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.