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SAL Is the Glue That Binds Sales and Marketing in Lead Generation

A lead is a lead, right? Depends – are you in marketing or in sales?

SAL – Sales Accepted Leads is the bridge between Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQL).

No, I am not splitting hairs nor am I indulging in semantics. Clearly defining and understanding the implications of MQL, SAL and SQL are critical to the success of B2B lead generation.

Assigning a numeric score to business sales leads based on a predefined set of rules, takes away the subjectivity out of qualitative ranking like Hot, Warm and Cold leads. Quantitative lead definitions reduce the friction between sales and marketing.

B2B marketers are being held a lot more accountable (as they should be) for their contributions to a company’s revenues. This is more so for industrial marketers because generating a steady stream of high-quality sales leads plays a far more important role than other B2B marketing objectives such as branding, thought leadership and/or community building.

These days, respect for B2B and industrial marketing is spelled as M E T R I C S.

And that goes beyond producing marketing activity reports for upper management. They want to know how much revenue was generated from all that marketing activity. Being able to prove marketing’s value with empirical data is the best defense against the C-Suite’s charge of “show me the money.”

Defining qualified leads

  • Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL): A lead that has achieved a certain score based on a predetermined set of criteria and is ready to be handed off to sales
  • Sales Accepted Leads (SAL):Leads accepted by sales for follow up actions
  • Sales Qualified Leads (SQL): Leads that convert into opportunities – either wins or losses

SAL aligns sales and marketing

At first glance it may appear as though it is just a matter of assigning numerical scores to leads and the hand off to sales should happen automatically by using marketing automation software. Dig a little deeper and it will become obvious that there’s a lot more involved than “set it and forget about it.”

SAL is what brings sales and marketing together in attaining the Holy Grail of B2B lead generation – a unified definition of a qualified lead. Sales and marketing will continue to bicker without this agreement. And a bulk of the leads generated will fall through the cracks. Oh, what a waste! (See my earlier post, B2B Lead Generation without Lead Nurturing is Doomed to Fail)

Best practices of lead scoring and management require at least the following:

  • Sales and marketing must work together in defining what constitutes a qualified lead for their particular business
  • Lead scoring must be based on both profiling of the best prospects (company size, industry classification, job function, etc.) which Sales knows best and visitor engagement (site activities) for which Marketing has access to analytics and reports
  • Sales must agree to undertake all follow up actions before rejecting a MQL (If a salesperson is too busy then the system must route the lead to someone else)
  • Marketing must be willing to adjust scoring rules based on feedback from sales to refine lead scoring for optimal results (closed loop system)

I don’t want to create a false impression that every manufacturer, distributor or industrial company needs a sophisticated marketing automation package to get the best results from their lead generation efforts.

Let’s say you are a manufacturer or distributor that sells to a niche market. Then it is likely that you deal with only a handful of leads and not hundreds of them at any given time. Your needs may very well be satisfied by a simpler manual system made up of a Visitor Identification program (Caller ID for the Internet) and outbound telemarketing to fully qualify your prospects. Results can be tabulated using Excel spreadsheets for tracking and refinements.

Of course, it would be unmanageable to scale up such a manual lead scoring and tracking system as the volume of leads increases.

A good lead scoring and management system should be flexible enough to adjust for exceptions. For example, a site visitor with a very high level of activity (several pages visited including pricing information, downloaded white papers, and viewed online demos) would score high on engagement. However, this may be an integration consultant instead of an end-user. A phone call or progressive landing pages may be needed to unearth this additional information.

Your system needs to be able to adjust for this low profile score. This may not be a lead you want to send to sales right away but instead put him/her on a nurturing track that does not require a lot of your time and resources.

Even though we B2B marketers like to think of marketing as more science and less art, lead generation is not an exact science. Human intervention and interactions are the oils that grease the wheels of B2B lead generation.

The key takeaway here is that you may be making a very costly mistake if you treat all your leads the same, put them in a common bucket and toss it over to sales to qualify and close. You are going to need some form of SAL if you want to maximize your lead generation ROI.

Phantom Poop Sales and Marketing Tips

I have a rather strange (even by my standards) sales and marketing tip today. But, if you take it to heart, I think you’ll find selling your products and services a whole lot easier… and even “routine.”

