Dave Green

B2B Marketing: Combining sales and marketing knowledge to improve lead qualification

Few issues create more conflict between sales and marketing than lead qualification criteria. In the MarketingSherpa 2011 B2B Benchmark Report, 72 percent of marketers listed generating higher-quality leads as their single biggest challenge, up from 69 percent the prior year. In most cases, Sales and Marketing each see lead qualification from very different perspectives, both of which have value.

In sales, management spends considerable time, including extensive one-on-one coaching, teaching sales people about lead qualification criteria, often dissecting specific sales calls, contacts, opportunities, and accounts. Good sales people soon learn that qualifying prospects takes significant skill and judgment.  Invariably, the best sales people are superb at this skill.

In contrast, the best marketers look at a sophisticated combination of techniques for delivering more qualified prospects to sales:

  • Targeting. By soliciting the right audience, fewer out-of-market prospects inquire.
  • Messaging and calls-to-action. The right message and supporting content will attract the most qualified buyers.
  • Explicit user-supplied information. Registration forms enable marketers to ask qualifying questions, questions that can evolve as the prospect moves deeper into the buying cycle.  Unfortunately, prospects are unwilling to fill-out a lot of information on a registration form so this tactic must be used with great restraint. MECLABS has one case study, for example, that shows a 189 percent increase in registration largely by decreasing the amount of information on a registration form.
  • Implicit data. Increasingly, marketers are drawing inferences about not just an area of interest, but the likely depth of interest, the role of the responder in the buying process, and similar qualifying information, all based not on what a prospect says but on what he or she does, primarily via his or her clickstream behavior but also via other media and transactional information.
  • Data Hygiene, enhancement, and consolidation. The cloud is creating very scalable and cost-effective tools for cleaning up inquiries, appending additional or better business card or firmagraphic information to each record, and consolidating duplicate accounts, contacts or areas of interest. The right processes will typically identify 14 to 21 percent of the lead pool as either duplicate or not usable (e.g., the visitor enters “Mickey Mouse” for a name).
  • Lead Scoring. Lead scoring uses any and all of the implicit, user-supplied information along with explicit and appended information to identify and prioritize records worthy of human follow up.

Leaving aside tele-qualification as a marketing function, the key difference between the approach of sales and marketing is this: marketing uses largely quantifiable techniques, primarily driven by highly scalable business rules and automation while sales uses qualitative techniques that are extremely nuanced and very subjective and invariably much more exacting for a given account.

In other words:

  • Marketing improves the probability of success across a pool of responders.
  • Sales identifies the probability of success for a particular responder.

Customers and prospects hedge, withhold information intentionally, change their minds, and/or misunderstand and even fabricate information.  Sales people use, not just the words of a customer, but a range of information, including someone’s tone, body language (in the case of on-site sales calls), the perspective of others within the account, external sources, and many other tools to evaluate the probability of purchase. While lead scoring is improving every day, it obviously has a long way to go before replicating the qualification techniques of sales people.

The truth is these two approaches are highly complementary

The more sales understands the tools and limitations marketing uses, the more insightful their suggestions can be; likewise, the more marketing understands the criteria and methods the best sales people use, the more marketers can improve their own upstream practices.

Related resources

MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2011 – in San Francisco and Boston

B2B Marketing: Building a quality list

B2B Marketing: The 7 most important stages in the teleprospecting funnel

Members library – B2B How-To: 5 lead nurturing tactics to get from lead gen to sales-qualified

Free MarketingSherpa B2B Newsletter

Review: B2B Marketing Best Practices – MarketingSherpa 2011 Handbook by Lee Odden at TopRank online marketing blog

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Marketing, Online Marketing



  1. June 13th, 2011 at 12:10 | #1

    Dave, a very clear summary of this pivotal issue, underlying causes of the disconnect and ways to reduce the gap.
    Sales would ideally like leads that meet at least 3 criteria; Money, Authority, Need. Then factor in any show-stopper criteria. But that’s a tall order from even the best marketing campaign, and especially in complex B2B buying/selling situations.
    Improving the profile fit of the lead AND engaging sales people further down the buying cycle are two dimensions that marketing and sales can discuss in order to gain a better understanding of goals and areas of compromise.

  2. June 13th, 2011 at 12:28 | #2

    @Mark Stonham
    thank you for the kind words, Mark. Sounds like we have a similar point of view.

  3. June 15th, 2011 at 11:16 | #3

    I agree with Mark, in Complex B2B sales, lead scoring can and does often add marginal value. Algorithms have a difficult time with multiple authority opportunities and since in many cases the research is conducted by someone off the radar, who may or may not handle the Registration Form correctly leaves an organization trying to insulate itself from a sales conversation. This gets back to why would I want to begin my relationship in a multi-million dollar sale with math rather than human contact. Seems like many firms are focused on the pipeline and no the buyer’s journey. The pipeline is a self-centered internal measurement that adds no value to a sales relationship. But look at the presentations of many of these companies and you will find they start with how great they are, how many customers they have and their revenue with thank you coming at the end.

  4. June 23rd, 2011 at 04:13 | #4

    Nicely explained how to increase our sales

  5. Dave Green
    Dave Green
    June 23rd, 2011 at 09:30 | #5

    I think lead scoring, however imperfectly realized in a given organization, has enormous promise and worthy payback already. I think there are three general problems with lead scoring that are correctable:

    1. Many organizations assume lead scoring is a substitute for human interaction. It’s not. Lead scoring simply helps a company make better decisions about resource allocation. Who do I call first and how many time do I try to get in touch with them and who is unlikely to be worth calling at all?

    2. Too often lead scoring is based upon the value of an individual response. The better approach is to aggregate responses to a) the account and b) to an area of interest. This approach puts organizational behavior in a much clearer context. This approach, by the way, has enormous, mostly unrealized potential: there are many potential feeds that are not currently factored in, from post-sales interactions to reverse IP lookups, social media engagement, webinar duration, etc.

    3. There is not enough focus on mapping content to the buying cycle and drawing lead scoring extrapolations about the depth of interest of the individual and the organization, based upon what they are viewing/listening to and the intensity of that interest.

    So we’re learning about the possibilities all the time and our understanding is growing and the tools are getting better and better. I personally use lead scoring to prioritize target account focus. It’s a fantastic tool for that. Plus, when you contemplate future interaction possibilities of speech understanding technology coupled with streaming audio and video and marketing databases, the opportunity to engage customers in better and better digital conversations has just begun and the opportunity to score those conversations in terms of buying probability has also just begun.

  1. January 30th, 2012 at 08:37 | #1
  2. March 13th, 2012 at 07:47 | #2