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Who should generate Sales leads in a B2B business? The sales team or Marketing?

If we look at a FMCG organization, it is a given that demand is generated by Marketing, and sales teams are tasked with distribution. They do sell, but their sales efforts are directed at the distribution channel, and their actions do not directly impact sales of the organization. Sure, if they have inadequate distribution or not so visible merchandising and product display, they are likely to lose sales. But the primary responsibility of generating consumer demand is with Marketing. And the distribution channel responds to consumer demand.

 

However the picture gets very fuzzy when we look at B2B organizations. There are organizations that have well defined processes for lead generation and management that are not reliant on the sales teams. These organizations use a variety of marketing channels to generate the leads and qualify them. However they will be a small minority, and typically relatively high profile organizations.

 

 

In most organizations in the SMB/SME space, fact is that Sales is probably responsible for both lead generation and closing the sales. The question is : Is a sales professional the best equipped person to generate leads? And is lead generation the cost effective if handled by a sales professional?

 

Let's look at the typical profile of the sales professional in a majority of these organizations. They are typically outgoing people, good conversationalists and their primary skill is in persuading people to their point of view (the good sales professionals are). They are excellent at relationship management and   good negotiators. By the way ,they have quotas and are always in a state of high anxiety to meet or exceed their quotas and earn their sales bonuses.

 

Lets now look at the scope for lead generation for a sales professional on the field. He (please read this as gender neutral)  maybe has three or four sales meetings and makes a few calls in a day. His contacts are restricted to the customers and the current set of prospects he is currently negotiating  with. How much of a reach can we expect him to achieve? After cumulating contacts of all members of the sales team, would the organization reach even a fraction of its potential customers every month/quarter? It is extremely unlikely to achieve much penetration of the market with a purely sales team driven lead generation process.

 

And we also need to look at how much motivation we can expect from a person whose performance is measured by achievement of sales quota? I think there would be very little motivation to generate leads for a sale that may close in the near or distant future.

 

In the past, prospecting was considered an essential component of a sales professionals job. Even today it is considered so in a majority of the organizations. But the sales professionals performance is measured on quotas met, and not on leads generated. He is supposed to make the inference that to meet next quarter's quota, he should be generating leads today. I am afraid, the future is very far away for most sales professionals. By essence and by the way the system works, they are trained and forced to look only at the immediate present. In several years of experience, I am yet to meet a sales professional who diligently works on generating new leads - or has the capacity to do so. They are excellent sales professionals, but extremely poor at a strategic view of how to generate new leads.

 

The only tools that the sales professional has at his disposal to generate new leads is cold calling, and customer references. I personally believe cold calling in the B2B segment must be laid to rest once and for all. In today's information age, the prospect does most of their research online, and is unlikely to want to meet sales professionals without having established an agenda in advance. Maybe networking will open some doors. But beyond pleasantries exchanged, it is unlikely to translate into hard sales. Customer reference do work extremely well. But how many references can we realistically expect?

The mind set to generate new leads is one of patience and strategy. Analytical enough to examine product portfolio, competition and see where opportunity lies. Needs to have an understanding of various communication tools (read marketing channels) and their costs and effectiveness to reach out and generate interest in a potential customer. A sales professional is neither trained in this, and even if trained, the nature of their job does not allow them the luxury of reflection and strategizing.

 

B2B organizations that look to marketing with a focus on lead generation (as against bland and cookie cutter marketing efforts that just result in some product brochures and generic websites or spammy aimless newsletters) can expect to learn the ropes pretty fast and consistently generate new leads for their product or service . The key here is to look at lead generation as a function of its own. How much of the sales process is thrown into the lead generation function may vary depending on skills available. But the fact is that leads need to be generated, qualified and sold to. The sales team is expert at the last function - selling. Who will handle the lead generation and qualification? Once this question is answered, the organization can expect to have consistent and dependable lead generation, and a highly motivated sales force, since they now have to only use skills that they are well trained for and equipped.

 
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