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Why your sales team thinks marketing is useless

If you are in marketing, you are used to handing off your leads to the sales team and hearing two complaints back: First, the leads are no good. Second, there aren’t enough of them. It has always reminded me of the old joke where two guys are complaining about the restaurant they are eating in.  “The food at this restaurant is lousy,” said the first. The rejoinder from the second? “Yes. And such small portions!”

Such is the relationship between sales and marketing. Every sale is due to the brilliance of the salesperson and every missed quote is due to marketing’s failure to produce qualified leads. Or produce enough of them. Or both. As sales has become more dependent on marketing each year, their frustration with the lack of control basically sends them down the path that marketing is useless.

And, while you will never get away from that basic tension between marketing and sales, the sales team has a (somewhat inarticulate) point. The truth is that marketing sometimes can seem useless. And part of the reason is the two definitions of exactly what a lead is.

Most marketing teams are judged on what are known as “Marketing Qualified Leads” or MQLs, in the jargon. How many MQLs did you send to sales last month. More is better.

But once those leads get sent to sales, the first thing they do is qualify them again–into “Sales Qualified Leads” (yes, SQLs). The gap between MQLs and SQLs are what sales deem to be useless leads. And you might think that the process sales goes through to qualify an SQL truly drives out those inferior MQLs. But, in most companies, you would be wrong.

Many sales teams I know have simple rules for how to move a lead from an MQL to an SQL: “Did the prospect ask to be contacted?” That’s an SQL. But if they have enough SQLs to contact, then every other MQL is tossed in the rubbish. They are by definition useless, because there are other better leads to chase. One client I know sees all of these lesser leads (such as business cards collected at events, webinar signups, and others) completely ignored by their overworked sales force.

If your sales team is busy, it might make sense for you to stop sending those other kinds of MQLs to them, but you don’t want to, because you are judged on the number of MQLs that you send. So the dance continues.

But does that make sense? What if you started measuring your marketing success on the number of SQLs you send? And those lesser MQLs that did not request a contact? Instead of sending them over to face permanent suspended animation, why not act as though they aren’t leads yet? What’s stopping you from continuing to nurture them until the do request to be contacted?

Obviously, this is a situation that is specific to one client I work with, but it is emblematic of so many fraught relationships between sales and marketing. It’s time to stop fighting and for marketing to start being the real partner to sales it needs to be. Yes, even if the sale team doesn’t appreciate you. Yes, even if they are cranky and insulting.

Because your company needs this to get better. Your company needs more sales and maybe it is time to focus on what those outcomes are rather than tossing a few more fuzzy MQLs over the fence.

If the marketing team can’t adjust their internal metrics to make the bottom line better, maybe the sales team is right. Marketing is useless.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, a leading digital media marketing consultancy based in New York City. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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