July 9

Early Stage Leads are too important for Sales People Alone

Marketing Strategy


The management of sales leads is critical to generating Return on Marketing Investment.  Sadly, sales leads often land on the scrap heap because marketers throw leads over the wall and then expect sales people to catch them.

Last year, I linked to a David Meerman Scott’s post, Sales Leads Are Too Valuable For Sales People Alone. He just wrote (round two) and I think it’s worth checking out.

David writes, "…Salespeople may argue with me, but I think it is better at the early stages of the buying process NOT to pass names to sales unless the buyer is absolutely ready to move forward…"

I agree. The key is to match readiness of the buyer with expectations of your sales team. Otherwise you’ll have a serious disconnect. You need to examine each lead ask if they are "sales ready" meaning they are ready to speak to a sales person.

Often when prospects have an identified need, they can spend months researching and seeking information on solutions that may satisfy that need. They are seeking education and information but would rather not talk to a sales person yet. This is why I think marketers should hold back and nurture early stage leads (with a human touch) on behalf of their sales team.

The goal of lead nurturing is to maintain a relevant and consistent dialog with viable leads – regardless of their timing to purchase – until they are sales ready. A key aspect of lead nurturing is the ability to provide valuable education and information to prospects up front, so that you become more than an expert; you become a trusted advisor.

Lead nurturing is a multi-touch process. Without lead nurturing program in place, I’ve found that early stage leads receive just 1 or maybe 2 touches before they are handed off to sales people. And that’s not enough, especially if you have a complex sale. At InTouch, we’ve found early stage leads may require 8 to 12 (or more) meaningful nurturing touches before they are truly sales ready.

In cases where your experience tells you that a lead is sales-ready, or would best be in the hands of a salesperson, you should create an exception code or status. I recommend asking the following question, “Can marketing continue to nurture this opportunity until they are more sales-ready or is this a situation best handled by a salesperson?” This is why communication and cooperation between sales and marketing is so important.

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing. He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. Hi Brian;

    Can you give an example of what some of those 8 or 10 touches might look like?

    By the way, if you are using WordPress, you should consider adding the email notification plugin when people replay to comments.


  2. Hi Brian,
    once more a very insightful post. I think that the importance of lead nurturing can’t be overemphasized. There’s nothing worse than having Sales call a prospect that doesn’t want to buy quite yet. Not to mention that Sales will resent Marketing for providing “bad” prospects. So yes, having a system to nurture leads with emails, direct mail, live chats and other types of communication is very important.

  3. Gee- I must be a different sales person from the ‘typical’ sales person. Funny, I view my role as one of education buyers.

    I’m actually insulted by Nick’s comments: “There’s nothing worse than having Sales call a prospect that doesn’t want to buy quite yet. Not to mention that Sales will resent Marketing for providing “bad” prospects.”

    Really- do sales people ruin things? Maybe you have horrible sales people, but I thought there was a thing called a funnel and a pipeline. Not every prospect is ready to close, but if someone has requested information, and is 1-2 years out from making a purchase, and they’re going to be at a trade show we’re exhibiting at, shouldn’t your sales people know so they can go over and introduce themselves?

    And how exactly do the geniuses in marketing determine at what stage a particular lead is at in terms of the buying process? They fill out a form? I lie to machines and websites all the time. If a sales person is amiable and likable, chances are I will tell them the truth.

  4. Thanks for your comment. I’ll try to answer your question. The tactics employed and the frequency of touches will depend on the solutions being sold and the buying cycle of the prospect. Possible timelines might look like this example lead nurturing track:

    Touch 0 – First Contact phone call and follow-up “thank you” e-mail
    Touch 1 – 3rd party article on pertinent technology via e-mail
    Touch 2 – Industry relevant case study via e-mail with follow-up call
    Touch 3 – E-newsletter with voice mail alert to check
    Touch 4 – 3rd party article on pertinent technology via e-mail
    Touch 5 – Relevant white paper via e-mail
    Touch 6 – Targeted campaign via direct mail
    Touch 7 – Relevant eBook via e-mail with follow-up call
    Touch 8 – Link to relevant Podcast via e-mail with follow-up call
    Touch 9 – Free report via direct mail with follow-up call
    Touch 10 – Invitation to webcast via e-mail with follow-up call
    Touch 11 – Call to invite to industry trade show and follow-up with registration link
    Touch 12 – Prospect calls you and becomes a sales ready lead

    The above example is pretty basic. It’s a single track process rather than a multi-track process. I have a client that started lead nurturing two years ago. They now have 18 different lead nurturing tracks with 27 steps based on industry, job function and role in the buying process.

