“The Leads Are Crap”

I took my daughters to watch a tennis meet between Georgia Tech and the University of North Carolina recently. The meet started with three doubles matches. I know a little about tennis, but I have never really played or watched doubles matches before. Turns out, they are much more complex than singles matches.

The quantity and variety of communication that is required between the two partners is amazing:

  • It all starts before the point with a quick look or a few words
  • Next come hand signals behind the back before the serve
  • Short verbal orders during the point
  • Nonverbal hand slaps, fist taps, fist pumps, and a few more words

This all in the course of 30 seconds in order to win the point, the game, the set, and the match.

It dawned on me that successful tennis doubles teams are not much different than successful off-the-court teams. They both require the individual players to understand what it means to win, effective communication, and teamwork. One member of the double team can’t win without the other.

The relationship between the marketing and sales teams is often strained. “The leads are crap” is an all too common phrase uttered by sales in marketing’s general direction. Meanwhile, the marketing team is busy questioning sales’ ability to close the great leads they have been generously handed by sales. Both parties acting like a scene out of Glen Gary Glen Ross…”These are the leads, and you can’t have them.”

Truth is, leads don’t come in wrapped with a bow on top, and if your company is selling at all, not all of the leads are crap and someone knows how to sell. So where’s the disconnect coming from? Most often, it’s from differing definitions of winning made worse by poor communication.

Core to the issue between marketing and sales, historically, is that each thought they could win without the other. Marketers defined winning in terms of lead count and were perfectly willing to celebrate a strong lead month regardless of the downstream sales and revenue impact.

Meanwhile, sales defined winning in terms of revenue and were more than willing to spend their time prospecting for their own leads because they believed the marketing leads were crap. While leads and revenue are often closely related, they are far from the same thing.

Leads drive sales at-bats. An uptick in lead volume may lead to an uptick in sales at-bats, but may not increase revenue. Sometimes the leads really are crap. And crap leads are a waste of marketing money and sales time.

The disconnect most often surfaces when marketing celebrates a strong lead month in the same month that sales is frustrated about a poor bookings (revenue) month. The finger-pointing and name calling starts and the relationship downward spiral begins. Teams win and lose together, not as individuals or departments.

A strong lead generation month is cool, but marketing must ask, “Did the leads drive the outcome you wanted as a company? As a team?” If yes, by all means celebrate. If no, seek to understand why – together, as a team with sales – and fix it.

The disconnect between marketing and sales can be addressed with better communication and common definition of winning. Cooperation works best when both marketing and sales are aligned around revenue targets. Marketing is rewarded for strong lead quality over volume. Strong lead quality drives strong sales efficiency (ensuring each sales at-bat is in front of the right lead at the right time and ensuring your sales team is only swinging at strikes).

Strong sales efficiency leads to strong revenue. The only way to achieve this is to communicate. Marketing must communicate to sales what is meant by a sales-qualified lead (a lead that is moving from marketing to sales for an at-bat). And sales must stop the generalization of all leads being crap and actually communicate to marketing, hey, this one wasn’t great, but this other one was awesome, so find me more like that.

Luckily, we have marketing automation software. Companies that successfully implement email campaigns, events, and lead scoring through marketing automation have both departments working in the system and sharing defined goals. It forces each side to brainstorm shared buzzword definitions, such as lead, opportunity, and qualified, and work together for the greater good of the company.

Like a doubles tennis team, the relationship between marketing and sales requires more than strong individual performances to be deliver a win. Frequent and effective communication and alignment of goals are just as important (if not more so).

Related reading

Digital marketing strategy for business
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