The myth of prepackaged “sales-qualified” leads

Columnist Thomas Koletas explains why marketing and sales need to work together to make smart use of their data and drive more qualified leads.


The marketing stack holds great value, but let’s face it: It takes a long time to get off the ground, and it’s only as smart as the data it collects. Between setup, training and the early days of simply gaining traction, it can take close to a year before marketers start seeing the fruits of their labor.

On top of all that setup, most marketers are starting out with the leads from their CRM (customer relationship management) or homegrown databases, which may be poor in both quality and quantity. That means that even when they get up to speed on their new stack, they’re not going to have a lot of fuel to drive it.

After all, marketing technology is only as smart as the data it collects, and for most B2B marketers, that’s going to start out small and grow pretty slowly.

So many marketers are losing patience and just purchasing “sales-qualified” leads. These leads, by definition, should be ready to hand off to sales for a quick and easy close.

The problem is that by the time the sales team calls, these prospects are three-quarters of the way through their journey and ready to negotiate pricing.

Let your sales reps show their stuff

That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not why your company hired smart, savvy, consultative business development managers. Experienced sales reps will do their best work at the top of the funnel. They’re storytellers and problem-solvers, not hagglers.

It’s also not the best use of that shiny, new marketing stack. So the question is, how do you get better data that is marketing-ready, rather than past its prime? And at what point should sales be involved in the process?

Traditionally, marketing handles the leads until they’re sales-ready, but is that necessarily the right way?

None of this is to say that marketing automation is wrong; there’s a lot to be said for marketing automation platforms (MAPs). However, there’s also a lot to be said about our expectations for MAPs.

Marketers can’t simply dump (probably poor) CRM data and (probably poor-quality) freshly generated leads into the top of an MAP and expect sales-ready prospects to come out the bottom. An MAP is only as smart as the interactions with your unique content.

With only a small fraction of your lead base active at any particular time, it doesn’t matter how much nurturing you’re doing. If your B2B prospects aren’t ready to buy, you can’t force them to buy. And when they’re not buying, well, that’s when sales pressures marketing to deliver more leads — completely ignoring the entire reason the organization committed to an MAP.

Bring sales into the cycle early on

If the biggest complaint is that “sales-ready leads” aren’t really sales-ready, shouldn’t sales and marketing be invited to contact promising leads early on? These points of contact should not be about closing in for the kill; they should be educating the prospect and offering more content that will help guide them to a decision.

Ideally, the solution will be your solution, and the close will come quickly. Essentially, these conversations should be a collaboration between sales and marketing that supports the nurturing cycle.

Use third-party data to drive more qualified leads

So many inbound marketers rely exclusively on owned and earned media to generate leads. It’s a big oversight — especially when B2B third-party data has hit critical mass and is so readily available.

Marketers should consider seeking out data partners to find, engage and ultimately bring in more high-quality leads.

If all else fails, buy smart

If the pressure’s too great, and you do have to buy leads, don’t just buy that trade show list or subscriber list; buy leads that have been delivered using intent data.

This will ensure that the leads you’ve purchased aren’t just decision-makers from companies in your vertical market; they’re decision makers who are potentially in-market for your product solutions.

Working together, marketing and sales can make the most of marketing automation, and see truly stellar results. But it takes patience, collaboration and smart use of data to see the desired outcomes — qualified leads that turn into sales.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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