Lead Flow Planning - Getting It Right
Jan 17, 2017
Question of the day - Is your business suffering from dreaded "Empty Pipeline Disease"? Not sure, well that is when your sales pipeline is devoid of new business opportunities or leads and looks like it will remain that way for a while. It's far from an unusual phenomena. In fact, it happens to more businesses than management of those businesses would like to admit. And, it's the result of poor lead flow planning.
In an earlier article I said I would come back to the topic of "How many Leads Do You Really Need?" For all B2B businesses, and some consumer (big ticket purchases, for example: homes, cars, furniture, etc.), lead flow planning is critical and answering the question of how many you really need can only be done after you have analyzed your current marketing and sales processes and practices.
Lead flow planning is something that many businesses don't do or even understand how to do. Typically these businesses fill up the pipeline with a lot of contacts and then dump them in sales' lap and let sales go through the process of cherry picking which ones are worthwhile to continue working. This is a recipe for failure and is generally disastrous for building a harmonious relationship between sales and marketing.
Before you begin the lead flow planning process you need to ask and answer some important questions. According to a study done by the Gartner Group, only 30% of the leads distributed to sales representatives receive the appropriate follow-up because they don’t have all the information needed to distinguish a promising lead from a bad one.
The first question you need to ask before asking how many leads do I really need is, "How many REAL leads do we have in our pipeline?" By REAL, I mean the leads that are in the pipeline that sales is currently working and have a high probability of actually closing, or ones that have they have committed to working as soon as they can work it into their account planning process? I don't mean the number of contacts in your CRM database that have requested a white paper or downloaded some information from your website. I mean leads that have been qualified, that have a real interest in your product, have a real need, have a real budget, have a real purchasing time frame in mind, and finally the people that can make the real buying decision. It sounds obvious, but the number of businesses that can actually point to all of the leads in their database and answer the question "how many real leads are there in our pipeline" is frighteningly small.
OK. Let’s assume that you have answered the first question; you next need to answer the question "How long is our sales or closing cycle." Again, seems obvious and something that every member of your management, marketing and sales leadership teams should know, but I find that many businesses, including some Fortune 100 that I worked with, don't have a real good handle on this one. Many executives have no clue how fast they really close a sale from the point of lead generation to the point of closing the transaction. But, this is extremely important because you need to know how long this period of time is because it has to be factored into when the leads need to be generated. If our sales cycle is 12 months and we need qualified leads that we can close next quarter, they'd had better have been in the pipeline for some time being worked by the sales team or good luck Charlie Brown.
From a marketer’s perspective there is nothing more embarrassing than sitting in a meeting with a bunch of senior sales executives, all looking to you for salvation, and you not being able to give it, as they sit there wondering where their future sales are going to come from; because, guess what folks, the pipeline is empty and it will take six months or longer to fill it back up. Why is the pipeline empty? Because the pipeline was full 12 months ago and management decided that we didn’t need to spend any more money at the time on lead generation because there were plenty of leads. Now 12 months later, some of those have closed and most have fallen by the wayside for lack of qualification or other reasons.
As a marketer, I used to love management coming to me today in a panic to create a marketing campaign today that will generate leads for this quarter because we are not hitting our numbers and we need more leads so we can get more sales. So, I would remind them that it takes weeks, months to set up a campaign to generate new leads and then you have to factor in how long the sales/close cycle is for a lead. I would usually say that the programs we are working on today are for generating leads one or two quarters out, or in some cases even longer. It’s not something that you can turn off and on. You can’t suddenly go out and find 100 new prospects that have a high probably of turning into sales this quarter because we are missing our numbers. And, they (qualified leads) aren't suddenly going to stumble on your doorstep because you have engaging content and have optimized your website for search. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than that.
So these are important questions that even the big guys sometimes fail to address.
Once you've answered these primary questions, you can get down to the act of actually planning campaigns and lead flow.
Knowing how your leads flow through your qualification and nurturing process is also critical. Knowing when an inquiry is really a qualified lead is critical. Knowing how long it takes to convert a qualified lead to a qualified opportunity that can be turned over to the sales organization is also critical. Knowing how long that cycle is paramount to determining how many leads you really need and when you need to develop them.
Technology, by the way, doesn't and won't solve the problem. If you don't have the practices and processes in place, all technology is going to do is show you when the pipeline is empty. Answering these questions require analysis. And, once you have answered them, technology can help you communicate with potential prospects and manage your pipeline.
I hope this article is food for thought. For more information on lead flow planning and pipeline management visit our website section on lead generation and management.
Dudley Stevenson, founder and CEO of DWS Associates, has over thirty-five years’ experience in consumer marketing, business-to-business marketing, and direct marketing, including developing, planning, and implementing go-to-market strategies. He's also the author of "Marketing Direct: Breaking Through The Clutter." Working with organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies, he and his team have helped clients such as IBM, Sony, Neiman Marcus, Arizona Highways, Marshall Field & Co., Mrs. Field’s, UNICEF, and Patagonia implement successful direct marketing programs. A longtime member of the Direct Marketing Association and the American Marketing Association, Stevenson is also a sought-after speaker. He’s given hundreds of presentations and workshops on marketing and direct marketing. His “Marketing Planning 101” workshop alone has reached more than 100,000 marketing and sales professionals.