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Building a Marketing Funnel and Other Lead Management Tips
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By: Chris Koch  

Brian Carroll wants us to get passionate about one of marketing’s most important tasks: finding and nurturing leads—80% of which wind up being ignored or discarded. “To me it's better to not be involved with a customer at all than to start a relationship and then drop the ball,” says Carroll. “What we are doing is just generating more leads. But it's not about more, it's about better.”

Here, Carroll, who is CEO of InTouch, a lead generation optimization services firm, gives us five ways to make B2B lead management more effective. For much more on lead management, you can read Carroll’s book, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, and check out his popular blog, B2B Lead Generation.

1. Create a marketing funnel.

Most organizations don’t have a marketing funnel; they have a sales funnel that looks more like a bucket with lots of holes in it where leads leak out. Marketing needs to create its own funnel to understand whether leads are sales ready or not.

The purpose of the marketing funnel is to bring leads into one spot and qualify them. By qualifying them, I mean that the leads are ready to talk to someone from a sales perspective. Then there is the hand-off process between marketing and sales. I find that connecting the marketing and sales funnel together is really a big challenge. You have to understand your sales process to know at what point the sales team views a lead as an opportunity and begins actively pursuing it.

Lead generation really is about building relationships. It’s how can I help my sales team build relationships with the right people and the right companies. The marketing funnel creates sales-ready leads and nurtures the leads that aren’t sales ready.

The bigger and better you make your marketing pipeline, ultimately the bigger and better you make your sales pipeline. In the end, this isn’t about generating more leads; it’s about generating actionable leads.

2. Create a universal definition of a lead.

If you are trying to measure lead generation and you don’t have agreement within your organization on what the word means, you won’t be successful—especially if your organization is growing fast and the number of leads is growing all the time. In this situation, salespeople will have a tendency to focus on the relationships they already have and ignore the others. They need to keep their numbers up and don’t trust uncertain leads to move the needle.

To get past this, you have to sit down with the sales team and ask, What are the major things that you need to know in order for you to feel that a lead is viable? In my work with one organization, these were the key points of information that sales wanted about a lead:

  • Role in the organization
  • Authority in the buying process
  • Business need
  • Timeframe for buying
  • Defined internal initiative
  • Stage of investigation

We asked sales in this organization, At what point do you want to start receiving leads? For them, it was all about need. They said that the lead has to have an active initiative.

It’s important to remember that the lead definition process is iterative. It's not a one-and-done thing. With my clients, we revisit the definition and make changes. And we’re always asking questions, such as, Are we asking the lead the right questions?

3. Use the phone.

The phone is the gold standard for qualifying most leads. We found that you can email, you can do Web profiling, you can measure all these touch points, but in the end if you want to know something, you need to talk to someone and engage them in conversation.

4. Ask about goals—don’t sell.

One of the mistakes we see in lead handoff is that sales sees that someone downloads a white paper, so they do a follow-up call and want to set up an appointment. That’s not going to get you anywhere. You want to be able to engage them in more of a discussion rather than trying to make an immediate qualification. To do that, you need to ask a question: What question were you hoping to answer by downloading our white paper? The next question is, Was that you asking the question, or was that someone else in your company asking the question? The goal is to be a trusted advisor or a relevant resource to your audience until they move to the point of being ready to talk about initiatives or a project.

5. Define lead nurturing—and the right people to nurture.

In our experience, lead nurturing is a relevant and consistent dialogue with viable potential customers, regardless of their timing to buy. The people to be nurtured are generally those with whom you’ve had a direct, meaningful interaction via phone or email and who are in companies that fit your preferred profile. The point is to build the relationship with them over time—without trying to qualify them during each interaction.

About Chris Koch
Chris Koch, Associate Director of Research and Thought Leadership for ITSMA, is an award-winning writer and editor. Koch brings over 20 years of experience in journalism, and more than 10 years covering information technology and business. Koch most recently served as executive editor for CIO, a trade magazine for chief information officers and other IT leaders. Before CIO, Koch was a communications manager in marketing for Computer Sciences Corporation, where he developed and wrote thought leadership content on business and IT strategy for internally-generated publications and the general press. He also helped edit and market The Discipline of Market Leaders, a best-selling book on business strategy.

Republished with permission from ITSMA. This article was originally published on Monday, August 11, 2008, www.itsma.com/NL/article.asp?ID=401.

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