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Get a Good Lead: Why Some Marketers Are Striking Out

Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this month so I am going to use a baseball metaphor to kick this off. Nobody bats 1,000 (technically 1.000) beyond the first day of the season. We all recognize that hitting a baseball and getting safely on base is simply too hard to do with that kind of precision and perfection. As the old saying goes, a good hitter makes an out about 70 percent of the time.  Yikes! So by analogy what possesses us to think that every lead that marketing produces is an instant deal ready to be sent to a salesperson’s inbox?

You might say, well that’s an extreme case and nobody expects that, but look at our behaviors. Why do so many marketing departments simply shovel their raw leads over the wall to sales? Isn’t that the same thing as expecting a batter to be perfect?

In the real world players use a variety of strategies to improve the odds that they’ll get a hit. They work the count and study the pitcher’s assortment of pitches, calculating the circumstances likely to serve up a pitch they can hit. That was legendary Red Sox hitter Ted Williams’ advice to hitters — “Get a good pitch to hit.”  It’s an economical phrase with a lot of wisdom densely packed into it.

Williams’ knew a few things about hitting, being both a hall of famer and the last human being to hit .400 for a season. If we were to translate his dictum into business, especially sales and marketing, it might read something like, “Get a closable lead.”

Now it should be remembered that at his best, Williams made an out 60 percent of the time. Just because you get a good pitch doesn’t mean you’ll hit the ball and just making contact doesn’t assure safe passage to first base. It’s the same with marketing and leads. We can look for the best and most closable leads, but it doesn’t mean we’ll convert them all to deals. But you can argue that Williams’ approach helped raise his batting average significantly above the median player’s, and in this imperfect world that’s quite an accomplishment. It got him into the hall of fame.

How Marketers Can Be the Ted Williams of Their Organizations

If the analogy holds true in marketing, then what are the things marketers can do to up their averages? Well, first and foremost, they can quit sending every lead to sales as soon as it comes through the door. Getting a good pitch means being choosy and not going after stuff that doesn’t meet your requirements. Picking good leads means analyzing them, adding to them with smart nurturing programs, and then doing what is second nature to hitters — evaluating them and swinging at the good ones (at least most of the time).

So how do you do that with leads?

We have a huge advantage in dealing with leads because we have a lot more than the fraction of a second a batter has to evaluate and make a decision. But the same principles apply. Ballplayers evaluate and score every pitch to come up with a Boolean answer — swing/no swing.

Marketing is relatively cushy by comparison, in most instances we have time to evaluate how a customer responds to a campaign, assign a value to it through lead scoring, and then make a decision about next steps. And just like a batter, we get more than one strike so we can repeat the evaluation process a few times, like a ballplayer fouling off pitches to stay alive until the right pitch arrives.

But compare this to how marketing works in many companies. They’ll send 100 percent of leads over to the sales team with barely any qualification. But what’s not a lead if marketing sends everything? A lead should be a person with a title, budget, and business problem that needs to be solved. This person should also be aware of the problem and inclined to find a solution.

How Lead Scoring Helps Marketers Get On Base

Some of these qualifying characteristics, especially the inclination, can only be discovered by a face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice discussion with a salesperson. Nonetheless, it’s marketing’s job to get as close to tagging all of those bases as possible before they hand the leads over to sales. That’s what a marketing qualified lead (MQL) should be.

There’s one more thing to consider. A hit results from finding a good pitch to hit and the net result is putting men on base and in scoring position.  No one cares about how many rotten pitches a batter has to fight off before finding one to hit. Your sales team cares about sales qualified leads and wants to put deals in the pipeline. They aren’t, or at least shouldn’t be, interested in all the unqualified leads that marketing might let slip through.

So focus on ensuring that you give sales the best and most qualified leads possible. Figure out how to evaluate and score raw leads so that you are primarily sending the sales team only the most valuable leads. You’ll obviously be sending fewer leads, but no one will notice. They’ll be too busy closing deals to care about raw quantities, and isn’t that where every marketer wants to be?

   Image Credit(s): StupidDingo                    

Written by

Denis Pombriant
February 26, 2014