Marketing automation and lead management systems have allowed for a near-scientific breakdown of the sales funnel. Leads in each stage of the buying process meet very specific criteria and behave in certain predictable ways.
Technological tools allow marketers to score leads and move them through the buying journey with the help of nurturing content. It seems that this once-complex process can be distilled to an algorithm.
But you can’t fully automate the sales funnel, especially for complex, research-heavy purchases in the BtoB world.
Sales reps are as important as ever—it’s just that their role has changed
Prospects are shopping and researching anonymously, and it is the job of the marketer to position the brand in a way that encourages prospect engagement. After this digital dialogue however, a sales rep still must fully qualify the lead and close the sale.
For example, a prospect who downloads a white paper, visits your website 10 times, and perfectly maps to your ideal prospect profile does is necessarily disgruntled with his current vendor or has an approved budget to switch vendors.
Any person who has engaged that much is a wonderful lead worth keeping, and should be considered a marketing qualified lead (MQL)—but he may need more nurturing to be sales-ready. Behavior that indicates sales-readiness to a computer may be more complex than it appears.
Converting marketing qualified leads into sales ready leads
By the time a lead is ready for further engagement with a sales rep, it should have been rigorously qualified by marketing. The sales-accepted lead (SAL) designation can be an excellent indicator of lead quality.
The bar should be pretty high for a lead to transition from MQL to SAL. If a lead is accepted by the sales department, it should have been vetted and nurtured enough that the SAL to SQL (sales-qualified lead) conversion rate is about 90 percent.
What is the point of employing a team of skilled salespeople if you don’t deliver sales-ready leads to them? If you qualify your leads stringently, you won’t waste your sales reps’ valuable time with leads that should still be in the nurturing process.
There is another reason it’s important to qualify leads before sending them to sales: Highly quoted, highly compensated sales reps must make their quarterly quotas or face job security concerns. So, which leads do you think they should (and will) spend their time on?
Sales reps will naturally focus on the leads that have shorter-term close rates and will likely dismiss perfectly viable buyers who just happen to have a longer buying horizon.
Nurturing leads that aren’t sales ready—yet
Rather than throwing those buyers out altogether, you should utilize your marketing automation and lead nurturing tools to stay in front of them until they are ready to make a buying decision.
According to SiriusDecisions, 80 percent of all leads disqualified by sales go on to make a purchase within two years—so why not stay on their short lists until they’re ready to buy?
So, we have established that it is important to rigorously qualify your leads before you pass them to sales, and we have affirmed the importance of hanging on to leads that aren’t yet at the point of purchase. But to meet your revenue goals, how many leads does your sales team actually need?
Work backwards to determine how many leads your sales team needs
Using our Revenue Growth Marketing Calculator, you can work backwards from your sales goal to determine how many leads you will need to achieve the growth you want. All you need is your average win size (your sales price) and your conversion rates. Go ahead and enter your numbers into the Calculator to learn how many MQLs you should have.
Any investment you make in lead nurturing will help lower the pressure on the marketing department to produce so many MQLs. If you have carefully outlined your ideal prospect profile, marketing automation and lead nurturing can go a long way to qualify your leads.
But if you have a shallow or poorly designed prospect profile, all it will do is speed up the processing of bad prospects and accelerate budgetary waste.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of lead velocity
A lead may convert from an MQL to an SAL in 30 days, and it may take an additional 45-60 days for a sales rep to finish qualifying the lead and close the sale. Don’t panic if you don’t start bringing in revenue right away—it will come. The Calculator accounts for the impact of lead velocity to help you gain a realistic idea of how and when you can aim to reach your sales goal.
Now that you know how much you should spend on marketing and how many leads you need, it’s time to think about the size of your database. Selling and marketing are arts in their own right, but it is important to break them down mathematically when possible. Hard numbers allow you to measure your success and gauge your return on investment.