Lead Management Report: IDC Finds Leaders are Smart, Agile, Automated, and Aligned

IDC CMO Advisory Service’s latest best practice report, Realizing the Vision of 21st Century Lead Management, presents a newer, smarter way to conduct lead management that is better adapted to the reality of how customers buy today.  Combining proven management science methods with best practices from leading technology companies, the new model is more scientific, more data driven, more agile, more automated, more aligned between sales and marketing, and more customer service oriented, than the 100+ year-old funnel.

It’s becoming common knowledge that the Internet has revolutionized B2B buyer’s behavior, knowledge, and expectations. B2B marketers and sellers have outgrown the traditional funnel approach and are scrambling to adjust to the impact of the new buyer dialog.  The new B2B buyer dialog presents the following challenges for lead management:
  • Complexity: Lead management used to consist only of qualifying leads and passing the best ones to the sales team. Now marketers must juggle this task while simultaneously conducting a perpetual digital dialog that informs and influences the prospect. Wrestling this complexity requires a more sophisticated and formalized lead management process.
  • Orchestration of digital and human communication: The traditional funnel dictated a one-way “hand off” from marketing to sales. However, because buyers are always online, the concept of a binary “hand off” is obsolete. Marketing can never truly disengage. Rather than make a true marketing exit, a team orientation is maintained.
  • Marketing accountability: B2B marketing departments are under considerable pressure to be accountable. Financial pressure from economic uncertainty and slipping sales productivity has brought the lead management process into harsh scrutiny. Expectations have risen because of the availability of spreadsheets, dashboards, and analytics tools to slice and dice any facet of marketing. The C-suite is becoming aware of how much more of their destiny now rides in the hands of the CMO.

Although each company must operate lead management with an eye for their own unique set of environmental requirements and logistical challenges, there are basic tasks that remain the same in every case. The tasks are: strategic planning, capture, assess, advance, develop, close and monitor/measure/analyze.

The building blocks of lead management success

One common misconception is that the tasks assessment (qualification), advancement (routing), and development (nurturing), occur only once in a lead life-cycle.  This may have been true in the simple, old, days. However, most companies today have a requirement for a more sophisticated multi-channel approach.  The IDC model treats the assess/advance/develop tasks as a modular block or cell. A simple workflow starts with a single cell that can do a little work. By using multiples of this same simple block – and applying best practices to the tasks in each block – marketers can build a measurable, optimized, multi-celled organism that can do amazing things – including blending with the sales methodology.

IDC found 16 important success factors including:

  • Define consistent global standards, including a common language. More companies attribute their lead management success to this practice than to any other. By eliminating unnecessary complexity and redundancy, companies gain better control and achieve more predictable performance. Calibrating data to standards also opens the door for predictive analytics and trusted insight.
  • Establish long-term, cross-functional councils. Best practice companies realize that lead management, while led by marketing, is part of an enterprise process. One firm teams up a 30-person council each year for three months to prioritize projects, determine standards and processes, and resolve issues.
  • Treat leads like valuable but limited assets. Companies experienced in 21st century lead management operate in ways that express respect for buyers. Leads are carefully vetted, nurtured in a personalized way, and sometimes recycled rather than merely captured, qualified, and thrown over to sales. Best practice marketers use automation extensively. To remove hurdles and assist a buyer, this automation is integrated with the human factor — telefunctions and blended media, such as chat and social, as well as high-touch sales.

Clients of the IDC CMO Advisory Service can access the full report here.

Data-Driven Marketing: A Survey of Marketing Automation Maturity in Global High-Tech Companies

Marketing has become technology, process, and data driven. On average, marketing operations teams at the large high-tech companies in this survey manage over a dozen major systems in an ecosystem that is rapidly evolving. The purpose of this survey was to assess the technology load on marketing organizations in terms of number, scope, and scale of systems as well as adoption, effectiveness, resources, and overall satisfaction levels. There are many interesting results from the data:
  • Companies that take an enterprise approach to managing the customer creation process make the most effective use of their marketing infrastructures.
  • Data-driven marketing requires many types of systems working together. They must be managed, matured, and optimized together to be most effective.
  • Business intelligence (BI) competency is critical — it’s one thing to have the data, it’s another to use it.
  • Penetration into the intended user base for each marketing system is the key:
    • Leaders have achieved 90% or higher user adoption for the four pillars of any digital marketing infrastructure: campaign management, Web content management, CRM/SFA, and customer database. By comparison, laggards average only one over 90%.
    • Leaders have achieved 75% or higher user adoption for 9 out of the 13 key digital marketing technologies categories we included in our survey. Laggards average only five systems at or above 75% adoption.
  • Most respondents (even leaders) believe they have not realized much of the potential they see in their marketing systems.
  • Organizational, process, content, and data readiness are seen as the major impediments to reaching the full potential of digital marketing infrastructures.

