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Marketing departments perform many tasks throughout the year: hiring good talent, keeping quality employees, choosing the right communications strategy, improving ROI, and generating higher quality leads for Sales. With increasing competition and diminishing budgets, achieving these goals is becoming increasingly difficult.

Fortunately, there is a crucial step that marketing departments can take to have a positive impact on the outcome of their initiatives for the year: deploying an effective lead-management process.

I'm not a big fan of sports analogies, but I recently heard one that I think would help put this into context. Think of an NFL quarterback... say Dan Marino, who holds over 25 NFL passing records. Over his career, Dan completed 4,967 passes to over 30 different receivers. Many would say his success was due to his tremendous talent and work ethic, and that would be true. However, Dan's success was also largely dependant on his receivers' ability to be in the right place, at the right time, and catch those passes. Without such receivers, many of those 4,967 would have been incomplete.

A similar relationship exists between today's Marketing and Sales departments, with Marketing as the quarterback and Sales as the receiver.

However, according to a recent Gartner study, "up to 70% of sales leads are not properly leveraged or are completely ignored, thus wasting marketing program dollars."

The marketing-to-sales process is often not closely examined prior to the development of a lead-generation program designed to drive meaningful results. In my professional experience, over half of all business-to-business organizations have a suboptimal or nonexistent lead-management process. Surprisingly, that is the case regardless of the size of an organization, whether it has $500,000 or $500 million in revenue.

How can you identify whether an effective lead-management process can improve your bottom line? Ask yourself these questions about your marketing and sales departments:

  • Is there a consensus from sales and marketing to what a "qualified" lead is?

  • Does Sales complain about (or neglect) the leads it receives?

  • Can you confirm that Sales has followed up with each lead it has received?

  • Is there a process in place for Sales to provide feedback to Marketing?

  • Can you differentiate between what type of leads close the fastest, and for the highest amount of revenue and profit?

  • What combination of touches provides the most effective leads for Sales?

  • Is there a mechanism for Sales to pass leads back to marketing for further nurturing, or do they simply get dropped?

Outlined below are five of the most common ways companies can improve their lead management.

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Robert J. Moreau is EVP of sales and marketing for Rubicon Marketing Group, Inc. (www.rubiconway.com). Reach him at Robert.moreau@rubiconway.com.