The marketing team and the sales team are in a meeting together, and it’s getting ugly.

Marketing doesn’t understand why the leads they’re generating aren’t converting. Sales argues that the leads are garbage. The marketing director thinks that as many as half of his team’s leads are potential buyers. One sales rep says that out of 100 leads marketing came up with, only two converted into a sale.

This scene sound familiar?

Marketing and Sales have been fighting over the quality of leads for ages. But who’s right? Marketing, who stand by their claims that half these leads are solid, or Sales, who think they have the firm numbers on their side?

Believe it or not, the answer’s Marketing.

Researcher James Obermayer examined thousands of sales leads – that is, people who’d inquired about a product or service — and learned that in B2B sales, about 45% of them will eventually buy from someone.

Obermayer calls this pattern the “Rule of 45,” and it has powerful implications for how you manage your leads.

If you think that number sounds high, you’re not alone. Many salespeople are convinced that leads are far less productive than they truly are.

The problem is that reps often underestimate how long it takes for those leads to turn into sales.

Let’s say you have 100 leads; Obermayer’s research says 45 of those will become sales. Most sales reps would say the majority of those 45 sales would come in the first month. After all, everyone knows leads quickly grow stale.

But that’s not what the research shows. Obermayer found that if you take 100 leads and follow them for a year, the buying pattern stays fairly even from month to month. It makes sense when you think about it; When you reach a qualified buyer, he or she could be anywhere in their buying cycle. Some are just about to make a final decision. Others are just starting to think about it.

So of that 100 leads, only a few of the 45 that will buy were ripe. The rest were too “green” to pick.

The problem for sales reps is that a “green” lead looks like a bad lead. They aren’t focused on their pain. They’re not ready to set an appointment yet, so at first glance they don’t look like serious buyers. And because the green leads don’t look like serious buyers, sales reps don’t see the value in them, and don’t follow up as effectively as they should. Hence, the appearance that those leads are subpar.
So how sales reps make sure they get the most of the leads they’re given. Let’s look at these three steps:

1.    Contact every lead. Chances are, one in two will be a buyer. But they can’t buy from you unless they know you’re there.
2.    Contact them early. A good prospect could end up buying from someone else if you don’t get to them in time.
3.    Diligently follow up. Prospects are as likely to buy from you in the fifth, eighth or 12th month as they are in the first month. Once you’ve established contact, the hardest part of prospecting is done. It’s a crime to let that relationship lapse. Stay in front of them until they buy or it becomes clear that they aren’t going to buy.

The bottom line: Call them all and call them early. Of course you’ll want to weed out the definite non-buyers. But if you can’t disqualify them, keep trying.