As consumers’ needs shift, so does the role of marketing in the sales cycle, and now there is a greater focus on lead management. Marketing and sales teams need to work together to most effectively generate, nurture, and convert leads.

Internet research and advances in technology are allowing consumers to take more control of their role than ever before, making marketing an increasingly crucial element in the sales cycle. In the past, there has been a clear divide between marketing and sales – marketing was responsible for generating leads and sales for turning them into clients – with little to no overlap.

These days, the role of marketing is growing as sales lead management becomes the name of the game – but for that to work smoothly, both teams need to interact and work together towards a common goal.


Marketing in the Sales Cycle

Marketing still has a lot of responsibility when it comes to lead generation, but the role has expanded deeper into the sales cycle. Once leads are generated, they aren’t simply passed on to sales.

Instead, it’s important to determine their value (lead scoring), develop individually defined relationships with them throughout the sales cycle (lead nurturing), and then make sure that those marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are ready to become sales qualified leads (SQLs).


Lead Generation in the Age of the Self-Directed Buyer

Using everything from search engines to social media, consumers can gather information and become experts about products and services without ever speaking to someone from sales.

In fact, eighty-three percent of business buyers say that technology has helped their company stay more informed about product choices than ever before.

Consequently, the old method of sales representatives reaching out to a list of uneducated buyers is no longer the most effective option. Customers can also easily avoid most outbound marketing methods these days: TV shows can be recorded, allowing viewers to fast forward through commercials; unexpected emails are sent to spam or deleted; and snail mail is thrown away without even being opened.

These methods all cast an undiscerning net over a broad, potentially uninterested audience.


What Does This Mean When It Comes to Generating Leads?

It means that marketing now needs to do more than just gather leads – they need to work together with sales to generate targeted and qualified leads. With inbound marketing methods, marketing can draw in interested buyers with targeted content and valuable information using online marketing assets.

Inbound marketing can be defined as “the process of generating interest and engagement in your company by providing value to your potential customers and then turning that interest and engagement into a mutually beneficial business relationship.”  

The key word in this definition is value: 9 out of 10 buyers say that content affects their purchasing decisions and nearly ¾ claim they are fed up with irrelevant content. Inbound marketing content should be designed to educate, entertain, and inform, so customers feel that it’s worthwhile to engage with your company in the first place.  


Inbound Marketing Builds Relationships

In addition to lead generation, inbound marketing is a useful tool for creating brand awareness and building relationships with potential buyers.

Content marketing, social media, and search engine optimisation are some of the main players when it comes to inbound marketing.

  • Content marketing involves creating an abundance of informative and relevant content to draw in qualified prospects who are looking to address a specific issue. Some examples of this content include blogs, social media, videos, eBooks, and more.

  • Social media can generate traffic and draw attention to your brand through your own posts and shared posts. It is a venue for distributing content and building individualized relationships with prospects.

  • Search engine optimisation (SEO) is used to maximize the number of visitors who reach your website and content by ensuring that it ranks high in search results. This can be done with content, relevant keywords, and inbound links.

All of these methods use self-directed customer research to your advantage. With a well-executed inbound marketing strategy, you can effectively generate qualified leads, while promoting your brand and fostering long-term relationships with customers.


Lead Scoring Puts Marketing and Sales on a Unified Front

A recent survey found that two of the biggest challenges in marketing-sales alignment are communication and measuring with different metrics.

The scenario is not uncommon: sales wants more leads, so marketing pushes forward quantity over quality to meet demand; in turn, sales can’t sell to all of them.

Lead scoring can help bypass these issues. When marketing and sales work together to develop an effective scoring methodology, everyone achieves greater success.


You can get the most out of lead scoring if you set criteria, automate, factor in implicit and explicit criteria, and coordinate sales and marketing.

  • Setting criteria: Have sales and marketing work together to determine what is important in a lead and how to nurture it.

  • Automating: Set algorithms to do the work of collecting and analysing leads for you. AI in the form of predictive lead scoring is particularly useful, as it can bring together a variety of algorithms and forms of data to predict how a lead will behave.

