In this latest blog series our VP Sales, John Macleod is going to explore 10 simple steps for maximising the return of your lead generation efforts, and turning those hard earned leads in to delighted customers! The first step: Agree a Lead Qualification Criteria.
To generate a qualified sales lead that has made it all the way through the Buyer’s Journey from stranger - to suspect - to prospect – to marketing qualified lead – to sales ready lead, is often a lengthy and complex process.
So what happens to it now?
Well, that usually lies in the hands of the salesperson. How a lead is handed over, engaged with, followed up and progressed, will make the difference between that lead turning in to a new customer, or disappearing from the sales pipeline somewhere down the line, and written off as a bad marketing investment.
Working for a specialist marketing provider where our primary function is to generate leads on behalf of our clients' marketing function, and manage the handover of that lead to their sales teams, I often witness best practice processes, as well as some all too common pitfalls that can easily be traced back to one or several easily remedied missteps.
As VP Sales, I also have the responsibility to ensure that the leads generated by my marketing department and inside sales team, are handled with the utmost diligence and urgency, as one slip up on how a lead is picked up, understood, engaged with and progressed, can make the difference between the business achieving is quarterly and annual goals…..or not!
Agree a Lead Qualification Criteria
We touched upon the definition of a sales lead in one of our recent blog posts, however why is it so important that both sales and marketing departments are involved in defining the criteria of a ‘sales qualified lead’? Well both functions serve a pivotal role in this process, and the measurable success does not fall to one or the other, the responsibility very much lies with both.
Marketing often have the arduous task of generating a sufficient volume of leads in to the business that feed the sales team, and contribute to the pipeline that makes up the quarterly and annual forecast. The age old debate exists in whether the marketing team are falling short in generating a sufficient volume of the ‘right kind of leads’, versus the sales team not doing a good enough job of converting them, but this could easily be put down to a weak or non-existent lead qualification criteria.
In order for your lead generation efforts to be most effective, your marketing and sales teams must understand and agree the point in which a lead is fully qualified and no longer the responsibility of the marketing team to nurture and progress, and has reached ‘sales qualified’ status, and is ready to be engaged with by sales and progressed through the sales pipeline to close as a customer.
Now various organisations take a differing view of what this point should be. Some see the value in sales being involved early on in the Buyer’s Journey and demonstrating value, knowledge and insight at the beginning of the sales process. Others see their sales teams’ time as a precious commodity, and will only look to involve a sales consultant once there is a clearly defined need, budget, timescale, and the engagement is with the ultimate decision maker.
Of course there is a valid argument for both, however the resources and skill set available in your business, as well as the solutions and services provided, can often be an indicator of what point in the spectrum this should fall. The most important thing is that marketing and sales have defined, documented and agreed the criteria in question. That way marketing have clear guidelines of when a lead requires further nurturing or qualification, and when to pass it across to sales. Similarly sales are more likely to be invested in the leads handed to them by marketing, and put in the necessary level of effort and urgency to maximise every lead.
One thing to be mindful of when sitting down to agree the lead qualification criteria is that the volume of leads feeding in to the pipeline can be affected massively by the parameters you set. A well balanced criteria should not look to involve a salesperson so late in the sales cycle that it is less likely to win the deal from a competitor who may already have formed a strong relationship; and not so early in the process that there is little benefit from a salesperson engaging, and who’s time may be better spent progressing more mature opportunities.
So what should be included in your criteria?
Well, it should be robust and comprehensive, but not so demanding that it makes it near impossible for marketing to find out all of the information before passing it across. Remember, this is defining a sales lead, not handing over a prospect that is ready to sign on the dotted line. A good qualification criteria should have the relevant parameters set for your offering. An example of this could be;
- Company Profile
- Number of Employees
- Sub-Sector / SIC Code
- Contact Profile
- Job Title
- Email Address
- DDi / Mobile Number
- Area of Responsibility
- Do they have need for your offering?
- How compelling is that need?
- What are their requirements?
- Where are they in the review process?
- Are they speaking with any competitors?
- When do they expect to make a decision?
- Agree the point in this process that sales should get involved!
- Do they have an understanding of how much a solution will cost?
- Has budget been made available, or will it be if a solution can be found?
- May they be willing to explore finance options etc.
- Keep in mind that if you wait for a budget to be allocated, you may already be too late!
- Is the contact a decision maker or influencer?
- Do they hold budget sign off?
- Who else is involved in the decision making / sign off process?
- An influencer may be the only way into an opportunity, don't qualify out just because you can't get in front of the CEO in the first engagement.
Hopefully this blog has challenged you to evaluate your qualification criteria and agree the process that works best for your marketing team, your sales team, and ultimately for your business. Remember, marketing and sales must be in sync, and agree on the handover point, and who is responsible for managing each stage of the buyer journey. These are the first steps to winning delighted customers.
Stay tuned for our next blog in this series of 10 top tips for maximising marketing leads through sales.
Don’t want to wait? Download our free eBook now to get your own copy of all 10 steps.