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A few weeks ago, at the Sales 2.0 conference, I noticed a trend:  salespeople are generating their own leads.  In fact, I heard pundit after pundit offer justifications for salespeople to be more proactive and take lead generation into their own hands, including statistics showing that as few as 30% of the leads sent to sales by marketing are worthy of pursuit.

Isn’t it marketing’s job to deliver qualified (or at least pursuit worthy) leads to sales?  So has marketing failed?

Well, no, not exactly.  There are two significant (you might call them disruptive) trends happening at the same time in lead generation:  the individualization of technology and social selling.

Marketing is less well equipped than sales to take advantage of these.  Sales, especially the individual salesperson, is far better equipped to experiment with new methods, processes, and technologies than any marketing department can be, if only because of the scale.  And marketing has significant responsibilities beyond lead generation, including leading and developing the company’s relationship with prospects, customers, and all other stakeholders and stewarding the company’s brand.

But in order to be successful, marketing will have to watch these trends—and how salespeople take advantage of them—and figure out how to make them part of everyday marketing in order to stay relevant.

Trend One:  The Individualization of Technology 

Technology has migrated from huge systems only practical for large institutions to apps any individual can use anywhere, anytime. In the same way, systems which large corporations use to manage their resources are now available for individuals, including cloud based (SaaS) services such as CRM and marketing automation.

Companies such as Nimble and Contractually provide cloud based services that are designed for (and priced for) individual salespeople to do the essential parts of what a more cumbersome CRM system once did. They manage everything from contacts to social relationships to follow-ups to engagement opportunities.

What is important about this is these services can be used by an individual salesperson to find opportunities and generate leads entirely on his or her own, even while working within a larger corporate CRM system.

In fact, my friend Matt Heinz offered a wealth of tips and tricks (he calls them “sales hacks”) for individual salespeople to use as a range of tools to create a robust lead flow—all independent of any marketing department (yes, this works very well for sole proprietors, too!).

Trend Two:  Social Selling

Social selling means salespeople can use their social networks and the activity they generate to find prospects and identify buying signals.  For example, if I were selling marketing automation software, and a 2nd degree LinkedIn connection just took a new job as CMO (a possible buying signal) for a company in my market, I would want to contact that person.  I might find that out through the activity generated in my own social network and then find out more about that person through their own social and other activity.  I would then have a connection that can introduce me and would also know how to approach my newly discovered prospect.

Notice I am not looking in my CRM system for a lead that has not been touched in a while nor am I looking for an introduction from my management.  Salespeople (presumably) have their own networks they can use to find the connections they want and need.

Services such as TwitHawk and Newsle offer this kind of social signal search service, and Nimble and Contactually integrate it into the activity stream.

When you put all this together, you have a powerful new source of very well-qualified leads for the salesperson to pursue.

So Where Is Marketing? 

Marketing departments have done a very good job of adapting to the world of on-line and social media, and they have found ways to successfully get the word out.  Marketing departments have also become very good at doing this on a large scale, just as they became very good at large scale communication in traditional media.

But even the most targeted integrated email and social media campaigns reach thousands—sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands—of people in the hope that a small percentage will be sufficiently interested to become leads and prospects.

Salespeople are looking at this from the other direction.  They are ignoring the scale of reaching mass markets and large target audiences, and instead, using the power of atomized technology and social media combined to find the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack—who they are pretty sure is an interested prospect.

Can Marketing Adapt?

Should marketing change its approach and focus on finding individuals?  No.  Well, maybe.

Marketing must look after its whole scope of responsibilities and ensure there are strong relationships with customers, prospects, and other stakeholders.  Marketing must also continue to use its ability to scale communications to ensure large audiences are reached.

In fact, without doing this first, the salesperson may never have the chance to find that one interested prospect.

But marketers must also become proficient in a world that has become individualized.  This individualization has happened not only in how sales leads are found but also in how relationships and brand preferences are developed.  Marketers must be able to take all the activities where they focus on the mass market and find ways to translate or evolve them into individual relationships.

It’s easy for individual salespeople to experiment with new methods and technologies, and they are finding some of them very useful.  Marketers must find ways to experiment with new methods, processes, and technologies to find the ones that work in this changing world.

The challenge marketers face is learning how to scale this individualization to reach the mass audience so the company can scale its individual relationships.

And marketing can deliver more relevant leads.

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