Best Practices in Integrated Lead Management

In my last column, I examined a common challenge with B2B (define) lead generation efforts. Specifically, that so many hard-earned marketing leads are allowed to slip away without any follow-up simply because they aren’t ready to buy this quarter. I proposed that B2B marketing organizations must adopt integrated lead management practices that:

  • Emphasize lead quality and evaluate readiness to buy.
  • Incorporate lead-nurturing programs to warm up the leads that aren’t ready to buy or worthy of the attention of your sales team.
  • Close the loop with sales.

This week we’ll drill down on each of these points and identify specific tactics that B2B marketers should implement to increase the effectiveness of lead management efforts and improve relationships with sales.

Emphasize Lead Quality and Evaluate Readiness to Buy

Do your marketing and sales teams agree on a common definition of a quality lead? If not, this is where you need to start. Work with sales to develop a common understanding of what makes a good lead. Examine how sales determines which leads to contact, identify key attributes and commonalities of prospects within the active sales pipeline, examine win history, and analyze available information about the buying process. Based on your research and collaboration with sales, document your hypothesis and circulate it for feedback and refinement. Once refined, develop a standard process and tools (e.g., Web capture form) to collect the information required to assess lead quality and readiness to buy.

Agree with sales on targets for follow up and seek performance guidelines to ensure that the targets are being met. Consider this a contract with sales. Marketing will deliver quality leads. Sales will follow up.

Continuously reevaluate your success with sales. Has perception of lead quality among sales staff improved? Are lead follow-up rates steadily improving? Have lead closure rates improved? Be prepared to refine the definition of quality as both groups learn from the process.

It sounds reasonable, but is it worth the effort? Yes. Sales follow-up rates will increase. According to a Forrester Research study, 46 percent of marketers at firms that emphasize lead quality and develop lead scoring and classification processes say that sales follows up on more than 75 percent of marketing-generated leads, compared with only 28 percent of marketers from firms that don’t exhibit these practices.

Incorporate Lead-Nurturing Programs

Maybe your company already validates lead quality and only passes along qualified leads to the sales team. But what do you do with leads that aren’t ready for sales contact but look like good future prospects? If your company is like most, the contacts that aren’t worthy of immediate sales attention get filed in a black hole or go into a pool that receive generic e-mail updates over time. Very few companies deliver customized marketing communications aimed at helping prospects progress through the stages of the buying process. Here’s what you need to work on:

  • Develop an understanding of how your customers buy. Start by interview existing customers to understand the process they went through, who was involved, and what resources (those provided by your company as well as external players) they used to make their decision. Also, interview your sales team to get their take on the same questions. Think about what resources would have helped prospects make their decision more quickly or more easily.
  • Map resources to the buying cycle. Take stock of what resources or tools (e.g., white papers, case studies, ROI (define) calculators) you already have available and map where they fit in the process. There will also likely be some tools or resources that it makes sense to develop, but you can build these over time.
  • Develop progressive nurturing programs. Define a series of progressive and interactive communication streams aimed at supporting customers through their buying process. Ideally, these programs execute based on how individual prospects engage and respond to communications.

Companies that do this stuff well find that it pays off. A desktop software company was able to increase its order volume by 20 percent through a targeted series of communications that included a free trial offer and follow-up communications based on response (e.g., downloaded software, activated software, no response, etc.).

Close the Sales Loop

No question, closing the sales loop is often tough. Frankly, it often starts by simply opening communications lines with sales. Align marketing activities with sales goals. A reasonable way to start is to work backwards from sales goals and calculate the number of leads that must be at each stage of the pipeline to meet targets.

Then track your numbers (even if you have to do it manually), communicate your results, and continuously work together to improve on them. Perhaps it sounds mundane, but open communication and ongoing dialogue really do bridge the sales-marketing divide, and I see far too many companies that fail to foster this simple tactic.

How does closing the loop with sales pay off? That’s easy. If you don’t close this loop, consider your job at risk. The only way to understand marketing’s real contribution to the bottom line is through closed-loop measurement. If you don’t do it, marketing becomes disposable, the easiest thing to cut when times get tough.

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