Lead Development: A seamless transition from marketing to sales.

The modern buyer journey has forever changed the rules of customer engagement. In the B2B world, customers undertake a self-guided education into the strategic and operational possibilities. From an onlooker’s vantage point buyers initiate a passive journey, consuming information across various digital and physical properties that are more general in nature. Eventually they cross the threshold to active engagement, focusing in on very distinct content, surrounding their specific interests and needs.

Although executing a disciplined content marketing strategy is critical to positioning your business solutions, automated content delivery, on its own, will not achieve the results that business growth demands. At the right point in a buyer’s journey, the human touch is needed to carry education, conversations and qualification forward.

Traditional human “only” touch doesn’t work.

The Call Center

Old school sales and marketing is still in session for most enterprise businesses. I guess old habits die hard – as they say. Call center agents are being utilized for critical tasks well above their original role, capabilities and pay scale. Hired to take inbound calls, they are now being asked to interrogate sales related callers using late-stage lead qualification scripts. In effect, they are applying a (sort of) BANT criteria on early stage inquiries well ahead of buyer expectations.

Call centers are also being converted into “blended” (inbound and outbound) centers, handling most everything – general inquiries, service requests and supplying product information. Inbound downtime is being turned into outbound execution, where agents are asked to dig into CRM routing queues to call down on cold “Leads”. The intent is to breath new life into those leads, qualifying and routing them to a sales rep.

It’s one thing to turn a call center agent into an inbound lead qualifier, but it’s an entirely different thing to turn a call center agent into an outbound lead developer. Doing the first is very difficult, but the former is truly impossible.

Inside Sales

Another tired approach to the human touch is to pile the discipline of lead development on sales reps – usually sitting on inside sales teams. Quite often this happens after sales complains that leads coming from the call center are not qualified. Naturally, sales believes that the “selling” culture can do a better job:

  • Sales people are more familiar with solutions being offered
  • Sales people know how best to qualify a potential opportunity
  • Calling into the business is recognized as a step in their sales process
  • Outbound lead management tactics are a typical part of the job
  • All sales people want and need new leads for their pipeline

There are reasons why this might make sense, but the age-old saying, “It seemed like a good idea at the time” ultimately plays out. Don’t let these inside sales traits lead you in the wrong direction with Lead Development. The problem with pushing this responsibility to the sales force is simple – sales people are there to close deals, not to educate and nurture leads.

Top sales professionals manage a two-quarter pipeline, while average sales people manage a one-quarter pipeline. In other words, top performers have learned to take on more by delegating tasks, not pertinent to “the close”,  and to take advantage of tools that automate communications supporting leads not ready for their direct attention.

Sales reps can’t do Lead Development because of their laser focused attention on closing. It’s a quota thing. Call center agents can’t do it because they lack the nurturing skill set required.

Doing “Lead Development” the right way.

1. Create a dedicated lead development team.

Don’t be tempted to pile lead development responsibility on existing functions. Build out a dedicated team, within the marketing function, absolutely focused on nurturing mid-stage leads to the Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) status.

2.Develop a culture of education and business value.

Check salesmanship at the door, as this skill set should be reserved for the selling motion after SQL status is achieved. Instead, build trusted relationships with buyers by delivering business insights and solutions education. Align lead developers with the marketing function responsible for mid-stage nurturing programs. They are perfect partners. The alignment will ensure a culture of education and buyer support. Not only will a customer centered practice deliver SQLs, but it will eventually help eliminate the traditional Marketing & Sales conflict.

3. Arm lead development reps with the right tools and data.

Lead developers are only as good as the information, tools and data they have and use. Arm them with pre-program information used to define your demand generation “Plays”. Buyer profiles and journeys provide context needed to correctly identify buying triggers. Visibility into a buyer’s digital footprint (via Marketing Automation) empowers lead developers to proactively apply the right touch at the right time. Access to web chat and social media helps them communicate with buyers through the buyer’s channel of choice (email, social, web and phone).

4. Clearly define the lead qualification stages, business rules and SLAs.

The lead development team acts as the bridge between marketing and sales. It cannot be over emphasized, the criticality of the Lead Development role in the demand process. To ensure qualified leads get into the hands of lead developers, create the right marketing-side lead-qualification stages. Give them the “digital paper trail” to support a lead’s transition to direct and / or partner sales organizations. Make certain that sales has an active role in helping define the business rules and SLAs that govern flow and quality of leads transitioning to sales.

5. Measure success by  prolonged and meaningful engagement.

Although delivering SQLs to sales is the primary objective, mid-stage metrics should be used to measure the customer nurturing efforts lead developers are making. Their job is all about creating and maintaining a pool of engaged buyers that are moving through the education and decision process. Too much focus on SQL turns lead developers into sales agents, not nurturing agents. Balance your measurement across the entire engagement journey to drive stronger conversion velocity.

There you have it, my take on Lead Development. Good luck on your demand generation transformation. Remember that Lead Development is a critical piece.

Image courtesy of Simon Powell.
Image: Owell Bridge Creative Commons Licence Attribution 2.0 – Generic.