Why Isn’t Sales Following Up On Our Leads?

A little over a year ago I was asked to assess the lead generation-to-close process of a large, global enterprise company. Marketing told me that despite their best efforts, with marketing automation the company revenues were not growing as projected. But that was not all. According to Marketing, there had been little-to-no follow up on thousands of “leads” in the database! Now there was a mystery…and a crime. All of Marketing fingers were pointing to Sales. I had to investigate…

Clue 1: Things were not as they seemed.

Marketing’s lead routing process was not one integrated flow. There were gaps as you will see in the next clues. Marketing and Sales were not working together. Instead of creating a “connected” marketing and sales funnel, they really had two independent pipeline processes: one for Marketing and one for Sales. In these situations I usually educate Marketing on best practices and then have Marketing reach out to Sales. Marketing has to think and talk more like Sales. Marketing has to focus more on creating opportunities rather than on generating leads. To build a connected funnel, Marketing needs to focus more on the bottom of the funnel instead of the top of the funnel. Marketing has to take more of a bottoms-up approach and understand the revenue or growth goals and then go up the funnel and figure out the conversion rates at the various stages. This was not happening.

Clue 2: The leads were not really leads.

In reality, most of those leads were probably inquiries or prospects but not leads—and certainly not sales-ready leads. However, this marketing organization would not know that as they did not have funnel qualification stages built out. There were no gated qualification stages to help Marketing determine how to nurture leads with specific content. There had been no discussions with Sales on the definitions of an inquiry, prospect, and lead. In the middle of the funnel, Marketing has to monitor the volume, the velocity, and the conversion percentage of leads at each qualification stage. Marketing should be constantly pushing out content based on those metrics and the trends that they show.

Furthermore, the lead scoring was basic and in many cases was not qualifying leads. The scoring program regularly showed that many leads had filled out an RFP request—something Sales was already tracking prior to the scoring program. In many cases, Sales had already contacted that person before that lead even ran though the scoring program. Alternatively, the scoring program signaled something Sales didn’t need to know, like donald.duck@disney.com filled a product sheet request form.

One reason lead scoring programs fail is because companies don’t complete their market research and figure out the buyer’s journey, target personas, or content marketing strategy prior to developing their lead scoring program. If due diligence was properly done, organizations would know the characteristics of their target prospects, such as which channels they frequent, which activities/behaviors they perform, and how they prefer to consume content.

When you look at the last few paragraphs, there are two ways that Sales can be impacted. One, Sales can’t follow-up with bad contact information—and once it has received enough poorly qualified leads, it will believe that it is wasting its time and disengage. Obviously, if Marketing had brought Sales into the lead scoring and the qualification stage definition processes earlier, Sales would buy-in more to the connected Marketing and Sales funnel. Two, technology leveraged for the connected Marketing and Sales funnel collects a lot of demographic and behavioral data that Sales can use to engage with some leads before they reach the handoff stage.

Clue 3: The handoff process did not exist.

Unfortunately since everything was identified as a lead, everything was passed over to Sales without adequate qualification. There was no defined handoff process. There was no defined handoff trigger such as Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) or Marketing Qualified Opportunity (MQO). There were no SLAs in place. There were no set expectations. This is why many organizations that have invested in marketing automation and a lead qualification process do not grow revenues as they expect. Lack of a formal handoff process from Marketing to Sales creates a “black hole” of effectiveness and efficiency. It also creates an expensive proposition. Marketing is spending millions of dollars to collect the names at the top of the funnel only to have them drop off at the handoff. What is worse is that because of this popular model of inefficiency and ineffectiveness, many companies end up paying to acquire the same names over and over again. It is imperative that Marketing works with Sales to define the handoff process, the Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) or Opportunity (MQO), and the SLA. This is the only way that Marketing can consistently deliver quality and meet expectations with Sales.

Mystery Solved

After reviewing all the clues it did not take me long to determine that, while Sales should have followed up on most of these leads, the real guilty party was Marketing. If this company truly wanted a “connected” marketing and sales funnel, Sales should have been pulled into key process components earlier.

Yes, this company had over thousands“leads” that had not been touched by Sales. But Sales had already lost trust in Marketing. This same scenario happens at many enterprise organizations every day.

Once we pulled Sales into the lead scoring, lead nurturing, funnel qualification, and handoff processes, Marketing started winning back trust with Sales by providing consistent Marketing Qualified Opportunities (MQO) and meeting expectations. We put an emphasis on creating opportunities instead of generating leads and Sales honored an SLA where it followed up on every MQO within 48 hours. Marketing started to focus more time on programs to accelerate funnel stage qualification instead of just filling the top of the funnel. Content marketing is now taking on a larger role as Marketing continues to identify the buyer’s journey and personas. The black hole of effectiveness and the backlog of untouched MQOs have disappeared. Case closed!

For more strategies on lead prioritization best practices, download The Essential Guide to Predictive Lead Scoring.