January 19

Who Should Own Lead Generation for a Complex Sale?

Lead Generation


Who should own B2B lead generation: sales, marketing or both?

You might be thinking, “isn’t the answer obvious?”

It’s not. Let me explain.

I hear the same problem over and over. Sales and marketing aren’t doing a great job of executing lead generation because they both believe it’s the others job.

And you know what? They’re both right.  Here’s what I mean.

Companies don’t typically call what salespeople do “lead generation” or “demand generation.” Instead, they use terms like prospecting, business development, pipeline development or social selling.

Even with the increase of content marketing and inbound marketing, I find salespeople get stuck carrying the load of prospecting for their leads. And they waste time struggling to get their foot in the door to find people who want talk to them.

Why salespeople make cold calls, send cold emails, and prospect

So why do salespeople cold call, cold email, and prospect? One simple reason: they have no choice.

Marketing rarely generates a sufficient volume of qualified leads. It’s not because marketing can’t or won’t. It’s because marketing typically doesn’t get the funding necessary. So salespeople have to pick up the slack.

The mandate for most sales organizations is, make more calls, send more emails. B2B marketing is going through a modernization to align better with how people buy. Now it’s time for sales.

According to Jill Rowley, “…we’re long overdue for transformation, a modernization of the way we sell…” Read my interview with Jill Rowley Chief Evangelist and startup advisor on better social selling.

The high-performing salespeople I’ve met don’t spend much of their time prospecting. They network. They get referrals. And they leverage their social network via LinkedIn and Twitter, and monitor news feeds about key accounts. They practice social selling. When done intentionally, these activities are very practical and do not take up a lot of productive selling time. The rest of their pipeline will come from sales-ready leads from marketing.

Sales needs marketing involved through the journey

A well-crafted, researched, intentional lead generation strategy can’t come from sales. Why? Because their focus is on the immediate and near-term revenue and quotas to fill. Lead generation done right requires an ongoing commitment that marketing can best fill.

The job of marketing is to develop leads that match the buyer’s expectation to buy and the seller’s expectations to sell.  Otherwise, you’ll have a serious disconnect. This why account based marketing is getting so much attention.

Salespeople should not feel stuck with the old, worn-out tactic of cold-call prospecting. They need to do what they do best: sell to potential customers that have qualified as sales-ready. This is where inside sales and sales development reps are filling the gap.  For more on this read, The Biggest Contributor to B2B Revenue.

In tech companies, much of lead generation has been taken over completely by marketing which generates marketing qualified leads that are routed to inside sales reps, or SDRs, for qualification and nurturing. This allows sales to focus solely on developing relationships and closing new business. But outside of high tech, lead generation is still mostly done by salespeople.

Who should own lead generation: sales, marketing or both?

To get a broader perspective, I asked the 19,734 members of my B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group about this topic, and I got some great feedback. The following comments are from our group discussion.

According to Shawn Bezzant, “I think most organizations would agree that both sales and marketing are responsible for lead generation… There are two primary responsibilities any professional salesperson has: building business and closing business. If he fails to focus on both, he will fail as a salesman. In this case, marketing is a support organization that carries a unique responsibility to assist the sales team in building a business. I have never worked in an organization where a salesperson can hand off all responsibility for lead generation to the marketing team, and I have great doubt that model would work over extended periods of time.”

Jessica Sprinkel, wrote, “I think the biggest thing is not finding the magical ‘owner’ but just getting on the same page with sales and agreeing on what’s right for you. Get them involved in the planning process, work back from revenue and calculate lead/opportunity targets for both marketing and sales. Then marketing can focus on running campaigns to hit their respective targets.”

Jonathan Hyde stated, “Lead gen is part of both roles; it’s simply accomplished differently. Our marketing team is responsible for web lead gen, marketing campaigns, email blasts, etc., while inside sales is responsible for cold calling. Both use social selling to increase the number of leads for our outside sales reps.”

Steve Wells wrote, “I think Marketing should own lead generation. In almost any company, the sales group drops focus on all tasks that do not result in a PO by the end of the quarter… Marketing generally does not feel this pressure to change their game plan. Effective lead-gen requires continuity, and losing focus and continuity for up to 33% of the time is not going to help anyone.”

Scott Raeihle stated, “Marketing should ‘own’ lead gen. Sales should ‘own’ converting those leads to customers. And, we should be working together to achieve both. Both departments are revenue generators; why not be aligned? Sales know the ideal customer profile…that information needs to be communicated to marketing so that marketers can do what they do best… so that sales can close more business…”

What’s worked for you to get better sales and marketing collaboration?

According Jene’ Brown, “I work with Marketing and Sales teams on teleprospecting lead generation campaigns, and see best success when Sales is an active participant in the process: defining SQL criteria, input on targeting/messaging, providing feedback to refine lead quality, and kicking back PQLs that don’t result in wins to be nurtured. A sense of ownership from both teams is ideal!”

Liz Fulham wrote, “I always leave it to Marketing or hire a lead generation specialist who reports to sales if there is no marketing team. I found if you leave it to sales, it reduces the time they spend on selling…The only problem is that Sales will blame marketing for bad leads. It is important Sales buy into defining the perfect customer profile and any vendors that supply the leads.”

According to Ahuvah Berger-Burcat, “Marketing owns lead gen/demand gen. But an MQL is not an SQL…and there must be an agreement between marketing and sales when the lead moves from a marketing lead [MQL] to a sales qualified lead [SQL]. Sales and marketing have very distinct roles with a bit of an overlap when it comes to qualifying and nurturing leads.”

