their prospecting activities don’t scale because they’re labor intensive. Marketing programs, on the other hand, scale very easily, and many can be automated on a cost-effective basis.
Second, moving primary responsibility for lead acquisition from sales to marketing will improve sales productivity. Reducing the amount of time that salespeople must spend prospecting means that they will have the ability to manage a larger number of high-value sales opportunities. This allows sales reps to close more deals and generate higher revenues for the company.
Despite these compelling arguments, it’s clear that many B2B companies are still relying heavily on sales reps for lead acquisition. The following table is based on the Sales Performance Optimization surveys conducted by CSO Insights and includes data from the survey results published in 2011 through 2014. The surveys asked participants to specify what percentage of their leads are self-generated by sales reps, what percentage are generated by marketing, and what percentage originate from other sources.
As this table shows, the percentage distribution of leads has remained fairly stable for the past four years. In fact, data from earlier CSO Insights’ surveys shows that little has changed for the past eight years.
It’s clear that most B2B companies should rely more on marketing and less on sales for lead acquisition. This allows a company to use its sales reps to do more of the things that only they can do – have meaningful, personal, one-on-one conversations with prospects who are truly sales ready.
So, what is the right division of responsibility for lead acquisition? The answer will depend on what you sell and on the economic structure of your market. Based on my work with clients and on a review of current demand generation best practices, here’s a framework that should work for many B2B companies:
- Percentage of leads generated by sales reps – 20% to 30%
- Percentage of leads generated by marketing – 40% to 60%
- Percentage of leads from “other” sources – 10% to 20%