†A Sales Ready Leads Defined: Sales and Marketing Alignment

It is marketings role to create awareness and marketing qualified leads before they are turned over as sales-ready leads to the sales organization.

How many lists do you need to weed out to get a qualified lead? How many people must you connect with to qualify a need? How many qualified opportunities must you develop to write a proposal? How many proposals must you write to close a sale? 

This is the science of sales! And, along with its integration with the marketing process, it’s important to understand the health of your pipeline.

There are many things that contribute to the success of sales and marketing, but arguably one of the most important principles, especially in a tight, competitive market environment, is the management of the sales pipeline.

I will explore the marketing and sales process and explain how important a sales qualified lead (SQL) is to the sales team.

Do sales follow up on marketing leads? According to a study for Harvard Business Review, 71% of qualified leads are never followed up.

And leads that are followed up are only touched an average of 1.3 times. This represents a huge opportunity cost not only in revenue but in the customer/prospect experience as well.

It’s the sales managerís job to take responsibility for ensuring that each step of your sales process unfolds in a timely way. You must know which step of the process you are in with any given prospect.

The core of any process is that it is predictable and yields a certain result when followed. When any step of your sales process is skipped or not completed on time the result changes. To establish the right plan and then follow it. By doing so, you’ll maintain control.

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Itís important to remember that sales is really a matchmaking process, and itís your marketing teamís role to nurture prospects before handing them over to sales as a sales qualified lead.

You only want your sales reps selling to sales qualified leads. Thatís why itís important to define what a sales-qualified lead (SQL) is for your company.

Sales and marketing success only comes when each side works toward shared goals. And, the first step is to determine what the rules are.

What are the 5 Lead Stages of the Sales Cycle?

First, you should know what each stage of the sales cycle is and how they relate to your leads. The stages of the sales cycle are segmented into five parts. The sales cycle follows your leads through the buying decision process.

The diagram below shows a typical sales cycle for a business, and in this case, itís for a high tech consulting startup.

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The lead stages typically follow this flow in the sales funnel:

  • Suspects (Attract) Ė Your lead has a problem; they search for a solution on the web but isnít quite sure what theyíre looking for yet. Your business comes up in the prospects search and has shown some interest.
  • Top of the Funnel (TOFU) Ė Leads visits your website and through TOFU content marketing (like white papers or industry report) have found a potential solution to their problem. These leads are called marketing captured leads (MCL) and need to be qualified by the marketing to become marketing qualified leads (MQL) before they are turned over to sales.
  • Middle of the Funnel (MOFU) Ė Now that your lead knows what he or she needs, they begin to struggle with which company best fits their needs. You can encourage your lead to pick you through MOFU offers. It is this stage where some of the MQLís move to the next stage of the sales funnel called sales qualified leads (SQL) and the sales rep starts working on these.
  • Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU) Ė Now your lead has decided youíre the best fit, but now needs to know why they should buy from you today. You can answer this question with BOFU marketing offers.
  • Delight – Your lead converted into a paying customer! Now you have to keep him or her engaged with special offers, social media shares, and great customer service so when itís time to renew, itís obvious they should.

What is a Lead?

A lead or sales-ready lead is defined by Wikipedia as Ďthe identification of a person or entity that has the interest and authority to buy a product or serviceí.

Nowadays, leads referred to are mainly online leads, generated by filling in a form on the internet, although they could equally be the result of a phone call or it could be a business card from an interesting person from a networking event.

A lead typically constitutes the contact details of a person Ė either a consumer or representing a company Ė interested in learning more about a product or service, with a view to purchasing it.

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Marketing For Startups: The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Philosophy, Methodology, and Toolkit.

What is a sales qualified lead in sales?

A sales-ready lead move to sales qualified lead and is more than just contact on a list you may have just purchased or someone that recently filled out a form from a landing page on your website.

It includes further information on the person or the company they represent, information that qualifies them for a certain product.

At Matrix Marketing Group, weíve adopted the BANT approach, itís because Iím familiar with it from my IBM days and it works. 

Typical qualifying questions relate to the BANT approach:

  • Budget: do they have enough money to buy the product/service?
  • Authority: can they make a purchase decision?
  • Need: do they have a need that the product or service in question can meet?
  • Timescale: do they have a specific time when they wish to make their purchase

By gathering answers to the above questions at the lead stage, the sales and marketing teams can prioritize the leads gathered and focus on those most likely to convert to sales. These are then considered Ďsales qualified leads.í

Letís drive into the BANT system more.

