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Planning meetings and informal discussions go a long way toward repairing the rifts between sales and marketing, but both teams need to see the impact of those conversations to really establish trust. Once your sales and marketing teams speak a common language and have their goals outlined in a service-level agreement (SLA), it’s time to start applying that structure to your day-to-day sales and marketing activities. To make sure that application goes off without a hitch, let's discuss six tips for managing the lead generation and hand-off process so that both teams can meet their SLA goals.

Tip # 1: Focus on Both Lead Quality and Quantity

Only 5%-15% of the names you collect on your website or from your marketing campaigns will be ready to buy from you right away , according to Brian Carroll , author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale . That means the vast majority of the new contacts you generate each month are nowhere near ready to buy. Passing those unqualified leads directly to your sales team is one of the reasons sales hates marketing. Sales reps simply don’t have the time to cultivate a prospect into a qualified lead. So in a well-aligned organization, the marketing team sorts through all leads and prioritizes the best ones to hand off to the sales team.

This dynamic shouldn’t mean that you have to dial back on the number of leads you generate. In fact, you need to be constantly expanding the top of your funnel because, as our presentation " Death by Marketing Automation " showed, your email list expires at approximately 25% a year . So once you start attracting thousands of prospects and leads, you can focus on creating lead nurturing campaigns to cultivate the quality of these new connections.

Tip #2: Nurture Leads That Aren't Sales-Ready

So, what exactly do you do with the 85%-95% of prospects that aren’t ready to talk to a sales rep ? Create a lead nurturing program that builds a relationship with prospects and grooms them for an eventual hand-off to the sales team. Lead nurturing creates a consistent, relevant dialog with prospects based on their needs and interests (as evidenced by their engagement with your content). Here are the five best practices for establishing a lead nurturing program:

1) Create a Communication Schedule

Study after study shows that email response rates decline over the age of the lead. In fact, in his " Science of Timing " research, HubSpot Social Media Scientist Dan Zarrella discovered that there is a positive correlation between subscriber recency and click-through rate , one of the key metrics of engagement. A good contact schedule should include a follow-up email within 24 hours after a prospect downloads a piece of content, and the timing of the rest of the messages in the campaign should depend on your usual sales cycle. For example, if your nurturing cycle lasts 30 days, you might plan to send a new email on the 1st, 7th, 14th, and 30th day after the initial contact.

2) Don't Pitch -- Provide Educational Content

Leads in the nurturing stage, by definition, are not sales-ready, so don’t make every message a sales pitch. Instead, use content that addresses the prospect’s needs and establishes your company as a thought leader. For example, the first email you send a new lead might include a whitepaper or ebook that addresses a high-level industry concern. Subsequent emails should then contain offers that intensify that relationship, such as inviting prospects to attend a webinar, download a video demo, or participate in a customized assessment of their needs. You can also monitor each prospect’s activity to customize follow-up content offers based on their interests. For example, a prospect that downloads a ebook on a particular topic is a good prospect to invite to a webinar that dives deeper into some of the issues discussed in the ebook.

3) Engage Leads Through Multiple Channels

Email shouldn’t be your only lead nurturing communication channel. You should focus on the entire experience of your leads, sending communications designed to benefit leads, not interrupt them. This type of cross-channel nurturing can incorporate mobile and social media . HubSpot’s behavior-driven communication tool , for example, triggers emails and other messages based on your leads’ full history of interactions on and off your site. As a best practice, use marketing automation to nurture leads and send them information only when it is most relevant to their buying cycle.


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4) Look for Segmentation Opportunities

Customizing your nurturing campaigns for different types of leads can help you deliver the most relevant content. Using information collected through your content registration forms, look for opportunities to segment your database by industry, job title/role, communication preferences (e.g. email vs. social media), the product(s) they’re interested in, etc.

By doing so, you'll be able to select the best content for each segment. Say you sell accounting software: economic buyers might be interested in ROI calculators, vendor comparison charts, and other content that addresses financial concerns. But the IT personnel who have to manage that software might want to receive product specifications or invitations to a webinar featuring implementation best practices. So you would establish separate nurturing tracks for those two types of leads.


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Measure Results and Optimize Your Campaigns

Track key metrics related to your nurturing campaigns to fine-tune your approach. Measuring each email’s click-through and conversion rates will help you determine whether the content you’ve selected is relevant to that particular audience. Spikes in unsubscribe rates might also signal a problem with the relevancy of your nurturing campaigns. Measuring how many of those leads convert into sales-ready leads and customers will show you which of your nurturing funnels are most effective, and which might need further testing and improvement. Establish some lead nurturing benchmarks, which should be higher than your regular email marketing benchmarks, and monitor the performance of your campaigns. Here is an example of what that measurement view might look like:


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Success Story: Lead Nurturing Helps a Staffing Agency Get Ready-to-Buy Leads

Aclipse is a staffing agency that connects enthusiastic college graduates with the best teaching jobs in Asia. Before starting lead nurturing, Aclipse had trouble attracting talent that was ‘ready to buy.’ Aclipse solved this problem with a comprehensive inbound marketing campaign, including lead nurturing using HubSpot's tools .