Anyway, here’s the story:

It tends to rain a LOT in my neck of the woods. And for the longest time, when taking my dog out during long rain stretches, if she didn’t do her “duty” quick, it got really frustrating. Usually, she’d take her time sniffing and looking for a spot until, at last, she’d squat like she was going to do her thing… only to suddenly stop and stand back up again.

Not just once… but several times for 15 or 20 minutes:

Sniff, squat, stand back up.

Sniff, squat, stand back up.

I call ‘em “phantom poops” and, as you can imagine, it can get REALLY annoying out in the cold rain.

And you know what?

This exact same thing happens ALL the time in business, too.

Customers have their credit cards out and are seemingly ready to pull the trigger… ready to buy… only to stop at the last minute and decide NOT to buy until later (or maybe not at all).

It can be extremely frustrating.

Especially if you’ve been trying to land a big client or contract. And if you don’t know how to deal with this, you’ll end up walking around in the rain with people for days and weeks as they sniff around for a good spot, with no guarantee they’ll ever “go.”

Hey, I admit I do the same thing.

I often read and re-read sales letters, email and call with questions, and sometimes “sniff” around for months until I buy. This is especially true before I hire a service provider or buy a high ticket product.

It’s perfectly natural and understandable.

So what’s the solution?

Well, after a few months of my dog pulling this stunt, it dawned on me to simply not take her outside in the rain unless she’s really and TRULY ready to “do the doo.”

That way, she goes IMMEDIATELY.

No dawdling. No hemming and hawing. No sniffing around or “phantom pooping.” She goes out, does her thing, and that’s that. End of story.

And that’s how I approach business, too.

In fact, I once heard Dan Kennedy (I think it was him) say he doesn’t get on the phone with anyone who isn’t already 80% “sold.”

And I’ve done just that ever since with lots of success.

In fact, if you simply ONLY started focusing on those ready to buy, instead of trying to sell those who aren’t ready to buy yet, you’ll find your sales go up, your stress go down, and your entire business getting a lot more fun.

Simple?

Absolutely.

And that’s the reason why it works so well.

Recruiting Sales and Marketing Talent in a Full Employment Economy

It’s no secret that the economy continues to hum along and is growing at a very nice pace. Barring any catastrophe in the Middle East or any oil shock, we expect this to continue for the next few years at least. What does this mean for companies that are trying to grow their businesses? It means it’s a tough sell out there to get top sales and marketing employees to make a job change. Why? All of the good talent is already working elsewhere, and making great money!

If your company is constrained in its ability to grow its revenue because of a deficit in its employee ranks, you’ve got to find new ways to think about how to attract and retain employees. Retention may be tough as well. If you’re a sales and marketing employer, you’re going to find more turnover happening amongst your sales ranks, particularly among employees that have waited out several years at your company while the economy has been slow. They’re going to start looking for and finding great opportunities for increased pay, so there’s going to be more churn in your employee ranks, meaning you’re going to have to focus more of your time and attention on employee retention programs.

Bad managers and bad leaders will no longer get away with driving their employees at overly aggressive levels for too few rewards. Companies need to continuously attract their current employees to stay with them by offering a combination of strong leadership, great vision, outstanding go-to-market strategy, wonderful products and services that outsell the competition and a culture and environment that fosters employee growth. If your company is trying to hire more sales and marketing talent in order to grow its business, make sure that you’re doing everything you can to retain the talent that you have, because you’re more vulnerable in this economy to losing key employees.

Because the job market is so tight right now and so many firms are out trying to recruit and hire sales and marketing management and frontline producers, you are competing actively against those other employers for a limited pool of talent. This means that you need to have a very aggressive recruiting process…one that will allow you to outshine your competition. Outshining your competition is not just dependent upon the wages, benefits and incentives that you’re paying, but also how strong your company’s growth strategy is.

Also, it’s crucial to create stakeholdership amongst potential employees so that they can buy into the vision and are passionate about what they do and love where they work. This is the job senior management in sales and marketing is tasked with: retaining top talent and in order to do so, you’ve got to have great strategy and great vision.