Clients of IDC’s CMO Advisory can access the full document here

Lead Distribution Scoring – a key differentiator for B2B marketers

Lead scoring is a well established technique for marketers to translate digital responses into levels of qualification for next stage outreach. For companies with no direct sales or sales cycles of 30 days or less lead scoring methodologies can be rapidly optimized around purchase behavior. For long cycle B2B sales processes, the optimization process goes only as fast as opportunity development which for many high tech companies can be 18 months or more. This is a crucial time for B2B marketers and they need to be just as exacting in how they manage the post-lead qualification journey as they are in getting prospects to the starting line.

B2B marketers need to segment, message, time, and target their communications with their direct sales reps just like they do with external prospects and customers. In my previous blog post Six Key Table Stakes for B2B Sales and Marketing Alignment marketers were tasked with three things:

  1. Treat the sales force like a market segment
  2. Market collateral (and leads) like solutions
  3. Take an account-centric approach to lead generation 

Lead distribution scoring touches on all three. Lead distribution scoring is a second stage scoring process for marketing qualified leads that enables marketers to “get the right information to the right sales rep in the right format at the right time to move an opportunity forward.” This is IDC’s definition of Sales Enablement and is a fundamental concept that should govern how marketing markets all of its output to direct sales (leads, campaigns, collateral, etc.) The days of posting to a portal or flowing and forgetting MQLs into the CRM are over. Lead distribution scoring incorporates dimensions such as:

  • What type of rep is this contact going to? 
    • By segment 
    • By tenure
    • By region
    • By product line, etc.
  • Does the rep need many leads or a very limited number of leads? 
  • What account is the lead associated with?
  • Is the sales rep meeting with this account in the next four weeks, next two weeks?
  • How is this contact connected to others in the account? 
  • Is this contact interested in the same solution as other contacts in the account?

Using a lead distribution scoring methodology will bring sales and marketing into much more direct alignment on a one to one basis. It can be applied not only to leads but to collateral, campaign training, and more. Marketing output can be “made to order” for sales reps so that it is not only highly qualified, it is also has high immediacy and relevancy to the reps’ call sheets. If the relationship between marketing and sales so bad that accessing call sheets is a non-starter, then look for friendly reps who might be willing to give a little more to get a little more from marketing.

Most Important Lead Management Practice: Align on Standards

Of all the lead management best practices a company can invest in, the one that stands out as most important is defining standards.  Recently, IDC interviewed technology marketing executives to learn what’s working and what’s not in 21st Century lead management. When asked for a description of their greatest success, many more companies stated consistent global standards (including a common language) than gave any other answer. 

Why is standardization so important?  Variation is a main culprit in erratic and unreliable processes. No two leads are the same. No two geographies are the same. No two campaign tactics perform the same. Nothing in lead management is really the same. Though companies can’t hope to eliminate all variation in their lead management, the best practice companies get rid of much of as much unnecessary complexity and redundancy as possible. By reducing variation, companies gain better control and achieve more predictable performance.
Important areas of lead management standardization include:
  • Definitions: “All marketing groups and geographies use the same stages, taxonomies, and definitions of what it means to be sourced, what it means to touch a lead.”
  • Data: “We strive for a single version of the truth.” “Instead of a 60-minute meeting on why my data is better than your data, we now talk about results – why is Hong Kong doing better?”
  • Procedures: “We consolidated 40 lead queues into six. We standardized BANT criteria, implemented standard SLA’s, standardized everything.” “Even though we are a decentralized company, we run a single process.”
  • Systems:  “Everyone uses the same common business intelligence system so we pull data from the same source.” “Using the same marketing automation system enforces our processes. It has accelerated best practice sharing.”
How to Increase Standardization

Marketing leaders acknowledge the difficulty in getting alignment on standards and offer tips from their experiences:

  • Cross-functional groups: “Bring together a core cross-functional group (regions, field marketing sales), people who are passionate and have a direct stake in the outcome.”
  • High-level sponsorship: “The sponsor was responsible for both sales and marketing. She publically gave me power.”
  • Appropriate specificity: “At first we standardized at too high a level – defining one stage as an “opportunity” for example, and things were too confusing. By getting more granular, putting in more stages, making routing rules more specific, we’ve gotten better results.”
  • Persistence: “The secret is to keep revisiting the model and the results. We’ve needed to revise it multiple times to accommodate changes in sales and marketing capability.”
  • Transparency: “Collect the data and let everyone see how bad it is. Then pick your battle.”
  • Training: “We conducted initial roll-out training as well as ongoing training to maintain momentum.”

Recognize the Limits of Standards and Allow for Some Flexibility

 Although aligning around standards is the most important best practice, it’s important to recognize that exceptions are occasionally needed. Companies should start with a goal of full standardization but then be alert for where variation is reasonably required.  For example, an emerging region with fast growth, such as China, may have genuinely different requirements than a more developed North America for what percentage of leads gets handed to sales.  However, demand a strong business case for any variation, especially in early days when people aren’t used to standards. Then be sure and treat the variation as an exception.
IDC’s report, IDC CMO Advisory Service Best Practice Series: Realizing the Vision of 21st Century Lead Management, will be available soon. IDC also offers taxonomy to assist companies to standardization. (See IDC’s Worldwide Sales and Marketing Taxonomy 2012 #231252)