Rebecca McNeil, Aclipse’s marketing director, explains the results: “Landing pages and lead nurturing campaigns enable us to reach out to people who are clearly interested in teaching
English overseas, even though they haven’t actually completed the application yet. If we didn’t have lead nurturing, I think we’d miss out on a lot of great opportunities. People need a lot of information before they’re ready to commit.”

Tip #3: Use Lead Scoring to Identify Sales-Ready Leads

During the lead nurturing phase, you’re also building a profile of each lead in your database that includes qualitative and quantitative factors to signal when a lead is ready to hand off to Sales. A formal lead-scoring framework takes the guesswork out of prioritizing sales-ready leads. It assigns points to demographic factors and recent actions that indicate a lead’s potential interest and fit for your company. Key factors used to establish a lead’s score include:

  • Demographic data such as title, job description, company size, and location
  • Behavioral data such as content viewed, time spent on site, and number of visits
  • Self-reported info from registration forms such as budget or timeframe for a purchase

As with the definition of a sales-ready lead, establishing a lead-scoring framework requires collaboration between Sales and Marketing. The two groups should determine a threshold for a
sales-ready lead – you can set any point value you’d like, but typically, you’ll want to stick to a 0 to 100 scale and weigh the points in relation to how telling they are about a lead’s readiness to talk to a sales rep -- and buy. Then work backwards to assign point values to specific actions or demographic factors based on the lead’s probability to become a customer. For example:

  • Whitepaper download = 5 points
  • Case study download = 10 points
  • Webinar registration = 15 points
  • Webinar attendance = 25 points
  • Consultation = 50 points

Using a lead-scoring framework will help marketers avoid sending those ‘crappy’ leads on to the sales team. No one will be passed over to Sales until they’ve reached the sales-ready threshold.

Remember, the point of lead scoring is two-fold:

  1. To avoid harassing leads with contact from Sales before they’re ready to buy, and ...
  2. To identify leads who need to be touched with more lead nurturing first to maximize the efficiency of your sales team so they can easily identify and work only the leads who are sales-ready.

Once you’ve set point values for each of the lead qualification categories listed above, decide at which point a total score would validate sending a lead to your sales team for a conversation. It helps to look at past lead activity when determining this figure, so you know what has historically led to sales conversions.

It’s important to remember that, because a lead’s activity can change from day to day, a lead’s individual score will also change over time. For this reason, lead scoring isn’t something easily done manually. You’ll need lead management software that enables you to set your lead scoring criteria and auto-score and re-score your leads in real time. For HubSpot customers, the Lead Management Tool and the Lead Grader App makes this a snap. And depending on your CRM, you could then set up alerts based on your custom lead score to notify your sales team when leads have reached that critical score that makes them sales-ready.

Tip #4: Share Lead Intelligence With Sales Team

Lead scoring identifies sales-ready leads, but just passing along the names and contact information to the sales team is not enough. Marketers need to show sales reps exactly why each lead was qualified by sharing detailed lead intelligence captured during the nurturing process. Lead intelligence includes details about each lead’s profile and past activity, which the sales reps can use to plan their follow-up calls.

Here are some vital pieces of lead intelligence :

  • Complete and verified contact information for each lead, including name, title, company information, links to social media accounts, and even a photo from the lead’s LinkedIn profile
  • Details on the original source of the lead and how long they’ve been in the nurturing pipeline
  • A list of all web pages viewed, so sales reps get a sense of which challenges a lead is facing, or which products they’ve been researching
  • A list of all the content the lead has viewed, with the information the lead provided on all registration forms
  • Data on all the emails sent to that lead, including engagement metrics, so the sales rep knows exactly what information the lead has seen already and what types of messages generated the best response
  • Examples of each lead’s social media activity
  • Real-time alerts of new website activity (Many marketing automation systems, including HubSpot's software , include a feature that sends reps an email whenever a lead comes back to the site. These alerts can help the sales team time their follow-up calls for when a lead is actively researching your company.)

Tip #5: Track Sales Follow-Up Attempts in a CRM System

Information sharing is a two-way street. Marketers need to know what’s happening with the leads they’ve handed off to Sales, so make sure the sales team is recording their engagement
efforts in your company’s CRM system. Each lead should be assigned to a specific sales rep that is responsible for making at least one follow-up attempt within 24 hours of receiving the lead. Then, reps should record the outcome of that initial contact attempt and all subsequent contact attempts as spelled out in your sales and marketing SLA (service-level agreement).

Tip #6: Hand "Dead" Leads Back to Marketing

Not every sales-ready lead is going to close, but just because someone wasn’t ready to buy now doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future. Don’t let the relationships you’ve built during the lead nurturing phase go to waste, even if the lead is no longer viable for the sales team.

Your sales team should have a process for passing “dead” leads back to the marketing
team, with information about why the deal didn’t close. Then, the marketing team can decide
whether to cycle that name back into the nurturing funnel or earmark it as a potential
target for a future re-engagement campaign.

Recycling old leads can deliver a big payoff. Consider conducting a lead re-engagement campaign targeting leads that have been untouched by the sales team for 90 days or had been marked “closed-lost” by the sales team.

This article is an excerpt from our ebook, All You Need to Know About Aligning Sales & Marketing for Quality Leads . How symbiotic is the relationship between your sales and marketing teams? For more information about achieving better sales and marketing alignment, download the complete free ebook here .

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Originally published May 28, 2012 9:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017


Lead Nurturing