Lead Gen Best Practices: Bridging the Sales/Marketing Gap

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros

While sales and marketing are ultimately marching toward the same goal—driving leads and closing more deals—there has long been a disconnect between these two functions. Sales teams often follow up with leads based on little insight into how that prospect became a lead, or what specific area of interest the prospect has. This gap between departments prevents both teams from sharing information that could shorten the sales cycle, increase conversion rates and ensure a positive customer experience.

Online lead generation techniques aimed at social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn intensify the disconnect, and search engine-generated leads add even greater complexity to the lead mix. Without proper trackback mechanisms and scoring systems, sales teams may continue to be dissatisfied about lead quality, and marketing may not be able to justify investments in channels that are difficult to measure.

For many companies, the sales cycle has become a competitive advantage. The faster a lead converts to a sale, the more money a company can make, the faster it can scale and the more market share it can own. Marketing and sales must align. By sharing intelligence about prospects—and leveraging that knowledge when a lead is contacted—marketing and sales can successfully work together to drive leads through to a purchase decision more efficiently.

Know the Lead, Close the Deal

Even the most advanced CRM systems only maintain data on a lead from the decision stage of the purchase cycle onwards. Unless it links into another system, CRM systems do not inform sales how a prospect got there, or provide any detail about their areas of interest. More often than not, it's the historic data that is most critical for moving a lead from decision to action, and that information is instrumental in closing a deal.

Recent developments in lead intelligence software allow the tracking of a lead from start to finish. Pulling that valuable data into a CRM system offers better alignment between the sales and marketing teams, and provides sales with more information and ammunition to strike the right prospect at the right time with a targeted message.

But, not all marketing activities can be easily tracked and linked to a specific visitor or lead. For example, many companies are unsure how to measure and track social media and SEO marketing initiatives, and therefore are ineffectively integrating the leads from these channels into their CRM systems.

A new crop of "freeware" has emerged in recent months, allowing marketers to begin tracking social media and SEO leads. These rudimentary visitor-tracking tools simply categorize leads created from social media activities in one of two ways: a "referral source" or "direct source." Without additional insight into the lead, the problem of linking that activity with its sales results further widens the gap. Leads coming from organic search, for example, are classified as organic search and show the keyword that was searched to drive that visit. Both sales and marketing would agree this is hardly enough data to base a pitch.

Achieving a Shared Goal

There are a number of best practices marketing and sales teams can follow to provide better alignment between the two groups. These include:

1. Lead Scoring: When sales and marketing work collaboratively to create lead scores, it forces them to have a mutual objective definition of what constitutes a good lead.

2. Lead Intelligence: The more both teams know about a lead, the easier it is for sales to understand the best course of action for reaching out to that particular prospect.

3. Lead Attribution: Attributing relative importance to a source that helped in converting a visitor to a lead is crucial in understanding the lead's history and truly measuring the effectiveness of each marketing channel.

4. One platform: Allow marketing and sales teams to work together within the same platform. If this is not possible, make sure the marketing and sales platforms are fully integrated, allowing both teams to "speak the same language."

5. Leverage existing systems: Integrate marketing analytics and reporting with existing CRM and email systems to drive lead nurturing. Use real time lead nurturing to take advantage of the prospect's readiness to buy using real time data and automated, personalized messages.

6. Balanced mix between paid search and "earned" traffic: While relatively easy to simply pay for traffic, the results are ephemeral at best and not scalable. Sales require a never-ending supply of leads, and SEO provides a more lasting benefit. Balance your traffic generation with earned traffic campaigns that keep on giving, long after you've rolled out the optimized content, keyword and page changes.

7. Effectively track and measure social media and SEO: Use applications that can track your social media and search engine optimization campaigns, and allow users to drill down into the specifics of each lead (history, time spent on site, pages visited, areas of interest, etc).

8. Reports and dashboards: Create reports that can be shared between the two marketing and sales, and leverage those reports to manage expectations and discuss results. Good visits and leads quantity are necessary, but insufficient. Measure conversion to opportunities, and assess quality and value. An integrated dashboard can help illustrate results and plans without generating excessive reports.

9. Automate: Rely on technology solutions that seamlessly automate the sharing of lead data across marketing and sales. Use this data to drive real-time nurturing, and triggered alerts to notify both sales and marketing of actions your prospects are taking.

10. Match metrics: Use the same, or similar metrics to measure success. Score and qualify leads based on predetermined criteria to ensure that sales are solely focused on high priority prospects.

11. Work in real time: Help sales respond to the right prospect at exactly the right time–when a lead has the company or product fresh in their mind. Use alerts and up-to-the-minute, real time data.

12. Remember–it's all about the customer: Prospects want to be understood. Knowing that a potential customer visited the website and looked at a certain product page can go a long way to break the ice on a follow-up call.

The beauty of the web is that it has created infinitely more ways for prospects to reach a company. The challenge is harnessing that information and using it to gain a competitive advantage. Knowledge is power. The more marketing can tell sales about a prospect before picking up the phone, the greater the chances of success.

Anthony Joseph is vice president of marketing and customer experience at Optify.

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