July 9

Five steps to help create your universal lead definition

Lead Generation


I’m amazed that 90% of the companies I’ve talked with over the last six months lack a clear definition of a sales lead really is – that is their sales and marketing departments don’t agree on a universal lead definition. By not asking and answering a few critical questions, these teams are working inefficiently, wasting time and money, and in effect, crippling the bottom line. Teamwork is the only way organizations can achieve maximum ROI.

To get your lead generation program on track, I recommend that your organization start by creating a universal lead definition. By following these five steps, you’ll create a definition that not only works but that gets better over time.

Steps for defining a universal lead definition:

1. Meet – Get those who are marketing and those who are selling together in a room or on a conference call. You need a leader/facilitator with “street credibility.” The premise of the meeting is that we’re all in this together.

2. Ask this question to sales team: “For us to be 100% certain that when we send you a lead that you will act on it and provide feedback on 100% of the time, what do you need to know? At what point do you consider a lead qualified?  Now shut up and listen. Dig. Dig. Dig. Everybody must play.

3. Don’t stop with just one meeting. Summarize the notes from your meeting and have another meeting to clarify and make sure everyone is satisfied with the definition. You need to have a strong consensus.

4. Publish the Universal Lead Definition everywhere so people who are involved in new customer acquisition are reminded often about their target and objective.

5. Close-the-loop via huddles before leveraging software. Sales/Marketing should meet bi-weekly to review if the lead definition is still accurate. Ask questions like: Was X a lead? Did they enter the sales process? Why or why not? What else would you like to have known about this lead? How can we improve? What should we stop doing? What should we start doing?

It won’t take long to reap the benefits.  And, I guarantee you that improved ROI won’t be the only one.

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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, Im very impressed by the quality of this blog and I want say thanks for all this concepts. Do you know if there is material in Spanish about it? Gracias!

  2. That’s a really good point. That’s where huddling or closing the loop on “sales ready” leads can help you diagnose this problem. We need to make sure viable leads are being fully pursued by the sales team.

  3. Brian, another problem that marketers fail to recognize is that salespeople have a finite capacity to manage deals in their pipeline. When the sales team is “at capacity” so to speak, even perfect leads don’t get a follow up. Turning up lead generation in this case can result in more frustration and finger pointing about what’s a hot lead and what’s not.

  4. Yes! I agree 100%. This process gets skipped because most of the time, marketers assume they KNOW what really wants. When I facilitate this process for clients at InTouch, we discover (regardless of the size of the team involved) that there are many varying opinions on what the word “lead” means and that’s the fundamental problem.

    That’s why I recommend this is done in a facilitated group setting (via meeting or web conference/conference call) because you can co-create and drive consensus at the same time. If you do it right, buy-in just happens naturally as part of the process.

    The universal lead definition IS a foundational part of the B2B lead qualification process.

    For example, we were recently retained to develop a lead qualification program for a company whose marketing department was concerned that the sales department wasn’t acting on the inquiries generated (which marketing called leads). Marketing felt the sales process basically was a black box: No one except the sales team knew what was going on inside the black box until a proposal or sale happened. Worse still, many leads that went into the sales black box were never seen again. This made it particularly challenging for the marketing team when it was trying to measure its revenue contribution and lead generation ROI.

    Ultimately, it was concluded that without the skill, desire and incentive, the sales team should not have been asked to pursue the activity of lead qualification, and a special lead generation/qualification program was adopted. The program also took into account the impact speedy lead follow-up has on ROI. First, all leads are centrally qualified via phone against the company’s universal lead definition within two hours and distributed to the field salesforce and sales channel, which then is required to follow up on Web inquiries within four to eight hours. The company generates 4,000 inquiries per year, mostly via its Web site, events and webinars.

    If the qualified sales lead is not reviewed or followed up by the assigned salesperson within 24 hours, this salesperson can count on a call from his or her sales manager. Inactive leads automatically are flagged in the CRM system. If a sales lead goes more than 48 hours before being touched, the assigned salesperson risks having that lead reassigned to someone with more selling time capacity.

    This might seem aggressive, but it works. The company has a lead conversion rate triple the amount of many industry peers, and it now knows exactly how many marketing-generated leads are being pursued by the sales team. Goodbye black box.

  5. Wayne Davies – Here’s the ROI I’ve seen from agreeing to a ULD. Without it, marketing can not hold sales accountable for follow up. Sales can always claim that the leads weren’t qualified.

    On the other hand, without ULD, marketing has “permission” to throw garbage over the wall and waste sale’s valuable selling time. Too much of this and sales will just quit following up on leads.

    Brian, good post as always. I appreciate all the guidance you’ve given me as I’ve worked to improve my marketing skills.

    I want to pull out a point you made in step #1. You suggested pulling in an outside expert. If you have any unresolved conflict between sales and marketing this is a great idea. The expert may say the same things you would, but it gives sales someone else to argue with. Chances are they will argue less if the recommendations come from a neutral source.

    I also recommend an outside expert if you have a problem with HIPPOs e.g. when management has a tendancy to stick their head in and derail the process. These people tend to give more credence to outside experts.

    All the best!

    Melissa Paulik
    The Marketing Survivalist

  6. It’s also important to have a visionary attitude when leading sales teams. I believe that positive mental attitude with enthusiasm is the key to success.

  7. Good article Brian. I cannot understand how so many marketing demand generation groups believe they can deliver their product (marketing qualified leads) to their customer (Sales) without a product definition? Sales should be insisting on having these meetings on definitions! Not only will it result in greater sales productivity, (and therefore increased ROI) but it will narrow the chasm between the two organizations!
    -Best regards,
    Kevin Joyce, CMO Market2Lead

  8. I’m a little skeptical that having an agreed definition of a lead will automatically lead to increased ROI, but I take your point that knowing what you’re striving for is a very useful first step.

    Especially as the biggest lead generation problem I find is confusion over the objective. Most folk try to sell their product, rather than the value of contacting them.

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