• June 3, 2011
  • By Dan McDade, founder and president, PointClear

Bridging the Gap Between Marketing and Sales

In many companies, the gap between marketing and sales is so wide and processes so far gone that it's as if the two groups are standing on the east and west sides of the Grand Canyon and tossing real opportunities into it.

Unsurprisingly, these very same opportunities appear as competitor wins one and two quarters down the road. 

The stakes are enormous: Industry resources report 45 percent of qualified leads end up buying a solution, from your company or a competitor, within a year. One would think deploying highly efficient lead processes is a given, but a well-known analyst group documents 70 percent of leads aren't being followed up by sales.

Marketing has been rendered powerless in most companies. Responsible for the Web site, trade shows, and social media, its function is often seen as one-dimensional. Given a meager budget and a mandate to generate an impossible number of leads, marketing has been forced to default to cost-per-lead as the success metric.

As a result, they're forced to employ lead generation methods that often produce low-level, poor-quality leads. Unqualified trade show names and unsolicited inquiries are often termed leads and sent to sales. If only five out of 100 leads turned over to sales are actually real opportunities, how much effort do you think sales is going to invest in qualifying leads?

Sales is not immune from criticism: The sales force is frequently filled with people who are misused or wrongly deployed. Hunters (also called closers) are expected to generate leads and farmers (relationship specialists like account managers) are expected to close deals. People are being asked to do what they aren't good at, and the result is inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

Because many sales representatives survive on a quarter-to-quarter basis, they take less interest in deals forecasted to mid- and long-term. We delivered a qualified opportunity to a client who implements ERP solutions in which the prospect company planned to budget $400K in the next capital year to replace its ERP system.

Although an evaluation was not yet underway, the prospect was willing to speak with one of our client's reps. Yet the rep reported the opportunity was not a lead because the timeframe was too far out. As one might expect, the prospect was compelled (by a competitor) to begin the investigation sooner rather than later, and our client was not even in the hunt, much less shortlisted, when it could have owned the evaluation.

All of this would be laughable if it were not so costly, and it would be easy to place blame and point fingers. But neither marketing nor sales executives are really at fault. The responsibility rests with C-level managers and other senior executives who fail to understand or act upon the real problem. Here are five steps that help close the marketing and sales gap and drive lead process success.

1. Stop the carousel on marketing programs

The tendency is to be afraid of jeopardizing short-term sales by doing anything different. But take a look at all planned programs and stop or cut back ones you can while evaluating their effectiveness. Don't keep the merry-go-round going just because they're in motion. Stop, recalibrate, and ensure these programs are moving in the right direction.

2. Plan to crawl, walk, and run

You will not be able to roll out tested marketing programs next month, and no company can effectively impact current quarter results with current quarter marketing. Don't try. Instead, plan carefully and execute thoughtfully for long-term success.

3. Pinpoint your market

A client used market research to place its prospect universe at 80,000 companies. We reduced the universe by focusing on larger opportunities that closed as easily as smaller ones and represented profitable, rather than marginal, business. The client now targets under 20,000 companies, and we will continue to work the universe down based on fit and margin.

4. Test your market, media and offer before investing

Before spending significant dollars on a marketing program, test your database (market), your communication platforms (media), and your package, price and differentiators (offer). Simple as this seems, it almost never happens. This step can hugely impact sales and save tens of thousands of dollars.

5. Measure your results

Shift from measuring results on a cost-per-lead basis (incorrectly incents volume) to a cost-per-opportunity or cost-per-deal basis. These metrics are grounded in opportunity quality, conversion ability, and revenue generated on program investment, much better ways to determine if efforts are worthwhile.

Bridging the marketing and sales divide unites both groups in executing on the successful lead processes proven to close more deals and drive more revenue.

Dan McDade is president and CEO of PointClear LLC, a prospect development firm that helps B2B companies drive revenue by nurturing leads, engaging contacts, and developing prospects until they're ready to purchase.

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