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Defining a lead might sound like a simple task, but it can drive people crazy.

The sales team complains that marketing is always giving them crappy leads. Marketing grumbles that sales doesn’t know how to convert the leads they get. Management is worried that leads are getting left behind or lost.

They all have something different in mind when they think of a “lead,” and these differences result in lost sales opportunities—as well as a lot of hair-pulling. They’re all working from their own perspective instead of being aligned to convert leads, so they miss out on sales that could have been made.

The criteria you use to define leads and qualify them for sales affects your marketing strategies, nurturing programs, data analysis, and even your final sales numbers. That’s why it’s essential that sales, marketing, management, CRM systems, and marketing automation platforms can all work from a single definition of a qualified lead.

What Should Your Definition of a Qualified Lead Be?

In qualifying leads, I recommend the BANT approach, which asks the fundamental questions you need to answer about each prospect.

To grow your business with marketing, you need b2b lead generation strategies that include lead definition.

  • Budget: Can they afford our product or service?
  • Authority: Can they make (or influence) a purchase decision?
  • Need: Do they have a need for what we offer?
  • Timescale: Do they have a specific timetable for making a decision?

With your answers, you can prioritize prospects to focus on those most likely to convert in the short term, as well as determine how you need to communicate with them next. These are the leads you’ve qualified.

Your specific lead qualification criteria should be based on both:

  • Profiling of the best prospects (company size, industry classification, job function, etc.), which sales usually knows best.
  • Visitor engagement (website activities), for which marketing has access to analytics and reports.

Ideally, this qualification process can be automated, integrated, and optimized using lead scoring and lead nurturing.

The Marketing-Sales Handoff

Once leads flow through your marketing campaigns and qualify to be moved to sales, execution of the handoff is crucial. But if everyone isn’t working with the same lead-qualification criteria, fumbles are likely to happen.

To help align sales and marketing, I think it’s useful to categorize qualified leads into stages. Each of these stages needs to be treated differently—by sales and by marketing—and these classifications allow you to specify what the appropriate attention from each group should be during each handoff to sales, as well as when leads are returned to marketing.

  • Marketing-qualified lead (MQL): A lead that meets a predetermined set of criteria and is ready for some sort of contact by marketing or sales. (If sales becomes involved at this point, it should be essentially in a marketing role; MQLs are not ready to be sold.)
  • Sales-accepted lead (SAL): A lead accepted by sales for follow-up sales actions.
  • Sales-qualified lead (SQL): A lead converted into opportunities—either wins, losses, or no decisions.

You’ll need to develop the appropriate criteria for your enterprise, but the guiding principle in identifying MQLs, SALs, and SQLs is figuring out:

  • Who is most likely to buy from you.
  • What they most need in order to convert—interaction with sales or more nurturing from marketing.

Tips for Success with Lead Definition/Qualification

Sales and marketing alignment is what makes lead definition and qualification work. Steps you can take to facilitate that alignment include:

  • Have sales and marketing work together to define what constitutes a qualified lead and what makes a lead more qualified than another.
  • For optimal results, implement a closed-loop feedback system from sales to marketing to refine lead scoring—and insist that marketing makes the necessary adjustments.
  • Require sales to undertake all prescribed follow-up actions before rejecting a MQL. If a salesperson is busy, then the system must route the lead to someone else.
  • Give salespeople quotas for  generating MQLs, while also setting quotas for marketers to generate leads that are already sales-ready. The quotas don’t need to be large—the goal is simply for marketers to be on the lookout for people who are hot to buy at the moment, while salespeople keep their eyes peeled for prospects who could easily become customers with a little nurturing. Not only does this generate more leads, it helps sales and marketing alignment by fostering teamwork.   

Bottom Line

Effectively defining and qualifying leads is critical in:

  • Developing your lead nurturing strategy.
  • Determining when sales will reach out to leads.
  • Optimizing sales and marketing synergies to grow your business.
Image courtesy of familymwr, Creative Commons.

Topics: leads, lead nurturing, sales and marketing alignment, lead generation, lead scoring