Lead Qualification: The Secret Sauce of B-to-B Lead Generation Marketing
The No. 1 rule in B-to-B marketing: Never, ever, pass an unqualified lead to your sales force. Why? Because they'll hate you in the morning ... But seriously, if the role of B-to-B marketing is to provide leverage to sales, then burdening a sales rep with a prospect who is not a realistic potential buyer is no help. The rep will reach out, find a prospect who is in the earliest stages of research or, worse, in a company that is never going to fit your solution, and a whole lot of time and effort has just been wasted. In this kind of situation, the lead should stay with the marketing team, where the relationship can be developed, and nurtured, until it's ready to take up a salesperson's valuable time.
But all this assumes that the marketing team has a clue about what kind of lead is ready for a sales rep. Enter the concept known as lead qualification.
Lead qualification is a process, beginning with a meeting of the minds between sales and marketing about what constitutes a qualified lead. The first step is for the marketing team to sit down with key sales personnel—a couple of experienced reps and a few senior managers—and work together to identify a mutually agreeable set of lead qualification criteria.
In large enterprise marketing, the most common criteria have traditionally been around a concept known as BANT, or budget, authority, need and timeframe. These days, BANT is passé thanks to changing B-to-B buyer behavior. As the wise observer Ardath Albee recently pointed out in a thoughtful dissection in the Business Marketing Institute's newsletter, a slavish devotion to BANT will miss all kinds of opportunity, and take sales people down a path toward frustration.
Instead, marketers today should be looking for more subtle clues to determine whether a lead is ready for the sales team. These days, essentially, qualification criteria can be divided into two categories:
Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools around the world. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain's BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.