One of the things that I often discuss with B2B marketing clients is the details of the process for handing leads from marketing to sales and then bringing them back again if sales is not interested. It's an area not to take too lightly as it can derail a tremendous amount of great work in both sales and marketing if the handoff is not done extremely well.
The most common handoff I see is the Excel spreadsheet of leads. This terrifies me.
I liken this to a manufacturing operation where the production is done in two separate buildings, and half way through the manufacturing process, the product is shipped, via truck, from one building to another. It functions, sort of, but will not give you a strong business.
First of all, speed is critical in responding to leads. This has been talked about many times, including my post a month ago here http://digitalbodylanguage.blogspot.com/2008/12/high-noon-at-web-form.html. The essence is, you have a very limited amount of time (hours, not days) to act on a sign of buying interest, before your chance of connecting drops precipitously.
So, why does the truck (Excel spreadsheet) model fail?
- Trucks work best when they are fully loaded. You would not send a spreadsheet with one or two names in it, any more than you would ship a truck with one or two parts in it.
- Too many trucks clog the roads. In the same way, tt becomes unworkable to be emailing back and forth more than a few (2 or 3) spreadsheets of leads.
- Trucks are loaded by people. People have other things on their plate, they take breaks, they take vacations, they get distracted. The same thing holds for Excel spreadsheets
The problem with this is that it becomes a downward spiral. We send the leads over to sales, and whereas they might have been well qualified at the start, now that a few days have passed, the prospect's interest has moved on to other things, and the chance of connecting with them has decreased. As sales tries to connect with these leads, they realize that they are not getting through, and therefore sales treats the leads with less urgency adding even more delay to the process.
The only way to break this cycle realistically is with automation, in much the same way that conveyer belts revolutionized manufacturing. The lead qualification, handoff, and clawback must be done with the appropriate sense of urgency. Marketing and sales need to work together to build the agreements, SLAs, and processes so that a prospective buyer is responded to quickly and efficiently. To do this requires allowing each lead to flow through the process as soon as they raise their hand. This requires removing any trucks (Excel spreadsheets) from the flow, and replacing them with conveyer belts (automation).
Automating your lead routing may seem like a small optimization, but like in manufacturing, changing the way a process is managed can have a massive impact on bottom line success. Dell and Toyota demonstrated this with electronics and automotive manufacturing. Now, this operations mentality has shifted to Marketing, where the organization who can best serve the needs of the prospect will win.