Can you agree on what an ideal B2B prospect looks like?


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It’s an old story, but one that I still hear far too often. Salespeople complaining that marketing never generates any decent leads.  Marketing getting frustrated that sales never follows up on the leads they have created.  And, amusing though the idea might at first appear, we can’t excuse it by claiming that “Sales is from Mars and Marketing is from Venus”.

I should probably have put the word “leads” in quote marks.  It’s not unusual for part of the problem to stem from a failure to agree what a sales ready lead looks like, or to get confused between an enquiry, a lead and an opportunity, or even (bizarre as it may seem) to regard those three categories as being in some way interchangeable.

Creating a contract between sales and marketing

But the real root cause predates even the enquiry-lead-opportunity definition problem: it arises from the failure to agree and define what an “ideal prospect” looks like.  Without a consensus about the characteristics of a well-qualified prospect, marketing are likely to continue investing resources targeting people who are never likely to buy – and sales will be unable to sign up to a contract with marketing that basically says “find opportunities that look like this, and we will commit to pursue them”.

What does an ideal prospect look like?

I’ve conducted a number of ideal prospect profile exercises with clients – I have come to regard them as the essential foundation for making smart sales and marketing investment decisions – and here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Demographics alone aren’t enough.  The classic dimensions of market segmentation – industry, geography, company size, etc., form the foundation of an ideal prospect profile, but they are by themselves insufficient
  • The devil is in the detail.  When you evaluate recent sales successes, you can usually uncover more subtle characteristics that have a more important predictive effect.  Things like existing systems in use often have a profound impact on the chances of sales success
  • Don’t ignore behavioural factors.  Years ago, when I was working at HP, we uncovered something that had far greater impact than any demographic factor: companies that were highly decentralised (like HP) tended to prefer to buy from HP.  Companies that were highly centralised (like IBM was at the time) strongly preferred to buy from IBM
  • Look for patterns. A more recent predictive factor has emerged from my work with SaaS based offerings: for reasons that are fairly simple to understand, companies that have already signed up for one SaaS based solution are far more likely to buy additional ones.  The pioneering work has already been done

A few simple recommendations…

Here’s what I’d recommend to any organisation that wants to leverage the concept of “ideal prospect profiles” to dramatically increase sales and marketing effectiveness:

  • Establish ideal prospect profiles for each of your significant product or service offerings as a collaborative exercise between sales and marketing.  Be sure to combine demographic, environmental and behavioural characteristics
  • Make a determined effort to progressively enhance your target account prospecting database by capturing the characteristics of your “ideal prospects”.  Include this learning in the information you collect in web form submissions, etc.
  • Help prospects to self-qualify by explaining how your solution is particularly relevant to organisations that exhibit the characteristics of your “ideal prospect profile”.  Ensure that your case studies and reference materials support this
  • Encourage sales and marketing to enter into a contract based on the commonly agreed characteristics of an “ideal prospect” that ensures that if marketing uncovers a suitable candidate, sales commits to follow them up
  • Implement a continuous qualification process that helps marketing and sales to judge – in an evidence based way – just how good a prospect and given enquiry, lead or opportunity is likely to be

Trust me, it will be worth the effort…

Get this right – and continue to refine it – and from all my observations, you’ll spend your marketing money far more wisely and apply your sales resources far more effectively.  And both departments will enjoy working together.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


  1. Hi Bob: If sales and marketing have difficulty agreeing on what characterizes a good prospect, knowing what ISN’T a prospect can be almost as valuable. If they can at least agree on that, it’s better than not agreeing on anything.


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