iStock_000073980125_LargeWe live in a different world today. Noted author Daniel Pink often comments that we’ve moved from a world of caveat emptor, or buyer beware, to a seller beware environment. Many commentators and analysts have talked about how in today’s world the customer has the vast majority of control in the sales process.

While this observation certainly isn’t new (I’ve been personally blogging about it for more than 10 years), most selling organizations are still well behind the curve, still tweaking and attempting to enhance processes that are simply no longer effective, no matter how well they are executed.

The way in which customers learn, engage, gauge opportunities and ultimately, purchase has radically changed. Research demonstrates that your prospects and customers have greater access to information and knowledge than ever before. Regardless of what you sell or who you sell it to, traditional sales approaches are simply not sustainable.

Gone are the days when a beautiful brochure, powerful sales presentation and a strong salesperson could adequately sway a prospect/customer’s opinions about the value of your products or services. Today, you don’t have the opportunity to “learn about the customer” before you tailor “your pitch.”

Long before you have the opportunity to meet a prospect, they have already researched, judged, and in many cases selected the vendor they are going to work with. This period of time where the prospect is researching on their own is called the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).

When designing your sales and marketing efforts, there are three crucial areas areas that must be structured correctly to compete and win effectively and to be able to scale growth without the complexity and costs of growth becoming overwhelming. They are:

  1. Sales team structure
  2. Lead generation structure
  3. Lead management structure

Sales Team Structure

There are many times I long for the simpler days when you simply needed to recruit some “hunters” that were highly motivated, let them loose and manage the sales as they came in. While it was certainly never quite that simple, designing effective sales approaches today can feel like you’re working with quadratic equations in comparison.

If I could end only one horrible practice in sales, it would be the idea that hiring a salesperson to manage the entire sales process was a viable idea. The idea is bad for several reasons:

Success in B2B sales today requires focus and specialization. This is important so that you can match the talent of the individual to the task at hand, and to gain the efficiency and effectiveness that focus brings.

There are three critical functions to the sales process:


There is only one reason that this model should not be adopted by an organization in today’s B2B world. The single-word reason is laziness. It’s easier to just have one person handle the whole process. There’s less risk of communication mistakes, management of the function feels easier and you don’t need to develop and manage the systems needed for such an approach.

Lead Generation Structure

The lead generation function is responsible for four important objectives:

  1. Creating awareness with your targeted profiles.
  2. Generating leads with prospects who have the pain you solve.
  3. Cultivating or nurturing those leads so they understand the valueof your offerings.
  4. Converting those opportunities to sales ready leads, where your new sales function takes over.

While the primary responsibility of this function lies within your marketing function, it is critical that your marketing and sales functions be fully aligned and integrated for successful implementation.

Prospect Segmentation

Not all prospects are created equally, and not all prospects should be managed in the same way. At its simplest, you want to separate strategic prospects from standard prospects. Strategic prospects represent your best growth opportunities, and they should be handled with greater focus and separately from normal opportunities.

Lead Generation Teams

Ideally you’ve got three teams in place to support your lead generation effort:

  • Inbound marketing team.This team is responsible for developing and sharing valuable content that challenges, influences and engages.
  • Sales development team.Responsible for connecting with leads as they’re generated, moving them through the early parts of the sales process and converting them to a sales-ready status. Additionally, this would be the team that is responsible for implementing outbound methods. In larger, more advanced organizations, this could be two distinct teams.
  • New sales team.Responsible for taking sales ready leads and moving them through your sales process, as well as performing targeted lead generation.

I realize that some companies are not big enough to support three full teams. In those cases, there are two approaches you can take. You can maintain this three-team approach, realizing that one or more people will comprise multiple teams.

Lead Management Structure

A 2013 study identified generating high quality leads as the number one challenge for B2B marketers. In our experience, of the leads created by an effective inbound marketing approach between 50% and 90% will never become qualified in any fashion. This rate is highly dependent upon the industry you’re in, how clearly you’ve segmented your market and how effective your process and strategy is.

It’s important to note that generating low quality leads is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. For companies whose message (and offer) appeals to a broad marketplace, and yet whose actual products and services appeal to a small percentage of that market, will experience a fairly high low-quality lead percentage.

At Imagine Business Development, for example, we typically run between a 12% and 16% quality lead rate (meaning as many as 88% of the leads we generate are low quality and never enter any type of nurturing or pipeline process).

As you embark upon or enhance your inbound marketing efforts, the development of an effective lead management process is crucial to maximize the ROI of your lead generation efforts.

From our experience, here are the five attributes of an effective lead management process:

  1. Clear definitions for each stage of the funnel
  2. Clearly articulated High Probability Indicators (HPI)
  3. Lead triage or lead scoring process
  4. Service Level Agreement (SLA) between marketing, sales (and if Necessary, sales development)
  5. A defined nurturing process

The power of building out a full funnel is that it builds predictability and scalability into your growth efforts. The frustrating part is that just because someone is a “qualified lead” doesn’t mean that they’re ready to buy or talk to a salesperson. According to Gleanster Research, that applies to 50% of your qualified leads, and I’ve seen stats that indicate it could be as high as 80%.

Building a strong lead management process has a direct impact on your ability to scale growth. Consider:

  • Leads who are nurtured with targeted content produce a 20% increase in sales opportunities. (source: DemandGen)
  • Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales ready leads at a 33% lower cost. (source: Forrester Research)

Winning The Sale with Today’s New Customer

The extreme shifts in buyer behaviors certainly make the process organizations must go through to predictably and sustainably grow revenues far more complex. The upside is that those business that reorient their approach around the three structures I shared in this post will gain tremendous advantages over their competition and in so doing also power the approach to create greater opportunities and growth than ever before.