Sales-ready leads

Marketers, as we all know and understand, are responsible for many critical business tasks. Not the least of which is to ensure that the company’s vision, brand, and most importantly its solutions become not just known to, but ultimately acknowledged by as many of the right people as possible, and that its solutions are recognized as being viable and competitive options. From a philosophical standpoint, Marketing’s role is the transformation of a company’s mission – through the successful integration of brand awareness, solution credibility, and calls-to-action – into a broad base of satisfied customers.

Today’s post is not to delve into those many responsibilities, or even their significance, which we invariably place on Marketing’s broad shoulders. Instead, I put forth the proposition that all of us – Sales, Management, everyone who is not in Marketing – are guilty of asking and expecting Marketing to do the wrong thing – to generate “sales-ready” leads.

To lay the foundation of my argument, let me first list each type of lead, and therefore propose the most suitable definition.

Dubious Lead:
You have a name and contact information, but you have little to no history of interaction, nor do you know anything about the suitability of your solutions for that specific contact. All too often, typical sources of dubious leads are purchased lead-lists, and names extracted from business cards that were tossed into a “fish-bowl” by people hoping to win a tempting trade-show give-away. The definition of dubious is “of doubtful promise or outcome” and there should be no surprise that the true nature or quality of these leads will be questioned by Sales.

Unworthy Lead:
You have a name and contact information, and perhaps there has even been significant lead activity, but based on their buyer profile[1], the lead is not someone for whom your solution would provide an impetus for changewhich is the first immutable law of selling. Likewise, they would not likely recognize or realize a substantial benefit, and therefore becomes a violation of the second law. They are not, in other words, a worthy or sustainable match.

Marketing’s activities will often generate unworthy leads, for which they should not be blamed or held accountable. The best analogy would be very much like casting a net from the deck of a fishing trawler. You are likely to reel in a load of fish you cannot sell, along with the fish you can sell, because both types of fish happen to swim in the same area. While Marketing should not be blamed for generating unworthy leads, they most certainly convey a misguided conviction when demanding that Sales should follow-up on these leads. It is my sincere belief that much of the contention that exists between marketing and sales can be eliminated simply by reaching a detente on the precise definition of an unworthy lead, and subsequently lifting the ill-conceived requirement for productivity-deficient Sales follow-up.

Unqualified Interest:
The lead fits the profile of a typical buyer. However, there has been no lead activity – no website visits, no conversations, and no previous or substantiated display of interest. The lead should be interested in your products or services, given their buyer profile and position, yet no interaction has taken place with your company to indicate interest. It could be that the lead just doesn’t know about your solutions. It could also mean that, although they are certainly aware of your company or your solutions, they have not yet recognized a need – never mind, a critical sense of urgency to meet the need.

Unqualified Suitability:
The lead has demonstrated an interest in your product or service but has not yet been qualified for suitability. These types of leads are often (and should be) run through a qualification process by Marketing, Sales Operations, Inside Sales, or Business Development teams before they are passed on to Sales. Qualifying high-interest leads for suitability is neither an effective nor an efficient use of Sales’ time. Understandably, not every organization has the manpower or resources for such a division of labor, and therefore Sales must ultimately take ownership. When this happens, Sales has two choices: they can either call and qualify the prospect for suitability over the phone, or they can conduct the research necessary to determine suitability via online services like Avention OneSource.

Sales-worthy Lead vs Sales-ready Buyer:
The lead is a suitable match and they have shown a high level of interest. This seems like an ideal situation! There can be an issue, however when “sales-worthy” is confused with “sales-ready.” A sales-worthy lead is good: A sales-ready buyer, on the other hand, may not be so good. A sales-ready buyer is someone that is prepared to make a decision in the near-term. How could that be a bad thing, you might ask? For B2B sellers, with high average-deal-sizes and long sales-cycles, sales-ready indicates that a salesperson – at another company – has converted the prospect into a ready buyer for their solution.

For B2B sales as described above, a lead will rarely fall into our lap, ready to make a deal. If they did, there wouldn’t be a need for salespeople. Instead, buyers will get to the point where they consider moving forward with a purchase only after a lengthy sales process. No B2B buyer will abide by the 5 immutable laws of selling without the assistance of a dogged salesperson stepping them through the process. The key is for that salesperson to be employed by your company and not a competitor.

Simply put, a salesperson must be involved for a lead to convert from any stage into a sales-ready buyer. If they are “sales-ready,” they have already been sold.

These leads are no good!

When sales organizations proclaim “the leads are no good,” they are most certainly talking about dubious or unworthy leads. In the case where Sales refers to Unqualified-Interest leads as “no good” – they are simply unjustified in their premature conclusion. These leads could become good, however, they must be sold.

And selling is Sales’ responsibility, not that of Marketing.

Sales-ready leads are what Sales generates at the end of a sales cycle. It is Sales’ job to help the prospect recognize that their need is compelling, to help the prospect persuade internal influencers, and to build the prospect’s confidence in the process.

These sales skills must be employed by a salesperson before a lead will become ready to buy. Putting the focus on sales-ready leads and insisting that Marketing identify and deliver sales-ready leads just sets Marketing up for failure. Most importantly, it could be setting your sales team and your company up for failure as well. While you’re waiting for sales-ready leads to materialize, your competitors are creating them through well-executed sales strategies.

The primary hurdle faced by both sides of this often adversarial relationship is one of finding the most appropriate and agreeable definitions of lead-types and corresponding expectations of follow-up.

Marketers may always encounter the aggravating expectation of converting suitable prospects into sales-ready leads. But Sales would be better served with leads that are at an earlier stage in the sales cycle. If the successful symmetry can be achieved between marketing activities and sales mechanisms, then failure will not be an option. Both sides can surely find the common ground, and therefore reap the most lucrative of rewards – a healthy pipeline and a broad and growing base of satisfied customers.


[1] (company size, industry, age, job title, any criteria that describes a likely fit)