The customer journey is rarely a linear path, but it’s important to try to map out what the ideal scenario might be and then come up with plans for any detours your lead may take on the road to conversion. The most basic version of the lead process tracks the flow of leads from the point at which they are generated, to the point at which they are passed to sales, to the feedback loop on lead quality.

When the sales and marketing relationship breaks down, the two sides don’t provide enough (if any) visibility into each other’s processes. That means they can’t really work together to solve problems or optimize their programs. Designing a collaborative, transparent lead process is essential to solving this problem.

Define the steps

Every customer journey can be broken down into a sequence of steps that happens once a lead is created. Sales and marketing should define these steps together. Each step should have a definition, a description of the current stage, and a clear expectation of what steps must take place for a lead to advance to the next step.

Assign responsibilities

Once the steps are defined, marketing and sales need to decide who is responsible for each step. For example, marketing may be responsible for generating the qualified lead, scoring the lead’s actions and attributes, nurturing the lead, and passing the data to the CRM. Sales may be responsible for contacting the lead, providing additional or complementary nurturing as needed, and closing the deal.

Determine metrics and SLAs

Each step in the lead process must have metrics and service level agreements (SLAs) associated with it. For example, marketing should agree to deliver a number of qualified leads, and sales should agree to contact these leads in a certain time period. These numbers should be tracked and reported on, and you could consider some form of incentive the teams could have for reaching a shared metric.

Automate the process

Once the sales and marketing alignment process is determined, marketing automation can be used to put it into action. For example, if you’ve agreed with sales that certain actions (such as visiting a pricing page) are clear buying signals, then those actions should be scored. Once lead scoring has been in place long enough to deliver metrics, it can be adjusted so that when a lead passes a certain threshold, the lead automatically goes to sales or into another program. This can also be used with existing customers to reveal interest in new products.

Nurturing programs can be created to manage many of the steps in the buyer’s journey, so that much of the ongoing educational process is directed by the leads themselves as they engage with your materials. Nurturing is a particularly effective tactic, as it results in both more closed deals and higher deal sizes.

All relevant data should automatically feed into a lead’s behavioral profile. This profile gives in an-depth picture of the buyer’s converts and interests and indicates why a lead becomes qualified, which is critical information for the sales rep who can review this and then decide what to say in that first call. The marketing automation database can be used for early-stage and mid-funnel leads, delivering leads to the CRM only when they become qualified. Those leads can be delivered in a prioritized list, highest-scoring leads first, giving sales a tool for time management.

The CRM remains the database of record, but its records are of higher quality than if it had to contain all prospects as well as qualified leads. And the sales team has real-time insights into a prospect’s actions. The database can also identify leads that are missing only one bit of important data in order to become qualified. For example, if a prospect has high behavioral activity but is missing a critical (but easily found) piece of profile information, the marketer can append it and pass the lead to sales.

The Big Picture

Your lead process must be customized to suit your sales cycle and your business goals. Here’s a straightforward rendering of one common model:


  1. The moment a prospect becomes a lead is the first step in the process. Leads advance only if they fit the qualified lead definition. A qualified lead has met the proper criteria to move to this stage in the process.
  2. When the qualified lead definition has been met, the lead handoff takes place and the process now moves to sales.
  3. If sales agrees that the qualified lead definition has been met, the lead then becomes a sales-accepted lead. If sales does not agree that the lead fits the qualified lead definition, they will recycle it back to marketing.
  4. When a lead agrees to engage in the sales process, they become a sales opportunity and will remain in this stage until they close. If a sales opportunity does not move forward in the process, then sales will recycle the lead back to marketing.
  5. The recycle process moves leads from the sales-accepted and sales opportunity stages back to the lead stage.

Now let’s take a look at the what it takes for sales and marketing teams to create a successful customer journey.

  1. Define all the steps in the process. The process doesn’t need to be complicated, but each step should be thoroughly defined and given a name. An example is the “qualified lead” step, where the lead will have to meet the qualification parameters to which both sales and marketing agreed so that it can be passed to sales.
  2. Draw a table or flow chart. You should document the lead process in a table or flow chart after you’ve agreed to the steps.
  3. Determine responsibilities. Each step in the process needs an owner. For example, the lead qualification step is most commonly owned by marketing, while sales-accepted lead follow-up is owned by the sales organization.
  4. Determine metrics and SLAs. Each step will have a metric, and in some cases an SLA (service level agreement) associated with it. Marketing will agree to deliver or over-deliver a set number of qualified leads over an agreed-upon amount of time, such as a quarter. Sales will agree to follow up on these leads in a specific amount of time and be measured on their follow-up time.
  5. Incorporate the process into your marketing automation platform. Your marketing automation system can manage the end-to-end process as a lead becomes interested, initiates discovery, engages, develops into a qualified lead, and moves to sales. Don’t neglect existing customers; use your marketing automation platform to keep them engaged and create upselling opportunities.
  6. Ensure that sales can see into the marketing automation system. The data and insights from your marketing automation platform must be available and transparent for sales reps. This allows them to remain invested in the lead process to the degree they choose. Sales reps will find the information from marketing automation database, with its individual behavioral histories, a rich source of intelligence to inform conversations. Having this at their fingertips – either in their CRM or in a sales portal – ensures that they have a clear view of the actions a prospect has taken. Also, when they find their own leads (through referral or other means), they can see whether the new prospect already has an existing history of engagement with the company or its products.

Did you miss parts 1 and 2? Catch up here:

Successful Sales and Marketing Alignment, Part 1: Get Started

Successful Sales and Marketing Alignment, Part 2: Understand the Buyer

Stay tuned for the next blog post in this series, where you’ll learn how to determine when a lead is ready to be passed from marketing to sales.

Ready to create a highly aligned sales and marketing team? This toolkit will give you a clear methodology for evaluating your current sales and marketing processes, establishing common metrics, creating buyer profiles, objectives, and more.