Premature lead syndrome and the content cure

Premature lead syndrome and the content cure

While many companies will talk a lot about creating awareness, strengthening their brands and engaging in conversations, at some point, when push comes to shove, what they'll really want is some leads. They'll want prospects to raise their hands and indicate they want to take things to the next level. And they'll want to pass them over to sales so they can do their magic. Everybody wins.

Or so you'd think.

Fast Company recently ran a great article: Why Sales People Actually Hate Leads. It highlights the fact that, unless a prospect is ready to buy, sales generally aren't interested in leads generated by marketing. In fact, most of the time, they're more than happy to do their own lead generation thank you very much.

Sales are from Mars, marketing is from Venus

It's an issue that's at the core of sales and marketing (mis)alignment.

Sales looks at the leads marketing generates and simply can't see why they'd prioritise them over those prospects they're already pursuing (and which they already have some contact).  

Marketing gets frustrated because sales either ignore the fruit of all their hard work or go in like a bull in a china shop, scaring the poor prospect witless.

And in the gulf between, way too much business vanishes to the competition.

Much too much, much too soon

The problem is primarily one of timing and patience. In everyone's understandable eagerness to close a deal, they're using the wrong approach at the wrong time. More specifically, they're trying to sell a solution before the prospect has really got their head around the problem.

While there are lots of options about how you label the stages of a B2B sale, here's the one we like:

  1. The ignorance stage – not only does the prospect not know the solution to their problem, they don’t really understand the problem itself either
  2. The discovery stage – they understand the challenges they are facing and are actively looking for the solution
  3. The selection stage – they’ve identified the solution and are now short-listing the vendors who can deliver it
  4. The decision stage – they’ve selected their preferred vendor and are now working with them to specify the precise solution and its cost
  5. The happy ever after stage – the vendor is chosen, the initial deal is done and now the relationship moves to an on-going cycle of repeat and additional purchases

Marketing tends to focus on stage 2. Sales on stage 3. While most prospects are probably at stage 1.

Don't wean your leads too soon

The answer is to nurture sales for longer than you think you need to. Only hand them over to sales when they are deeply into selection and about to tip into the decision stage. In doing so, match the right content to the right part of the cycle. There is no point giving a prospect product information before they're in the right mindset – if anything, it will have the opposite effect to the one you want.

By the time you hand off to sales, you should have:

  • Convinced the prospect that they have a business problem
  • Demonstrated the real-world impact of not fixing it
  • Emphasised the urgency of the situation
  • Shown them how they can begin to go about solving it (again at a business level)
  • Highlighted how others have met similar challenges
  • Positioned your solutions in a way that's relevant, believable and differentiated
  • Helped them focus in on the potential solution that might be right for them

Then you can hand the lead across to sales (especially if you've armed sales with the tools they need to carry on the conversation).

While all this may sound like hard work, with today's marketing automation systems and some smart content planning it doesn't have to be as complex as you may think. And, if you get it right, you'll have happy salespeople, closing more deals and taking credit for all your great work (well, no approach is perfect).

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Image by Dominic Alves