One of the most important requirements for an effective B2B demand generation system is a clear understanding of who constitutes a sales-ready lead. Decribing who is a sales-ready lead is the essential starting point for defining the roles and aligning the work of marketing and sales. In an optimized demand generation system, marketing is primarily responsible for acquiring new leads and for nurturing leads until they are sales ready. Once a lead becomes sales ready, sales assumes the primary responsibility for managing that relationship.
The term sales-ready lead can be found in many books, articles, and blog posts, but it's surprisingly difficult to find a definition that's really useful. I'll offer one momentarily, but first it's important to understand what a sales-ready lead is not. A raw inquiry does not constitute a sales-ready lead. A raw inquiry is someone who has shown only a minimal level of interest in what you offer. He or she may have responded to an outbound lead generation campaign or visited your website and filled out a registration form, but that's it. The problems caused when marketing passes raw inquiries to sales have been widely discussed in the demand generation literature, so I won't repeat them here.
Sales ready is also not equivalent to ready to buy. Some people suggest that sales-ready leads are only those leads who are fully qualified using tradtional BANT criteria. In an earlier post, I discussed why BANT is no longer an effective framework for qualifying leads. The basic problem with BANT is that some of the criteria will not be met until near the end of the buying process, and in addition, it can be impossible for any individual lead to satisfy all of the BANT requirements.
A sales-ready lead, therefore, falls somewhere between a raw inquiry and a BANT-qualified lead. Here's my proposed definition:
A sales-ready lead is an individual who (a) is affiliated with a qualified prospect, (b) can make or influence the decision to purchase your product or service, and (c) is sufficiently interested in exploring solutions to engage in a meaningful sales dialog with a sales rep. In this definition, the term qualified prospect means an organization that has a need your company can address and falls within your defined target market.
This definition provides a good starting point, but I also think it's important to use some specific criteria for identifying sales-ready leads. The table below shows eleven criteria that I suggest are appropriate for most companies. The first four criteria apply to the prospect organization, and the remaining criteria apply to the individual lead.
OK, that's how I define sales-ready lead. How about you? How would you change my definition? Would you use an entirely different approach?