5 Tips for Improving the Sales and Marketing Relationships

There is a perception that sales and marketing cannot get a long. In some instances, this may certainly be true, but with proper coordination and planning, even the most harden relationship can become a positive force for collaboration within your organization. Much like any relationship, it takes both sides to want to participate, and requires that one side take the first step to initiate change.

If there is a riff between marketing and sales, it most likely stems from different interpretations of the roles and responsibilities as they relate to lead generation. Ownership of the process certainly plays a part, but other factors clearly influence the ability of either side to accept the other side’s critical importance in its success. To minimize these issues, here are five steps marketing can take to ensure a smooth transition of leads while at the same time improving their sales relationship.

Agree Upon Lead Qualification Criteria At the heart of these issues surrounding lead generation are the criteria for determining a quality lead and at what point sales needs to take ownership of the opportunity. As the initiators of the process, it is imperative that marketing take as much responsibility for the success of the lead generation program.

The first step in this process is overcoming this issue of lead criteria. This can be a delicate matter for new companies or markets that are still developing a clear persona of the ideal customer. It is not however an impossible mission when both parties work together and are willing to accept that they have a role in defining and agreeing upon the criteria. For marketing to be successful, it is vital to have this criteria clearly documented with several examples available, if possible, to reference. Additionally, marketing must make certain it has sales buy-in in regards to the level of qualification required and at what point they will take over the relationship.

Under Promise and Over Deliver At the early stages of a lead generation program, it is important that marketing not over commit or under deliver. In fact, every effort should be made to ensure that leads delivered to sales during the “honeymoon period” of a new lead generation program exceed the expectation of sales.

This may seem counter intuitive, when sales departments are screaming for more leads. The reality however is that sales only want more leads if they are of good quality. Hence, the type of leads you produce during the early phases of a lead generation program will set the expectations for the life of that program. In this scenario, delivering more, lower quality leads may be counter productive in improving relations because it will unintentionally lower the perceived value of marketing’s effectiveness over time. This in turn will eventually result in fewer leads being actively worked by the sale team and negatively influence all other interaction between the two organizations.

Implement a Lead Nurturing Program Quality of leads is by far the most important influencer available to marketing in regards to fostering a positive relationship with sales. To improve the quality of leads, implementation of a lead nurturing program is essential. This will allow the marketing department to better profile prospects and move them further along the sales process. This may initially result in fewer, higher quality opportunities, but it will also allow your sales team to focus on closing business, rather than re-qualifying prospects.

Implementing a lead nurturing program has numerous benefits, all of which will contribute to supporting a healthy relationship with sales including:

  • Quickly identifying immediate opportunities during the critical early stages of a lead generation program.
  • Keeping the sales organization activity engaged by delivering a steady stream of quality leads.
  • Allowing marketing to adjust their lead criteria based on feedback from sales review of initial leads.
  • Increasing the number of leads delivered to sales in the long-term.

Improve the Quality of Your Lead Report Closely linked to this improvement in lead quality is the amount of information you can collect and share with your sales organization. This information should be captured in as much detail as possible and organized in a logical way in a lead report that is presented to the sale team for follow-up.

The benefit of this approach is fourfold. First, it creates concrete documentation of the lead and the details that demonstrate that it has met your pre-agreed upon qualification criteria. Secondly, it significantly simplifies the understanding of the potential for this specific lead to turn into a viable sales opportunity. Third, it enables marketing to pass along a historical record of conversations with the prospect, personal details about the prospect that are not particular to the qualification criteria but helpful in forming a bond with the prospect. And finally, it clearly demonstrates to the sales organization the level of commitment put in by marketing to produce better quality leads.

Collaborate on the Lead Handoff
The lead report is only one element of a successful lead handoff. This is particularly true if you’ve implemented a lead nurturing program for a complex sale cycle in which a relationship between the marketing lead generation team and the prospect may have existing for many months.

In these instances, a coordinated handoff that includes marketing and sales on one or more phone calls to introduce key players and transition account ownership may be required. For most organization, this probably includes setting the appointment and allowing the marketing representative to provide introductions and explain the involvement of more senior players as a way to more appropriately meeting the customer’s growing needs. Once this is sufficiently accomplished, the marketing team can slowly remove themselves from the engagement while the sales team takes over.

Systematic Lead Tracking
The final element necessary to promoting a healthy relationship between sales and marketing is the implementation of a systematic lead tracking solution that covers the entire lifecycle of a prospect from origin through sale (or loss).

Simplifying this process is the prevalence of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions such as Salesforce.com which captures sales progress data. If this data isn’t readily available, marketing should establish a process for circling back with sales team members as well as prospects to validate lead follow-up. Care however needs to be taken to first, protect the customer experience during what could be active sales opportunity; second, protect the image of the sales person in the eyes of the prospect; and third, to minimize the requirements of time placed on the individual sales team members to provide this information.

An optimal solution leverages the coordinated handoff to ensure timely lead follow-up, and then regularly scheduled meetings with individual sales members to review the progress of all leads delivered. To be successful with this follow-up, follow these simple rules:

  • Do this once a month at most, less often if possible. Time is money for a sales person and complex sales cycles can last a very long time. Less frequent, more complete updates are better.
  • Do one-on-one meetings with individual sales people. This will allow you to focus on getting the information you need, building a personal relationship with the sales person and obtaining feedback on the quality of the lead and how it could be improved in the future.
  • Do lead reviews in-person or over the phone. People are notoriously stingy with information and putting something in writing is much more difficult than giving verbal explanations. Avoid asking for updates via email because this creates extra work for the sales person and will eventually be perceived as a drain on their time.
  • Share lead reports with sales management and team member. While capturing the information verbally, confirm the results with sales people and then sales management in writing. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and that there won’t be surprises later on if things change.

Take Responsibility As we stated at the beginning of the article, both sides need to participate to make the sales and marketing relationship flourish. Marketing, as the initiators of the lead generation process, is ideally situated to setting the foundation for that relationship. By stepping up and taking responsibility for improving their own performance, marketing can demonstrate their own value to sales and thus, promote positive interaction that will ultimately result in a favorable relationship.