According to JC Niederberger, “Marketing has the tactical and functional responsibility for lead generation…but the people who get fired because of leads that don’t close and generate revenue are sales. So, it must flow through sales at the top level. There is always disagreement between sales and marketing on what the characteristics of a “best” lead are. From a sales side, I would think it would be urgency, relevancy, revenue potential, etc.; from a marketing side, I would expect qualification, lead quality, data, open and engagement rates, etc., would be most important. At the end of the day, revenue wins.”


Lead generation is a part of both sales and marketing job to generate revenue. But how exactly they accomplish it is different. It comes down to collaboration. You need to work together on topics ranging from revenue goals backward to opportunities and qualified leads. Additionally, you need to get alignment on messaging, ideal customer profile, universal lead definition, qualification criteria, and lead routing. In sum, treat lead generation as a shared responsibility to generate revenue, and understanding who is doing what, and improving collaborating you’ll achieve better results.

You may also like

3 Good Questions to Align B2B Marketing, Sales, and Strategy
Fast Growth Marketing: From 0 to 500,000 Users
6 Metrics That Will Get You an Edge and Your CEO Clarity
How to Improve Lead Routing for Better Sales Conversion

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. As there are a few B2B sales experts here I am interested in all your opinions.

    1. Has any company of size every scaled using cold calling, or networking? If the answer is no then marketing needs to own lead generation but as Brian says Salespeople do this to top up their sales pipeline.

    2. I tend to agree with Dan McDade – Is making cold calls the best use of a high performing and expensive sales person? Would we expect a racehorse to pull the horse cart to the racecourse? Are the skills for Lead Generation and Cold Calling even the same as those required to close in the boardroom?

    3. For me the High performers are better employed raising their personal brand as a thought leader and becoming the go-to person in their industry. They can then use their networks to target the strategic opportunities that marketing have warmed up.

    Interested to hear everyones thoughts.

  2. Thank you Brian for sharing this useful resource. I really appreciate your tips, especially the one on why salespeople send cold emails. I will incorporate it into my workflow. Networking and getting referrals is the key to higher sales growth.

  3. Thank you Brian for sharing an interesting blog with us. It is an excellent way to use software for coordination. It is very important to generate a good revenue as well as manage it in a very well manner.

  4. Hello Brian, thank you for this information. It is true that both sales and marketing team have to work in a well-coordinated and organized manner in order to generate revenue. I would like to add, it is a good idea to use tools like Rapportive, Aeroleads, Discoverog to automate the process of finding the relevant prospect details. These tools make our work easier by giving us a verified list of emails

  5. Thanks for sharing this information with us. I love to add some more in this blog. Without smart strategy, clear communication and a solid system in place, your sales team may be getting a lot of dead-end leads.

  6. It’s so true that sales and marketing need to work together during the sales cycle. While the sales team can prospect for new customers or clients, the marketing department can use various techniques to generate leads. From there, the sales team can convert the leads to paying customers or clients.

  7. Thanks for this post, Brian. I think I can clarify the “it depends” part of this. We’ve been studying and writing about alignment for 20 years, and while the tech and roles have changed some, a few things haven’t.

    We need a single process, designed and owned jointly. And it’s not just Sales and Marketing, but we’ve found it even better to get other functions – even Finance and Ops – in on the act. The key though is a single process jointly built.

    The question then of who owns lead gen becomes the wrong question. They jointly own the process, but the who owns each piece of the execution (tactics) remains a question. It doesn’t matter how this is answered as long as someone owns each piece. I’m not a fan of the simple “Marketing owns the top and Sales owns the bottom of the funnel”, but directionally that’s how it will likely play out.

    1. Hugh, thanks for taking the time to share your perspective and I have no disagreement. I find that more marketers need to go beyond the lead. That means they get into the world of sales and ultimately the customer. The more sales and marketing align around the customer and how to help them the better they can collaborate.

  8. Love this topic and it’s very timely (for me anyway)

    For the first time ever I have started to build out two separate outbound email programs for the reasons described above.

    One campaign is specific for sales pros to drive conversations and support their lead gen efforts while the other program is specific to marketing which is more demand generation in nature with a lead gen component.

    I’m using two separate technologies to manage these campaigns.

    The sales program is designed to send anywhere from 400-1000 text emails a day which is based on the amount of data I have on file for their ideal segment. I target the exact job title most likely to convert.

    The marketing campaigns are broader based campaigns branded and capable of reaching thousands of prospects all at once.

    The results are nothing short of amazing and the sales people are so happy because they see daily activity on their behalf.

    If you haven’t tried this tactic, you might want to consider it. I’m deploying campaigns now for 3 different verticals and all 3 are performing very well.

    1. Shawn, that’s fantastic. And thanks for sharing your story. I’d love to hear more about it and perhaps we could share what you’ve found is working with fellow readers. Thanks again for reading!

  9. Thanks Brian for sharing this information. Lead generation is challenge for every business now a days and we have put efforts in both sales and marketing.

  10. Good blog! I think the answer is that it depends. Hunters hate to beat the bushes looking for new business (more than they hate farming – though they hate farming too). If you have a talented hunter, having them look for business is a terrible waste of talent.

    1. Thanks Dan, @Hugh @Shawn had some good thoughts on this too. I agree, it’s not productive to have sales people cold call and they are much better working with referrals and their warm network. This is where marketing needs to work with sales to help them sell i.e. maximize their effective selling time.

Comments are closed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Related Posts