1 May 2012

Lead scoring for B2B tech companies (Part 2) - The Definition of a Lead

Many organisations struggle to integrate marketing and sales, as both groups face different pressures and challenges.  The first step to sales and marketing integration is creating a common understanding of the overarching business objectives to ensure that both departments are pulling in the same direction.  It is critical to remember that sales and marketing are two parts of the same machine.  In the long run, what is good for one is good for the other.

Integrating sales and marketing for the benefit of the company isn’t easy, because the process requires organisational change and thus the ability to overcome resistance to change.  Fundamentally, it’s about increasing the level of understanding between marketing and sales – objectives, terminology, processes and the systems that support them.  This post is about establishing common terminology and the most common cause for misunderstanding – the question “what is a Lead?”

Picture the scenario:  The marketing department runs a campaign and hands over a list of names to sales.  Sales comes straight back to marketing:  “We can’t use these!  You people are just wasting money!  There’s one here whose name is ‘Mickey Mouse’!”  Marketing has handed over leads as they define them – a list of contacts generated by a campaign.  To the sales team, these are not leads.


It seems a simple question, but ask five people and you’ll get five different answers (or no answer at all).  This is one of the most common symptoms of sales and marketing misalignment.  Few organisations take the time to define what they mean by the term.  Often operational pressures get in the way and nobody has time to investigate the problem beneath the symptoms.

As ever, nothing is as simple as it seems.  Effectively, there is no such thing as a ‘lead’ in a generic sense.  Lead is an abstract term; you have to be more specific to describe a lead in terms of its location in the pipeline.  In reality, a lead will fall into one of a number of subcategories, depending on where it is in the sales cycle.  In order to communicate effectively and work together, marketing and sales must clearly understand the terminology involved.

Marketing Anonymous Lead (MAL)
An unknown person who has had some sort of contact with your marketing organisation – e.g. visited your website or booth, or had contact with one of your marketing campaigns without reaching a conversion point by which you are able to positively identify the prospect.

Marketing Identified Lead (MIL)
A ‘known lead’.  Somebody who has given their contact information as part of an enquiry or in exchange for a whitepaper, webcast or other resource.

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
A lead which meets specific, objective criteria indicating the lead is sales-ready.  Essentially, this is a lead which is deemed by the lead scoring criteria to be ready for sales to develop a personal relationship.  If marketing have done their homework and implemented a lead scoring system in close conjunction with sales, then these leads should be just what the sales team are looking for.

Sales Accepted Lead (SAL)
If the lead is accepted, it will go into a queue of leads to be called by inside-sales/telesales in order to qualify.  If a MQL passed over to sales is not accepted by sales on first sight, or rejected after a qualification call, it should be passed back to marketing (PBM) where it will be re-classified as a Marketing Identified Lead and included in a lead nurturing program to keep it ‘warm’.

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
A lead which has been qualified by inside-sales/telesales as a viable new business opportunity (e.g. Budget, Authority, Need and Timing are all there).

Closed business e.g. a deal has been struck and a contract signed by the relevant authority in the customer organisation.

Tips for success:

  • It doesn't matter if you use commonly accepted terminology (like that of the above), as long as you define standard, terminology within your organisation - that is understood and accepted by both marketing and sales.
  • A purchased email address is the lowest quality lead.  Purchased email addresses haven’t ‘raised their hands’ to demonstrate interest in something that you offer, whether that be your products/services or simply content.  Nor do you have any profile information to assess budget, authority, timeline, company size, etc.  It is recommended that you should avoid purchased lists as conversion rates and ROI are very low when cost and effort are taken into account.
  • Even when the organisation has set and communicated lead terminology, there is still an opportunity for confusion.  Marketing automation and CRM tools often enforce their own terminology.  Where possible, implement marketing automation and CRM system which allows you to modify field labels to align terminology with your organisation’s own terminology.