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Blog-Header-purpleIn sales and marketing, your database of customers and prospects is sacred. In B2B software, hardware and services sales – in which prospects can be highly specialized in their needs, and therefore require narrow targeting –  that database and the care with which contacts are treated are supreme.

Lead management, or the means by which your company captures, qualifies, nurtures and closes leads to generate revenue, is your playbook for bringing in new or growing existing business. These “rules of the road” must be jointly defined by both the marketing team, which typically manages the treatment of top-of-funnel leads, and the sales team, which is responsible for taking marketing qualified leads and stewarding them into deals won.

No matter where you are in your process of defining the rules as they relate to your specific customer set, these three keys can help ensure that you have a process in place to smoothly move leads through qualification to closed business.

1. Make sure marketing and sales are aligned. Too often, sales and marketing function in silos. There is a general understanding that marketing’s role is to generate and nurture leads, and sales’ is to take those leads across the finish line. Greater clarity and structure around that cultivation process ensures a mutual understanding of where marketing’s role ends and sales’ begins – where that handoff occurs and when a feedback loop is needed. This clarity also ensures that the appropriate systems are put in place and followed to best support the transition.

Alignment starts with a set of shared goals. Since ROI is impacted by both marketing and sales motions, both teams need to be aware of what the real success metrics are. Understanding the roles both functions play, too, is critical, since both require one another to be successful. For example, sales teams rely on marketing to deliver qualified leads. By the same token, marketing strategists must look to sales representatives to provide critical feedback from prospects – common objections/barriers to sale, which in turn can help inform what content topics would be of greatest interest for top-of-funnel leads.

2. Document a process and a set of business rules. To ensure clarity, the process by which leads move from marketing to sales should be clearly defined. This requires collaboration between teams before the process is implemented. These rules of the road must be flexible enough to be adjusted as needed based on referral path, buyer journey and content strategy, but firm and clear enough to ensure that there is no confusion about where the handoff of a marketing qualified lead to sales occurs.

Critical to defining a process is clearly defining (and documenting) a set of business rules that dictates what a marketing qualified or sales qualified lead looks like. This won’t be the same for every business. Rather, it will be based on the past behavior of leads that became customers. (Think: What signals or behaviors do leads that have become customers displayed as they relate to our marketing efforts?)

Of course, you’ll need data to determine what kind of nurture program, for example, is most successful for your specific audience. Use that data – email open rates, clicks, engagement with gated content, etc. – to help define what types of behavior indicate a lead qualified for sales.

Once you’ve determined the process and rules, be sure to document and share.

3. Make sure your marketing automation program talks to your CRM. Perhaps nothing is more critical than this: your marketing automation program must communicate with your CRM. Why? Every action a prospect takes as it relates to a piece of marketing material (email, whitepaper or any type of gated content, for example) is a data point about that particular prospect’s needs or the challenges they face.

The more responsive your marketing can be to the needs or challenges expressed, the more likely the prospect will continue to engage because they are finding the information you provide to be valuable. But you can’t customize or adjust your automated nurture or outreach program to those specific needs unless you capture the information about their behavior in a clear way in your CRM. Your ability to communicate is only as good as the data you’re able to capture and the hygiene of that data.

Therefore, to ensure that your marketing automation program is nimble enough to respond to what your prospects’ behaviors are telling you about what they need, make certain that your marketing automation is able to deliver this critical data directly to your CRM. Every business’s needs are different, and there is no “one size fits all” tool. The best way to determine what tool is right for you is to analyze your needs today, and try to anticipate what your needs might look like over time. A flexible platform is best.

Remember, the more you know about your prospects and customers based on their behavior, the more able you’ll be to deploy effective marketing efforts that help bring those folks from prospect to customer.

For more information about how to make marketing automation work for you, or how to define a set of business rules to dictate how you bring leads through the sales funnel, give us a shout.

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