“How can Sales possibly know this?” says Maria Smith, marketing manager at Modernis. “They never phone any of the leads we DO give them!”
But where’s the truth? Are Marketing leads so poor it’s not worth Sales following them up? We wanted to find out.
Twelve months ago the Modernis marketing team attended a trade show. Sales immediately called up the leads. And how many opportunities were created? None. Absolutely none. Which led to a lot of sales complaints about the quality of leads. And one heck of a lot of friction.
So, 12 months later we called 10 of the marketing leads. We wanted to find out what had happened in the intervening 12 months. Here’s what we discovered:
- 2 had purchased products from a competitor of Modernis.
- 2 were actively engaged in a purchasing process to select a supplier. Sadly Modernis wasn’t one of the candidate suppliers.
- 1 hadn’t started a formal purchasing process. But they fully expected to make a purchase in the next 12 months.
- 4 of the leads had taken no action following the trade show. They didn’t anticipate starting a purchasing process any time soon.
- 1 wasn’t in Modernis’ market place and is unlikely to ever make a purchase.
In other words 5 of the 10 were great leads. Two had already bought from a competitor. And yet these leads were all rejected as rubbish by Sales.
So why didn’t these prospects engage with Sales at the time? Here’s what they told us:
“We weren’t ready”.
” We didn’t have stakeholder support”.
“I didn’t have a budget at the time”.
“We weren’t sure what the right solution was. The last thing I needed was a sales pitch.”
“We hadn’t decided which vendors we wanted to talk to”.
The prospects were legitimate buyers. But they simply weren’t sales ready. They were at an earlier stage in the buying process. They didn’t want to speak to a sales person. Yet.
Which is why Sales thought the marketing leads were rubbish. “That’s why we don’t bother to ring them”, says Dave.
But what’s worse, after the trade show the activities of these warm prospects were invisible to Modernis. Which meant no-one knew when they were sales ready. And led to lost sales for Modernis.
It was a classic case of a lack of sales and marketing alignment.
So what what can we learn from this research. Six things.
1. Manage the invisible pipeline pro-actively
Customers start their buying process long before Sales get involved. These early stage activities form an invisible pipeline. Yet this invisible revenue pipeline can – and must – be managed to drive sales income.
2. It pays to be patient
Modernis has a sales cycle of 2 – 3 months. But that’s Modernis definition of the sales cycle. That’s how long it typically takes an opportunity to pass from Created to Closed in the CRM system. But looked at from the perspective of the customer, the buying process is much longer.
3. Lead nurturing is essential
Traditionally prospects had to rely on sales people for their information. Not any more. There’s a wealth of information available on the internet on every product on earth.
And ad hoc marketing campaigns – delivered only when time permits – have only a short term impact on sales revenue. Effective lead nurturing means a structured process of communications throughout the buying process.
4. Useful is the new cool
The creation of content that is highly useful to prospects is critical to lead nurturing. The leads we spoke to were hungry for information. Highly useful content satisfies this hunger. It helps leads narrow choices. In your favor.
5. Engage sales when prospects are sales ready
Prospects don’t mind talking to sales people. But only when they’re ready to do so. And only with the relatively small number of vendors with whom they’ve decided to engage. And the challenge for Marketing? Track human behavior to gauge when leads are sales ready.
6. Marketing is becoming increasingly process and technology driven
It’s hard to know when a prospect is sales ready without knowing if they open your emails. Read your blog posts. Visit your web site.
Lead nurturing cannot be done in an ad hoc fashion. And it can’t be done manually, at least not effectively. It requires planning and well defined processes. Together with the marketing automation tools necessary to make the whole thing scalable and efficient.
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