Lead generation is an important function, yet one of the least understood and most mismanaged in many organizations. Why is that so, and what can you do to put in place a best-in-class lead generation program?

Here are six keys to success that I have formulated over years of working with B2B companies to get lead generation right.

1. Get sales and marketing on the same page

Lead generation is a strange animal. It is usually executed and owned by Marketing, yet its success is really judged by Sales. When you go to the board meeting, you can show how great your programs are and how many leads have been generated, but if the sales VP says your leads are no good, that's what the board will hear.

For a lead-generation program to be successful, its goals must be clearly agreed upon by both organizations. That's not an easy task, but it's doable. The agreement between Marketing and Sales ought to spell out which leads should be passed to Sales and which should remain with Marketing.

To reach an agreement, both sides must make an effort to leave their fixations behind. Marketing has to realize that salespeople care only about leads that are ready to engage in the sales process. At any given time, the amount of leads that should be passed to Sales is probably no more than 5-15% of all leads generated.

At the same time, Sales expectations must be realistic and match market reality. In an early market, Sales should not be looking for leads that have well-defined needs, budget, and authority. There are just not enough of them out there. Your salespeople must be willing and equipped to start the sales process with prospects that have a latent need and work them to the point they are ready to buy.

2. Offer content that delivers value to buyers

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Eran Livneh (elivneh@MarketCapture.com) is president of MarketCapture (www.MarketCapture.com), which provides results-based marketing services to B2B software companies. He also publishes the MarketCapture blog.