There are significant hurdles in lead management, including defining a lead, passing off quality leads from marketing to sales, making sure leads are being followed up in a timely manner and proving ROI on lead generation activities.
"There is a sore need for process improvement along the entire chain of the lead management process," said Michael Gerard, director of the CMO Advisory Practice at IDC, which will publish a study in January on best practices for developing lead management processes.
One of the biggest problems is a lack of common terminology.
"At most companies, there is not a standard definition of a lead across the company globally," Gerard said.
Other challenges in lead management include data integrity; making sure sales doesn't get more leads than it can follow up on; determining a scoring system for qualifying leads; tracking how leads are progressing through the funnel; and proving ROI on lead generation activity.
"There is problem after problem as you go down the path," Gerard said.
IDC recommends the following best practices for developing lead management processes: Make sure the CMO dedicates an individual or a team responsible for developing consistent processes across the organization; closely align marketing and sales; and develop a system for performance measurement.
At telecommunications company Avaya Inc., marketing and sales work closely together to develop lead management programs and processes.
"It's critical to provide the sales organization with a sustainable, consistent pipeline of opportunities," said Denny Head, senior manager of marketing operations for Avaya's North American operations.
"Sales organizations aren't as huge anymore," he said. "Marketing can play a crucial role in helping them leverage opportunities so they can spend more time focusing on sales."
Last year, executives from Avaya's sales and marketing teams sat down to develop processes for the company's global demand generation programs.
"We had never documented and clearly defined the key metrics, infrastructure and processes that drive the overall framework," said Yannick Claereboudt, VP-demand generation for marketing at Avaya.
She and her counterpart, Trevor Gruenewald, VP-demand generation for sales, worked together to develop the following components of Avaya's demand generation framework: joint planning and reviews between sales and marketing; program design and execution; response and lead management; and opportunity management.
"It sounds simple, but from my experience, marketing has certain expectations about what is a qualified lead and sales has different expectations," Claereboudt said.
"You spend a lot of money from the marketing perspective, and you want to make sure that what you hand off to sales is actually being followed up on."
Expanding demand framework
Once the U.S. team had defined the framework for demand generation, it took the guidelines to Avaya offices in other countries, including Spain, the U.K., the Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil and Dubai.
It will also roll out workshops in India, Singapore, Japan, Korea, China and Mexico, beginning this month. "These countries have different infrastructure, processes and resources," Claereboudt said.
In each country, she and Gruenewald led workshops that were attended by marketing and sales leaders.
They conducted an assessment of each country's demand generation programs, looked at the key issues for each country, shared best practices and developed an action plan for implementing processes.
Gruenewald said that before leaving, they set goals and developed metrics for conversion rates, lead acceptance rates and other specifics.
"We have seen an impact on the way sales and marketing work together," she said.
Symantec, a software company, is another b-to-b business that places a priority on developing lead management processes.
"It is very important to make sure lead management processes are well-defined, and to have good alignment between marketing and sales," said Atul Kumar, senior director of marketing operations at Symantec.
"We work very closely with sales to define processes and definitions, such as what is a lead and what is not a lead."
He said another important aspect to developing lead management processes is data integrity.
"In b-to-b, a lot of leads are generated online, such as a user downloading a white paper or trial version of software. You have to ensure that you manage data quality effectively, such as phone numbers and e-mail addresses being correct."
Symantec has automated processes to enhance the lead information before it reaches the lead qualification team.
According to Forrester Research, which published a report last month on b-to-b lead management, companies that have mature lead management processes in place follow up on more leads and close a higher percentage of leads.
The report, which was based on interviews with 252 b-to-b marketing professionals, identifies four levels of lead management proficiency within companies: lead management masters (9%), prospect incubators (33%), lead qualifiers (45%) and sales accommodators (13%).
Of those companies that fall within the top two tiers, 46% report that sales reps follow up on 75% or more of marketing-generated leads, and 35% of companies close 10% or more of leads.
Of those companies falling within the lower two tiers, only 28% companies report that sales reps follow up on 75% or more of marketing-generated leads, and only 19% close 10% or more of leads. M