Is it a Lead or Not? Getting Marketing and Sales to Agree

Being in charge of filling a Sales pipeline is a tough spot for any Marketing person.  Not only are legitimate sales opportunities difficult to find, but when it comes to actually defining what a ‘lead’ looks like, beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.  There are literally dozens of ways to classify incoming inquiries generated by outbound marketing efforts, and every marketing and sales person has their favorite; which inevitably leads to two things: 1) Sales accusing Marketing of being incompetent, and 2) Marketing accusing Sales of being lazy.

The definition of the word ‘lead,’ over and above everything else, is the single most common reason Marketing and Sales people don’t mingle at the company picnic.   And as a 17+ year marketing professional I can say with some degree of certainty that in most cases, it is our fault.  Contrary to what we learned in the 1990s, a trade show attendee who swaps a business card for a blinky pen is not something a good sales person should be interested in.  Neither is a name poached from a website, or the spouse of a friend who knows someone in the Purchasing Department at Company X.  If we as Marketing people are ever going to regain the confidence of our counterparts in Sales, we need to understand the difference between things that feed a Sales pipeline, and things that should be feeding a paper shredder.

The Name

The first and therefore least significant thing a marketing person can pass along to sales is called a Name, and is defined as follows:

General contact information, acquired from a general source, where no context is given.

Note that use of the word ‘general’ twice in the above definition is not a mistake, but rather a way to diminish the perceived value of a Name.  Marketing people acquire Names from any number of places—business card drops at a trade shows, website downloads, mailing lists, industry association member registers, and so on—but the manner in which a Name was acquired does not increase its value.  Most Sales people are savvy enough to acquire a Name on their own, and have every right to be insulted when a Marketing person attempts to give them one and pass it off as something that has potential revenue attached to it.

The Lead

The second level of inbound inquiry, and the one most people are familiar with by name, is a Lead.  The definition of a Lead—which applies to most companies and in most situations—is as follows:

The name and direct contact information of someone within your target demographic who is looking for more information,  and has given your company permission to follow up with them.

As outlined above, there are four important components that must exist before Marketing can declare something a Lead:

  • Direct contact information;
  • Confirmation that the Name is within your target demographic;
  • A desire on behalf of the contact for more information; and
  • Permission to follow up.

What happens to a Lead after Marketing receives it varies from company to company.  Some firms enter them into the Marketing ‘machine’ to receive automated follow up, some companies pass them to an Inside Sales-type of role for cultivation, and some companies pass them directly to an Outside Sales function.  But wherever they are sent, Leads are the second-most valuable thing a Marketer can uncover, with the most valuable being . . .

The Opportunity!

The third type of marketing-driven inquiry—and the most difficult one to generate—is the Opportunity.  An Opportunity is something Sales people expect, Marketing executives demand, and professional marketers rarely achieve.  The definition of an Opportunity is as follows:

The name and contact information of someone who has expressed interest in making a purchase from you, has an established budget, and is either an influencer in the decision-making process or the primary decision-maker.

Based on this definition, in order to legitimately refer to an inquiry as an Opportunity, the following three things must exist in addition to the components listed in the previous section:

  1. A demonstrated need for (or want of) whatever your company has to offer;
  2. Verification that the money exists to purchase what is being offered; and
  3. Proof that the contact can either make the decision, or bend the ear of someone who can.

Much like the word ‘general’ when referring to a Name, the words demonstratedverification and proof carry special meaning here.  All too often, Marketing people get caught in what I refer to as the Think-Feel-Believe Trap when passing prospects onto Sales—”I think they need what we offer, I feel the client has the money, and I believe the contact is a decision-maker.” If the prospect didn’t clearly and specifically state his or her need, budget and decision-making power, what you have is nothing more than a Lead, which will eventually a) require significantly more effort to close, and b) make your Sales Department mistrust you.

The bottom line is, filling a Sales pipeline as a marketer is about more than simply keeping the Sales staff busy.  It’s also about maintaining your reputation and credibility with the people who depend upon you for their paychecks.  The most sure-fire way to ensure a successful relationship between Marketing and Sales is for the departments to speak the same language, and hopefully this article will help.  That way, Marketing and Sales can get back to arguing about issues that REALLY matter—like why Sales people never use the standard PowerPoint templates we make, or why Marketing people refuse to create brochures for products and services that don’t actually exist.

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