The Lead Misnomer

Whenever I meet a new company or more importantly a new member of the management or sales team. As the “marketing” guy, I’m always asked about leads.

Of course leads are the most important things that marketing delivers. Branding is important, as are sales enablement, websites, public relations and all the other elements of marketing. But let’s face it the culmination of all your marketing investment is the amount of demand that is consumed by sales, and how much of this turns into cash in the bucket that finance manages.

So leads are absolutely the right discussion to have with marketing, as it summarizes the most important measure.

But I am regularly shocked by the experiences of people I meet and companies I work with. The definition of a lead is far too simplistic. Not all leads are created equally, and if the definition of a lead is weak, then marketing is weak.

When I first started running marketing at the company I am at today, I was amazed at the volume of “leads” that were passed to sales. Quite simply every business card scanned or name on a list was passed directly to sales. And as a consequence, sales just thought marketing’s demand generation work was a complete waste of time.

I put in place a very simple but effective new series of definitions that immediately improved the situation.

A business card was not a lead a business card was a contact that marketing would then market towards.

When a contact engaged with marketing, then this became an inquiry.

And when an inquiry exposed information on a project that could be engaged in, this was a lead. And the more information that was identified the higher the value of the lead.

1) A business card, scanned at a trade show, that was a contact
2) A contact that downloaded a white paper or attended a webcast became an inquiry.
3) An inquiry that shared the timescale, budget, and decision team or defined project became a lead.
4) A lead that sales decided to expend effort, became qualified.

This model ensured several things happened more effectively, most critical were:

1) Sales could quickly spot important leads.
2) Marketing could be measured against sales need.

Nothing was hidden from sales, they could see every contact, inquiry, and lead. When there were enough leads, sales would be happy. If they needed to go and hunt their own, they could choose to dig into the inquiries. Sales have not needed to go below the leads, because marketing know exactly what sales need in terms of mix. This just drives a better team spirit.

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