Please Don’t Let Your Sales Reps Nurture Leads


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Bear with me as I relate a quick story about lead nurturing:

A few months back I became a sales lead. I sent an email to a marketing technology firm, one with whom I was vaguely familiar, about a client campaign for which I thought their technology might be useful. I talked to an account executive, got pricing, and told her I’d be in touch. Unfortunately the budget for the campaign got cancelled, so I emailed the rep, told her the bad news, and that I would continue to keep her company and product in mind for future needs.

A question: at this point, what kind of lead am I? By my own reckoning, I’m an MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead). I meet the demographic criteria, I’m aware of the company, but I don’t have immediate needs (though I may in the future.) Perhaps I was an SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) at one point in the conversation, but no longer.

I’m also a perfect candidate for lead nurturing. Sure, I’m aware of the company in question, but I may or may not think of them when the appropriate client opportunity arises. Good lead nurturing would maintain that brand awareness, keep me abreast of product developments , deliver innovative use cases that get me thinking about where else I can use this technology, etc.

But no.

Instead, what passes for lead nurturing at this particular company is a monthly phone call from the same sales rep, delivered by voicemail, along the lines of the following:

“Hi Howard. It’s [Name] from [Company]. We talked a few months back and I gave you pricing on our solution and I just wondering if you have any needs currently where we could help?”

I have two issues with this. The first is voicemail. Who the heck responds to voicemail these days even if they DO have a need? Certainly not me. It’s 2015: use email, for crying out loud.

And secondly, and more critically, these kinds of “touching base” phone calls are the worst possible use of a sales rep’s time. Worse in my view than cold calling.

A sales rep should be selling, period. Granted, some salespeople (BDRs, inside sales) are also chartered with qualifying raw leads, but otherwise, anything that takes a salesperson away from his or her core function should either be eliminated or automated. Placing calls to leads that were once qualified, in the hope, by some accident of timing, that the prospect may yet have a need again, is destined to be a fruitless and thoroughly unproductive endeavor.

If there’s one thing that good, effective lead nurturing does well, at scale, it’s keeping your brand top of mind with prospects who meet the grade demographically (right person, right company) but aren’t yet sales-ready. Plus, if you choose to, lead nurturing emails can be personalized as coming “from” the assigned rep. Prospects who then engage with that nurturing content can then be further profiled, or scored, and the rep can be alerted based on pre-defined triggers. (At which point, sales is engaging with prospects showing immediate, current interest, not prospects who raised their hand months or years ago.)

Do me a favor. Get your salespeople out of the lead nurturing business. If they have nothing else to do with their time, hand them a list and make them cold call. (Note: if your sales team doesn’t have enough leads, new or newly qualified, to occupy their time, you have an entirely different problem.)

For more tips on lead nurturing, download a copy of our white paper: “Top 10 Tips for Lead Nurturing Success.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Howard Sewell
Howard has worked in marketing for 25+ years, and is president of Spear Marketing Group, a full-service B2B marketing agency. Howard is a frequent speaker and contributor to marketing publications on topics that include demand generation, digital marketing, ABM, and marketing technology.


  1. Howard, good article and right on target. Although there are exceptions, lead nurturing should be a marketing, not a sales function. We’ve got lots of data to suggest that it works much better if sales reps are focused on prospects who have been pre-qualified. I wrote a book on this subject called The Essential Guide to Building Your Lead-to-Revenue (L2R) Machine.

    Chris Ryan
    Fusion Marketing Partners

  2. I work at a company where a lot of sales reps still take ‘ownership’ of the customer AND the whole customer journey too. What would be your advice on lead nurturing and the relationship marketing has with sales?

  3. Kevin, my advice would be to position lead nurturing not as a unilateral effort by marketing to push leads through the sales cycle, but rather as sales enablement – i.e. communicating with prospects at a scale, and a frequency, that no rep has the bandwidth to do. Good lead nurturing not only makes sales more productive (eliminating wasted calls, highlighting leads that most merit attention) but ultimately results in more closed deals (and higher commissions!) by uncovering more qualified leads for sales to work. For further discussion on this topic, see my post: “Why Is Inside Sales So Scared of Lead Nurturing” (

  4. Howard – I feel your pain. The “follow up” call you described sounds silly. It appears to offer no value to the buyer. But my empathy stops there.

    While it’s compassionate to consider that the rep’s manager may have goaded the rep to spend time so unproductively, I don’t care. As a prospect, it doesn’t matter to me whether a rep seems efficient to me. It doesn’t concern me that he could be spending his time doing something else that I consider more productive, or that he should be spending his time ‘selling.’ What does matter is that my needs as a buyer are met.

    Selling includes all the activities involved in facilitating a purchase. It’s hard to know where to draw that line, or that nurturing (however defined) might be out of bounds. Maybe the rep felt leaving this lame message WAS a good use of his time. As a prospect, I’m not in a position to judge.

    Reps call prospects for many reasons. Gaining insight about a project could be one of them. “Could you share with me what preempted your project . . . ?” Or, maybe the rep just had 15 minutes free and wanted to hit the phones for a few more calls.


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