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It sometimes seems, akin to Bill Murray’s cranky TV meteorologist in “Groundhog Day,” that B2B marketing and sales teams must forever relive poor results. Industry analyst groups continued to report in 2011 that average companies are leaving up to 80% of potential business on the table. Why? Simply stated, a number of current sales lead management processes are broken. As a result, we see poor lead quality, a lack of accountability and unattended leads dropping out of the funnel.
A look at three areas contrasts last year’s activity with fundamental shifts that must occur this year for lead generation outcomes to reach performance levels of above average teams.
While awareness of the critical importance of marketing and sales alignment increased in the last year, it did not resolve the problem. For the most part, senior executives continued to believe that the two groups should and could be trusted to fix multiple alignment issues.
The alignment problem is getting worse. Sales execs are not reaching out to their marketing counterparts, and marketing execs in many companies are keeping their heads down while continuing to deliver volume over quality. In 2012, it will take a single, strong, C-level or senior-VP level executive to decide that the organization is going to have to fall in under a new direction — or get off the bus. The fix is going to depend on one person who has a clear picture of success and employs relentless, deeper-in-the-funnel measurement of all sales lead management processes.
As straightforward as it may seem for both marketing and sales folk to agree on what is the definition of a lead, the two groups still could not come to terms at many companies last year. In Bridge Group research during 2011, just 7% of field sales reps surveyed considered 75% or more of the leads they received as fully qualified. With marketing compensated on the basis of the quantity of leads and sales on revenue, an avalanche of leads is poured into CRMs with very few of those leads ever receiving sales attention. The problem in the complex sale is that leads are passed to sales when they are raw — too early and without required qualifying criteria met.
Having marketing and sales agree on a common definition of a lead is the first, most critical step to improving results as it correctly shifts the focus from cost-per-lead to the quality of the lead. As 2012 progresses, there will be a growing realization that reps need leads that have been qualified carefully, nurtured consistently, and turned over only when they are sales-ready opportunities.
Last year, marketing automation, CRM, BI tools, Twitter and LinkedIn helped us zip an ever-increasing number of poorly qualified leads to sales, more quickly, and at a lower apparent cost, than ever before. It was not unusual to hear of sales groups taking marketing dollars and spending them on email and marketing automation initiatives while sitting back and waiting for the responses. These unsuccessful sales lead management efforts usually resulted in contacts from lower-level decision makers that led to relatively lower value, less strategic deals.
If marketing automation was surrounded by Holy Grail expectations last year, big data inherits that hype role in 2012. But understanding improved results is not based on technology. B2B marketers who are seeking above average performance will focus first and foremost on sales lead management as a set of integrated best-practice processes. They will intelligently balance proactive, outbound initiatives with inbound ones — the right mix determined by their offer and market.
Dramatic improvement in results is not only possible — it’s virtually assured when marketers and sales groups shift core approaches and adopt these three best-practice lead generation strategies.
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