As an inbound or outbound marketer, you understand that generating quality leads requires a healthy budget and well-executed campaigns, public relations efforts and events. You also understand that these efforts are wasted if the leads are left to die on the vine.

If you’re a marketer who’s filling the funnel with leads, but you’re hearing through the grapevine that your leads are low quality or they don’t convert to sales, you can benefit from the three strategies that are outlined below.

1. Align with the Sales Team on the Definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead

Often times when leads are dying on the vine it is due to the marketing and sales teams not being aligned on the phases of the sales funnel, and there’s lack of definition of each phase of the funnel.

Keep in mind there are four stages of the buyers’ journey. These stages are defined as Attention, Interest, Desire and Action (AIDA). Furthermore, the sales funnel is typically defined as Contact, Suspect, Prospect, Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL), Sales Qualified Lead (SQL), Opportunity and Customer. For your marketing and sales efforts to work effectively, these two tracks should be aligned.

It is also important for sales and marketing to align on the definition of each stage of the funnel. Thus, it is of upmost importance that the sales and marketing teams are in agreement of what constitutes a Marketing Qualified Lead. For example, the lead might have shown interest based on behavior that is tracked through your website and email marketing programs. Or, the lead might meet a demographic and firmographic profile. Or, perhaps several leads from the same company are showing interest. All of these characteristics and behaviors can be identified and tracked, and assigned scores (lead scoring). Leads assigned to agreed-upon scores can be identified as Marketing Qualified Leads, and hence prioritized for the sales team to work.

With this being said, if you don’t have an analytics platform in place to track demographics, firmographics and behavioral data/trigger events, sales and marketing teams can still align on what defines a Marketing Qualified Lead. For example, in some businesses, leads that originate from chat and phone tend to convert to sales more often than those from downloaded white papers or various web forms. Gather the data and align with the sales team to define the characteristics that determine how likely these leads will convert to sales based on the lead source.

2. Nurture Leads Through Email Marketing Programs

Every good farmer knows that you can’t plant some seeds and leave them in the ground. It’s necessary to nurture those seeds to ensure they are productive. The same theory applies to your leads. Successful marketers plant seeds to build brand awareness through their inbound and outbound marketing efforts. But just building brand awareness isn’t enough because leads rarely convert to buyers overnight. It takes time.

Typically, marketing teams are responsible for filling the funnel with leads and the sales team is responsible for following up on the leads that fall within the middle and the end of the sales funnel. Today, this strategy no longer works. Marketers need to walk customers further down the funnel because purchase behavior has changed.

For example, there’s a multitude of information that can be found online. Thus, customers make buying decisions based on their online research. According to a study by GE Capital Retail Bank, 81% of consumers research online before going to a store. This buying behavior doesn’t just apply to B2C. Typically, most B2B customers make a buying decision before reaching out to a sales rep.

Consequently, when marketers fill the top of the funnel with leads that are in the “awareness” and “interest” phases and toss those leads over the fence, sales teams start to believe that the marketing leads are low quality. Salespeople stop following up and your valuable leads die on the vine.

You can keep these potential customers from leaking out of the funnel by creating drip marketing campaigns. The most effective email marketing campaigns offer useful content assets that move the leads through each phase of the buyers journey and sales funnel. This prevents these leads from dying on the vine – or worse – going to your competitors.

Once a lead has been captured through a web form, chat form, a trade show or other type of campaign, the workflow of your nurture campaign would appear similar to the example below with well thought out timing between the delivery of each email message. Movement to each phase depends on behaviors, such as opening an email, downloading an asset, visiting a web page or completing a form. Once the lead becomes a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL), content assets can still be offered, but may originate from the sales team. Of course, this handoff varies from business to business.


Nurturing through email marketing might sound complicated; however, several marketing automation and email marketing platforms are available that allow you to create and automate these email marketing campaigns. Some are designed for small or medium business, while others scale for large businesses.

3. Ensure Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are in Place Between Marketing and Sales

Disparities commonly occur between sales and marketing teams because sales teams believe that marketing is wasting their time with low quality leads and marketing believes that the sales team is ignoring their leads. This can be resolved simply by collaborating to create service level agreements (SLAs) between sales and marketing teams.

As discussed, the definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead and lead scores should be agreed upon by both teams. Goals should also be established, such as the number of leads that are generated and the percentage of leads that are worked. These goals should be based on revenue targets and sales quotas.

Ensure you establish who works the marketing qualified leads. Are the leads passed to an inside sales team or third party who further qualifies the leads or do they go directly to field reps, outside sales or partners? Do certain types of leads get routed in different ways? Does the marketing team continue to nurture these leads? These responsibilities should be defined.

It is also is imperative that you establish the number of minutes, hours or days that are acceptable when following up on a lead based on the lead source and/or lead score. You should establish how many contact attempts the sales person makes before the lead is returned to marketing and these intervals should be clearly defined.

What’s Next?

With all the factors considered, keep in mind that marketing is not just a science, but also an art. The data doesn’t always give you a complete picture and you have to be creative in order to get buyers attention in a noisy world. Keep an open mind and revisit the definition of your sales funnel, your nurture programs and SLAs regularity. When data, creativity and sales and marketing alignment come together, and you practice continuous improvement, you will find fewer leads dead on the vine.

Featured Photo Credit: Rob Bertholf/Humbold County