Monday, October 19, 2009

Loose Coupling and Analysis of the Marketing Process

When analyzing the flow of leads through your marketing organization, and into your sales organization, how you design the stages in the process has a significant impact on both how you are going to be able to analyze it, and how you are going to be able to optimize it in the future. Without the ability to both analyze and optimize a process, you will find that errors begin to creep into the process due to the lack of visibility, and your ability to adapt the process as your business changes or grows is minimal.

The best approach, when you have a hand-off between one team and another, is one that is “loosely coupled”. Your marketing team, for example, may pass marketing qualified leads (MQLs) to your sales team. However, what the sales team accepts should not be termed the same thing – MQLs – as this does not allow the system to account for, and measure, a drop-off in the acceptance rate. Instead, these leads that are accepted by sales should be termed differently – in this case Sales Accepted Leads – SALs.

Even in a system where your current design parameters state that 100% of MQLs should be acted on by sales, you should still name and handle them separately. The reason for this is two-fold. For one, no system involving people can ever operate at 100% accuracy. Some of your lead will slip through the cracks due to bad data, absent employees, or inattentiveness. Without having both MQLs and SALs to measure, and thus a SAL/MQL acceptance rate, it is not possible to measure how close to 100% your system is operating at.

The second reason to avoid the tight coupling that is implied by having the same name in subsquest process stages is that most marketing organizations will change their processes over time. Perhaps your current design specification is a 100% acceptance rate of MQLs within the sales team. This may change in a quarter’s time if you decide to open up the funnel a little bit, and pass more leads to your sales team, while allowing them to selectively choose. You may reduce the design parameter to 60%. Without the “loose coupling” that having unique naming provides, it will require a full change of your marketing funnel process just to shift this one parameter. Instead, build in the flexibility up front by having the pre, and post-handoff leads named separately.

The example of MQLs being passed to sales is an obvious one, but this becomes a more interesting challenge when the names are not as obvious. For example, if you have an inside team focused on lead generation. They would take a lead at some level of quality, place a call, confirm interest, perhaps budget and authority, and deem the lead ready for the field sales team. If this team is part of the marketing organization (in some organizations, this team is part of sales), then you might wish to call the output of this team’s work an MQL. However, the question is, what is the input to this team?

Obviously, you will be scoring the leads prior to handing them to this team, so you might call them “Qualified Inquiries” to differentiate them from the raw inquiries you see on your website. The Qualified Inquiries that are then picked up by the inside team might be called “Qualified Inquiries Accepted” in order to allow you to manage the handoff between your marketing campaigns team and the inside team and allow that handoff ratio to be adjusted as needed.

The loose coupling provided by having unique names for each relevant stage of the buying process allows you to both analyze the operation of your process and also make adjustments as needed. Some upfront planning to define sufficient handoff points to allow the right amount of adjustment later can save you significant future rework.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
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Jep Castelein (LeadSloth) said...

Especially when you're still fine-tuning your scoring model it makes a lot of sense if sales people can refuse certain sales-ready leads. They can provide feedback on why they refuse them and then pass them back to marketing. The SAL per MQL ratio is an indicator of the performance of your lead scoring model.

Steven Woods said...

Definitely - a rejected lead is a learning opportunity as much as anything. As long as the process is in place to detect and understand it.

Jack Volkov said...

What is the best practice for tracking leads that may skip stages? Does the funnel need to be setup so this never happens?

For example, a lead is not yet "marketing qualified" but sales decides to contact them anyway thus making the lead "sales accepted". Ideally Sales would never do this and always only use marketing generated leads but this is not always the case.