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If you’re charged with generating sales for your company, then getting leads is a critical goal. Likewise, if marketing is your responsibility, leads are what you’re after.


Not so fast.

The ultimate goal is not leads—it's customers.

It’s customers, not leads, who fund payroll, commissions and bonuses. It’s the customers—and the revenue they bring—that will keep your doors open and your business growing. The sooner sales and marketing teams can understand their role in acquiring, keeping and growing customer accounts, the more successful both groups (as well as your organization) will be.

  • “We can generate new leads all day long. We need to figure out how to get these leads to move down the funnel and talk to us about signing up.” – VP of Sales and Marketing
  • “We generated plenty of leads this past year. What we want to look at is how many of these have turned into customers.” – Business Owner
  • “I don’t care about how many leads we’ve brought in that we can nurture. I care about getting demo requests so I can sell my software.” – Business Owner

We’ve recently heard these words from clients. Not a lot of love for leads, for sure.

The word “lead” can be polarizing, especially when Sales and Marketing teams are misaligned. While it initially may appear to be the common goal for marketers and salespeople to rally around—marketers can help generate leads, and salespeople want to close them—the two groups often define, approach and manage leads completely differently.

For example, there are several kinds of leads. A lead in the early buying stage is educating herself and may explore your site, social channels and resources. She may be turned off if an aggressive salesperson starts calling and emailing too soon, turning a promising lead into a lost opportunity—and a stressed Marketing/Sales relationship.

A lead further down the funnel who is assessing available solutions to his problem may appreciate emailed information about successful results your business has delivered or how you compare to the competition, but he still may not want to talk yet. If Marketing fails to nurture him strategically with the right content at the right time, he may go quiet or go away completely, and Sales misses a potential opportunity.

Until your teams agree on the buyers you want, the stages they go through, and how and by whom each stage will be handled, you risk misunderstandings and conflict... “That was a perfectly good lead, but Sales ruined it by pushing too hard too fast.” “That guy looked like a perfect fit, but Marketing couldn’t get him to engage.” The following three tips outline ways in which Marketing and Sales can effectively work together, divvy up responsibilities and share information.

1. Get Your Lingo Straight

If Marketing considers a lead to be any person who downloads an eBook on your website and Sales defines a lead as a person seeking a conversation, then conflict between the teams is inevitable. The key to greater harmony is to differentiate among marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads and true opportunities.

To do that, you’ll want to create a clear definition of your target buyer and their ideal buyer's journey from contact to customer. From demographics (what kinds of people) to firmographics (what types of organizations, for B2B) to attributes and behaviors, define your best customers. Your sales and service teams should have great insight into your ideal and not-so-ideal customers, so marketers should tap into their knowledge here.

Once you’ve defined buyers and their journey, Sales and Marketing can collaborate and brainstorm on what types of communications and content should be used to deliver the right message at the right time in the right form—a process called contextual, personalized marketing.

Whose responsible for what in this stage of marketing and sales alignment?

Job of Marketing

  • Gather information from Sales, Service and your marketing analytics to help define and document the target buyer personas.
  • Ask your Sales team for a list of questions they frequently answer when talking to prospects and customers.

Job of Sales

  • Share insights and information you have from the front lines about which types of prospects tend to close more easily, which types of customers tend to grow and stay, and which types of leads tend to not work.
  • Start tracking and sharing with Marketing the questions you are asked when working with prospects and customers.

2. Agree on Lead Management

Now that Marketing and Sales have defined the kinds of leads you may be working, it’s time to make sure that everyone is clear on what happens to your leads and how they will be handed over from Marketing to Sales.

For example, Marketing may be responsible for attracting new leads through inbound marketing programs and for nurturing leads that are early in the process with email campaigns, remarketing or social media monitoring. Sales holds off until someone reaches a certain lead score and is determined to be ready for some direct outreach.

Job of Marketing

Job of Sales

  • Respond promptly to notifications you receive that a lead has become sales qualified.

3. Commit to Closing the Loop

Which leads were lousy? Which turned into customers? Did anyone fall through the cracks? What is changing in the business that may affect the types of leads being sought?

The communication between Marketing and Sales cannot end when a lead is passed between the two. Closed-loop reporting is critical in order to give Marketing the intelligence it needs to refine its lead acquisition and nurturing strategies and for Sales to get more, better, faster leads flowing in.

This is often where communications break down and conflict heats up. Marketing wonders what happens to leads and Sales gets frustrated if lead quality and quantity do not improve. Many firms find that it can help for Sales and Marketing to create and stick to a Service Level Agreement (SLA).

The good news is that creating and maintaining a communications flow does not have to be a manual or time-consuming process. Much of it can be automated through CRM and marketing automation platform integrations.

With a click of a button, Sales can mark a Contact or Company as a Customer in the CRM when they close. Marketing then can see critical information about the new client’s conversion points, behaviors and content consumption. This allows them to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

And if you don’t have technology in place to facilitate the flow of marketing and sales data? At the very least, Sales can create a list of new customers that closed each month to share with Marketing. Or the two teams can have a 30-minute monthly call or meeting to connect and close the loop.

Job of Marketing

  • Be vigilant about reviewing new customer information received from Sales so you can refine marketing programs and continuously improve lead quality and quantity.

Job of Sales

  • Commit to sharing the successes and failures you have with leads provided by Marketing, either by complying with the closed-loop reporting processes that have been set up or by participating in regular meetings with Marketing.

Have any other tips that help prevent Marketing and Sales teams from butting heads about leads? Share them in the comments below!

And if you're looking for insights into how many website visits and leads you need to generate in order to reach your revenue goals, plug your current buyer's journey conversion rates into our free calculator and get some helpful answers.

Is Your Marketing Helping You Reach Your Revenue Goals? Try Our Free Calculator!

About the Author

Maureen Condon | PMG Principal
Maureen Condon, PMG Principal

Before Maureen Condon became one of the Principals of PMG in 2006, she was a writer and a business owner – which explains why she specializes in content marketing and strategy. Covering topics that will help businesses get real, measured results from marketing – success you can see in numbers – Maureen likes to back companies in their efforts to create a strategy, a compelling message, and programs that connect with prospects, clients and influencers in ways that drive sales. And she does so, with panache!

 Tags: Sales Enablement

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