The management of sales leads is critical to generating marketing ROI. Sadly, sales leads often land on the scrap heap because marketers throw leads over the wall and then expect salespeople to catch them.
I was recently asked by someone how to utilize lead distribution to gain the best results. That’s a complex question when you think about it.
Almost every company that has salespeople has those who are stronger performers and those who are weaker performers. However, when you add sales territories and fairness into the mix, this is far from easy. So do you invest your hard-won leads in your top performers, or do you try to help your weaker salespeople?
Many of you reading this post do not have a choice of who you distribute leads to. What can you to do optimize your lead distribution process for higher conversion?
Qualify all marketing leads as sales-ready before the hand-off
The key is to match readiness of the lead (i.e., future customer) with expectations of your sales team. Otherwise, you’ll have a serious disconnect. You need to qualify and examine each lead as if they are “sales-ready,” meaning they are ready to speak to a salesperson. You can find this ideal point in the relationship by leveraging lead scoring and lead qualification. There is only so much information that you can get off a Web forum or that someone will volunteer in an email.
For more, read: “Lead Qualification: Stop generating leads and start generating revenue”
Make the hand-off to Sales, but still help drive conversion
If that relationship were a baton, there would be a point in time when both Marketing’s and Sales’ hands are on the baton and you are making that introduction. It has to be clear at what stage Marketing is going to hand the lead off so that Sales can run with it and so that you don’t drop the baton or drop the relationship.
Set up a service-level agreement with your sales team
The logistics for the lead distribution process are established with each sales representative and, in general, completed by email within 24 hours of the generation of the lead. In extremely “hot” opportunity cases, where lead distribution is needed instantaneously, the sales representative will be contacted by telephone, text, etc., on a real-time basis. In CRMs like Salesforce.com, you can automatically notify salespeople when activity has developed in their territory, vertical market or other criteria that you deem to be important.
One company I worked with centrally qualifies all their leads (via phone) against their universal lead definition within two hours, distributes and requires their field sales force to follow up on those that are sales ready within eight hours. If a qualified sales lead is not followed up by the assigned salesperson within 24 hours, they can count on an email or call from their sales manager. If a sales lead goes more than 48 hours before being touched, that salesperson risks having that lead assigned to someone else — someone with more selling time capacity.
Preschedule appointments for the sales team — Help eliminate “telephone tag”
For lead generation campaigns, I recommend that Marketing or inside Sales sets appointments for the sales force or its channel partner with leads. Reduce the “endless game of telephone tag” that can occur between sales representatives and qualified prospects. By presetting appointments during the sales opportunity generation campaigns, you can dramatically improve the efficiency of the lead follow-up process and increase effective selling time.
Develop a centralized process to track lead follow-up by Sales
Lead follow-up supports the real-time tracking and reporting of leads that may be selected based on multiple criteria. Ideally, you will be able to track leads at any stage in the sales pipeline, as well as by industry vertical, sales person, territory, marketing campaign, lead score and forecasted purchase time frame.
Test your lead distribution approach
If you have influence or control over lead distribution, here are some approaches you can test to optimize conversion:
1. Match leads to sales skill
Each lead comes with different needs. Chances are they can be categorized in the qualification process. Consider using tiers to prioritize what level of skill leads require based on the need. More general inquiries can go to inside sales reps and qualified first. Do not frustrate field salespeople with requests for brochures and marketing resources. No matter what, make sure you are sorting those needs and distributing them as quickly as possible.
2. Match leads based on product or industry vertical expertise
People sell from different backgrounds, giving them unique talents based on their past experience, current and past customers, personality and motivation. Leverage this. The more you know about your salespeople, the more you can use that information to match them with leads they’ll have the most success with. This is why round robin lead distribution can be deadly to conversion. It assumes every salesperson is the same.
3. Match leads based on location
If you have a large distributed field team, you’re probably already doing this in regional territories. However, smaller teams and inside sales teams can leverage localized lead routing. Don’t lose an opportunity to help your sales team make local connections.
What’s worked for you to optimize lead distribution? I’d love to hear what you have to say.
Photo courtesy of Family Business
You can follow Brian Carroll, Executive Director, Revenue Optimization, MECLABS Institute, on Twitter @brianjcarroll.
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