  • Factoring in implicit and explicit criteria: Consider both demographic and behavioural aspects when scoring leads.

  • Coordinating sales and marketing: Cross-reference leads between departments, share information, and avoid targeting the same leads with overlapping messages.  


Leads Need to Be Scored Based on Each Team’s Priorities.

When setting criteria, it’s crucial that sales and marketing work together to determine what a successful lead should look like. This collaboration will filter down to other steps, as it will decide which implicit and explicit details you factor into your search, and how leads are automated and analysed.  

When information is coordinated between teams, the most valuable leads become visible, continuing to highlight the importance of inter-team communication.


Once a methodology has been developed with both teams in mind, lead scoring will be a useful tool for marketing-sales alignment.

Here are some reasons why:

  • Marketing gains a better understanding of the campaigns which generate the best leads.

  • Lead scores provide marketing with insights into the situations where leads require more nurturing, rather than pushing underachieving leads forward to the sales team.

  • Sales can focus on the most valuable leads and close deals faster.


Lead Nurturing as a Collaborative Effort to Keep Moving Forward

Most marketing-generated leads don’t start out ready to buy. This is where lead nurturing comes into play.

Lead nurturing is how you build a relationship with potential buyers by educating them, building awareness, and building trust, thereby increasing the probability that they’ll choose you when it’s time to make a purchase. Some companies describe marketing leads as being at the top of the funnel and sales leads being at the bottom.

This is where we can see the role of marketing expand deeper into the sales cycle, as leads are nurtured to progress further along their journey.  


Collaboration Results in an Increase of Leads

A 2014 study found that where a firm’s approach involved both sales and marketing, “89.1% reported they see measurable increases in the number of leads that turn into opportunities as a result of continuing to nurture those prospects until they can do a full product review.”

This shows that while lead nurturing is vital, it can be made even more effective when it is a collaborative effort between the sales and marketing teams. Both teams can contribute by determining when prospects should be transferred between teams, and working together to create a lead nurturing strategy.

Because sales is the front line when dealing with potential customers, it is very useful and reasonable for them to communicate with marketing about the best approach to nurturing leads and sales communications.

On top of that, the sales team will often also be responsible for sending a lead back and letting marketing know that it needs further nurturing before it can move forward. Both teams should be sharing the responsibilities involved in lead nurturing, with everyone working towards the same goal.


The Handoff: A Smooth Transition from Marketing Qualified Lead to Sales Qualified Lead

Certain criteria or behaviours of some leads make them appear particularly promising. These leads can be labelled as marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs).

  • Marketing qualified leads are leads that have shown interest, but may not be ready to buy yet, and could respond well to nurturing.

  • Sales qualified leads have entered the sales section of the funnel (often as a result of successful nurturing) and have more specific questions and needs that might require them to communicate directly with the sales department.


With lead conversion rates averaging at a maximum of 10% across industries, it’s vital that a clear definition of MQLs and SQLs be agreed upon from the start, as well as when and how MQLs get passed on to the sales team. Marketing software could prove useful in this process, but it’s especially helpful to set out what should happen at each stage, and to set timelines in advance.

Focusing on high quality leads increases conversion.


Tracking Metrics

When tracking metrics, any strong deviation between MQLs and SQLs suggests that marketing and sales need to go back to square one, and redefine their ideal prospects and what constitutes a sales-ready lead.

The conversion rates of sales qualified leads can also be benchmarked by taking stock of your conversion rates, comparing them against industry averages, and setting goals for improvement.

A smooth transition from marketing to sales is key at this stage – rather than employing different strategies for each team, marketing and sales should put forward a unified message for a seamless transition.


Teamwork for the Win

The role of marketing in the sales cycle should go above and beyond generating leads.

Properly qualifying and nurturing leads before passing them on to sales can increase productivity amongst sales representatives, shorten the length of the sales and marketing cycle, increase conversion rates, and allow you to enhance your prediction of future outcomes.

This can only be accomplished with good marketing and sales alignment, which primarily means  open communication at every step of the way.


This post is part of our Navigating the Sales Cycle series. Download the e-book and discover the 7 steps to sales success