I hope the headline caught your attention - it was intended to. After all, aren’t fresh leads the lifeblood of any company that depends on winning new business to grow? Of course they are. I left half the headline out. Here’s how the sentence ends:
“Why it’s time to stop generating new leads until we’ve worked out how to deal more effectively with the leads we already have”
Here’s the issue: many so-called “leads” have no chance, under any foreseeable circumstances, of becoming a qualified opportunity, let alone turning into a sale. Compounding the problem, many potential opportunities remain unrecognised because we haven’t paid the right attention to them, and many qualified opportunities don’t turn into sales wins because we haven’t reached or convinced all the stakeholders.
Fix lead quality before turning your attention to quantity
When sales teams are struggling to reliably achieve their revenue targets, the answer isn’t - or shouldn’t be - to turn to marketing and demand that they generate more leads. Even if successful, simply increasing the quantity of leads almost never solves the problem - unless you’ve taken steps to address the quality issue.
The first questions you have to ask - and insist that sales and marketing agree on - is “what does a good lead look like?” What sorts of organisations are we most likely to be able to do profitable business with, and what sorts of opportunities are most likely to fit our particular capabilities? How can we determine whether the prospect is likely to do anything, and whether they are likely to do business with us?
Qualification is a process, not an event
These questions cannot possibly be answered in a single interaction with the prospect - they require a progressive approach to qualification and a collaborative effort between marketing and sales to profile both the account and the opportunity. They require that we clearly define the common characteristics of a “marketing qualified lead”, a “sales accepted lead” and a “sales forecastable opportunity”.
Rather than targeting marketing on the raw volume of unqualified “leads” generated, we need instead to track the number of “sales accepted leads” and “sales forecastable opportunities” that have been influenced by a marketing activity.
But that simply addresses the “top of the funnel” challenge. The bigger opportunity typically lies (hence the title of this article) in more effectively working the opportunities that are already in the sales pipeline. Assuming that they have been accurately qualified (by the way, this is a very dangerous assumption unless tested and proven), the most significant gains can often come from eliminating the obstacles that have been preventing otherwise well-qualified opportunities from closing.
Selling against the status quo
The biggest barrier to a successful sale is often the prospect’s decision to “do nothing” - to stick with the status quo. You can’t solve this problem by selling your solution more effectively - you first have to sell the need to change and the need to do it now rather than later. Most losses to “no decision” happen because the prospect concludes that change is too hard, and that the current situation remains tolerable.
So the first obstacle for sales and marketing to work together on is elevating the need for change by highlighting the costs of inaction. This has to start from the first interaction with the prospect - marketing’s lead generation efforts need to be focused on issues and on the consequences of not dealing with them.
Reaching the real decision makers
In any complex sale, there are always stakeholders that are more inclined to say “no” than to say “yes”. Many of these stakeholders will frequently be invisible to the sales person, or hard to reach. So the second classic obstacle in complex sales is the inability to create stakeholder consensus around not just the need to change, but also around the conclusion that their best available option is the one you are offering.
Somehow, you’ve got to pass the “WIIFM” test for every significant stakeholder:
- What’s in it for me?
- What’s in it for my department?
- What’s in it for the company?
- PLUS: Why this, rather than anything else?
One strategy is certainly to work with your sponsor - if they can’t or won’t grant you access to the other stakeholders - to equip them to evangelise both the need for change and the benefits of your approach to the rest of the decision making team. But it’s probably dangerous to rely exclusively on this mechanism.
That’s why I’ve seen a growing number of organisations successfully complement the sales effort by implementing a “pipeline marketing” strategy that delivers targeted messages to key influencers within organisations where they have active projects - influencers that were often unreachable by other means.
London seminar on 29th May
It’s a very powerful concept. If you’d like to learn more and if you can make it into London on 29th May between 4-6:30pm, I’d urge you to sign up for our seminar on “Turbo-charging the Complex Sale”. You can learn more and register here.
I’ll be joined on stage by Christopher Engman of Vendemore and Stan Woods of Velocity Partners, and together we’ll be showing how the combination of content marketing, sales enablement and pipeline marketing can dramatically shorten B2B sales cycles and increase win rates. I hope to see you there, but places are limited, so please register today.