Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Most Important Lead Management Practice: Align on Standards

Of all the lead management best practices a company can invest in, the one that stands out as most important is defining standards.  Recently, IDC interviewed technology marketing executives to learn what's working and what's not in 21st Century lead management. When asked for a description of their greatest success, many more companies stated consistent global standards (including a common language) than gave any other answer. 
Why is standardization so important?  Variation is a main culprit in erratic and unreliable processes. No two leads are the same. No two geographies are the same. No two campaign tactics perform the same. Nothing in lead management is really the same. Though companies can’t hope to eliminate all variation in their lead management, the best practice companies get rid of much of as much unnecessary complexity and redundancy as possible. By reducing variation, companies gain better control and achieve more predictable performance.
Important areas of lead management standardization include:
  • Definitions: “All marketing groups and geographies use the same stages, taxonomies, and definitions of what it means to be sourced, what it means to touch a lead.”
  • Data: “We strive for a single version of the truth.” “Instead of a 60-minute meeting on why my data is better than your data, we now talk about results – why is Hong Kong doing better?”
  • Procedures: “We consolidated 40 lead queues into six. We standardized BANT criteria, implemented standard SLA’s, standardized everything.” “Even though we are a decentralized company, we run a single process.”
  • Systems:  “Everyone uses the same common business intelligence system so we pull data from the same source.” “Using the same marketing automation system enforces our processes. It has accelerated best practice sharing.”
How to Increase Standardization
Marketing leaders acknowledge the difficulty in getting alignment on standards and offer tips from their experiences:
  • Cross-functional groups: “Bring together a core cross-functional group (regions, field marketing sales), people who are passionate and have a direct stake in the outcome.”
  • High-level sponsorship: “The sponsor was responsible for both sales and marketing. She publically gave me power.”
  • Appropriate specificity: “At first we standardized at too high a level – defining one stage as an “opportunity” for example, and things were too confusing. By getting more granular, putting in more stages, making routing rules more specific, we’ve gotten better results.”
  • Persistence: “The secret is to keep revisiting the model and the results. We’ve needed to revise it multiple times to accommodate changes in sales and marketing capability.”
  • Transparency: “Collect the data and let everyone see how bad it is. Then pick your battle.”
  • Training: "We conducted initial roll-out training as well as ongoing training to maintain momentum."
Recognize the Limits of Standards and Allow for Some Flexibility
 Although aligning around standards is the most important best practice, it's important to recognize that exceptions are occasionally needed. Companies should start with a goal of full standardization but then be alert for where variation is reasonably required.  For example, an emerging region with fast growth, such as China, may have genuinely different requirements than a more developed North America for what percentage of leads gets handed to sales.  However, demand a strong business case for any variation, especially in early days when people aren’t used to standards. Then be sure and treat the variation as an exception.
IDC's report, IDC CMO Advisory Service Best Practice Series: Realizing the Vision of 21st Century Lead Management, will be available soon. IDC also offers taxonomy to assist companies to standardization. (See IDC's Worldwide Sales and Marketing Taxonomy 2012 #231252)


  1. I can feel the marketing people reading this blog get all warm and fuzzy about the granularity of this methodology.

    I can also recognize the collective sigh sales people have when they read this as well.

    When sales people are taken out of the field and asked to quantify how the prospect felt, or did or did not do, they hate it.

    Marketing people are clinicians and sales people are the surgeons. Clinicians want to do what we as sales people do but can't because they don't know how to get out of their own heads, never mind into the prospects mindset.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Jon. I agree with some of your observations - but disagree with your conclusions.

    I, too, have observed that most sales people really dislike the "overhead" aspects of selling (data entry, call reports, forecasting, feedback to marketing etc.). Most marketers know this and companies are trying to make this easier of sales people (although arguably not trying hard enough).

    Regarding getting into the prospect's mindset: many marketers struggle with this today, true. According to our data - its a sales problem, too. With the help of data, leading marketers are starting to reveal amazing insights into buyer behavior and are using it for dramatic improvements in business results. This information is helping both marketing and sales effectiveness.

    Today's buyers avoid interacting with sales people until much later in the buying cycle, so sales people need the "clinician's" help more than ever - or they risk operating blind. And now that buyers never, ever, go offline, marketing is in the operating room right along the sales "surgeon", whether they like it or not.

    It's a different world than 10 years ago and both marketing and sales professionals need to change to keep up.

  3. Lead management practice play a vital role in marketing that will surely lead to ones success. Yes indeed, one one must undergo training and persistence in order to achieve. It's really hard to encourage consumers especially when you are in a competent world, and you need to stand out in order to lead among others.

  4. The most important of business is Sales Lead Management and any loophole in it can lead to serious harm.