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.

No. 1: Communication, Communication, Communication

Though the sales and marketing departments' view of the world may be at odds with each other, you must create an environment where they can communicate—often, and in a non-adversarial way. Marketing can spend $10,000 or $100,000 generating leads, but at North American businesses on average up to 70% of that investment is completely wasted as a result of no follow-up by Sales.

No. 2: Consensus on a Process

There is little value to a Marketing-generated "hot lead" if Sales views it as a "cold unqualified lead" and declines to follow up. To optimize your lead-generation initiatives, Sales and Marketing must agree on the following:

  • The formal definition of a qualified lead
  • When and how leads will be transferred to Sales
  • How quickly Sales will engage qualified leads
  • What type of feedback Sales will provide marketing on leads
  • What type of metrics Marketing will give to Sales on efficacy of campaigns

No. 3: Know the Sales Process

In most effective sales organizations, the sales force adheres to a standard set of practices that pertains to sales stages, training, forecasting, quota, bonuses, activity levels and how they pursue and generate leads.

A considerable amount of time is spent training and developing these sale processes, yet Marketing rarely has a firm grasp on how or why salespeople perform their duties. Yet, without that knowledge, how can marketers possibly expect Sales to take them (or their leads) seriously?

Ask yourself, when is the last time a member of your marketing team was seen in the "sales pit" or on sales calls? If you can't remember... it's been too long.

No. 4: Develop and Implement a Lead Scoring System

Frequently, marketers classify leads as "A, B and C leads." Unfortunately, all Sales hears is "A and F leads." As a result, up to 70% of leads are ignored. And while this system of lead classification may work marginally on smaller ticket items with short sales cycles, what if your sales process is 6, 9 even 12 months or longer?

What happens if an "A lead" is transferred to Sales but is not ready to buy for 12-18 months? Does this lead automatically become an "F lead" and is callously discarded, even though the prospect will most likely buy in the future?

To help alleviate this challenge, develop a lead scoring system that takes into account (1) your average transaction size, (2) sales cycle length, (3) how your salespeople are measured and (4) how Sales treats delayed opportunities.

No. 5: Nurture Leads Not Ready for Sales

Below is a general template of an optimal lead-generation process; we refer to it as the RubiconWay. It incorporates the previously mentioned elements and a Lead Nurturing cycle. The nurturing of leads takes place both prior to and post sales force engagement.

Click to enlarge

Prior to sales force engagement, leads are engaged via multi-touch campaigns until their score is high enough to be handed over as qualified opportunities. If a qualified opportunity is not ready to immediately buy within a designated timeframe, the lead is handed back to Marketing to be further nurtured and measured against a lead scoring system that takes into account the purchase timeframe variables.

* * *

By implementing these key strategies, your marketing organization will be well on its way to optimizing lead generation, maximizing sales revenue, and improving marketing results.

Eric Edwards, President of Rubicon, contributed to this piece.

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Robert J. Moreau is EVP of sales and marketing for Rubicon Marketing Group, Inc. ( Reach him at