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The Value of Sales Leads: A Perspective from the Trenches

The Value of Sales Leads: A Perspective from the Trenches

Paul McCord

Sales leads. Coveted by salespeople—and equally hated by them.

Having worked in sales all my life, first as a salesman, then in management, then as sales trainer and consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to see sales lead generation from all perspectives, especially from the view of the salesperson and their immediate manager.

Salespeople love leads. They crave them. They can’t get enough. Leads are manna from heaven. Leads mean the salesperson doesn’t have to claw and scrape to find some kind of a suspect to call—today anyway.

On the other hand, these same salespeople moan and groan about how worthless the leads they receive are. The leads are outdated. They aren’t qualified. They really aren’t leads because when contacted the prospect demands to know how the salesperson got their name and why is the salesperson calling because they’re on the “Do Not Call” list.

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I hear the same complaints from almost every sales team I work with—and see the same excitement when leads are received.

Why this Jeckel and Hyde attitude from the sales team?

Although there are many ‘reasons,’ the complaints I hear most often from sales point in the direction of two primary issues, each of which can be easily resolved:

Sales Doesn’t Understand the Goals of Marketing. Now, this may sound silly, after all, in many companies there is a relatively reasonable working relationship between marketing and sales. Or, is there?

Certainly, on an executive level many companies have a fair amount of interaction between marketing and sales, often with the senior executive in charge of each department being the same person.

However, that interaction on the executive level is where things generally stop. Seldom do the frontline players on the sales team really understand the goals and objectives of the marketing department. Instead, from their perspective they’re simply told—commanded–what to do and what to say.

If they are lucky, they’ll get a gushy one-page memo introducing a new campaign. The memo introduces the new campaign’s tag line, possibly the target audience, and maybe even the campaign’s objectives.

From the sales team’s perspective, they’ve just been told what their new tag line is and they have some pretty new literature. However, they don’t have the background information necessary to connect the campaign to what they’re doing. They don’t know where the campaign’s concept and content came from. They don’t know why the language in the brochures has been selected. Not only do they not have a real understanding of where the campaign came from they typically don’t know where it is going.

Typically the new campaign is introduced by their manager and any questions they ask are answered with “I don’t know.” “How does this compare with our competition?” “I don’t know, we’ll have to get out on the street and find out.” “The campaign is to run for 60 days; if it works will it be extended?” “I don’t know, don’t worry about that.” “Will this be available to our customers who just bought? What do I say to them?” “I don’t know, we’ll cross that when we run into it.” “It says the campaign is for the XX model, what if someone wants to upgrade, what is the deal for them?” “Its only for the XX model, I don’t know why they didn’t take into consideration upgrades.”

So, the salespeople roll their eyes, take the literature, and go out and sell as they always have.

The solution? It really is as simple as communicating with the sales team—on the street level, not the executive suite. There should be regular interaction on the part of marketing with the sales team members. Instead of looking upon the sales team as the ants to deliver the rote material and make the calls to leads developed by marketing, sales should be viewed as the ambassadors of marketing, the men and women who make the contacts and implement the campaign at the grass roots level.

Just as the sales team complains about the ineffective leads provided by marketing, marketing sees their research, creativity and hard work wasted by sales. Although there is certainly some truth to the oft-accepted explanation of each department seeking to shift blame and protect their territory, there is more to it than CYA and protectionism. There is in many companies a fundamental misunderstanding of the roles, goals, and objectives of the other department.

As much as open communication is preached in almost all companies, the culprit in the ever present battle between marketing and sales is most often a simple lack of communication emanating from a lack of recognition of the real role each plays in the success of the sales pipeline.

Marketing Doesn’t Understand What a Good Prospect Is. Marketing is already up in arms over that statement. How can they not understand what a good prospect is when they have volumes of research and years of experience in defining their target audience?

Again, the answer is a simple lack of communication. Marketing may spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars researching the market, defining the audience, and narrowing the prospects through expensive studies—but seldom do they walk down the hall and ask the people who sit in front of the people who make the purchase commitments what constitutes a quality prospect.

It isn’t unusual to hear a marketing executive grumble about not being able to get the salespeople to understand who the target market is. They lament that sales just doesn’t ‘get it,’ and if they did, all those leads they send to sales would be turned into sales.

A short walk down the hall brings a totally different point of view. The sales team complains that the leads they get are outdated, are too general, are not to decision makers, or never requested to be contacted. They wonder if the people in marketing have ever heard of qualifying a lead or if they’re just trying to get as many people to respond—qualified or not—as possible. From the quality of the leads, they believe the answer isn’t hard to come by.

Communication is again the central issue. Salespeople can and should be contributing to the marketing department’s efforts to create leads. Research studies can provide a great deal of information. Focus groups can test concepts and give great feedback. But neither can provide the breadth and depth of information the sales force can provide.

The men and women who sit across from the prospect day after day, who must pick up the phone and make the initial call, and who beat the streets looking for quality prospects know what a qualified prospect is, yet their knowledge and experience is often ignored—and they resent it.

The conflict between marketing and sales isn’t so much about territory as it is about respect. It isn’t so much a tug of war as to who is going to get the glory as it is about a desire to have some input into the process and the planning.

Simply moving the conversation from “you will” to “what should we” will change the dynamic not only of the relationship between marketing and sales, but it will change the outcome of the marketing campaign. Gaining the trust and respect of sales will change results. Those leads are no longer welcomed and hated at the same time. Instead, they are fully embraced because sales now owns them as much as marketing does. And once sales has ownership in the leads, marketing can rightfully point a finger at sales if the leads are not followed up and converted.

Paul McCord can be reached at