An “Inconvenient Truth” About Sales: It’s Time for a Climate Change in Lead Management

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What do you think when a company does something very wrong—such as mismanaging sales inquiries—then stubbornly insists on repeating the error? It’s like shooting yourself in the foot with a pistol, then getting out the automatic assault rifle to do it right. I don’t know about you, but it makes me say “Duh!”

But when damned near all businesses make this same mistake—and nearly all persist in doing it over and over again—how do you interpret that? Herd mentality? Mass myopia? “Duh!” with a bad stutter? Reminds me of one recent client that was suffering from a whole range of self-inflicted injuries—including sending raw sales inquiries to both sales and channel partners, thereby either wasting extremely scarce sales time spent following up with “tire kickers” or wasting equally scarce marketing time tracking the “non-follow-up.”



Lead management has no internal champion in most companies.

And what’s marketing’s reason for failing to prequalify these inquiries? Managers and staff members are too busy and too budget-challenged to stop wasting time and money.

Regardless of why companies persist in butchering lead management, they’re virtually always in denial about it. And yet, time after time, marketing flushes raw inquiries down the toilet, which pipes them out and spews them over field sales. Ugly. But it gets uglier when you wrap your arms around the consequences. Consider the typical process:

  1. Marketing spends big money designing, producing and distributing sales lead-generating promotions—be they over the web, via email, through snail mail or at trade shows.

  2. Depending on the communication channel used, 60 percent to 90 percent (and higher) of the sales inquiries generated are from tire-kickers, students, professional recyclers and folks with nothing better to do (when I was operating a lead management company back in the ’80s, I remember seeing a 3M Co. bingo card come in with each of about 30 interest areas checked—this from an inmate at Bellevue).

  3. Marketing records the inquiries (most marketing departments consider themselves sales’ “big brothers,” giving them the right to monitor sales activities), puts them in the bowl, then hits “flush”—and out they go to field sales.

  4. In the aftermath, marketing brags about the response rate, even though sales are scarce; sales bitches about the conversion rate, even though the response rate was strong; and some VP or other starts asking, “Where’s the payback? Why are we spending all this money?” And the finger pointing begins.

  5. Then the cycle repeats itself, over and over again—and as the baseball-playing pundit Yogi Berra once said, it’s “like déjà vu all over again.”



Because neither sales nor marketing claims lead management responsibility—and both typically want to pass it off to the other—lead management has no internal champion in most companies. But when budget dollars are allocated, the squeaky wheels get the grease, and there ain’t even a mouse squeak spoken in favor of funding this dull, low-visibility, “dumb work” activity—one that plays such a huge role in the financial success of sales lead generating programs. And that’s the “inconvenient truth.”

To cite another example of lead management negligence, several years back my firm, High-Yield Methods, worked with a global manufacturing client to help the organization standardize its sales, marketing, customer service and order entry/order fulfillment processes. When we looked at sales lead management across divisions and countries, what did we find? No processes. Nada. Ad hoc everywhere. And no functions or individuals responsible for lead management. Total chaos.

And when we pointed out the issue, everyone yawned. Hey, from the marketing department’s points of view, if marketers had to qualify their inquiries, they might discover that most were trash. And from the sales force’s points of view, if marketing qualified inquiries before distributing them, reps might just have to follow up, instead of immediately trashing them. Sort of a symbiotic relationship between the two sides—with vested interests in preserving the status quo. Hey, why change anything when only the company loses?

Needless to say, working with this company barely moved the needle on the gratification scale. But such is life. And consulting. And this nonsense occurs more often than not. Further, if I were to single out the one area where HYM has the hardest time getting clients to implement our recommendations, I’d single out lead management. What incredible, wasted opportunities.

At least it’s not our dollars, although that’s only small consolation. But the wasteful, even shameful failure to properly manage sales inquiries is, indeed, “another inconvenient truth.”



If the “inconvenient truth” about sales lead management ruffles your feathers, please make sure to download the two, short white papers, Lead Management ROI.

1 COMMENT

  1. You have hit the proverbial nail right smack on the head.

    As a corporate trainer for InsideSales.com, a hosted CRM and lead response management company, our primary focus is to get companies to put this “missing link” back into their business model. This is a huge opportunity for companies that is largely wasted.

    As you’ve mentioned, it’s absolute insanity that money is thrown into marketing initiatives to generate opportunities–and in a number of our company studies anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of those opportunities never even receive a SINGLE follow-up. Some of it’s time, some of it’s lack of a good system to track the requests (CRM, anyone?), but most of it is plain and simple “I don’t care” syndrome from both the sales and marketing ends.

    Sales reps get so focused on “closing” their existing sales that they seem to forget that if they could get even a marginal increase in qualified prospects that their sales numbers would increase by natural extension (more qualified leads = more opportunities, period).

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