The other day, I sat down with a VP of Marketing who said, “My biggest problem is leads. And my next biggest problem is leads. And the biggest problem after that are leads.” His sales organization is screaming for leads, and to meet the demands of his sales organization, he needs to provide them with leads.

This issue dominates every conversation the VP of Marketing has with the VP of Sales about. It’s the pain the VP of Sales is feeling on any given day. Any good VP of Sales will always ask for more leads; if he isn’t making his number, he’s going to scream for them.

We will help the VP of Marketing address this issue by providing him with leads. It’s an important part of our marketing mix. However, as we have pointed out to many of our other clients, an exclusive focus on leads is a mistake. Certainly, one of the VP of Marketing’s critical job responsibilities is to provide leads to the sales organization, but focusing on leads just because the sales organization demands them is not a guarantee of success. Nor is it necessarily the right thing to do.  

Quantity is not better than Quality

Any good VP of Sales will tell you, “We need both greater quantity and greater quality.” But, in reality, it’s the responsibility of Marketing to determine which one is a higher priority.

We have helped numerous sales organizations with their marketing campaigns. Many were receiving a sufficient quantity of leads, but sales had nevertheless begun to lag. However, when we pressed the sales organization to tell us what they really wanted, it turned out that what they actually needed was higher quality leads. Upon further investigation, we discovered that, in fact, if we provided them with higher quality leads, the sales reps’ jobs would be greatly simplified by not having to sift through a lot of low quality leads.

It is possible then, that a more effective marketing mix might focus less on generating leads, and more on improving the quality of those leads. By working closely with the sales team, we can help them determine which of these is the best solution.

Make sure we’re targeting the right audience

The second reason why the marketing campaign shouldn’t always focus exclusively on leads is that we may not be targeting the right audience. Leads are useless to a sales organization unless they target the right kinds of buyers. In other words, are we aiming our demand generation efforts at an audience that has a deep need for our product? We might generate semi-qualified leads from people who have a minimal need for our product, and who are happy to talk to our sales reps, but that doesn’t solve the sales force’s problem. To perform high-level product marketing, we need to work on demand generation; we need to reach people with the greatest need for our product. In other words, we need leads that come from the right target audience.

In some cases, what the sales organization really needs to get out of a marketing campaign are leads from a different audience than we are currently targeting. If that’s the case, Marketing’s role must be to identify that perfect audience and figure out how to generate leads from them.

Understanding the needs of our target audience

The third point is this: do we really understand the needs of our target audience. We can spend a lot of money on demand generation efforts aimed at the right target audience, but we might not be getting the type of response we want from our efforts because we are not directly addressing the target audience’s key pain points.

In many cases, Marketing should clearly identify the buyer’s key pain points, and develop messaging that addresses those pain points. Only then should Marketing focus on generating leads.

Is demand generation what we need?

The final point is that we should not assume lead generation is the most important function of product marketing. It is certainly crucial, but does lead generation actually have the greatest impact on the sales cycle? Leads get the focus because leads are measurable. We can count how many leads come in, and we can evaluate the quality of those leads, and we can measure how those leads convert to sales.

But what if the key obstacle to selling isn’t the number of leads, but rather a lack of awareness? In this case, part of our marketing mix should go toward lead generation, but most of our efforts should be focused on creating awareness.

Awareness is a harder sell to the sales organization because, while you can measure it, it occurs earlier in the sales funnel. It doesn’t have an immediate impact on the bottom line. You can’t easily measure a conversion to sale. Nevertheless, company whose products lack customer awareness should invest a great deal to improve that awareness. That way, when a demand generation campaign carries the right message to the right audience, buyers will react in a positive way and become high quality, qualified leads.

Thus, a marketing campaign should focus on the area that will have the greatest impact on the organization’s bottom line, and sometimes that won’t mean generating more leads.

What has your experience been, in focusing just on leads?