Survey Finds Growth in Pipelines and Sales Cycles for B2B Lead Generation


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I recently read a news release put out by Infogroup on their SalesPulse Survey of B2B sales professionals conducted jointly with OneSource, an Infogroup company. Some of the findings match what I am hearing from my industrial clients and one really surprising result.

The top findings I got out of the release were:

  1. 47% of the sales professionals reported a slight increase in the size of their B2B pipelines this year as compared to last year. However, the sales cycles have also become longer, making it much harder to close deals.

    This agrees with what I am hearing from my engineering and industrial clients, they are seeing a lot more activity but the average sales cycle has grown by an additional 90 ~ 120 days. Because of longer sales cycles, more promising opportunities are being lost since business conditions change at the other end and projects are put on hold indefinitely or being eliminated.

  2. A vast majority of the survey respondents reported that outbound tactics outperformed inbound initiatives for generating qualified leads. This one caught me by surprise.

    I am wondering if it is a result of the age-old disagreement between sales and marketing on the definition of a qualified lead. An article I read on Eloqua’s blog “It’s All About Revenue,” shed some light on this. The post discusses “the waterfall” concept advocated by SiriusDecisions where you generate interest (Inquiries/Prospects), a score is assigned based on the action taken and they become a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL), some of these get passed on to sales depending on their score and are now classified as Sales Accepted Lead (SAL), sales manages to move one or more of them into the pipeline and calls them Sales Qualified Opportunity (SQO) and if it leads to business, it’s a Close! So the waterfall concept is Inquiry > MQL > SAL > SQO > Close.

    Given the current state of the economy, I find companies in the industrial sector only recognizing SAL’s and SQO’s. Lead generation and lead nurturing have been put on the backburner and clients are interested only in finding leads that are ready to buy now (see my previous post, “The Role of B2B Marketing is Shifting from Lead Generation to Revenue Generation.”). The success of outbound marketing does make sense in this context.

  3. The SalesPulse survey also reported that B2B sales professionals found an inbound lead’s location more important than revenues and the number of employees. Company news and industry SIC codes tied for third.

Sham Sao, the Chief Marketing Officer at OneSource had this to say about the survey, “Despite healthier pipelines reported by sales professionals taking our survey, the majority are still facing longer sales cycles, which makes having the right information to identify hot prospects and accelerate them through the pipeline more important than ever before.” He also said, “Use of information from social media sources and web mining is growing as sales professionals are looking to leverage every piece of intelligence they can find to help progress deals.”

Wait a minute, isn’t that what Content or Inbound marketing is all about?

IMO, content is still the king in B2B lead generation, sales and marketing need to agree on a unified lead definition and figure out how best to use relevant content in driving sales.


  1. Achinta: thanks for posting this valuable information. This month, I’ll release the 2010 Sales Risk Perception Survey, conducted in partnership with CustomerThink. Your findings about increasing sales pipelines and lengthening sales cycle times corroborate our survey results. Our respondents indicated that target pipeline values now average 3X the revenue plan–a rough indicator of greater sales risk.

    But the question you ask about content and inbound marketing sounds like a precursor to a sales/marketing turf war. It need not be. I applaud any salesperson who uses social media to gather intelligence and move opportunities forward. If it works, go for it. If you’re not sure, try, fail or succeeed, and share back your results! But Marketing shouldn’t attempt to cow Sales by claiming exclusivity over the use of one-to-many tools. I agree that in the interest of avoiding duplication of work, sales and marketing need consensus on definitions and workflow.

    I still go back to Peter Drucker who said that the main purpose of a business is to have a customer. That’s too big a challenge for sales and marketing to be fighting tiny turf wars.

  2. Andrew,

    Thank you very much for reading my post and leaving your thoughtful comment. Sorry, for the long delay in responding. I happened to see it today.

    Agreed, sales and marketing need to be playing on the same team. In most companies, it seems easier said than done.

    Marketing content and social media tactics are not exclusive domains of either. Marketing may be responsible for generating the content but should be involving sales from the get go. Like you said, give it try and if it works, more power to you.

    Would love to see the results of your survey.


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