"If only there were more leads for the sales team."
"If only the sales team would actually do something with the leads they are given."
If you have been in sales or marketing for any length of time, you've heard that conversation more than once in your career. Despite all of the added technologies and sophistication over the years to better understand customers, the argument is still out there in cubicles and board rooms. Research on this topic, including work done by Miller Heiman, validates the void between sales and marketing continues to be an issue in most organizations. We also know that those organizations that are outperforming their peers have done a much better job at aligning these two critical functions.
Truth be told, having spent most of my career leading sales organizations, I am not a marketing guy. Knowing that this is an important topic to many of you, I thought it best that I invite a true expert on sales and marketing alignment to this month's column. Brian Carroll, author of "Lead Generation for the Complex Sale," a title that is quickly becoming a resource for many organizations attempting to get their sales and marketing teams to join forces in driving top-line sales more effectively. These were his insights:
Bill Golder: In the 2008 Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study, only 37% of respondents agreed that their sales and marketing organizations are aligned in what their customers want and need. Why is sales and marketing alignment difficult for most organizations?
Brian Carroll: I think it's because organizations aren't taking a holistic approach that considers all of the marketing and selling components on a total, complete and ongoing basis. The lack of synergy between sales and marketing regarding lead generation is so common as to risk cliché. Marketing feels that sales doesn't follow-up on marketing-generated leads. Sales counters that the leads aren't any good, and the information they provide isn’t helpful. My experience confirms that this communication breakdown affects nine out of ten companies.
BG: What are you seeing as the most common pitfalls in attempts to get this right?
BC: Companies sensing the need for cooperation and teamwork sometimes believe they can perform miracles by reorganizing the sales and marketing departments. But, really what matters most is having everyone on the same page, integrated and viewing each other as pro forma customers.
Ask most executives what salespeople need to help them sell and they will say, "More leads." I'd say your salespeople don't want more leads. They want more effective selling time. In my experience, the average sales force spends around 20% of their time actually doing productive selling (up to 40% if you're great).
Don't get me wrong, lead generation is still extremely important to salespeople. But we need to realize that the extreme time pressure salespeople face—especially those with a complex sale—requires them to ignore "early," "is not immediately relevant," and "highly likely" to produce revenue.
Before you invest any more money in lead generation, ask this question: How can we give our salespeople more selling time? Write down your thoughts and then ask your sales team, "How can we help YOU get more selling time?" Then, shut up and really listen.
BG: Salespeople, at a very basic level, want two things from marketing: quality leads and effective collateral support for their client interactions. This seems simple, but most salespeople would say these two things fall short of their expectations. Why is this so hard to do right?
BC: Sales leads often land on the scrap heap because marketers throw leads over the wall, and then expect salespeople to catch them.
What sales really needs are more sales-ready leads. Qualify those leads, then create ongoing, meaningful dialogue with the prospect. Lead nurturing is all about identifying and capturing longer-term opportunities.
Also, I'd say most companies don't do a good job of managing the leads they already have. A study by the Aberdeen Group concluded 40 to 60 hours of the salesperson's month is spent re-creating sales-ready, customer-relevant collateral material, which he or she believed, sometimes with good reason, marketing should have generated better in the first place.
Aligning for Better Leads
BG: Cleary, there's research that points to sales and marketing alignment being a critical success factor in driving top-performing organizations. What are they doing differently that's making this work?
BC: Organizations that perform match readiness of the buyer with expectations of their sales team. Successful programs examine each lead and ask if they are sales-ready, meaning that they are ready to speak to a salesperson.
Successful organizations understand that prospects can spend months researching solutions to their needs and usually aren't ready to speak with a sales representative right away. Marketers who hold back and nurture early stage leads (with a human touch) on behalf of their sales team drive results.
Lead nurturing maintains a relevant and consistent dialog with viable leads, regardless of their timing to purchase, until they are sales-ready. The idea is that through the process of offering valuable education and information to prospects up front, you become more than an expert. You become a trusted advisor.
Without lead nurturing program in place, I've found that early stage leads receive just one, or maybe two, touches before they are handed off to salespeople. And that's not enough, especially if you have a complex sale. At InTouch, we've found early stage leads may require 8 to 12 (or more) meaningful nurturing touches before they are truly sales ready.
BG: If you were approached by a sales or marketing executive struggling with alignment, what would be your advice?
BC: The unrealized potential can be likened to the batteries in a flashlight. If the batteries aren't inserted in the right direction, or are otherwise out of proper contact, their power is unusable. The harmonious interaction of sales and marketing is crucial.
1. Sales and Marketing must collaborate on defining leads and marketing objectives.
You can make a huge impact by focusing first, on creating an Ideal Customer Profile (company-wide, for each product, service or solution). Then, create the Universal Lead Definition of a "sales-ready lead." Finally, connect the marketing/sales process to customer's buying process.
By developing an Ideal Customer Profile, I saw one client's average sale of $60,000, increase by more than 30% to $80,000, while overall revenue increased by 20%. By utilizing a Universal Lead Definition, one company achieved a 120% gain in ROI, using the same tactics and budget as the previous year.
Once you've developed a collaborative culture by focusing on those three things, you can then commit to closing-the-loop on each marketing investment.
2. What gets measured gets done. Connect sales and marketing metrics together.
3. Create content that's relevant for each stage of the buying cycle.
4. Focus on the data points you REALLY need to measure in your CRM.
5. Ask: Is your value proposition clear? Does your sales team have sales-ready messaging?
In developing a lead generation program, it is incumbent on marketers to view the sales team as the customer. It's no different than directing a consulting firm project where the client is involved in each stage of the project. The sales team should become so integrated that it has program ownership just like everyone else.
BG: Our research has also shown that the C-Suite often perceives alignment to be much better than how it is perceived in the field. How do you suggest alignment should be measured and monitored in way that makes it clear how an organization is doing in this area?
BC: To create an open dialogue to obtain sales lead feedback you continuously have to ask:
• Was this helpful? Why? Why not?
• What else should we be doing?
• What should we have asked to make the lead even better?
• What are we doing that we should stop?
To break the cycle, we must close the loop with sales and start measuring opportunities with real-world metrics:
• Number of inquiries?
• Number of leads (qualified as "sales-ready")?
• Number of opportunities (leads in moved into sales pipeline)?
• Number of closed deals from marketing leads?
If you know those metrics you can start to track the following key performance indicators such as:
• Inquiry to lead ratio
• Lead to opportunity
• Lead to proposal ratio
• Lead to sale (win) ratio
Leaders and marketers with a value driven mindset will plan and budget for the long term and take a holistic view that goes beyond cost-per-lead budgets. Cost-per-lead budgets are irrelevant unless you can first measure cost-per-opportunity or cost-per-lead-pursued. Lead quality is a key driver in insuring that those leads are pursued.
Brian Carroll is CEO of InTouch Inc., and author of the popular book, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale (McGraw-Hill), Brian is a leading expert in lead generation and he's profiled and regularly quoted in numerous publications. His acclaimed B2B Lead Generation Blog (blog.startwithalead.com) is read by thousands of marketers each week.
As EVP of sales at Miller Heiman, Bill Golder has a reputation for taking on tough assignments and successfully turning around difficult situations. He has extensive sales and operations experience, especially in leading business-to-business sales of professional services and multi-unit operations management. Available for keynote speaking opportunities, Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 1-877-678-0397. Additional information about selling in an uncertain economy is available at www.millerheiman.com.