Dedicated readers of this blog will no doubt recognize the above title as one of our trick questions (aka, false choices):  kind of like “Should we be doing SEO or PPC?”, when of course the right answer for the typical B2B is “both.”

In this case, the right answer is “neither”:  for starters, the company owns its leads, not any one department …although Marketing or Sales may have temporary custody of a given lead at various points in time.

But this isn’t really a dispute about actual ownership:  that’s merely a red herring that arises when frustration boils over.  So where does the frustration come from?  When you listen to both functions, too often what you hear is something like:

  • Marketing:  You guys (Sales) never follow up on the leads we send you.
  • Sales:  Maybe that’s because the leads you send us are mostly garbage …or at best, nowhere near ready to buy.

How does this situation develop?  Typically, leads come into Marketing as a result of their advertising/promotional programs.  At this point, a decision needs to be made about each one:  should it be nurtured for a while (by Marketing), or sent to Sales straight away?  Most problems arise from questionable decision-making at this point, resulting in either…

  • too many unqualified leads being sent to Sales; or
  • “hot” leads withering away in Marketing’s care

…or both.  Errors of the first type are the ones that erode Sales’ confidence in the quality of leads provided, leading to their reduced motivation to follow up on any of them.  Those of the second type are arguably more costly to the company;  but they’re all but unmeasurable since they tend to simply disappear without a trace within a few weeks (almost never will they actually call your CEO and whine, “Your team didn’t respond to my inquiry appropriately”).  I’d guess that Sales would complain about those, too …if they only knew.

The Remedy

Recalling that immortal line in Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate”:  what we need, clearly, is to have Marketing and Sales on the same page;  and the only way to do it may be to lock them in a room and not let them out until they get there.  Have your HR manager dress it up with team-building exercises, if you like;  but the substantive order of business is to agree on the definition of a Qualified (i.e., Sales-ready) lead.  (Brian Carroll suggests making this meeting a regular series – perhaps even weekly – in his post, “Sales and Marketing – One Team”.)

There are several roadmaps around outlining the process for getting to such a definition (see, for example, Brian’s “Five steps to help create your universal lead definition”), and examples of the likely characteristics of such a definition (e.g., Mac McIntosh’s Marketing-for-Leads Guide: Step 4);  but what’s important is that the definition you agree on fits your market’s buying process and uses clearly-measurable criteria.


Now, with everyone on board with the definition, it’s time to put it into practice.  No matter how or where a lead comes in, the definition should make it clear whether it should be assigned to Sales for timely follow-up, or to Marketing for a period of nurturing.  Your company’s CRM should reflect this status for each lead …as well as capturing all “touches” of the lead and any resulting status changes.

Rinse and Repeat

How long a lead spends in Marketing’s nurturing process depends on many factors, of course;  but the definition should make clear when a given lead is ready to “graduate” and become Sales-ready.  Conversely, it’s also possible for a once-hot lead to go cold at least temporarily (funding lost, customer sponsor reassigned, etc.);  and applying the definition properly here means that Sales in effect should re-assign the lead back to Marketing for additional nurturing until the test can validly be met again.

It may seem simplistic or obvious… but a good, agreed qualified-lead definition can go a very long way toward fostering genuine Sales/Marketing teamwork and minimizing erosion from your B2B’s prospect pipeline.