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Marketing Should Own Telephone Lead Qualification


The days where marketers simply fill the sales funnel with names must end. This quantity-over-quality approach to lead generation has fueled the longstanding tension between Sales and Marketing. One way to resolve this tension is to have Marketing–not Sales–take point on telephone lead qualification.

A Marketing-led team of telemarketers that qualifies leads can make Sales more efficient, improve lead nurturing effectiveness, and create a beneficial feedback loop for marketing strategy. It will also help Marketing demonstrate its contribution to company growth. Here’s why.

Sales Teams Are for Closers

Companies should reserve their Sales teams for what they’re best at: closing deals. As Derek Grant, Senior Vice President of Sales at Pardot says, “Salespeople live quarter to quarter, so they tend to go after the low-hanging fruit or big deals.” As such, salespeople don’t want to deal with the hassle of verifying that a Marketing-supplied lead is qualified. In fact, a SiriusDecisions report found that Sales only follows up with 20 percent of all leads.

As Chris Selland, VP of Marketing at HP Vertica, notes, “there is rarely an overlap between individuals that are good at qualifying a lead (telemarketing) and individuals that are good at closing deals (inside sales)."

And Sales might not be doing a good job of sorting out who is or isn’t qualified. Even though they’re cherry-picking leads, Sales still disqualifies 70 percent of them. The SirusDecisions report found that 80 percent of the leads Sales disqualifies go on to buy from the company–or a competitor–within 24 months.

Marketing is Better Positioned for Lead Qualification

Marketing has a critical advantage over Sales in lead qualification: Marketing doesn’t have a near-term quota to close deals. This allows the marketer to engage a prospect in a more open and honest conversation about their needs, purchase timeframe, budget and other factors that comprise typical qualification criteria. That’s good information for Marketing to have first-hand, anyway.

In fact, a recent Aberdeen survey conducted by Trip Kucera, Senior Analyst of Marketing Effectiveness & Strategy, found that best-in-class companies use a team of telemarketers within their Marketing department to qualify leads. These companies saw a 22 percent year-over-year increase in Marketing’s contribution to revenue. This is significant when compared to the average of a seven percent increase for companies that didn’t rely on a Marketing-led qualification team.

Jordan Brannon, Director of Marketing at Coalition Technologies, claims to have seen several benefits since setting up a Marketing-led qualification team 10 months ago, including:

  • The percent of leads that progress to proposal is up seven percent;
  • The close rate for the Sales team is up by four percent;
  • The average value per lead is up 11 percent; and,
  • Customer satisfaction responses regarding his Sales team are up 10 percent.

Although Brannon does not attribute all of this improvement to the Marketing-led qualification team, he believes that an improvement in Marketing-delivered lead quality has played an important role.

Putting the Plan into Action: Four Areas to Focus

The results above are great, but they don’t happen simply by moving the qualification process over to Marketing. Here are four key areas to focus on when developing a Marketing-led qualification team.

1. Hiring

You want to hire lead qualifiers who are energetic, competitive and willing to spend hours on the phone. You also want to hire individuals who have yet to attain a senior Sales or Marketing role, but are interested in moving in that direction.

Beyond that, you want someone who knows how to skillfully ask difficult questions that prospects may be hesitant to answer openly and truthfully, such as how much budget they have allotted, or who the decision makers are. While this is difficult to screen, you can pick up on their natural intuition during the interview process by gauging what kind of pointed questions they have for you and whether they’re able to keep you talking about the role.

2. Compensation

You want your lead qualifiers to share in the upside if a deal they qualified turns into a sale. The easiest way to do this is to start them at a base salary–similar to a sales role–and then pay them a commission based on the total value of revenue closed. To start, set comp at a higher base with less bonus potential until they can get used to the role. Then offer lower base in exchange for higher bonus potential.

Additionally, you also want to reward the qualifiers for qualification accuracy. One way to do this is to implement a metric for Sales-accepted leads. If the qualifier’s leads never or rarely get rejected, offer a fixed or sliding-scale quarterly bonus.

3. Lead Routing

You should bucket your leads into three categories:

  1. Qualified leads. These leads meet all the qualification criteria and should be handed-off to Sales.
  2. Disqualified leads. These leads are not qualified, and have no hope of becoming qualified. A flower shop will never represent a viable lead for a large enterprise software company.
  3. Leads to be nurtured. These leads do not meet all your qualification criteria today but may become viable prospects in the future. The real opportunity of creating this role is that you will now have a dedicated person there to check in with prospects frequently and nurture these leads with a human touch.

You’ll also want a process for fast-tracking leads that should be immediately routed to Sales. For instance, if Sales has a “top 10” list of customers they wish they had, any leads from those organizations should bypass the qualification process.

4. Feedback Loops

There needs to be a continuous feedback loop between Marketing and Sales. Sales should know why Marketing is disqualifying certain leads (and double-check that they’re not disqualifying a few hidden gems), and Marketing should know from Sales whether the leads they’re handing off are truly viable.

To manage this, it’s a good idea to have Sales and Marketing meet periodically (perhaps start at once a week, then move to once a month) to review progress throughout the sales funnel and refine lead qualification criteria, if necessary.

By having Marketing own lead qualification, you can both drive more sales and create a Marketing team that’s more accountable and better able to see its contribution to revenue.

What are your thoughts on this strategy? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

I'd like to thank to Tom Kuhr, SVP Products + Marketing at Frequency, Chris Selland, VP of Marketing at HP Vertica, and Trip Kucera, Senior Research Analyst at Aberdeen, for lending their insights and expertise to this article. Thumbnail created by zigazou76.

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Derek Singleton

About the Author

Derek Singleton joined Software Advice after graduating from Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. At Software Advice, he manages content related to the CRM software market and reports on business-to-business (B2B) marketing technologies, topics and trends.

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