    This client told me “lead nurturing has given our sales force more sales leads than they can handle. It’s gotten to the point where we have to completely reorganize our sales department in order to accommodate the leads that are coming in. We have 90 percent more sales ready leads now than we did a year ago.”

    It should note that this client reallocated 20% of their marketing budget to lead nurturing activities. They kept the rest of their budget intact but almost doubled their leads.

    Stay tuned, I’ll be writing more about lead nurturing in future posts.

  5. I know most sales people don’t want to ignore good leads. In fact most, fully intend on keeping in contact. The problem is that they simply must focus on what is going to immediately turn to a sales in the short term (within 1 or 2 business quarters). Why? They need to meet quota. They simply don’t have the time to nuture and cultivate a large number of early stage leads into opportunities with out the help of marketing.

    We need to remember the sales team is either doing selling activities or prospecting activities. It’s like a teeter-totter – when prospecting, the teeter-totter is up and when pursuing a hot deal it is down. That’s why most quarter projections look like a “J” meaning the sales pipeline looks weak and then it peaks into a frenzy at the end of the quarter. It doesn’t have to be like this.

    Sales and marketing should be one team. I think marketers must start by viewing the sales team as our customer. Simply put, we need to be committed to helping our sales team sell. Marketers can help sales people prioritize their time by going beyond the basic lead. We can to help them qualify, cultivate and develop opportunities until they are mature sales ready leads.

    How should marketers qualify leads? Not by using forms. Conversations are better. That’s why I think the phone is all too often overlooked by marketers. This is unfortunate, because if done well, outbound calling is by far the most effective tool for qualifying leads—particularly for the complex sale, in which few other economical options exist for contacting high-level decision makers.

    So if marketers are committed to provide genuine, sales-ready leads to their sales team, they need to pick up the phone. In fact, this function is so important that companies are now creating or outsourcing the teleprospecting function to do lead qualification and nurturing so they can add a consistent “human touch” and maximize the potential of early stage leads.

  6. Hi Brian,
    I’d like a little more information, if you could, on how exactly your Touch 1-12 examples are executed? Is your suggestion that marketing (perhaps a telemarketer) perform the steps on a one-to-one (telemarketer-to-individual lead) basis? If one-to-many, what kinds of systems do you use to track touches and responses and how do you identify those ready for a sales call? Lastly, it seems that if a telemarketer is working the lead, then the telemarketer is building the relationship rather than the sales person. Doesn’t it create a problem when a telemarketer who has nurtured the lead then turns it over to a sales person who has no relationship with the now sales-ready prospect? I realize I’m asking for quite a bit of info, but I’ve been reading your blog for some time and would like a better understanding about execution.

  7. Wow, I like this ‘touch’ system. Interesting stuff. Interesting post, keep ’em coming!

  8. It’s easy to see how the comments can anger sales. Truth is it all depends. In our business we have 6 and 7 figure average deals and only deal with large companies. We sell through education and consultative styles. We don’t SELL our clients. We simply advise them on our solution and help them understand how it fits their pain. Our sales reps work only a hand full of deals at a time as they are large and time consuming. However I still always have time to talk to someone at a fortune 500 company. The relationship should start with the closer at the earliest reasonable time.

    Why does marketing want to turn sales into “Order Takers”. I think they are trying to make more money.


  9. I know I’m a bit late, but I wanted to say first of all that I agree with Brian’s comment above. Keith, I apologize if you felt insulted by my comments. My intention was to point out that marketing should be very proactive in nurturing leads, and that sales people should not be seen as responsible for not closing the sale if marketing is not doing its job in the first place. Sorry again if I offended you. I did not mean to imply that Sales ruins calls, simply that for Sales to make good calls Marketing needs to give them good leads.

  10. Your point on giving prospects time to research is dead on. I really don’t believe that sales actually “sells” anything. I think the best thing sales can do is help the prospect or customer CHOOSE us.

    Great Blog!

  11. Great blog. You really break down the “how to” of sales. Thanks. Hey, have you checked out the upcoming Postiecon Conference? I think it might be something you will find of interest. Anyway check it out!

  12. The idea of lead nurturing is new for me. I think that I got quite a few useful things in the post and comments.
    Thank you, Nick

  13. If there’s one important part of lead management that you should do with your insurance leads is effective lead distribution. In fact, urgent and high-value leads should be worked on with supervisors and managers, people with more authority, credibility, and, most of all, experience.

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