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Bananas in the Wind

It was a hurricane weekend, literally. Irene was making her way up the Eastern Seaboard, and she had her crosshairs on New England for the last good weekend of the summer. We were to be housebound for two days seeking refuge from the waves of wind and rain. So, what do you do under these circumstances? We decided to do the only thing that made sense given the situation - throw a hurricane potluck party.

With the unexpected downtime, we got a number of things done around the house, which might have otherwise been delayed. For one, the house finally got a good cleaning to accommodate the party guests. I performed a number of other chores that had been piling up on the to-do list. And my wife baked a batch of banana bread that was to be sent as care packages to the kids away at school. This is a fairly normal occurrence for us – every time a banana gets a bit too dark it gets tossed in a basket in the freezer. When the basket fills we make banana bread. It is the best way to not waste an overripe banana and it gives us a regular excuse to make a bakery item that is truly a staple at our place.

Sunday afternoon finally came around, Irene showed up as forecasted, and our neighbors trekked through the horizontal rain to ride out the storm in our kitchen. There was gas in the generator, plenty of liquids to make it through any size catastrophe, and very coincidentally, four variations of banana bread. For some reason, the Saturday of that weekend inspired nearly each family gathering for the party to bake banana bread. So, that gave us the opportunity for a bake-off of sorts.

It turned out that two of the four specialty breads were significantly better than the other two – according to all tasters. As one might expect, recipes were compared to determine the cause. When everything was analyzed it came down to the bananas. Normal eating bananas, that appetizing yellow of peak ripeness, proved to be the difference. The best bananas for bread, it turns out, are those that are beyond peak – the blacker the skin the better. Baking with bananas before they are ready creates a much less desirable outcome.

Bananas are just like marketing leads. Sending them off to sales before they are ready creates a less desirable outcome as well. Here is a case in point, if we took a poll of 100 companies whose marketing programs include a booth at conventions and conferences, we would learn something disconcerting. Consider this question for that poll, “do you qualify or nurture trade show leads prior to distributing to sales?” I can confidently predict that more than half would respond, “no qualification or nurturing”. Likewise, if we polled the sales functions from those same companies whether they value leads coming from smarketing, more than half would say. “trade show leads offer no value”.

The problem is not running programs at trade shows. The problem is really about sending along bananas before they are ready for baking. Marketing cannot ship leads off to sales that are not ready – they have to be ripe according to sales preferences. Marketing may think that a yellow banana looks good, but sales owns the taste test.

Interestingly, this is still debated. The same thing happened within our kitchen during hurricane Irene. Two chefs argued vehemently about only using quality bananas – neither could tolerate the idea of using a banana beyond its eating prime. However, the taste testers own the decision. Sales owns the decision about what is a “ready lead”. Marketing owns the process of getting them ready.

What I have learned works well in this situation is for marketing program managers to speak directly with sales folks to learn firsthand the criteria and characteristics of lead readiness for them. Most of the time it turns out to be some pretty common stuff. The prospect has a budget, there is a timeframe for a purchase, there is clarity about the fit between the need and the product – these kinds of things. What is universally not accepted is a business card thrown in a fishbowl at the booth on the tradeshow floor. Don’t laugh; there is a huge percentage of leads today that are delivered to sales with no more qualification than that.

So, my parting suggestions:

- save your overripe bananas in the freezer and
- make sure you know what sales expects from your leads and what it means to be sales ready.

Go ‘Canes!


Hurricane Hat

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