Sales vs Marketing: Conflict Over Lead Generation

Misalignment between sales and marketing teams can cost B2B companies 10% or more of revenue loss annually, according to Precision Marketing Group. This misalignment often occurs over one of the most critical activities required to drive a business’s long-term growth: lead generation. Usually, this conflict is unintentional and goes wholly unnoticed by everyone involved. Given the potential financial implications, it’s worth understanding the root causes.

Who’s In Charge of Lead Generation?

In the traditional, pre-digital world of B2B sales, a company’s sales team would oversee lead generation, which made sense at the time. With cold calling used as a fundamental source of lead prospecting, sales teams could actively seek out potential buyers. However, in today’s digital world, there are far more diverse means of generating leads, so sales and marketing teams share a sense of responsibility to divide and conquer. Still, despite these varying approaches, good old fashion cold calling remains one of the most effective means of prospecting, while tech-driven alternatives typically derive from marketing efforts.

•Sales teams used to be solely in charge of lead generation. In the digital age, the role is shared with marketing.
Sales teams used to be solely in charge of lead generation. In the digital age, the role is shared with marketing.

Where’s the Problem?

It helps to look at the lifecycle of a modern lead, as illustrated by the sales funnel . The very top of the funnel is where marketing focuses a lot of its activity. Marketers design and execute multichannel campaigns, distribute content, and even program paid advertising, all geared toward generating interest and drawing people into the wide top of the funnel. From there, lead capture forms on landing pages and social media platforms become tools to engage leads and gather information for further nurturing.

The bottom portion of the sales funnel is where sales teams typically enter the scene. By this point, prospects have moved beyond expressing mere interest, conducting basic research, or evaluating solutions. They’ve already expressed their specific needs, indicated intent, and communicated a commitment to buy. Therefore, it’s at this point sales teams’ job to consider those prospects as valid leads and nurture their intent toward official conversion. By clearly positioning a company’s products and services as ideal solutions, comprehensively addressing concerns, and negotiating cost options, sales teams can engage leads further down the sales funnel, establishing trust and brand loyalty all at the same time.

Here’s where the problem lies: that middle section of the sales funnel, where lead qualification happens.

Lead qualification is the process to determine whether a lead is worth pursuing based on their respective level of purchase intent. A high quality lead expresses definitive intent through online activity (i.e., downloading content, attending a webinar, signing up for newsletters, etc.), while lesser qualified leads express only limited amounts of behavioral intent, marking them as less of a priority for sales teams. Commonly, B2B companies have a lead scoring system in place, which ranks the priority of these leads based on particular actions.

It’s this middle section, where lead qualification begins, where tension between sales and marketing starts to brew. And here’s why:

1. Sales often doesn’t understand the role of marketing

Part of this misunderstanding comes from an overall lack of knowledge into what marketing teams actually do. It seems simple: marketers bring in leads to help sales teams hit their revenue goals. But that’s a pretty myopic view of what marketing brings to the table. They’re also in charge of equally important lead generation activities that help prime prospects prior to the customer journey. These nurturing efforts offer longer-term strategies for B2B organizations looking to enhance customer engagement and brand loyalty. These strategies include social media posting, SEO, content creation and distribution, and other opportunities to bolster brand reputation, increase transactional value, expand reach to new audiences, and even increase lead quality.

However, some B2B sales organizations struggle to prove marketing ROI from these long-term lead nurturing efforts, which furthers the schism between sales and marketing departments. When sales teams feel marketing isn’t doing its part to generate enough high-quality leads, that’s where the tension thickens.

2. Sometimes expectations about leads aren’t too clear

Qualifying leads is a tricky business because of the many variables involved. For example, a lead who reaches out, engages with you, and asks questions might seem to be a highly interested customer. But if they neither have the budget nor a company co-sign, they probably won’t purchase anything when sales finally reaches out to contact them. Unfortunately, this might make sales teams think they’ve been duped by a bad lead, which can lead to a lot of useless finger pointing.

Sure, sales is justified in their frustration over non-converting leads tagged as “high-quality” or “likely to convert.” But in marketing’s defense, they just might not have enough deep insights to determine a lead’s full purchase potential, so they make their best, most-informed evaluation based on applicable data.

3. There’s no reporting and feedback between teams

When it comes to lead generation, the single biggest cause of misalignment between sales and marketing is miscommunication. Marketing needs to provide as much information about incoming leads as possible. While lead scores are great, the methodology behind those scores needs to be explained and understood so expectations can be properly managed. For its part, sales should report conversion results back to marketing in order to improve marketing strategies moving forward. Rinse, wash, repeat!

This feedback loop allows marketing teams to determine the success of a particular lead generation campaign and refine lead scoring accuracy moving forward. It also gives sales teams the chance to articulate what exactly they’ll need in the future to hit their specific sales goals.

What results from this (re)alignment is a continued cycle of growth and refinement from which both teams can benefit from.

•Communication is key to ensure that lead generation efforts are on-point.
Communication is key to ensure that lead generation efforts are on-point.

Putting everything to paper

The best way to start building uninterrupted lines of communication between sales and marketing teams is to have both parties align with a service-level agreement (SLA). This is a contract that defines the deliverables one party agrees to provide the other. The most critical components of any SLA should include:

  • Quantity: The number of leads a sales team should expect to receive from marketing within a defined period. Most often, this is expressed as a range and determined on past performance of marketing, vis-a-vis lead generation.
  • Quality: Expressed as a percentage of a set of leads that ultimately prove fruitful (i.e., become paying customers). This can’t be arbitrary and should ideally be determined with an eye toward sales goals.
  • Qualification Definitions: Definitions can vary from company to company, but what ultimately matters is a shared understanding of what constitutes quality between sales and marketing teams.
  • Feedback Expectations: Data points that marketing should be able to receive from sales regarding the results of marketing-nurtured leads. This information will be invaluable in refining marketing’s lead generation strategies.

You can add other key points you feel are important, but these four provide a strong foundation for a clearer set of expectations between sales and marketing teams. Better, they prevent an unnecessary blame game when problems arise.

There’s power in working together

If you’ve noticed your marketing and sales teams have been at odds with each other as of late, it might be time to look at how they interact. When sales and marketing teams align properly, businesses can really move the needle, becoming 67% more efficient at closing deals and making sales.

If you want to enjoy highly qualified leads with greater intent to purchase, talk to us today. It’s kind of our thing.