Raw leads are inherently neutral entities. If, when, and how they convert to real opportunities is fully dependent on the processes that sales and marketing teams apply to them after they appear at the top of the funnel.
Raw leads are unfiltered, undifferentiated, and unqualified contacts generated by marketing activities such as content downloads, social media use, webinars, and tradeshows. Some are simply people requesting information or companies too small to qualify, and others are perfect-fit prospects—ready, willing, and able to invest in six- or seven-digit solutions. But who falls in which camp?
Real opportunities will have met established lead criteria and warrant further attention from Marketing or Sales. At the right time, real opportunities are confidently moved to the sales forecast and assigned a probability of closing.
The challenge, of course, is how best to qualify "in" those with high-value potential and apply processes that move them to closed-deal status.
Here are four actions needed to make that happen.
1. Align sales and marketing
Call it what you will—essential, imperative, or indispensable—but full sales and marketing alignment is the must-have predecessor of the next three actions.
Everyone is for alignment. The hard part is getting there and making it work. Though our shared sales and marketing history has been characterized by pointing fingers, feeling undervalued, and rerunning processes that fail, it's time to let go and move on to formal discussions between both groups.
The requirement: Hammer out consensus processes and enter them into a written Sales and Marketing service-level agreement so that all participants have clearly defined responsibilities and accountabilities for each step in the buying cycle.
2. Agree on the definition of a lead
One would think that Sales and Marketing ought to be able to easily agree on the definition of a lead, but that's not so. Usually given incentive to deliver high volumes of leads and lacking the resources to fully qualify them, Marketing too often forwards to Sales contact records that haven't met qualifying criteria.
Kudos to sales and marketing consultancy SiriusDecisions for addressing the lead definition gap with its demand waterfall, a lead progression framework that defines leads in the following way:
- Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): Qualified and delivered by Marketing
- Sales Accepted Lead (SAL): Reviewed and accepted by Sales
- Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): Contacted and further qualified by Sales
In their service-level agreement, Sales and Marketing must agree on the qualifying criteria—decision-making authority, compelling need, sense of urgency, and budgeting process—linked to each of those three stages.
3. Apply best-practice lead-qualification and lead-conversion strategies
Because prospect-development processes are complex and time-consuming, Marketing is not the right group to qualify and convert leads. Nor is Sales; rep skills and time are better focused on closing real opportunities.
Successfully converting raw leads requires either an inside sales team or an outsourced lead-qualification services provider. Both share a core approach: using the telephone and proven skills to connect with, qualify, nurture, and hand off leads as real opportunities at the right time.
That dedicated group of lead-qualification and lead-nurturing experts would apply a proven contact strategy—a multi-touch, multi-media, and multi-sales-cycle approach to optimize response.
4. Track, manage, and measure lead flow
Without processes to track, manage, and measure lead flow, sales funnel leakage will take place. SiriusDecisions identifies two "lead purgatories" where leads languish, unattended and where they are at risk of being lost to competitors.
The first occurs when MQLs have been accepted as SALs, and Sales does not engage them. The second occurs when SALs have been moved to SQL status but have not been fully pursued, perhaps because they did not convert quickly after Sales contact.
Effective lead tracking and lead-management processes will identify those outliers as needing immediate attention, perhaps by Sales or the dedicated nurturing group.
Ongoing measurement and reporting act as an alignment and conversion dashboard. For example, great progress toward raw-to-real conversion occurs the closer the percentages of MQLs to SALs and MQLs to SQLs get to 100%.
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The four actions outlined above are the secrets to driving more revenue, because they turn raw leads into real opportunities and increase close rates.