Strategic Prospecting Begins with a Clear Communication About What Makes the Best Prospect
Identifying and nurturing prospects is the most important and resource-intensive activity for any B2B Sales and Marketing organization.
And most of us are terrible at it.
We know this. And we’ve tried to fix the problem.
We’ve moved a lot of the heavy lifting to Sales Development Representative (SDR) teams that are almost entirely devoted to prospecting. We’ve adopted named list and Account-Based Marketing (ABM) methodologies to more clearly and systematically target promising prospects. We’ve invested in automation and market intelligence technologies to help us better understand and predict buying patterns.
And yet we continue to see the same disheartening stats. Three-fourths of B2B leads generated by Marketing never close, and often are not even followed up with by Sales. Leads often don’t even match the prospect profiles the company wants to sell to.
How can this be, when we’ve taken “strategic” steps to battle the scourge of Sales-Marketing Misalignment and ensure our prospecting and nurturing efforts are all on the same page?
Because “strategy” is meaningless if the people executing it aren’t all on the same page. And that begins with communication and discipline.
This Should Be Simple, But…
On the surface, deciding who you want to prospect and sell to should be a straightforward call.
Sales and Marketing get together and decide which accounts represent the best opportunity to win revenue. This evaluation is based on a variety of factors – both in terms of ideal customer fit and your own capacity to commit resources to the heavy lifting of winning B2B sales.
Then, Marketing engages and nurtures desired prospects; your SDRs reach out for high-touch qualification; and after a snug handoff, Sales closes the deal. We like to think of this approach as “strategic prospecting” – from the outset, everyone is in step about the business you are hunting, and every action is coordinated toward that goal.
What could go wrong?
As we all know, a lot.
We’ve heard the horrid stats: MarketingSherpa famously reported that 61 percent of B2B Marketers send leads directly to Sales, while only 27 percent of those leads will be qualified. And 67 percent of sales efforts fail because reps simply didn’t qualify prospects before taking them through the entire sales process.
How can something so fundamental as marketing and selling to people who you want to be your customers go so far off the rails? It’s easy to say it just boils down to Sales and Marketing not communicating, and certainly, this is the heart of the problem. Forbes recently called Sales and Marketing misalignment the “chronic, and often fatal, disease of business,” and at this point, it’s impossible to disagree with that diagnosis.
But we need to do more than just recognize the need to talk to each other. In a world where we understand that the customer journey is no longer a clear, linear path from Marketing > Sales > Close, we also need to adopt a disciplined, structured approach to ensure that communication remains clear and prospecting efforts remain strategically on-target.
Where Prospecting Goes Wrong
Most customers we talk to here at True Influence do take the basic, initial steps toward strategic prospecting.
Sales and Marketing hold an annual planning meeting to determine which accounts they are going to target over the course of the year. Typically, Sales is the originating source for the named accounts list, based on their ear-to-ground market research and general aspirations for the year. Marketing provides at least some level of feedback, and the prospecting list is set.
But then efforts tend to fragment – and quickly.
For starters, these planning sessions can be unstructured and don’t result in a concrete plan for executing the prospecting strategy (more on that later). This is complicated by the fact that both Marketing and Sales ops tend to just float off into their disconnected silos.
Marketing tends to dig into their databases and nurture the leads they can generate through the tried-and-true mechanisms of email, webinars and down-funnel content assets. It doesn’t expand its approach to other tactics, such as phone outreach, to specifically target the strategic prospecting list.
The resulting leads may meet baseline firmographic and interest metrics, but they often come up short against all the criteria of the sales coverage map, and certainly don’t sync with the business Sales has agreed to hunt. We sometimes even see leads being passed off to Sales from geographic regions where Sales simply has no reps to service the account.
For its part, Sales can dig its heels in too deeply on named account lists that are more aspirational than based on actual market research or potential to close business. We here at True Influence are big believers in using intent, content syndication, and other market tactics to both refine and grow your understanding of your Total Active Market, and your corresponding prospect list. Sales must be receptive to pursuing new in-market accounts that meet ideal customer fit.
But Marketing and Sales must clearly agree that such accounts are to be added to prospecting list before resources are burned on nurturing campaigns or phone outreach.
If this doesn’t happen, you end up with dead leads, a frustrated Sales team, and anemic ROI on your marketing programs. And if Sales doesn’t follow up on a nurtured, engaged prospect, you have an angry customer and potential reputation damage. Nothing good comes from this.
Strategic Prospecting Is Backed Up with a Plan
As I said a little earlier, it’s easy to just say that Sales and Marketing need to communicate better – because it’s true. But at this point, after recognizing the ills of misalignment for years, it’s clear B2B sellers need to adopt a disciplined methodology to ensure communication happens.
At True Influence we’ve have adopted a model called RAD (Retain, Acquire, Develop) to ensure our Sales and Marketing teams stay in close communication throughout the prospecting and sales process. RAD is not a new concept, and it’s not the only methodology out there, but it is coming into its own. Our CMO Kay Kienast implemented RAD at Seagate and Xerox, and has discussed its benefits in detail in this post at her LinkedIn account. I’m not going to go into an enormous amount of detail about this process, because Kay has already done that in her post.
In short, RAD is executed in two phases:
1. Segmenting and prioritizing prospect accounts by the potential revenue they represent, as well as the “share of wallet,” or the amount of their overall budget that is devoted to your products and services. These two factors not only help you predict how much the prospect is likely to spend, but how strategically important your relationship will be to a won customer moving forward.
2. Determining the roles and responsibilities that Marketing and Sales will each have when cultivating the relationship with prospects, based on how you have segmented your list in phase one. This responsibility matrix can become sophisticated, with the experts at SiriusDecisions suggesting that both Marketing and Sales work against revenue quotas (As Kay points out, that’s why we call it “revenue marketing.”)
So, you can see that a legitimate Sales and Marketing coverage model goes well beyond the fundamentals of refining an ideal customer profile, or simply listing aspirational prospects and then saying, “let’s go for it.” It’s a carefully researched plan of action that is going to make or break your Sales and Marketing efforts for the year. And as Marketing takes on a larger share of prospect contact efforts – Business 2 Community recently reported that 91 percent of buyers don’t want to engage with sales until they are well along their buying journey – this level of orchestrated, coordinated communication is essential.
Strategic Prospecting Requires a Culture of Communication
I could write several more pages about the ills that come from poor communication between Sales and Marketing, and how it undermines every investment your company makes in optimizing revenue. We routinely talk to B2B sellers who have invested in sophisticated MAP and CRM systems, but have not even integrated these two costly pieces of technology.
How can Marketing hope to seamlessly pass off a hot prospect to Sales when your MAP doesn’t talk to your CRM? But what good would it do, if Marketing doesn’t even know if there’s a rep servicing the region where it just spent a huge of amount of time and energy cultivating a lead? Just sending along a bunch of leads that meet a few core profile points won’t result in won revenue. Technology is no magic bullet here.
Being truly strategic in your prospecting efforts means developing a culture of clear, constant communication between Sales and Marketing. And culture is a matter of habit – its built through discipline and repeated, successful, execution.