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Should You Stop Generating Leads When Sales Is “Wasting” Them?

sales wasted leads

As marketers, we all but obsess over generating enough leads for our sales teams. And yet, when we dive into the metrics to see how many of these leads are actually getting worked by Sales, we’re often disappointed. Why bother generating so many leads when your sales reps aren’t even going to call them? Aren’t you just wasting these leads?

Well, in short, no. You’re not wasting these leads. If you’re doing good marketing, there’s really no such thing as a wasted lead.

Bear with me, I’ll explain exactly why this is the case. But first, let’s take a quick look at the sales funnel for some background.

The Stages of the Sales Funnel: Where We Think the "Wasting" is Happening

Let’s make sure we have a good understanding of the sales funnel before we dive in. First off, marketing generates a bunch of leads, aiming for both high volume and high quality. Then, these leads are rotated to the sales team (it’s possible that you only rotate certain leads to Sales, like only "marketing qualified leads," depending on your particular volume/quality mix). Of the leads that are rotated to Sales, some of them will be worked by a sales rep -- usually the rep will try to connect via phone or email. The rep will continue attempting to connect with the lead, and if they do connect, they’ll schedule a sales call and take it from there.

So that’s the sales funnel, simplified. Now the question is, where is this concept of "wasted" leads coming from?

When we, as marketers, rotate leads to Sales, we’re essentially saying "we generated these leads for you, and we’d like you to work them." But it’s often the case that we see a drop-off in the "leads rotated" to "leads worked" piece of the chain, which can be frustrating for us marketers. You might be thinking, “Isn’t my sales team always looking for more leads? Why aren’t they working all the leads I send them?” And that’s why you think these leads are being wasted.

But they aren't! And we’ll get to why in a bit. First, let’s take a look at why your sales reps aren’t working every lead you give them, and what you can do about it.

Why Sales Reps Aren’t Working Certain Leads At All

If your sales team isn’t working all or most of the leads that you send them, it’s possible that they’re just not working them deeply enough, or that they’re not working them at all. Let’s start by taking a look at the two main reasons why your sales reps might not be touching some of these leads in the first place.

The leads are low quality.

The first reason your leads might not all be getting worked, is that they're low quality. Your sales reps might be taking a look at the lead information and deciding that some of these leads are not good fits for your product or service. Here at HubSpot, for instance, we qualify our leads with BANT -- Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing. If a lead is lacking in any of these areas (as they apply to purchasing your product or service) they are likely not qualified to buy right now.

If low quality is the reason that your reps aren’t working certain leads, it’s actually a good thing, and a measure of a strong sales team. It means that they’re prioritizing the high quality leads, and not wasting their time pitching to leads that are not a good fit for your company.

How can you get your reps to work more leads if quality is the problem? Well, to start, come up with a clear definition of what makes a "qualified lead" (you might already be familiar with the concepts of MQLs and SQLs), and make sure you agree upon these criteria with your sales team. Then, start tracking the percentage of the total number of leads that you generate that are qualified leads, and optimize your marketing efforts to generate more qualified leads. This might mean targeting different audiences, focusing in on certain channels over others, or further developing your lead nurturing efforts to better educate your leads about your industry and your company before sending them to Sales.

There are too many leads to touch them all.

The other reason that sales reps might not be touching certain leads at all is that they don’t have enough time. If your sales reps are booking their calendars full to the brim with high quality leads, they won’t have the time to reach out to some of the other ones you’ve generated. But what if there are other qualified leads in their funnel that they’re still not working at all?

If a lack of time is the reason that your reps aren’t working some of their leads, it means that you don’t have enough resources to handle the number of qualified leads you’re generating. If your budget allows for it, consider expanding your sales team. While relatively rare, this would be a case where you’re losing out on an opportunity to grow your revenue at a faster rate, because you don’t have the bandwidth to talk to all of your qualified, interested prospects.

Why Sales Reps Aren’t Working Certain Leads Enough

Okay, so maybe your reps are calling up most of the leads you send them, but some don't answer the phone. For those leads, they leave a voicemail, shoot over an email, and if there’s no response, well, that’s the end of that. This is an issue where the sales reps aren't working leads deeply enough. Often, if the rep can’t get in touch with a lead after a few tries, they’ll give up on trying to connect with them and move on to the next lead, even if that first one was a good fit. Unlike the problem of low quality, this isn’t a good excuse.

