The objective of every inbound marketing program is to generate leads and build a consistent sales pipeline. It would be ideal if every generated lead was highly qualified and highly motivated. That’s what the sales team is craving, right? If that was the case, then it would make sense that every lead should be handed off to the sales team right away. Unfortunately, the real world is not that straightforward.
While inbound marketing will generate qualified and motivated leads, it will also produce “not-ready-to-buy-yet” leads (Not Ready) and “not-sure-if-this-is-an-opportunity-or-not” leads (Not Sure). So how should these leads be handled? Should they be passed to sales too?
When to Pass Inbound Leads to Sales
The last thing that marketing wants to do is overwhelm the sales team with too many unqualified leads. When that happens, salespeople get frustrated and their follow up becomes inconsistent. The next thing you know, even the good leads are falling through the cracks. To avoid this, bring the sales and marketing teams to the table to align expectations and establish rules of engagement. The objective of this meeting of the minds is to eliminate the guesswork and future finger-pointing. Everyone should have a clear understanding of the following:
What is the criteria and process for a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?
What is the criteria and process for a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)?
What will be done with “Not Ready” leads and “Not Sure” leads?
Will some of them be handed off to Sales? If so, which ones?’
How and when will the hand-off occur?
What should the salesperson do with them once they are handed off?
What if the sales person determines the lead isn’t qualified, then what happens?
The lead definitions, lead criteria and lead hand-off process should be unique to your organization. However, there are four scenarios where the lead should always be handed off to Sales.
1. When the Prospect Requests a Sales Consultation
This may seem obvious, but you should contact an inbound lead whenever they request to be contacted.
Every website and blog should have a call-to-action (CTA) that offers the prospect an opportunity to schedule a consultation call with Sales. If the prospect requests it, then make sure there’s a process in place for someone in sales to speak with them as quickly as possible. Don’t let it sit around for a day or two while Marketing and Sales debates if it’s worthy or not or who should do the follow-up.
If it turns out to be unqualified or not a good fit, then it can be reassigned. Getting a prospect to request an appointment is the “Holy Grail” of marketing. You’ve gotten the prospect this far. Don’t drop the ball with an inefficient lead hand-off process.
2. When The Criteria For an SQL is Met
Once the lead definitions, criteria, and processes have been established, follow them. Don’t “short circuit” the system just because a lead doesn’t pass someone’s smell test.
You don’t want to be in a position where every lead is critiqued before it’s acted on. Trust the decisions you made as a team and follow the process. Part of the process, however, should include a feedback mechanism. So if too many unqualified leads are slipping through, Sales and Marketing can go back to the table and make the necessary adjustments.
3. When the Lead Meets an Agreed-Upon Lead Score Threshold
Many organizations are using marketing automation tools that assign a score to a lead. Leads are assigned points for various behaviors, activities and characteristics. For example, a lead that visits your website may get 10 points. A lead that downloads a whitepaper by get 50 points. And a lead that has “Vice President” in their title may get 100 points. When the points are added together and a lead meets a predetermined threshold, it’s deemed “sales worthy."
Lead scoring can be a very complex endeavor and it typically requires a lot of feedback and recalibration. But just like the SQL process outlined above, you need to follow the process once the scoring rules are established. Don’t “short circuit” the system by being overly critical. Make note of the flaws in the scoring algorithm and make the necessary adjustments after the process is followed. Otherwise, you run the risk of letting a good lead fall through the cracks.
4. When a “High Value” Target Responds
Most salespeople (or at least most sales teams) have a “hit” list of target prospects. These are “named” accounts that are predetermined to be good fit prospects.
Typically, the sales team has done quite a bit of research on these companies and they may even have a game plan in place to engage the decision-makers and close a deal. Marketing needs to know who is on these target lists and be on the lookout for any activity associated with these companies. If one of these companies exhibits any kind of inbound response, the sales person should be notified right away, so they can take appropriate action.
Don’t lose sight of the objective: get good leads in the hands of the sales team so they can close business and grow revenue. It’s critical that the Sales and Marketing teams work together, follow the agreed upon process and trust their decisions.
*Editor's Note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has since been updated.
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