What happens when you pass a lead to your sales team too soon? The
first few times it happens, the salesperson might follow up, only to
discover the lead is not qualified, does not want to speak to a
salesperson and is nowhere near a buying decision.

Soon enough, salespeople will ignore or discard these early-stage leads
in favor of short-term opportunities they can close. Don’t blame the
salespeople. Their job is to sell; they are rewarded for it.
Passing unqualified leads to the sales team results in a culture of
salespeople rejecting marketing leads. Some industry experts estimate
that early-stage leads which are lost, ignored or discarded by
salespeople represent between 40-60 percent of missed sales.

What happens when you pass a lead to your sales team too soon? The first few times it happens, the salesperson might follow up, only to discover the lead is not qualified, does not want to speak to a salesperson and is nowhere near a buying decision.

Soon enough, salespeople will ignore or discard these early-stage leads in favor of short-term opportunities they can close. Don’t blame the salespeople. Their job is to sell; they are rewarded for it.

Passing unqualified leads to the sales team results in a culture of salespeople rejecting marketing leads. Some industry experts estimate that early-stage leads which are lost, ignored or discarded by salespeople represent between 40-60 percent of missed sales. Whatever size your company, that’s a big chunk of revenue. How do you avoid this trap and turn more of these early-stage leads into long-term sales?

Define What You Mean by a Sales Lead
The basis for getting sales and marketing on the same page regarding leads is having the two teams work together to establish a universal definition of a sales lead. The definition itself isn’t the most important point. Rather, it’s that sales and marketing both agree on what a sales lead is and how to handle inquiries as they come in the door.

The definition of a sales lead is dependent on the structure and resources of an organization. One company may classify every inquiry as a sales-ready lead; another company may not hand a lead to sales until marketing has nurtured it to the point where the prospect is ready for a proposal. Most companies fall somewhere in between. Some criteria you might use to define a sales lead include:

  • Need and Fit — does the prospect have a business need that can be solved by your company’s products and solutions?
  • Timeframe — what is the prospect’s timeframe for buying a solution?
  • Buying Authority — what is the prospect’s role in the buying decision? Are they a recommender, influencer or decision-maker?
  • Profile — does the prospect work in an industry your company typically serves? Is their company of the size and type you are targeting?

You could assign a value to each of these criteria, such as 1-3. Using the example above, a perfect lead would be a 12, scoring a three on each of the four criteria. For example, the prospect has a strong business need that your solution addresses, plans to buy within three months, is a decision maker or strong influencer, and works for a company in your target market. This lead is ready for sales.

Marketing and sales can agree upon what aggregate score is necessary for a lead to be ready for sales. Maybe it’s a six, or an eight. Any lead that doesn’t meet the criteria still belongs with marketing.

Capture Information to Qualify Leads
How can you determine whether or not leads are ready for sales unless the salesperson speaks to them first to gather this information and qualify them?

It may be better to have marketing handle this job. Even companies that don’t have telemarketing resources can capture qualifying information using online forms or tracking online behavior. For example, if you offer a white paper download as a lead generation tactic, on the form you could ask a few brief questions about the prospect’s needs and buying intentions.

What you don’t want to do is present prospects with a long, complicated form they must fill out in order to obtain your white paper. Instead, make it easy for them to get the content they want. As long as you get their contact information, you can reach out to them again with other, more valuable offers, each time asking more questions and keeping track of their answers.

If you use a CRM system you can easily update a prospect’s record and know when they’ve reached your lead definition threshold. But you also can use a spreadsheet and fill in columns with information you capture from prospects. When they’ve met your definition of a sales-ready lead, hand them off to the sales team.

Using this process, your sales team will be more enthusiastic about leads from marketing, will follow up with them, and will likely close more business.

Keep Nurturing Other Leads
What about those long-term leads that aren’t ready for your sales team? Keep nurturing them:

  • Send e-mails to promote events such as Webinars or trade shows
  • Share relevant content such as articles, white papers, CAD drawings, and case studies
  • Ask for their participation in surveys
  • Place meaningful phone calls
  • Write personalized letters to share relevant news

Your task is to stay in regular communication with the lead, nurturing the prospect along until the prospect qualifies himself by meeting the lead criteria you’ve established with sales. It might take a few months, or it might take a few years. But remember, there’s gold in those long term leads.

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