Come up with some standard operating procedures for following up with a qualified lead. For instance, you might say that every qualified lead deserves six connect attempts. This means that the rep needs to call, leave a voice message, and send a follow-up email six times before they can mark that lead as "unable to qualify." By enforcing this standard -- or whatever standard is most appropriate for your business -- you’re setting a bar for the minimum amount of effort that you expect the reps to put in to work their qualified leads deeply enough. If you find that your reps still aren’t meeting these expectations, you can set up a dashboard in your CRM or marketing software to show the average number of attempts per lead that each sales rep makes, and hold them accountable to hitting that number.

Alright, we’ve taken a look at a few of the main reasons why your sales reps aren’t working all of the leads you send them, and steps you can take to clear some of those obstacles. But regardless of how many leads your sales team is working, you always want to be generating as many leads as possible. I told you earlier that if you think you’re "wasting" leads that your sales team isn’t working, you’re wrong. And now I’ll tell you why.

Why You Should Always Generate as Many Leads as Possible, Even If They’re Not All Worked

1) Revenue matters more than work rates.

First of all, if the only sales metric you’re focusing on is the sales reps’ work rates, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. The ultimate goal of your sales team is to generate revenue, and they do that by working leads. So start looking at your bottom line, and figure out how you can grow that. You should be more focused on helping your sales reps increase their close rates, rather than getting hung up on their work rates. Wouldn’t you rather they close one lead who is a really good fit, than call 10 leads that most likely won’t buy? Stop obsessing over the number of leads that they’re talking to, and make sure they know how to identify the real gems in the bunch so they can spend their time on the leads that will actually bring in the big bucks.

2) Sales reps like to choose which leads they’ll work.

Even if you’re taking measures to ensure that you’re generating qualified leads for Sales, your reps are still the pros at qualifying -- as they should be. In other words, a “marketing qualified lead” isn’t always a “sales qualified lead,” and that’s okay. The more leads you generate, the more options you’re giving your sales reps, which increases their opportunity to find and work the leads that they feel confident they’ll be able to sell to. Giving them a little leeway to work with is actually a good thing.

3) Lead nurturing will take care of the "we’re not ready yet" bunch.

Different leads come in to your funnel at different stages of the buying cycle. Some of them already know about your product, and some might even be ready to buy the first time you talk to them. But chances are good that you’ve generated a handful of leads who downloaded an ebook or an educational piece of content from you, or maybe subscribed to your blog. These leads are not yet qualified to go to Sales, which means you should be nurturing them through the buying cycle to get them sales-ready.

In other words, if you’re generating leads that aren’t ready to be worked by Sales, that’s normal. And you certainly shouldn’t hold it against your sales reps! It’s your job as a marketer to get your leads in tip-top "qualified" shape before you hand them over for a phone call.

4) You’ll have more leads to work in low volume months.

I don’t know about you, but February is a notoriously tough month for our Marketing and Sales teams because it's so short on business days. (Come on, guys. No one likes marketing software in February?) So generating way more leads in January than Sales can realistically work that month is actually a great thing, because when February rolls around, we’re all set to fill our sales reps' pipelines with some of the leads they didn’t have a chance to work the month before. While reaching out to these leads a couple weeks after they’ve expressed interest isn’t optimal, it certainly isn’t wasting them.

5) Generating more leads helps you grow your evangelists.

As you generate more and more leads, you’re inevitably increasing the number of "evangelists" for your company, or people who share your content and spread the word about your product or service. This will help you grow your traffic, since your evangelists will send their friends and others in their networks to your site as well. They may even generate some qualified leads for you! Either way, the more leads you generate, the more people you have interested in and talking about your company.

So really, as frustrating as it may be to see that your sales team isn’t working every single lead you're rotating to them, your lead generation efforts are certainly not being wasted. Keep going. Generate more. Your marketing will only get better, and your bottom line will show it.

Have you had this problem or feeling of "wasting leads" as a lead generating marketer? How did you respond?

Image credit: SaraiRachel