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Removing Obstacles to Recycled Lead Nurturing

July 01, 2014

Active and passive recycled lead nurture programs reactivate demand that might otherwise be considered lead waste

For years, black holes were described as “cosmic vacuum cleaners” whose immense gravitational fields absorbed nearby planets, stars and even light waves into their singularity, never to be seen again. However, recent studies have found that high-energy jets of particles can escape from black holes and are instrumental in creating new stars.

Many b-to-b organizations describe the results of leads being handed off between functions as a lead management black hole. After teleprospecting qualified leads are accepted by sales, they are often absorbed into a process characterized by low visibility and limited means of escape – as occasional sales qualified leads (SQLs). In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we describe the symptoms of a lead management black hole and identify obstacles to resolving this issue with an active or passive recycled lead nurturing program.

Symptoms of a Lead Management Black Hole

While black holes are not visible to the naked eye, astronomers have developed tools that can detect them and measure their size and density. Likewise, analyzing demand waterfall metrics in the following ways can detect the presence of a lead management black hole in the sales and marketing process:

  • High percentage of sales accepted leads (SALs). Disconnects between sales and marketing often start when sales accepts all leads without checking for procedural reasons why they should be rejected (e.g. existing opportunity, incorrect routing, wrong industry, faulty data).
  • Low conversion rate from SALs to sales qualified leads (SQLs). Poor lead quality, poorly defined qualification processes, a lack of sales training, excessive quantities of leads and/or a mismatch between lead supply and the receiving function’s capacity can contribute to the accumulation of a pool of stagnant SALs.
  • No SAL disqualifications. In a typical b-to-b organization, between 50 percent and 60 percent of SALs become SQLs. The absence of a standard disqualification process for SALs that do not become SQLs in a reasonable timeframe compounds the issue of lead pooling.
  • Lack of process metrics between SAL and SQL. A lead’s acceptance by sales triggers the beginning of a sales qualification process. A lack of visibility into intermediate steps (e.g. needs analysis, solution identification, value demonstration, proposal development) between the SAL and SQL thresholds can indicate process issues that may result in lead stagnation and lead waste.

Obstacles to Recycled Lead Nurturing

Recycled lead nurturing programs minimize lead stagnation and lead waste by ensuring a timely disposition of all leads into the sales pipeline or an appropriate nurture stream. Active recycled nurturing is triggered by sales disqualification of a lead and should address the identified reason for the disqualification. Passive recycled nurturing is triggered by a specified time interval of lead inactivity and should be based on the last known activity. Deploying either or both types of recycled nurture stream requires overcoming the following internal obstacles:

  • Poor lead definitions. Weak or inconsistent definitions of leads ready to be passed to sales (e.g. automation qualified leads, teleprospecting qualified leads) can cause low-quality leads to enter this stage of the process. A high volume of low-quality leads reduces sales engagement for lead followup as well as conversion rates to SQL. SiriusAction: Create strong lead definitions at all waterfall stages to ensure that only truly qualified leads that meet agreed-upon definitions for profile fit and propensity to buy before being passed to and accepted by sales.
  • Cultural or management bias against disqualification. A failure by sales to disqualify leads and indicate a reason for each disqualification limits marketing’s ability to define context-specific nurture flows for those prospective buyers. In some sales organizations, lead disqualification is perceived as a negative indicator of a sales rep’s skills or attitude. Similarly, compensation-driven sales reps may be reluctant to release control of a lead that could create future revenue. SiriusAction: Explain to sales management and reps that lead disqualification is acceptable and even desired when a reason is cited for the disqualification. Lead disqualification assigns further attempts to nurture a low-quality lead to the appropriate resource, enabling reps to focus on higher-probability opportunities.
  • Non-systematic nurture streams. Many organizations lack a clear linkage between the selected reason for a lead disqualification and subsequent nurture streams. As a result, sales reps may schedule their own followup in hopes that it coincides with a favorable change in the prospect’s situation. SiriusAction: Before launching a recycled nurture program, standardize disqualification reasons. The goal of recycled lead nurturing is to enable interactions with the prospect that address the reason for the disqualification. Develop targeted nurture programs that align to disqualification reasons as well as the business needs and pain points of buyer personas. The lead disposition process also should include an option for identifying leads that are not potential buyers and should be removed from the waterfall.
  • Lack of process visibility. When process steps between sales acceptance and sales qualification are not defined or consistently executed within a specified timeframe, the organization’s ability to apply passive lead recycling will be compromised. SiriusAction: Marketing must collaborate with sales to identify key steps in the sales process between the SAL and SQL stages (e.g. needs analysis, solution identification). Measure current performance and set target goals for the velocity of opportunities through these steps, and create standard reports to identify SALs that fail to progress at the expected velocity, making them candidates for passive recycled nurturing.
  • Lack of defined service levels. Many organizations lack service levels that define expected engagement actions and corresponding timeframes (e.g. sales will attempt to reach a stalled lead four times in a two-week period). An absence of defined service levels makes it difficult to identify stalled leads. SiriusAction: Sales and marketing should jointly establish and manage service-level agreements covering qualification criteria, timeframes and actions. In addition, define criteria for identifying leads that are passive recycling candidates based on their lack of progress or activity, and specify a service level for the timeliness of passive recycle candidate resolution.

The Sirius Decision

Recycled lead nurture programs depend on close collaboration between sales and marketing teams to precisely define lead management responsibilities, qualification criteria, process steps and service levels. For example, sales support and adoption of recycled nurture programs can be increased by maintaining reps’ ownership of nurtured leads via disposition rules that route a recycled lead back to the original rep when it reaches the appropriate level of engagement. This continuity of ownership reduces reps’ fears of lost opportunity and account control, and helps them re-engage with a nurtured lead as soon as an active buying process appears ready to begin.