Sales Leads: Why Your Reps Need Fewer, Rather Than More

Posted by Dan McDade

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on Jan 12, 2012 8:08:00 AM

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Contrary to popular belief, reps don’t need more sales leads. They need fewer leads—or more accurately, fewer raw, unfiltered, unqualified leads. Best sales lead management practices continually show that reps need qualified leads that have been carefully vetted, properly and consistently nurtured and appropriately developed, increasing the likelihood of a completed sale.

SiriusDecisions Quote   Jan 12 2012 180Good sales reps are by nature hunters, eager to close in on highly qualified leads for the kill. Take Steve, for example. Watch what happens when he receives a stack of leads from marketing: he rifles through them seeking the ideal prospect.

Checkbox Not a senior executive? Out. 
Checkbox Budget undefined? Goodbye.
Checkbox Next-year decision? No way.



Steve is obviously making some poor decisions. For example, a recent sales lead management study found that for technology products and services, line-of-business managers and functional titles are much better sources for sales leads than senior executives. And the average technology purchase starts as an inquiry on the internet and can often take a year or more until fruition.

But to be fair to Steve, he is paid to sell—not to interpret leads. Moreover, he is jaded from bad marketing practices. In his rookie year, he wasted enormous amounts of time following up on so-called “A+" sales leads from marketing. As it turned out, one-fourth had erroneous phone numbers and addresses. Another 20 percent came from consultants, competitors and students. Most of the others had little or no pre-qualification information. None had been filtered or nurtured in any way by marketing. (“That’s not our role,” said the marketing manager.)

Meanwhile, in the marketing department, Jennifer is completing her monthly report. “We’re on track for a great quarter in lead generation,” she writes. “This month we generated 1,278 leads from all sources—that’s a 30 percent gain over last year! And in spite of higher ad rates, we continue to keep our cost-per-lead under $100!”

Jennifer’s report says nothing about the core processes that make up sales lead management: lead qualification, lead nurturing, or what the sales force has done with previous leads. Which leaves one to wonder: Does anyone in this company’s management understand why investments in sales lead management are not resulting in closed business? Do they realize that the real money spent to create sales leads is wasted unless they are managed and monitored to ensure a return?

The true measure of successful sales lead management should be how well marketing creates opportunities that have a high potential of developing into sales. The true measure of sales should be how well they close these qualified leads from marketing.

Far too many companies, however, evaluate marketing’s success by the number of leads they hand over to sales. These companies do not have effective sales lead management processes to track anything other than the number of leads generated and their cost. Many of the same companies fail to hold sales accountable for closing the qualified leads and for reporting back results that feed the marketing and sales model. The overall result is often wasted marketing dollars and wasted sales time.

How can the sales lead management blame game be resolved? What if, instead of reporting how many low-value sales leads marketing sent to Steve and his colleagues, Jennifer reported the following:

“This month, marketing added 14 new prospects to our Prospect Development program. A total of 41 qualified leads are currently under development by marketing.

“In June, sales received 10 fully nurtured sales leads representing $3.5 million in potential near-term revenue. I have attached a summary report.”

Prospect Development Report

As indicated by the highlighted rows in Jennifer’s Prospect Development report (see above), sales representative Carol Barrett received two qualified leads this month. Each had already been contacted at least seven times; the best touchpoint techniques use multiple media—some combination of phone, voice message, email, letter, and direct mail. Each qualified lead is deemed to have “graduated” from unknown or long-term status to a near-term decision-making mode.

For each qualified lead, marketing provided Carol a complete contact history, a company profile, and a thorough overview of the budget, the decision timeline, individuals involved in the decision, any events or other factors driving the decision, pain points, hot buttons, and competition. When presented with a few well qualified leads, Carol gives them priority attention. For one thing, she knows her regional manager will be inquiring about them. More importantly, she knows from experience that these sales leads are real or she would not be getting them. Her company has already established a relationship with the decision maker, who is expecting Carol’s call.

Which lead generation machine would your company’s sales force prefer—the one that gives Steve reams of unfiltered leads, or the one that gives Carol two qualified sales leads expected to close within six months?


By Dan McDade

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Topics: Lead Generation, B2B Marketing, Marketing Strategy, B2B Sales, Lead Management, Sales Leads

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