Google ‘sales and marketing alignment’ and the results will confirm what most people in the B2B world know only too well; the disconnect between sales and marketing teams continues to be an impediment to growth for many organisations. The reasons for this lack of alignment are many but one of the main ones we see (time and again) is how both parties define what constitutes a ‘lead’. All too often, many marketing campaigns are designed to drive a form fill or broad expression of interest in a topic or piece of content. But for a salesperson, this outcome is not particularly helpful; he or she needs more concrete evidence of a reason to engage. So immediately, we see here where the sales and marketing alignment challenge arises. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, marketing needs to create campaigns that see the form fill as only the first part of the journey to delivering a lead that sales will really get excited about. Let’s look at what the rest of the lead progression ‘journey’ can look like and how you can get it right.
First things first, if you are looking to progress engagement from a simple ‘expression of interest’ (let’s now call these ‘leads’ for the sake of clarity), and then do so at scale and in a thoughtful, personalised manner, you are going to have to rely on some form of technology to support your campaign. And put simply, it is likely to be some form of marketing automation solution that is going to be needed. Accepting this, you’ll need to therefore ask yourself three fundamental questions:
- From a mechanics perspective, how are you getting your leads into the system?
- Once your leads are in your marketing automation platform, what’s the journey you’re taking them on now?
- Once your lead is then fully engaged and ready to speak to sales, how do you surface the opportunity to your sales colleagues in the right way?
OK, let’s break each of those questions down and explore them in a little more detail.
1) How are you getting the lead into your MA platform?
There’s a fairly polarised answer to this; you either handle it manually or you automate the process! Every organisation will view the challenge through the lens of what is right for them and will therefore adopt an approach accordingly. From a manual perspective, customers often simply want to get all their acquired leads from paid or social platforms, for instance, or content syndication into a spreadsheet which are then uploaded manually into the platform. Alternatively, it is easy to set up integrations (for example, you can set up integration between LinkedIn and Marketo easily) and have the lead flow in automatically.
We work with customers who adhere to both approaches so are mostly agnostic about which approach should be favoured but it’s important to point out that both approaches have their own pros and cons. For example, a manual approach clearly takes more work and there is a greater risk of data contamination. However, taking an automated approach is often a challenge as internal IT teams don’t often like systems to be integrated or for third party platforms to be passing data into their ecosystem. Ultimately, the direction of travel here has to be greater and greater integration as opposed to a manual approach, and certainly we are seeing increased requests from clients for help in switching to an automated approach, whilst taking into account their processes for scoring, routing etc.
2) Getting the lead nurture journey right
So, you’ve got your lead, they’re in the system, but they’re not ready to be passed to sales yet. This is where we need to accelerate the lead down the funnel so they get to the point they’re going to be ready for sales to reach out to them. What this does NOT mean is using the marketing automation platform to simply blast out more email! This would be like using a Ferrari to pop down the shops!
Instead, the functionality of the marketing automation platform needs to be correctly harnessed to deliver the right content at the right time of the buying journey. This means mapping content to the point that the lead is at in their lifecycle. For example, if they’re new leads, previously unknown to your organisation and consequently have a low lead score, then awareness stage content, which is easily digestible, will be best for them: videos or blogs which are introducing a pain point or a problem area that they’re potentially looking to address work well here. And then later in the lead lifecycle, we can introduce appropriate content, which is more heavily geared around products, brochures and data sheets, reflecting the progression of the lead towards consideration. Whilst email is the primary channel for nurturing, it’s important to consider going beyond email and leveraging other channels such as paid and organic social to provide a more consistent nurture journey.
This is where the marketing automation platform comes into its own by firstly allowing you to scale engagement because the content delivery process is fully automated. And then secondly, allowing a lead to pass through its journey at a pace that suits it and which is therefore most likely to deliver the best possible commercial outcome.
3) How do you surface leads to sales now?
OK, you’ve nurtured your lead through the funnel process but how can you be sure that they are ready to be passed over to a sales colleague? Again, organisations take different views of what constitutes a sales ready lead; we haven’t yet seen a one size fits all approach. But to our mind, the answer to when to pass (or surface) a lead to sales has to come from creating a defined lead scoring process. This means creating a scoring process – that is agreed between both sales and marketing teams – and takes into account factors such as account demographic attributes, behavioural attributes and buying authority.
In our experience, it is rare that a lead will pop up with a ‘contact me now’ request but instead, by using a lead scoring structure, we look to build up a lead score through engagements with a number of different pieces of content. In time, the platform will then automatically judge when a lead is ready to be passed over. The challenge here is the demand for leads is insatiable, which can lead to the lead scoring process being compromised in the rush to get ‘something’ to sales. However, we always seek to maintain the discipline of driving high quality leads rather than a mish mash of high quality and speculative leads – the latter approach may look more impressive from a sheer numbers perspective but ultimately it will create less trust between sales and marketing for the obvious reason that lower quality leads won’t (forgive the pun) lead anywhere!
While driving great sales and marketing alignment requires a multi faceted approach to ensuring success, creating alignment on what is a sales ready lead is an obvious first move. The three steps above are simple, practical (and proven) ways for marketers to support sales with the kind of leads that are likely to convert. In today’s ever more competitive growth environment, taking the approach outlined above should be regarded not as a ‘nice to do’ but a ‘must do’ if you want to deliver true marketing impact.