Lead Qualification & Lead Nurturing: Whose Job Is It?

Posted by Dan McDade

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on Jan 17, 2012 8:23:00 AM

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Are marketing resources or sales reps the right resources to do lead qualification and lead nurturing in the B2B complex sale?

The answer is clear, and may surprise you. But first, let's take a look at some lead generation challenges.

Cahners Research has shown that 45 percent of qualified leads will end up buying a solution from someone within a year.

Funnel ImageThink of lead generation, lead qualification and lead nurturing as progressive steps in a funnel. Marketing pours raw, unfiltered leads from a variety of sources into the top of the funnel.

Ideally, what emerges at the other end—ready for professional handling by a lead-hungry sales force—is a steady supply of qualified leads, each with a defined process and timeframe for buying.

Reality, unfortunately, rarely matches the ideal. All too often, no one is managing what happens to leads once they enter the funnel. Marketing, focusing on lead cost instead of quality, thinks it has done its job simply by dumping in the unfiltered leads. No one contacts the inquirers to do lead qualification. No one augments the leads with demographic and firmographic data. No one engages with long-term suspects via lead nurturing to convert them to short-term, qualified sales opportunities. No one evaluates the effectiveness of the lead sources.

In this garbage-in, garbage-out lead generation scenario, you can’t blame sales reps for ignoring the output. Who should process leads?

A lead is a general classification of an individual with an actionable need for a product or service. Short-term leads, also called qualified sales opportunities, are ready buyers that have the potential to close within one or two sales cycles.

Only a small portion of freshly generated leads typically fall into the short-term category. The root of the broken lead generation “system” described earlier is lead qualification: little or no effort has been made to determine whether each raw lead has any potential at all, much less whether it is short-term or long-term.

Whose job is lead qualification and lead nurturing? In our observation of how hundreds of companies treat leads, the bulk of the work overwhelmingly rests with sales—and that is a recipe for failure. Even if leads are pre-qualified, sales people are notoriously poor in following up on all but the hottest of leads. In fact, experts say, sales does not follow up on more than 70 percent of leads provided to them.

Management rightfully motivates and compensates sales people to focus on making the immediate numbers, not on building a pipeline of prospects. To fully leverage the talents of your sales force, don’t expect sales reps to filter leads, qualify them, and then cultivate the long-term ones until they are ready buyers. They just won’t do it.

Traditional marketing departments are also not the best equipped for this important job. They are filled with brand builders or communicators who do not possess lead generation skills and technology, or they are measured on “response rates” and “cost-per-lead,” which are the wrong metrics.

In our experience, best practices suggest that a separate group, inside or outside the company, needs to take control of the vital lead generation, lead qualification and lead nurturing functions. Think of this group of specialists as “lead farmers,” or prospect development specialists—they qualify raw leads, nurture lukewarm prospects into the hot category, and turn the developed leads over to the sales force for harvesting. Often this process takes months.

A developed lead is one that sets the stage for relationship selling. A lead farmer equips the sales rep with in-depth knowledge about the prospect. With advance insight into the prospect’s motivations, pain points and buying plans, the sales rep can engage the prospect in a consultative conversation rather than launching into a cold-call presentation or a discovery interview.


By Dan McDade

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Topics: Lead Generation, B2B Marketing, Marketing Strategy, B2B Sales, Lead Nurturing, Lead Qualification

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