Lead Qualification: A European Perspective

Lead Qualification: A European Perspective

December 2018 | Marketing Operations

Getting Sales to follow-up new MQLs in a consistent and timely manner is a challenge everywhere. There are significant regional differences in the solution.

B2B marketers often focus on lead generation: the art of finding a prospective buyer and getting them in front of a sales rep, so that they can be persuaded to buy whatever is your business sells. The goal is to generate demand by raising awareness of the products or services a firm is selling, as well as by identifying the individuals or groups who have a need for those solutions and then getting them into the pipeline. At that point, Sales are brought in and take responsibility for closing the deal.

At least that's the theory. All too often Sales reject the leads marketing provide because they're poor quality. Sometimes, their complaints have a basis, but every customer I've worked with has the story of a hot prospect who was ignored by Sales even though they were desperate to buy. Discussion about Sales and Marketing Alignment is as old as the hills. People have been talking about it as a major issue for a very long time. Yet, it still surprises me how big the disconnect between Sales and Marketing teams actually is. Even now in the modern era of enterprise collaboration, it is depressingly common to come across a customer where Sales don't understand what Marketing actually does, and Marketing don't know what Sales actually want. Marketing are drawing up personas and lead criteria with no input from Sales, and then wondering why reps complain about the quality of the names they're getting from campaigns. It's no wonder the two departments end up at loggerheads, with business leaders picking sides.

Despite all the benefits of demand marketing, there are still plenty of sales teams out there who have a policy of only following up manually selected contact us leads because they don't trust what's coming from marketing. These same teams often complain they don't have enough leads. That is not entirely the fault of Marketing. Sales teams have unrealistic expectations of what a Marketing Qualified Lead actually is. MQLs inherently have a much lower conversion rate than sales generated leads because Marketing simply don't know whether the hot prospect they've sent over is genuinely looking to buy right now or is just researching. MQL conversion rates vary wildly but are rarely higher than 10% to 20%. Sales sourced leads can have a conversion rate as high as 50%, and sales leaders often have the same expectation of marketing sourced leads.

Generally, the solution to this disconnect is hiring lead development teams (LDRs) to screen interested prospects before they go to Sales. This doesn't work everywhere due to legal restrictions on outbound calling as well as the unwillingness of many people to speak to telemarketers. In North America this is less of a problem. LDRs only need to speak one language and prospects are much more willing to have a phone conversation with a stranger. In Europe, there are a large number of languages an LDR team needs to cover and a stronger aversion to cold calling. As a result, LDR qualification is pretty much the norm in the US, but not so much elsewhere. There are plenty of EMEA teams that do LDR qualification, but it's nowhere near as common as the US. Use of LDRs varies within EMEA by country and region. Where it does exist it will often be focused primarily on the largest markets, with leads in Eastern Europe and Africa still going directly to inside sales or partners due to lack of coverage.

Unlike the US, there has been a trend away from in-house teams in EMEA over recent years. Telemarketing is typically outsourced to agencies who can better afford to hire a team with the wide spread of languages and local knowledge required. This doesn't resolve the cultural factors that mark face to face conversations far more important in establishing business relationships than in North America. Email and online methods are more likely to be used for qualification, compared to the US where leads without a phone number are routinely ignored or rejected. In EMEA, the phone number requirement is frequently a major barrier to conversion. In some countries, there are do not call registers for B2B as well as B2C which limit the reach of telemarketers. GDPR also imposes limitations on unsolicited calling, the extent of which depends on each businesses risk profile and interpretation of consent and legitimate interest.

The primary factor limiting tele-qualification in EMEA is almost always budget, rather than legal restrictions. Marketing campaigns can do many things, but they are especially bad at determining whether a lead is genuinely in a position to buy right now. Successful demand generation relies on making assumptions about the prospect's interests based on their engagement history, then using that to personalise the content of the next touch. What it can't reliably do is determine whether that engagement is down to general interest or a desire to initiate a sales conversation. The only to get this information reliably is to ask someone directly, and that’s where LDRs work best. They give marketing the opportunity to develop a lead and ask the questions that sales care about on budget, authority, need and timeline. If these are established the lead can be passed onto Sales, if not it is pushed back to nurturing. Even in an era of ubiquitous AI, human interaction is the best way of weighing a potential opportunity. A good LDR is able to assess a prospect not just on what they're saying, but also on what they're leaving out. Experience and human judgement are the deciding factors in determining whether someone is a lead rather than objective criteria. Digital channels can't do this, as the conversation is guided by the prospect in response to automation and pre-configured workflows.

Ultimately, an LDR is doing a job that can equally be done by a sales rep. It's just that Sales only care about closing deals, so pay more attention to the warmer leads that LDRs pass on. Marketing can't always afford the costs though, for what is often only bringing a small uplift in leads to Sales. To compensate, some sales teams have reps handling all incoming MQLs, before passing any resulting opportunities out to colleagues. There's no right or wrong way to structure lead follow-up, provided of course that leads are actually followed-up. Whether Sales or Marketing handle this process depends entirely on how you structure the funnel and where you want the hand-off between departments to be. Make sure you have a method for following up MQLs somewhere in the business, and that it is enforced with SLAs and infraction penalties. The critical thing is making sure you have alignment on expectations, otherwise hot leads will get left behind. If that happens too often, both teams suffer.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.