Keep Your Sales Engines Humming

We’ve been talking about generating and qualifying sales leads over the past few weeks, a function we see as vitally important to an efficient and effective sales operation.

Few businesspeople would deny the importance of prospect screening, but the issue gets a lot more divisive when we start looking at where that responsibility resides.

In many companies, the role of generating leads belongs to marketing, while the qualification of those leads is the mandate of sales. In other organizations, the sales group or even customer service might be charged with finding future customers. In some organizations, little thought is given to the function at all, which means it becomes the de facto responsibility of individual salespeople.

Responsibility for lead generation and prospect screening resides in one of three areas in a company: marketing, customer service, or sales.

We’ve worked with many companies where marketing owns that job, a solution that often works well. After all, the marketing group owns mass communications, advertising, PR, collateral production, and direct marketing programs, all of which can be good prospect generators.

But be careful! If the sales and marketing departments are not working closely in sync, the marketing team might be going for volume, whereas what the sales team really needs is quality. Drop a mountain of “slim-to-no” chance leads on a salesperson’s desk, and s/he wastes days on worthless calls. Worse still, do that more than once, and that salesperson will learn to ignore those piles of paper, making all new leads (even the few gems hidden in that haystack) worthless.

We’ve seen far too many cases where a well-meaning and hardworking marketing team is frustrated that sales takes no action with their leads, while the sales force is equally frustrated because marketing seems to offer no real support. Get those two groups communicating about what is actually needed, and results pick up fast.

Setting appropriate expectations is also key – no efficient lead generation method should be expected to generate 100 percent qualified leads. But marketing and sales should be communicating about what percent would constitute an effective program. That gives both sides a context for evaluating results.

Where customer service is the lead source, upsells from current customers and call-in prospects are great, but you may not be reaching widely enough into the world of advertising prospects who have not yet thought about doing business with your organization. In an early-stage industry like Internet advertising, those new entrants represent too large a share of the spending to overlook.

And, of course, if salespeople have to generate their own leads, you get the problems we’ve spoken about in the past few weeks.

If the marketing team can devote the energy to understanding market requirements and what constitutes a qualified lead, great. Get marketing and sales working together to build a leads pipeline that works.

However, in many web businesses we see, the marketing department is already stretched to the limits with traffic-building requirements. Diverting attention from that effort never quite moves high enough up the priority ladder for the ad sales leads process to be developed well.

In that case, the ad revenue executive would be well advised to establish a sales development function within the sales group. Sometimes these groups (or individuals) have a dotted line relationship to marketing, to ensure that positioning, look and feel, and messaging are consistent company-wide.

But whatever the reporting relationship, the key is that some capable person(s) be focused on keeping appropriate leads coming in, and keeping the ad buyers informed of your site’s offerings, so that the sales team is kept optimally busy with real customers and prospects.

However you structure it (and we’ve both seen and recommended MANY variations), the key is to be sure that someone takes primary responsibility for keeping the sales engine humming with enough fuel to move forward.

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