What do the marketing leads look like? Where are all our leads going?

On the marketing operations team, we get asked these questions often by the demand generation and sales teams. Lead management is a critical piece to effective sales and marketing alignment, and without proper planning and execution, leads cannot move smoothly through the funnel. Marketing operations is responsible for this on both a tactical and strategic level, and we need input and feedback from demand generation and sales.

However, things do not always go as planned. We get asked all the time about the validity of a lead or why a lead was routed to a certain person or team. In this blog, I’ll share some common marketing operations mistakes I’ve come across. If you’re interested in learning about more, you can register for my upcoming webinar (tomorrow), 8 Biggest Mistakes Marketing Operations Makes and How to Avoid Them.

Let’s take a look at three big marketing operations mistakes and how you can avoid them:

Myopic Lead Scoring

One of the biggest mistakes in marketing operations happens when leads are not properly qualified, or prioritized, as they enter the funnel. This is often the result of faulty lead scoring. For one, scoring can be done on an ad hoc, as needed basis, but it will lead to inconsistent results. Another pitfall is that lead scoring may be designed through the lens of marketing without critical input from sales.

To combat these issues, follow the recommendations below:

1. Centralize global scoring. Regional demand gen marketers may feel that scoring should be localized because of their unique understanding of their markets. However, regional scoring may lead to fluctuating lead scores and confusion about lead performance globally.

At Marketo, we work with our global demand generation teams to determine how we want to score based on demographics and behavior. For example, we normalize how leads are scored based on their job title. We set up a rule that recognizes a job title containing “gerente” for the European Spanish version of “manager and then scores the lead accordingly. On the behavior side, we have matrices that dictate scoring by program channel type, investment level, and lead response action. This centralized approach has greatly helped us evaluate the quality of top-of-funnel leads coming in and understand our program performance.

2. Align scoring with sales efficiency and incentives. While systematized lead scoring provides invaluable metrics to the demand generation team about which programs to drive more of, the lead score should also resonate with the sales team as well. Too often, we hear that sales distrusts the lead score, which leads to them not utilizing the scores at all. To curb this, it’s important to ensure that the scoring is valid and works to support sales.

One way we have done this at Marketo is by bumping up lead scores for those who fill out a “Contact Me” form. We also score accounts, which aligns with an account-based marketing strategy for both marketing and sales. We built in a component of our scoring that takes into account (pun intended) the lead’s account score, and sales is incentivized to go after accounts with a higher propensity to buy.

As our business has grown, there has also been a greater need to drill down on scoring granularity. Two years ago, we started scoring on product interest to give our internal sales team an idea of the products a lead was researching. This year, we did a deep dive on looking at leads in specific industries that we wanted to grow sales in.

Unorganized Lead Routing

After you properly qualify inbound leads, you’ll want to decide when they should be routed and to whom. Lead routing can vary from being quite simple to fairly complicated depending on the needs of your organization.

When I started at Marketo more than three years ago, the company was much smaller and our lead routing requirements were much simpler in both scope and magnitude. It was fairly easy to update teams and territory assignments. Fast forward three years—our sales team has more than doubled, there is a strategic shift to an account-based marketing strategy, and our international teams have expanded. Our lead routing needed to change accordingly and we had to have a solid plan in place from start to finish.

From my experience, lead routing mistakes manifest in three ways–unknown processes, the question of fairness, and lack of agility. All three issues lead to inefficiencies in delivering leads to sales.

To address this, follow these steps:

1. Communicate processes with sales. It sounds simple, but if you lift up the hood of your marketing automation engine, you may find that marketing says “Here!” and sales says “Where?” Sales teams are often unaware of the process in place for follow-up and how certain steps need to be followed in order for activities to be logged.

Organize a training with sales so they understand the processes that you have created. If there are certain views or reports that you are using to identify leads that are passed to the sales team, make sure they have access to identical views and reports. You’ll also want to explain how leads should be prioritized for follow-up. It’s a good idea to create a feedback loop and ask the sales team if they are seeing patterns in how the leads are coming into their views. There could be better ways for you to automate the flow that reduces manual work done by the reps when they see misrouted leads.

2. Drive fairer distribution of leads. The question of fairness always arises because sales teams are under pressure to deliver based on the leads that get assigned to them. A key marketing and sales exercise is to investigate the quality and quantity of lead flow in each territory. Sales coverage and performance results should reflect varying demand. In some territories, a round robin may be the easiest and most balanced way to distribute leads. However, in the example of our lead routing in Europe, language preference is used for distributing leads.

Make sure that you have the proper data to support your organization’s routing needs. One area of lead routing that we’ve been optimizing at Marketo is passing more highly qualified leads to more senior members of our sales team. This strategy gives more junior members experience with working leads and allows senior members to follow up with “hot” leads more efficiently.

3. Understand tradeoffs. When it comes to maintaining your lead routing, there are tradeoffs. The first consideration is quality vs quantity. Routing can be designed to filter out leads that do not meet stringent criteria. Are your sales teams trained to quickly sift out junk leads? If they are, are there just too many leads coming in daily to get through all of them? It’s up to marketing operations to understand the sensitivity of sending too many leads versus only delivering the most highly qualified leads to sales.

A second consideration is between volume and velocity. Even with the volume of your leads determined, there are still leads that need to be channeled very quickly to the sales team, such as a lead who fills out a “Contact Me” form. This means that leads with “less” scrubbing may move into a sales view rapidly.

The last consideration is designing an articulate lead routing engine and having enough resources to manage it versus a simpler routing engine with less maintenance overhead. Do you and your team have the time to manage complex rules, along with understanding edge case scenarios? Make sure the tradeoffs are understood between your marketing and sales teams.

Undefined Marketing and Sales Handoff

Once you have your lead routing and lead scoring in place, it’s also critical to have a workflow for handing qualified leads off to sales. Mistakes with the handoff lead to lost time and money and could even jeopardize a sale. Because there are gray areas of ownership and contention, we’ve learned to do the following:

1. Agree on definitions. Agreement on what is a marketing qualified lead is the first step in the marketing to sales handoff process. A marketing qualified lead, or MQL, must meet certain criteria in order for sales to begin follow-up. This should be aligned with lead scoring, as mentioned above. An MQL must also be easily identifiable as one and there needs to be a process in place for the sales team to follow up so marketing knows that the lead is being worked on as well.

2. Monitor accountability with SLAs. Enforceable SLAs (service-level agreements) should be put in place so sales can be accountable for leads that have been passed over. SLAs help ensure that sales is following up with given leads in a set amount of time. While marketing drives MQLs, sales also needs to take responsibility for giving feedback on the quality of MQLs and timeliness. SLAs help with improving lead management alignment, which includes understanding issues with lead routing and lead data and assessing if you have the right tools in place for measurement.

3. Run uniform reports. You should create official reports to run metrics on MQLs and sales performance. Even though data can be sliced a number of ways to support managing teams, the source of these reports should be the same. Oftentimes, sales will run their version of reports and marketing will run their version, and meetings will be about the data source and not about improving the business itself. Instead, public reports should be shared and vetted by both marketing and sales. Here at Marketo, we share the marketing operations-approved dashboards and the fields that we use to report on MQLs across both teams.

Marketing sales alignment is a never-ending process because it is ever-changing. However, the best way to consistently meet business demands is to make incremental improvements and constantly evaluate how you’re building processes.

If you want to learn more about the challenges that marketing operations faces, register for my webinar, 8 Biggest Mistakes Marketing Operations Makes and How to Avoid Them.