Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cherry Picking of Leads: B2B Marketing to Sales Handoff

Should we allow sales to cherry pick leads that, based on lead scoring, we have deemed not to be ready for sales?

Steve Kellogg at Astadia raised the question very aptly in his Endless Lead Loop post, and it's a question we all face as we wrestle with the business process of lead scoring and handing leads from marketing to sales. Let me start by saying that there is no right answer here, and businesses that have consciously decided to allow cherry picking are not necessarily doing anything wrong.

However, I would make a strong argument for "No."

The better we get at lead scoring, the more factors we are able to consider. We look at multiple dimensions of lead scoring to split the "who" from the "how interested", we look at multiple components of a score and allow each component to only contribute a maximum amount, and we take time into account by degrading lead scores over time. Over time, as we work with sales, we are able to build a fairly accurate picture of what matters to them in a lead.

However, there will always come a time when sales is not getting, in their view, enough volume of leads, and they will ask to open up the funnel so they can "cherry pick" the leads that they deem good. Sounds harmless, as some might turn into opportunities, and those that don't can continue to be nurtured.

It is, unfortunately, not a harmless activity. If we are connecting sales with buyers who are too early in their buying process to be ready to talk to sales, we run a very real risk of alienating those buyers and pushing them away. Despite our good intentions, this cherry picking activity can have significant negative consequences, as prospective buyers who might be good opportunities later can disconnect from an otherwise promising education process early in their buying cycle.

Better than allowing cherry picking, is to keep with the same scoring methodology, but open the funnel slightly. If an A-Lead is passed to sales, and 80-100 points is deemed to be an A-Lead, then keep the same process in place, but open the funnel up so that a A-Lead is now from 60-100 points. By doing this, we prevent sales from negatively impacting early-stage prospective buyers, but still allow them more leads in the funnel.

This question is one of 8 critical lead scoring questions to consider when thinking about a lead scoring system.
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Tim Wilson said...

This is a delicate area, as Marketing-telling-Sales-not-to-call-a-lead-when-Sales-is-compensated-on-the-revenue-they-generate-and-not-something-fluffy-like-"qualified leads"-so-stay-out-of-my-business-thankyouverymuch is a slippery slope. An alternate approach is to treat the cherrypicking of leads by Sales as another opportunity to "work with sales" (which you mention early in the post). Rather than negotiating a lower lead threshold, do two things: 1) Pull the leads that Sales followed up with but that were scored below the qualification threshold and sit down with Sales and ask them *why* they followed up -- do this with your top Sales performers first, and it's guaranteed that you'll learn something worth feeding back into your process (or at least considering), 2) Compare the results for the unqualified-but-cherrypicked-and-called leads against the qualified-and-called leads...and show the results. In practice, this may be tough, but, in theory, you should be able to show higher conversion for qualified leads than unqualified when both are followed up on. Right?

David Raab said...

I'm with Tim. The assumption is your scoring algorithm is smarter than your sales reps -- not sure that's the case. The reason we score is so salespeople don't have to spend time deciding which leads are worth their attention. If they dip into the pool and find a few leads they want to contact, they may well have spotted something subtle that the scoring formula missed. As Tim suggests, best is to let them do it and measure the results -- if you can show that sales is wasting their time, you'll have a stronger argument for not letting them do it. They might even agree!

Steven Woods said...

Tim, David,
Great points. I guess the way to think about it is more like a "symptom" of an underlying challenge. The funnel may be too constricted, or the lead scoring algorithm may be wrong. Either way, the symptom gives great insights into what is wrong and allows tweaking. Hiding the symptom by outright prevention of cherry picking just hides the underlying problem.

Thanks for the insights, you're right on with that.