What's the best lead assignment rule for your team?

You have a pile of leads and a group of sales development reps. Your reps are going to make opportunities out of those leads. To do that, they need to know which leads are theirs to work.

But, the moment you have more than one rep, you have a question: How do you divvy up the leads?

The question comes up in both inbound and outbound contexts.  With inbound leads – like website sign-ups – the team needs to assign each lead as it comes in. With outbound leads, where the reps are prospecting new leads, there needs to be a way of breaking up the world so two reps aren’t chasing the same new target.

Here’s a run down of the common methods of lead assignment rules. Each has advantages, disadvantages and costs.  Our goal here is to give you lots of ideas to brainstorm with, rather than collapse similar rules into a single category or give a single recommendation.

How do you choose?

There is no one-size-fits-all rule. The size of the company, maturity of the product, lead volume and team size all matter. We’d recommend looking at three considerations:

  • Specialization matters. Dividing your inbound and outbound work can make both more effective perhaps by as much as 28 percent, according to Kristina McMillan of Five9, via TOPO. And specializing by industry or named account specialization may yield even more, according to Kevin O’Malley of Catavolt (again, via TOPO).
  • Speed matters. Getting back to inbound leads as fast as possible makes a huge difference, with one widely quoted study, showing that cutting response times to under an hour doubling conversion rates.
  • Simplicity is a constraint – but one you can manage. You can’t increase speed and specialization if your team and tools are not ready for more complex processes. But that’s one of the reasons there are new sales development tools. If you want to do better lead assignment, you might want to invest in a new tool that hides that complexity from your team.

Inbound assignment rules

These rules apply to incoming leads, but they can be combined with outbound approaches as well.

Round robin. Very simple. Like shuffling cards, when the next lead comes in, the next rep gets it. It has the advantage of fairness – and of extreme simplicity. It gets leads to reps quickly – if you get a surge of reps in a single industry or territory, they won’t get stuck in a long line, waiting for the rep for that category. On the disadvantage side, round robin doesn’t allow reps to specialize in a particular pitch, isn’t super-optimized for speed, and can’t maximize alignment with field sales.

First come, first serve. This approach is all about speed: when a rep is free, he or she grabs the next lead in the queue. Since there is only one queue, and all reps are emptying that one queue, it’s the fastest model for responding back to leads in the shortest time. Like round robin, however, there’s no specialization or field alignment in this model, which we’ll see in the next couple of approaches.

Snooze you lose. Some tools allow you to assign inbound leads to a rep, but then reassign it quickly if they haven’t responded within, say, 60 minutes. This helps slash the time required to respond. The vendors who make these tools claim major conversion benefits by getting back to leads in minutes, not hours.

Outbound (and/or inbound) assignment rules

Most of the following rules can be used to assign both inbound and outbound, or you can use a combination: such as using round-robin for inbound and one of the rules below for outbound.

Industry. Different industries often use different jargon, have different business priorities, and thus require very different messaging. A simple mistake in jargon can cancel out all of your rep’s credibility. So training reps by industry can prevent costly missteps. Industry specialization becomes more important if your solution is used for different things by different businesses. If you were selling a file-sharing app to ad agencies, “sharing assets and deliverables” would be a good pitch, for example, but would mean nothing to doctors. One challenge to this rule is allocation – it’s tricky to know how many reps to assign to each group.

Customer segment. Like the industry rule, you can divide your team up the way you divide up your customers – by team size or customer size, for example. This has the same advantages as the industry rule: by segmenting your team by the audience they reach, they can hone their messages better. The more different your segments, the better this rule will work. This rule also works best if your segments are based on clear customer traits, such as customer size. Not surprisingly, this rule won’t work well for you if single companies can fall into multiple segments.

Personas. It’s not uncommon to have different pitches for the different personas you sell to, such as a ROI pitch for business managers and a feature comparison pitch for technical managers. The industry and segment assignment rules map your reps to the audience. But dividing up reps by persona appears to be a step too far in B2B sales. Since you would expect the different personas to appear within one customer firm, conversations starting in one arena will lead to the other.  (If you have a way of making this work, we’d love to hear about it!) In fact, splitting up personas goes in the opposite direction of “canvassing the account” – having a single plan to reach everyone in the account, which brings us to . . .

Named accounts. One of the simplest rules to understand is assignment by account list. It’s simple, and sets success at each account to be the goal, rather than just “churn and burn.” If your account lists are divided by industry/segment, you also get the value of better messaging, as described above. This rule can be easy to size and allocate, as you can try different accounts-per-rep ratios to see what works. Account lists can also achieve good alignment with your sales field, which is important enough it gets its own category . . .

Field alignment. In this model, the sales development team uses the same territory/industry/size rules as the field sales team. If you have split your field sales team up by industry, it’s probably because the messages and tactics are different by industry – which applies to sales development as well as it does to sales. (That said, if you break your sales team up into physical sales territories, that saves on field sales travel time and cost, but that doesn’t really apply to your inside team.) In all cases, however, the territory approach has the great advantage of creating a relationship between the two teams. And a great AE-SDR relationship can have a big impact. It is natural that the sales team in the territory gives “their” sales development more feedback, helping them improve their game. The territory approach, however, is not optimized for speedy response times for inbound leads or special projects. If you have leads from a trade show and you want to contact them all in a day, for example, you’d get through the list faster by spreading it out across the whole team.

When you’re ready to change . . .

One final note: When you’re ready to make a change in how you organize your sales development team, it’s also a good time to look at your stable of sales tools. Next generation tools simplify your ability to implement more complicated segmentation strategies. Ideally, rolling out a new tool and a new way to work makes both more successful.

And if you didn’t see your way of working here,  and let us know what’s working for you!