When are Leads Sales-Ready? Making the Call.

It’s such a cliché that you might yawn when I say it: your Sales and Marketing teams probably need to be better aligned.

If you’re like a lot of companies, the gap looks like this. Marketing keeps sending unqualified leads over the fence. Sales keeps getting annoyed at Marketing’s failure to understand their real customers.

Would you believe me if I told you it didn’t have to be that hard?

Obviously both Sales and Marketing should agree on who your ideal buyer is. But with all the focus on buyer personas these days, reaching that agreement isn’t as rare (or as tough to accomplish) as it used to be.

The real question? Agreeing when Sales should make their move – aligning efforts so that Sales receives leads when they’re piping hot and ready to close.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. It’s quota time. Sales is feeling the pinch and keeps pressuring Marketing for more leads. Good leads. Leads that are ready to close now. The marketing team wants to set them up for success, so they send them a fresh batch.

Sales dives in only to find most of the new leads are a joke. Only a few are ready to buy. The rest were consuming content without any intention to buy, or they went cold over a year ago, or they aren’t the ideal buyer at all.

At this point, an annoyed sales team becomes convinced that their marketers don’t know what they’re doing. They suspect that Marketing doesn’t understand the customer, the funnel or the difference between a cold lead and a hot prospect. Marketing gets wind of this and becomes resentful, feeling Sales doesn’t appreciate their efforts.

So how can you avoid this? It’s actually not that difficult. You just need to get both teams in the same room and have them agree on the characteristics of a sales-ready lead. Here are the main traits you’ll need to define.

Your lead’s thoughts and feelings at every stage of the funnel.

This takes some effort and imagination, so just dive in and do it. You’ve already identified your ideal buyer; now imagine their needs and actions from top of the funnel, where they’re just gaining awareness, all the way to the final purchase decision. What’s the difference between a lead who’s just starting to consider your product versus a lead who’s doing more research?

The key signifier showing they’ve moved to the next stage.

Don’t be so sure you already know the answer. Dig in and identify the actual behavior that says a lead has moved from top of funnel to middle to the bottom. Hopefully you’re using a marketing automation system that can help by scoring your lead behaviors.

The sum of behaviors indicating the readiness to buy.

Now it’s time for the teams to agree: just what defines a lead who’s truly ready for sales? There may be a few disagreements, maybe even a lively debate, as you separate the more meaningless actions from the behaviors that signify a green light. But by hammering out a shared definition, Sales and Marketing can’t complain or blame each other again.

Decide how sales-ready leads will be handed over – and handed back.

This process might not seem crucial at first glance, but it’s going to prevent a lot of damage. Your first step is looking at your tools. Many teams have their CRM systems notify them when Marketing deems a lead sales-ready; at that point, they can accept or decline them with just a button. And if leads are declined? You’ll also need a smooth process for returning them to Marketing for additional warming.

Agree on a culture of mutual accountability.

Think of it as an internal service level agreement (SLA.) Marketing should promise to nurture leads to the best of their ability and be mindful of the leads’ quantity, quality, and readiness; Sales should promise to follow up promptly, maintain the CRM and hand back any not-quite-ripe leads to Marketing. Both teams should agree to regularly evaluate the health and quality of the pipeline. Formally create this agreement and the teams will work that much more effectively together.

And there you have it: two aligned teams. No, things won’t always go perfectly, but the leads getting passed to Sales will be that much stronger. Sales will spend their time more profitably, and Marketing will have a clearer understanding of where to focus their efforts. Best of all, your two teams will see each other as allies – and that collaboration will be apparent in your bottom line.

Good Companies Don’t Sell Goods They Sell Themselves

Change. Progress. Evolution. These are generally positive words – but they can be scary to businesses that foresee a future of unfamiliar shifts. Those three concepts separate the strong from the weak, and the agile from the outdated. And often times you won’t know which category your sales team falls into until it’s too late.

There is perhaps no greater sea change happening in the B2B world than in the sales field. Buyers are more tech savvy. They know where to find the best prices. And in our digital, autonomous world, buyers are more self-sufficient and empowered.

What that means for your sales team: the technology that once helped your team do their job more efficiently and accurately is now, ironically, one of the biggest threats to their continued existence. According to Andy Hoar of Forrester Research, of the 4.5 million B2B sales positions that exist today, around 1 million of those will be net displaced by 2020.

That’s right. 34 percent of current sales positions are projected to vanish within five years. I’ll give you a moment to digest that.

So who should worry? Surprisingly, it’s the companies doing the best that are the most at risk. The ones with consistently executed sales plans and a talented sales force who live by the mantra “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s hard to see the swelling tides of change when you are riding high atop the waves – and successful sales teams can ride high indeed.

So how can you ensure your team pivots instead of sinking? The answer: differentiate your offerings. Consider the following ideas.

Avoid the race to the bottom.

Understand this now; you can’t compete on price alone. Just like the old west gun-slinging adage that there’s always a faster draw, there will always be a cheaper offering. You must compete on experience.

What value can you add for your buyer? What special contribution can your team make that can’t be found elsewhere? Don’t be quick to discount intangibles; the idea is to add something singular to you that can’t be cloned or undercut. Remember, you’re not trying to appeal to everyone. You’re trying to appeal to a specific segment who will appreciate your offering.

Don’t focus on simple transactions.

Instead, aim for ongoing transactions. Keep the selling dialogue open. Yes, they want this particular thing right now. You can deliver that. But if you leave it there, you may deliver yourself right out of future business.

Instead, look at trends in other buyer and competitors. Listen closely to the buyer and see if they really understand what they need. Sometimes you’ll see the opportunity for a deal that benefits both parties. Bring that strategy and insight to the table, and you’ll demonstrate an understanding of their business as well as an interest in their success beyond this initial transaction. It’ll strike them as refreshingly honest and will position you as part of their future.

Accept that the future of sales IS marketing.

According to David Hutchison, SAP’s Head of Marketing, studies have shown that today’s buyers have done more than two-thirds of their decision-making research before they engage with a vendor. 75 percent start the process with an online search and 76 percent leverage their personal and professional networks for guidance and advice.

What we can conclude from that: the traditional sales funnel isn’t completely irrelevant, but today’s buying process is a three-dimensional one – and taking that into account when positioning your team is nearly as important as the actual goods and services you provide.

As we move into an increasingly technology-dependent future, there’s no doubt that many of yesterday’s sales plays are going extinct. Some sales pros will probably exit the field as well. But we also know the magic of person-to-person selling can never be replaced; technology can’t fully grasp the human element of the buying process the way a great sales team can. Show that you grasp the buyer’s complex needs and you’ll navigate the future of sales just fine.