We can argue about the semantics of sales and marketing, but the lines have been blurred in recent years, leading to confusion about roles and responsibilities. What is lead generation, and who is responsible for bringing in qualified sales leads? When does your sales team get involved in the process, and what should they be doing to support the effort? We find that many executives are unsure of how to structure their company's sales process, so let's break it down to a few important basics.
What is it? - Lead generation is really a blend of sales and marketing in which your company identifies and reaches out to qualified sales leads, i.e. potential customers for your products and services. As an analogy, we think of an inverted funnel with the wide end at the top.
Who's responsible? - Your sales/marketing team is responsible for "filling the funnel" with qualified leads. Depending on the makeup of your team, your products or services and your market, we employ a variety of tactics to accomplish the mission including:
- Market research
- Inbound marketing (website, blogging, SEO, social media)
- Outbound marketing (direct mail, print advertising,media advertising, outdoor advertising)
- Telesales/Telemarketing - a team of callers reach out to targeted lists of potential customers
These tactics should be integrated into a coherent plan, the goal of which is to prepare opportunities for your sales team.
Once a qualified sales lead has been identified, it's up to the sales team to contact that person and, ultimately, close the sale. The more information available from sales leads, the easier it is to convert them to customers. Ideally your sales funnel has familiarized leads with your offerings and "warmed them up" to a purchase decision. There are many ways to close a sale, and each sales person has a personal "style". There are some tried and true methods that most successful sales people employ. Your organization may employ sales consulting, sales training or outsourced sales to find the best sales effectiveness solution.
Where do the lines get blurred?
The issue is that modern sales and marketing are no longer siloed, departmental activities. Consumers have changed, requiring a more hands-on, referral-based approach. Direct sales and marketing tactics are now being replaced by online shopping and social media. Today's sales person must also be a marketer and a customer service rep, because consumers insist on a one-to-one relationship before they will buy.
Granted, it may not be possible to have one person responsible for all of these roles, but the modern sales/marketing/service organization has to be tightly integrated in order to succeed. This means that messaging and real-time communications need to be aligned. Marketers and sales people need to work together to nurture leads until they become customers, then sales teams need to work closely with customer service reps to ensure customer satisfaction and retention.
So, when you get right down to it, there isn't much difference between lead generation and sales these days. They may be separated by time, but not so much by function, and in today's online shopping world, the time factor can be seconds instead of days, weeks or months. The impact for the C-Suite is that the entire sales-marketing-service cycle needs to be well understood, and your company needs to be tailored (or in many cases remodeled) to fit the new paradigms.