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Marketing is from Venus, but who is from Uranus?

It still does not cease to amaze me - again I just encountered yet another organization where the sales and marketing functions work together just like a family, a very, very dysfunctional family. You have all seen this. And, it should not be a big surprise since there are a number of organizational dynamics that tend to pop up from company to company, no matter what the industry - employees never seem to be satisfied with organizational communication, management never believes they have enough reports, service delivery people don’t like to get dirty with the process of selling, and marketing and sales professionals fight like adolescent siblings. I guess I need to accept this as a law of business.

Is this an, I’m-from-Venus-and-you’re-from-Mars-thing? Well, I have been known to make the proclamation that sales professionals come from a different gene pool than the rest of us mortals – but that is meant as a compliment. I don’t think this is an issue of different personality types not being simpatico. I think this is an issue of lead management.

When I have seen sales and marketing functions work together effectively (like grown up siblings that respect each other), there are a few factors in play that could serve as a recipe for others to follow. First, there are clear expectations between the two groups regarding what each will do. Most of the time the expectations go something like this: marketing is responsible for getting good leads to sales, and sales is responsible for using the leads to close deals - simple, but effective. A second factor at work is that the leads that marketing sends over to sales are expected to be good, qualified leads, and when a lead does not work out, sales is expected to provide feedback back to marketing as to why. One third factor that I think is also critical is that the right metrics are put in place to measure the lead management process. Measuring the wrong thing tends to cause the wrong behavior.

Marketing is getting better at generating leads. Automated campaign management tools make it much easier to push out offers and capture prospects. The revolution of web 2.0 is also making lead generation within broader audiences more cost effective by tracking web site activity as indication of prospective product and service interest. This is fantastic stuff, but it has a negative side – the proverbial second side of the sword where you cut yourself as you are swinging away at your opponent. This negative consequence is the generation of potentially too many leads. Marketing should not just generate leads, but rather, it should generate good leads. This pesky qualifier, good, is a big deal with regard to this poor relationship between these two functions. However, it is something that can be fixed.

The key to generating good leads is qualification. This topic deserves a lot more space than I am going to give it here, but you can check out this good CRM blog site where there is some healthy dialogue taking place to get more insight. My experience leads me to believe that qualification of initial leads is best done in the most cost effective means possible. This is often best accomplished through a telemarketing function that utilizes less expensive resources than the typical field sales force. However, more and more qualification is being accomplished through the web, utilizing content and messaging to direct prospects through self-selection prior to actual human contact. Check out Accelerating IT Sales for more on this topic.

Don’t think I am going to lay the whole rap at the feet of those hard working marketers. This is a two character drama, and those sales reps also play a role in the biz dev soap opera. The scene goes something like this: sales person receives lead from marketing, calls the contact who has no interest in the product, then throws out the lead, and exits stage left muttering how worthless marketing is, never to jump on a marketing-generated lead again. Have you seen this one? If lead management is going to work, bad leads need to be handled correctly. The most critical thing that can happen with a bad lead is for marketing to learn why, which requires feedback. The feedback will improve the targeting and increase the rate of good lead generation. But this does take cooperation with the field sales folks, plus a reasonable process for sending the lead back without too much effort.

Finally, one more element can play an important role in making this all work, which is the measurement of the lead management pipeline. Pipeline is an interesting metaphor, but there is also the concept of the funnel, and I think they can cause some confusion. Measurement is key, but the wrong metrics can cause the wrong behavior. Marketing should not be measured on lead volume (or least not on volume alone).

Yes, we need to get prospects into the marketing funnel, but they should not be designated as leads until they are qualified enough to get into the sales pipeline (hence the distinction between the two terms). Marketing should be measured on how well leads perform once they get into the pipeline with metrics such as lead conversion into proposals or lead conversion into closed deals. Yes, I know that marketing does not have control of the pipeline, but this is how you measure the effectiveness of a lead. If you want to put a measurement in place that marketing has more control over you can use a metric such as number of meetings scheduled (if telemarketing performs this task). By measuring the right metric you will increase the likelihood that what marketing does will serve the lead management process correctly, making them invaluable to their brothers and sisters in the sales organization.

The reverse is true as well - monitoring what sales reps do with leads is also critical. Using a CRM system or SFA tool for tracking leads in the pipeline is an easy way to measure sales rep activity and monitor how they are treating leads that don’t move through to close. Improving sales behavior in a way that sends better lead information back to marketing also causes marketers to better respect their sales siblings.

Ultimately, we are all from the same planet, not Uranus, and there is no reason for these two critical functions to get along so poorly. Focusing correctly on lead management is the means for better family relations.

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