The following headline from the Sales Benchmark Index blog caught my eye recently: “The Sales Force Thinks Your Marketing Leads Suck.” My first reaction was typical of a marketer: “Great---here we go again! Let’s bash marketing and our ability to drive meaningful leads for the business.”
The power of a good headline sucked me in, but the article’s really about why those leads may not actually be any good. It’s a good read with practical advice on how to score leads better.
But let’s get back to my original visceral reaction, and rephrase the question.
Question: “Why does the sales force think your leads suck?”
Answer: “Because they often do.”
Sorry, marketers, I hate to say it, but often our leads really do suck. And sometimes, they suck so badly your credibility with sales is damaged forever. Look, we marketers love leads. We love showing how total leads are going up (while the cost of leads is stable to decreasing), how leads are converting to revenue, how pipeline is growing, etc. We dutifully report these numbers and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.
And yet, talk to any sales person at your company, and you may hear a very different picture. They might say something benign: “I don’t have time to go find the right person.” Or have a more Obi Wan-esque response: “These are not the prospects I am looking for.” Or the reply may go all the way to the extreme: “These leads suck!”
Why? Because of the gap between marketing-qualified leads and sales-accepted leads—or, as I call it, the “Suckiness Quotient.” The more junk your sales team has to wade through to find the good leads, the worse off you are.
That Suckiness Quotient is a killer. If your MQL to SAL ratio is 100% (for a Suckiness Quotient of 0) than read no further, you rock! (I would strongly suggest that your scoring mechanism is TOO finely tuned and you are leaving potential deals stuck in your nurturing flow. Sorry, nobody is THAT good!)
The rest of us have an MQL:SAL ratio far lower than 1:1. The quality of your relationship with sales is likely directly correlated to how well you communicate about that Suckiness Quotient, otherwise you wind up with a big disconnect between sales and marketing teams.
Consider the marketers' perspective:
Marketers often say that sales people just don’t understand. If sales would only vigorously call everybody we give them, the conversion numbers say that they will hit a certain rate of return. But instead they see the sales people make the obligatory two or three follow-ups to a promising marketing lead and then move on when they get no answer or a light brush-off. Yet that same rep will move mountains to connect with their self-developed targets. (By the way, there are very good reasons for this, but that is a topic for another post.)
And the sales' perspective.
Sales often says that marketers do not truly understand what their job is like. Most sales people only have a certain tolerance level for gaps in the data and are willing to take only so many “flyers” on contacts of questionable potential. They have a number to meet after all, and I have yet to meet a head of sales who will allow the “I wasted all of my time calling marketing leads” as an acceptable excuse for a miss.
A Solution for the Suckiness Quotient
Not surprisingly, the best way to overcome the curse of the Suckiness Quotient is through better communication. The best relationships I have had, or witnessed, with sales have always stemmed from a regular dialogue about what is working and what is not---on BOTH sides---and at all levels.
For example, my team once ran a webinar campaign that was a huge marketing success. It generated hundreds of leads from people interested in an issue connected to the value our software provided. But in follow-up, we quickly learned from our sales team that this issue was actually just a trigger to begin research, and these prospects were not yet ready to make a buying decision. With this feedback we accelerated the nurturing program to identify those who were further along with their research—saving sales from needlessly following-up with hundreds of prospects.
In another example, when our data indicated that sales may only be connecting with 50% of the marketing leads, we communicated openly that we assumed much of this gap was simply a data-reporting problem. By looking for ways to ease the reporting burden and improve the tracking of lead follow-ups, we brought the coverage ratio closer to the 80% we expected.
The Suckiness Quotient can be a major roadblock. Consider the following scenario where your lead-to-opportunity ratio is 50:1. Sales rep A makes 10 calls and finds a qualified opp. As a result, sales Rep B would potentially have to make 90 more calls to find another qualified opportunity for the 50:1 ratio to be correct. That kind of effort is unsustainable in many organizations. So, do everything in your power to get that number down into a manageable realm, and benchmark your campaigns. If a future campaign underperforms the benchmark, don’t hesitate to pull the plug—quickly!
Be sure you have regular, informal discussions across your sales and marketing teams. Jointly plan campaign pushes and identify potential stumbling blocks in advance. And physically embed your campaigns team as close to your sales people as possible. The more your marketing team can hear the actual results of those sales calls, the objections, the pain associated with bad data, and the feedback from the message, the better-equipped your team will be to create high-performing future campaigns.
In short, shared experiences go a long way to creating better communication, better campaigns, and to narrowing the Suckiness Quotient forever.