Leads Are A Curse: A Sales Managers Inbound Marketing lessons learned

Ed Marsh | Oct 17, 2012

In the golden days

I remember a time early in my career when, as a sales manager, I would find reps eager to receive leads.  They would be particularly excited by the lists of leads (at the time photocopied business cards) assigned after trade shows. 

That was back in the last epoch - a time when B2B sales and marketing both had clearly defined and rational roles in "the process."  Buyers behaved rationally - they understood their requirement and allocated budget.  Then they would initiative a buying process which primarily focused on meetings with possible vendors - a process of research and due diligence to select the best solution and provider.  They'd find you through the Thomas Register or referral, and give you a call.  They would invite you in for a meeting.  (Remember that?!  Seems almost as absurdly 'traditional' a notion as a chaperoned parlor in a sorority house where eager male suitors would be allowed to chat with young ladies.)

Or they would send a team to a trade show where you'd have some substantive conversations to be followed up on aggressively thereafter.  Those were the "hot" leads.....

The missing years - business development's 'dark ages'

But some time (was it '90? '95? '00?) things began to change.  Gradually the buying process evolved.  It was a jumble - there wasn't a clear beginning or end.  And the change wasn't consistent.  (And it still isn't - I often chuckle at the irony of an Ariba user who says that trying to email orders is simply too difficult and therefore fax is the only answer.  Think that's nuts?  I hear it several times a year.)

Buyers began to buy very differently.  But the sales and B2B marketing functions didn't generally adapt.  While the buyers slammed shut their portcullis, operating with advanced communications and self sufficiency, sellers continued to rely on methods nearly as clumsy, at least in relative terms, as battering rams and sieges.

And a funny thing happened to sales leads during this time.  They almost became a joke.  Not all, of course, but many.  Buyers now identified themselves only when they had to - and when they did they wanted different sorts of information and had much different expectations of the interaction with sales.  (Register to receive our upcoming report on the State of B2B Sales & Marketing.)

But someone forgot to tell sales, who still assumed that this lead fit their expected profile -  someone eager to learn about their solution, and preparing to buy.  And so sales reps became increasingly disillusioned and rather cavalier about following up on leads.  And for companies selling through channel, without direct management control of the sales effort, the follow up became even more problematic.  

This was an understandable shift for sure - indeed the leads were increasingly inappropriate for commissioned sales people to work on.  But a huge disconnect in the business development ROI cycle as traditional marketing continued to pour money into traditional means that generated diminishing results.  As a result many companies are struggling with stagnating growth.  Business development is brutally tough.

The renaissance of qualified lead generation

Human ingenuity being what it is, creative folks envisioned a solution.  Built on a realistic understanding of the new buying process, inbound marketing was born.
Research shows that generally the buying process is now:
  • longer
  • more 'self-service' - and largely on-line (even complex B2B sales!)
  • less likely to involve a sales rep until nearing it's conclusion
  • involves more influencers
So it stands to reason that the solution needs to:
  • make it easy to be found
  • establish credibility with buyers through a virtual dialog
  • engage buyers throughout an extended, intermittent, buying process
  • successfully engage a variety of influencers...remotely
  • self-sell
  • and to the topic of this article, recognize that a contact is not a lead - but rather a lead begins with a contact but has been nurtured over an extended period through an automated process consistently building credibility and remaining accessible as a decision nears
That's what a strategically designed inbound marketing program does.  And sales reps can take comfort that the "leads" they receive from an inbound marketing campaign will be substantially better quality.

But....the rainmaker types are going to have an identity crisis.  They are now negotiating terms - most of the selling is being done virtually!  Direct B2B sales are facing an existential crisis - those that will survive will cultivate inbound marketing excellence to complement their sales skills.

Wish your leads were a valuable business asset instead of a curse?  Interested in how an inbound marketing effort could enhance your B2B Marketing & Sales?  Call Consilium today.

And download our free eBook "13 Step Process to B2B Marketing Success"

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