From the first day we start a job in marketing, many of us are taught to focus on leads. We learn to build successful lead generation programs, implement effective lead nurturing campaigns, and cultivate leads from our website and social media content.

We do such a great job and we can’t wait to tell our executive teams how many leads we generated in our monthly or quarterly department reviews.  Unfortunately, this is where I believe many of us make major mistakes. Believe me, with 20 years of marketing and seven years of marketing automation under my belt, I speak from experience.

Leads are of course very important, but if you want to improve your sales and marketing alignment and have your executive team see your marketing department as a revenue driver, instead of a cost center, try implementing these three tips:

  1. Speak the language of the executive team. “Football.”  Mention this to a citizen of Great Britain and they will think you are speaking of soccer.  The same holds true when you mention “Leads” to your executive team.  Chances are their definition is probably not the same as yours (Lead quality is always subject to debate and interpretation).  Executives tend to talk in the language of “revenue,” “profit,” “cash,” and “growth” and may not immediately associate leads with those terms. When presenting on number of leads, even if the numbers are compelling, there may be little initial excitement. You will likely face many questions regarding how the leads were qualified and accepted.  If you change your approach and start to report instead on “opportunities,” your executives are more likely to become engaged and want to know additional details about specific opportunities and associated revenue.
  2. Marketing carries more influence than they may think. Many marketers still do not track performance, and of those who do, they might only track leads that were first or last touched by marketing. Try taking that reporting further and show marketing-influenced opportunities.  For example, most opportunities are touched at least seven times by prospects before they close. How and when did marketing engage with these opportunities?  Oftentimes by downloading content from a website or by attending a seminar during the sales evaluation process.  Especially in companies with longer sales cycles, marketing plays a key role in influencing these opportunities and moving them down the sales pipeline.  If you have not completed a marketing-influenced reporting before, you will surely be surprised how much revenue marketing really influences—so will your executive team.
  3. Bring your marketing team more into alignment with sales. Whether you  have an internal or outside telequalification team, chances are they are compensated by the number of qualified meetings that they set up.  Try changing the focus of that compensation from qualified meetings to opportunities.  By switching to opportunities, both the telequalification team and the sales team will likely take more interest in working closer together towards a unified goal.  The telequalification team will spend more time pre-qualifying leads to ensure that the meetings become opportunities, and the sales team will follow up with telequalification team submissions quicker because they will start to see that they are turning into opportunities.  Since it takes a little longer for a lead to become an opportunity and not just a qualified meeting, you will have to adjust the compensation plan.  You may have to pay more per opportunity than per qualified meeting.

Give these tips a try in 2012 and chances are you will end up having much more meaningful conversations with your executive team regarding your leads. These conversations about marketing driving revenue based on opportunities could very well lead to an increase to your marketing budget.

Do your conversations tend to revolve around “opportunities” or leads when talking with your executives?