One of the most important requirements for an effective B2B demand generation system is a clear understanding of who constitutes a sales-ready lead. Describing what makes a lead sales-ready is the essential starting point for defining the roles and responsibilities 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 is sales ready, sales assumes the primary responsible for managing that relationship.
The term sales-ready lead is used frequently by marketing thought leaders and practitioners, but it's difficult to find a useful or widely-accepted definition of the concept. Some marketing pundits avoid the need to define sales-ready lead by saying that the term means whatever marketing and sales agree that it means.
In practice, companies vary greatly in terms of when they pass leads from marketing to sales. In a recent blog post, Bob Apollo described research by SiriusDecisions regarding when companies treat leads as being sales ready. According to this research, 28% of companies treat all contacts or inquiries as sales-ready leads and pass them to sales without any qualification. At the other extreme, 10% of companies only pass leads to sales after they are fully BANT-qualified. In between, 25% of companies will pass a lead to sales when the lead has an "appropriate" job title and is affiliated with an "appropriate" type of company.
We need to do better. If we want to optimize the performance of our demand generation system, we need a rational, reasonable, and substantive definition of who constitutes a sales-ready lead. I'll offer one momentarily, but first it's important to understand who is not a sales-ready lead.
To start with, a raw inquiry does not constitute a sales-ready lead. A raw inquiry is someone who has identified himself or herself, but otherwise has shown only a minimal level of interest in what you offer. He or she may have filled out a registration form and downloaded one of your content resources, but that's it.
Sales ready is also not equivalent to ready to buy. As noted earlier, some companies only pass leads to sales when the leads are fully qualified using the traditional BANT criteria. As I pointed out in an earlier post, the problem with BANT is that some of the criteria won't be met until near the end of the buying process, and in addition, it's increasingly unlikely that any one person can ever 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 dialog with a salesperson. 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 have specific criteria for identifying sales-ready leads. The table below includes 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.
That's what I say makes a lead really sales-ready. How about you?