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Four Ways to Improve the Lead-to-Sales Handoff

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Four techniques for improving the sales-to-lead handoff
  • What to include in your lead follow-up protocols

Does the following scenario sound familiar?

As a marketer, you create an effective demand generation campaign that piques the interest of your prospects and entices them to respond. Those responses are sent directly to your trained telequalification team members, who determine which companies have a real need to purchase your solution.

Then, those qualified "sales-ready" leads are delivered to Sales, each one containing details of the company's pending evaluation and purchase plans with important information to assist with sales follow-up.

You've done your job. Now, it's time to watch the magic happen. Sales will convert your highly qualified leads into opportunities and, eventually, new business. Your marketing return on investment (ROI) will be outstanding.

But, that doesn't happen. Instead, the pipeline barely increases. Why?

You investigate and find that a significant portion of your leads are now dead. You approach Sales to ask for feedback, and here's what you hear: "The leads look great, but we can't get them on the phone. We left a couple messages, but they didn't call back. They must not really be interested. The leads are dead."


If that situation sounds familiar, you're not alone. One of the primary challenges in ensuring that a high percentage of qualified leads enter your pipeline is the sales organization's ability to establish contact.

Four Handoff Techniques

The good news is that Marketing—more specifically, the telequalification teams—can use various techniques to improve the lead-to-sales handoff, including the following four techniques.

1. Secure a phone appointment

Instead of leaving it up to the sales account executive (AE) to re-establish contact with the lead, the telequalification team should schedule phone appointments. That tactic requires some logistical planning, such as gaining access to the AEs' calendars and determining an acceptable time for appointments to be scheduled. The telequalification agent can book appointments immediately, providing both the AE and the lead a Microsoft Outlook (or other) meeting notice for their calendars.

2. Warm-transfer "hot" leads

Depending on the structure of your sales team, you may be able to set up a warm-transfer process, in which the telequalification agent immediately transfers qualified "sales-ready" leads directly to Sales, facilitating immediate sales engagement.

3. Determine best time to follow-up

For some large organizations, setting up phone appointments just doesn't work logistically. As an alternative, the telequalification agent should ask each lead when she will be ready to speak with a sales representative (based on her evaluation timetable).

Also, the agent can find out which day and time are best to reach each lead. For example, the agent could note that "Friday morning is the best day of the week to reach Mr. Jones." She can even determine whether phone or email is the better method for initial communication. All of that information can greatly help the sales organization establish contact.

4. Provide a soft introduction via email

After finishing a phone call, the telequalification agent can send an email to the lead to recap their conversation. By copying the appropriate AE, the agent can use that email as a soft introduction for the lead and the AE. That process will help the AE establish contact more easily, and it is an alternative to scheduling appointments or warm-transferring leads.

When determining which techniques will work best for your organization, don't forget to also consider the prospect's experience. For instance, if you cannot ensure that a sales representative will be available to receive a warm transfer, that could result in a negative experience for your prospect (for example, keeping her on hold for a long time on the phone). In that case, warm-transferring would not be an ideal option for your organization.

Establish Sales Follow-Up Guidelines

The best lead-to-sales processes are established jointly between Marketing and Sales.

In addition to the techniques recommended, be sure to establish Sales follow-up guidelines. In my experience managing a sales organization and also working with our clients' sales teams, I've found that account executives can approach their leads very differently from each other. Some will call leads relentlessly to establish contact, and others may make only one or two attempts before assuming the lead is dead. Therefore, Sales management should establish specific lead follow-up protocols for the sales organization, including the following:

  • Minimum number of contact attempts for each lead
  • Expected timeframe for follow-up
  • Appropriate steps in the follow-up process
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) documentation requirements

As those guidelines are established, make sure to communicate the sales processes to the marketing and telequalification teams, so that those departments can always set clear next steps with each lead. That type of communication is yet another way to improve the lead handoff.

* * *

Improving the lead-to-sales handoff and setting specific lead follow-up guidelines benefits everyone. The marketing and telequalification teams will generate a higher ROI because of their efforts. The sales organization will close more business.

Most important, prospects will have a positive experience working with your organization, and that positive experience will help to establish them as long-term customers.

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Kathy Rizzo is vice-president of sales and marketing at TeleNet Marketing Solutions, a lead generation and lead nurturing company.

LinkedIn: Kathy Rizzo

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  • by Michelle Fri Apr 6, 2012 via web

    Wow. This is excellent information. Thanks the detailed advice.

  • by Doug Strahm Fri Apr 6, 2012 via web

    Great article! Sales often blames marketing for delivering poor quality leads and marketing blames sales for slow, ineffective follow-up. These techniques coupled with a measurable follow-up/follow-through process should really improve just about any top line. Thanks!

  • by Donna Alexander Mon Apr 9, 2012 via web

    Excellent advice that helps both sales and marketing to reach common goals - increased sales and revenues.

    It's up to top management to help coordinate the two departments.

  • by Amber King Mon Apr 9, 2012 via web

    Sales and Marketing should work hand in hand to produce the best result. One cannot work without the other, that I strongly believe.

    Agree with these tips Kathy. If it is possible a hot transfer is the best way to secure that lead. Also, the follow-up process should be implemented. Let the lead set the best time for the sales to call back to secure the appointment.

  • by PhilF Tue Apr 10, 2012 via web

    However, as a marketer, I am not compensated to pre-qualify a sales lead on the phone. If I get a spiff I am more than willing to do so.

  • by SRSALESPRO Tue Apr 17, 2012 via web

    This is a great read. In fact, I imagine most sales & marketing organizations try to follow these guidelines. Where most fall down is the timeline of the hand off and the appropriate hand off. You ASK your prospect what type of hand off is best or when they want to be contacted. If you are afraid to go there, don't do it during the hand off process, AFTER they have committed to the net step. The next biggest area organizations fall is not establishing follow up guidelines AND making sure they are met. With each and every lead/prospect. As Denise Miller says, that's just my opionion, I could be wrong.

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