A few weeks back, I published a couple of notes around Marketing Qualified Leads (see here and here– subscription required) and discussed them in on this blog (see here and here). Before I took a few days off over the holidays, I wound up having several discussions with clients, readers, and other analysts about this topic. In particular, several people pointed out recent examples of how providers are having success (as measured by sales productivity and deal closure rates) after implementing lead management software and adhering to more rigorous processes.
I want to discuss this point further because I think there is some confusion. Lead management software has been hugely beneficial for B2B companies, both because of what the software can do and also because of the discipline it can impose from a process standpoint. If you have a flood of “suspects” coming to a Web site, stopping by a trade show booth or otherwise interacting with providers, the vast majority of them will not ever turn out to be real opportunities. You need a way to separate the people that have real problems they are looking to solve (and hopefully budgets) with people who are simply “kicking the tires.” Early in the buying cycle, potential buyers are doing a lot of research on their own (as opposed to talking with providers) and some of that requires them to provide contact information to view the content. That doesn’t mean they are ready to talk to a vendor.
Lead management software, which allows for lead scoring and qualification, does a great job in helping to move the more qualified leads to the top. After all, you don’t want the qualified leads to get stuck in an endless loop or traffic jam where they don’t get the attention they need quickly. (The “Big Ben, Parliament” problem). Conversely, you want to nurture the suspects who might turn into opportunities down the road, rather than scare them off by introducing a salesperson early in the process.
Lead Management software also has the added benefit of making salespeople more productive, by focusing them on the only the leads that (theoretically) have a higher propensity to turn into actual opportunities. So the combination of the technology, and the process discipline that imposes, do have real benefits and puts you in a far better place compared to the status quo.
That brings up back to the central point of my notes and blog posts. I’m completely in favor of doing everything described above. Problems arise when that is viewed as the endpoint and marketing as a whole (not just the demand generation team) is focused primarily on generating MQLs.
Provider marketers, especially product marketers, should be tasked with helping sales to create revenue, from the idea stage all the way until the contract signed (repeating again to expand, cross-sell and up-sell). They should be responsible (fully or in collaboration with sales or colleagues in marketing) for a wide range of actions, all of which are interdependent and impact the ability to win a deal. They include:
- Positioning and messaging
- Segmentation and targeting
- Product launch
- Value-added customer-facing content (appropriate for different stages in the buying cycle)
- Sales enablement (More on this in future research and blog posts)
- Win/Loss analysis
- Competitive intelligence
- Customer references and advocacy
- Ad-hoc sales support as needed
If there is a trade-off here, it’s not between lead management and product marketing (or anything else). The trade-off comes between how you allocate your resources (largely tied to product marketing) around generating leads (vs. enabling deal closure) and the metrics you use to measure marketing performance. So go ahead and optimize your lead generation, scoring, nurturing and management processes. Just don’t view that as the “end all, be all”!
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