How to define leads

In many organizations, the primary focus of marketing is to create sales leads. The process seems simple – marketing conducts activities that generate awareness and identify prospects. Marketing turns over the information that they have gathered on prospects to a sales person, who follows up and makes a sale. It sounds easy, but rarely does it work that smoothly.

Sometimes, there is a disconnect between the activities that marketing does and the things that sales would like them to do. Marketing thinks that they are delivering good prospects to Sales and the sales team feels otherwise. By giving leads to Sales that end up as dead ends, the marketing team decreases its credibility and reduces the productivity of the sales team.

Fortunately, there are good strategies for solving this challenge and fixing the Marketing/Sales disconnect. First, your organization should develop an understanding of what the difference is between a Lead and a Marketing Qualified Lead. A Lead – whether from a tradeshow, from an email campaign, or from direct traffic to your website – is not ready for the sales team. They need to be nurtured and qualified.

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) are defined as those that have expressed some interest in your product. This could be from a download on your website, or signing up for a webinar, or viewing a demo at a tradeshow. It could be based on a certain demographic or job title that you have decided is a good fit for your products. MQLs have completed certain actions that make them ready for handoff to the sales team.

What constitutes an MQL is something that needs to be agreed upon by both Marketing and Sales. This could be that a lead has been nurtured and scored to a certain threshold. It could be that they have visited your website a certain number of times and have downloaded information. The important thing is that Marketing and Sales agree on the criteria. 

Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) are defined as MQLs that have passed over to the sales team, the sales team has made contact and the lead has expressed an intent to buy. Sometimes called Sales Accepted Leads – these leads have moved from an MQL to validation by the sales team, and are ready for the next stage of the process. Typically they are ready to become an opportunity and have direct engagement from sales.

Once the lead has passed from Marketing to Sales, there needs to be a defined process for follow up within the sales team to maximize the chances of a closed sale. In addition, information on the quality of the lead needs to filter back to marketing so that tactics and processes can be refined for continuous improvement.

Here a few good primers on the subject of lead generation and what separates Marketing Qualified Leads from Sales Qualified Leads:

Technology Advice provides some good tips on developing criteria within your organization, and how to better align sales and marketing.

Act-On provides a great resource called the Ultimate Lead Management Playbook.

At Bayard Bradford we constantly work with clients to refine their marketing and sales processes. We help our clients develop programs that focus on marketing activities that are most likely to generate sales. The best way to maximize ROI on sales and marketing investment is to have a solid marketing communications strategy coupled with defined sales processes, all tied back to agreed-upon KPIs that can be measured and constantly refined for improved performance.

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