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Universal Lead Definition: Why 61% of B2B marketers are wasting resources and how they can stop

Confession: I wish I could flash this across every marketer’s computer screen the moment it powered up:

A universal lead definition (ULD) clarifies what a lead is to everyone in your organization. It also:

  • Fits the profile of your ideal customer
  • Has been qualified as sales-ready
  • Spells out the responsibilities and accountabilities of Sales and Marketing
  • Makes Marketing and Sales more efficient

Still, most of the companies I meet with do not have a ULD. An astounding 61% of B2B marketers admit to sending “leads” directly to Sales without qualification, according to the MarketingSherpa 2012 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report.

Are these truly leads? Not really. Anyone who expresses interest in what you sell is an inquiry, not a lead. Experience has taught me that only 5% to 15% of inquiries are ready to speak to Sales. However, as many as 80% of inquiries will be ready to speak with Sales in the future. If you send leads too soon, Sales will discard them, so you must nurture them until they fit your ULD.

What does a universal lead definition look like?

A ULD doesn’t need to be complex. Here’s an example from one of our past research partners, an $80 billion IT management organization.

An inquiry becomes a lead when it:

  • Fits the target customer profile (industry, revenue, number of employees, etc.)
  • Has interest from a decision maker
  • Needs what the company sells
  • Plans to evaluate the solution in three months or less
  • Plans to make a purchase decision in six months or less
  • Is ready to speak with a sales rep within two weeks

Setting and using this definition brought a 375% increase in sales-ready leads without an increase in spending. It also helped the sales and marketing teams solve problems such as:

  • Leads not being qualified or prioritized
  • Leads not being nurtured
  • Sales rejecting leads
  • No accountability or handoff

The definition could be applied to every lead regardless of where it came from — whether teleprospecting, inbound marketing, webinars or elsewhere. It set the standard for determining which leads should receive the highest priority and brought efficiency to the sales process.

How to create a universal lead definition

So now that you know what a ULD looks like, here’s how you create one:

Bring Sales and Marketing together for a meeting with a leader/facilitator whom both groups respect. The premise is that you’re in this together.

Asks Sales this key question: “For us to be 100% certain that when we send you a lead, you will act on it and provide feedback 100% of the time, what do you need to know? At what point do you consider a lead qualified?”

Listen to what Sales has to say and don’t interrupt. Every salesperson must participate.

Clarify and continue. Write a summary of your meeting, including your initial definition, and have another one to clarify what was said. Make sure everyone is satisfied — strong consensus is critical.

Publish the ULD everywhere so people who are involved with lead generation are constantly aware of their target.

Close the loop with huddles — face-to-face or voice-to-voice meetings. Don’t count on software to close the loop for you. Sales and Marketing should meet biweekly to ensure the lead definition is still accurate. Ask questions like, “Was X a lead? Did they enter the sales process? Why or why not? What else would you like to have known about this lead? What else can we improve? What should we stop doing? What should we start doing?”

It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to heed my warning, but I promise you, the rewards of doing so — more pipeline, sales, success and better ROI — will make it more than worthwhile.

Related Resources:

Lead Generation Check list – Part 4: Clear and Universal Lead Definition

5 dials to tune in your lead generation process

Why the Term “Marketing-Qualified Lead” Creates Serious Confusion – Part 2

Fostering Sales-Marketing Alignment: A 5-Step Lead Management Process

Webinar Replay: 2012 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report Reveals How Marketers Can Transform Mounting Pressure, Challenges into Revenue

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