The BANT System

The definition of an SQL may vary based on what youíre selling and who youíre selling to but many companies use the BANT system (designed by IBM) when qualifying leads.

Hereís a breakdown of how to qualify leads using the BANT system:

Budget: Does a Prospect Have the Budget to Buy?

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It doesnít matter how much a prospect likes your solution. If they canít afford it, then they arenít a viable customer. Effective selling requires that the sales reps (or SDR) determine whether a prospect can actually afford your solution.

Authority: Does a Prospect Have the Authority to Buy?

Everyone good sales rep knows to call high, but key executives have elaborate defense mechanisms to keep salespeople out. The only reliable way to get past these defenses is by way of a personal introduction.

Delegate this problem upward into the organization until someone knows someone who can pave the way. Before getting the introduction, it is fine to meet with lower-ranking people in the organization to gather intelligence, but the sales cycle does not formally begin until this meeting.†

A typically B2B sales take an average of 5.4 people to make a buying decision, so its important to recognize a committee based buying authority situation.

Need: Does a Prospect Have a Need for Your Solution?

Identify what you expect will be a major concern of the executive and present a thought-provoking point of view. Your goal is to engage an executive who does not know you in a serious dialog and to evoke some level of anxiety in them to solve the specific problem you are there to discuss.

You cannot afford to play safe as this will look like you are wasting their time; after all, when the executive agreed to the meeting, they did so in the hope of getting some special insight as to how to address their problem.

At Matrix Marketing Group if an organization is hitting all their sales targets they might not have a need for our services. On the other hand, they may be looking to reduce cost and overhead. This is where our services help a potential client as well.

The sales reps want sales-ready leads, often called sales accepted lead (SAL).

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Timeline: When is a Prospect Looking to Make a Decision?

Timing is everything but sometimes, itís just not the right time for the deal to close. And there are countless reasons. A potential lead maybe waiting for funding. Sales reps need to discover what a prospectís timeline is before handing that prospect over to a sales rep.

Let look at a real-world example from one of Matrix Marketing Groupís clientís. They needed help with fixing their sales to funnel leaks and improving their sales and marketing alignment.

One specific area of focus was the marketing to sales lead hand-off. Before we started, there was no specific marketing qualified lead to sales qualified lead hand-off. If you are in sales, you know what I mean.

Where an inexperienced marketing team may hand over anyone and all leads that come from a trade show, completed a form, or simply called in for more information. These are not leads and should be qualified before spending sales resources on them.

Their MQL to SQL ratio included the following:

  • B: Software budget is > $50,000
  • A: Meeting with CIO, CEO or CFO
  • N: Need is identified in the manufacturing space and problem with supply chain
  • T: Timing is < 180 days

Marketing now has a clear definition and specific parameters to meet before handing the lead over to the sales team.

Let’s discuss sales-ready leads and who should qualify them.

Who Should Qualify Leads?

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When your sale reps have to qualify leads themselves, it diminishes their closing power. Instead, leave lead qualification to a Sales Development Reps or Marketing Development Reps.

Successful companies have experienced better results by separating their sales teams into clearly defined roles.

These roles include:

  • Sales Development reps (SDRs) Ė reps that prospect for new leads
  • Marketing development reps (MDRs) Ė reps that qualify leads from marketing campaigns
  • Sales Reps Ė who close deals with sales-qualified opportunities.
  • Your SDRs and MDRs should be solely focused on creating a steady stream of opportunities for your sales reps to close.

Synchronize Your Sales and Marketing Teams for better Sales-Ready Leads

 Define your common goals and devise the plan to achieve them. Make sure theyíre specific and that they all point to generating revenue. When your goals are aligned, then itís a lot easier to work toward that common goals.

According to a 2011 Aberdeen Group study, highly aligned organizations achieved an average of 32% year-over-year revenue growth Ė while their less aligned competitors saw a 7% decrease in revenue.

Yet according to another study from Forrester, just 8% of companies say they have tight alignment between sales and marketing. So the benefits of aligning the two groups are clear.

Sales and marketing alignment is not a ďtouchy-feelyĒ relationship problem, nor is it something that should be viewed as a standard result of different personality types. It starts with sales-ready leads and the at the lead hand-off.

Be sure that your sales and marketing teams are on the same page when it comes to lead hand-off. Sales want qualified leads and active buyers.

Iíd love to hear your comments about sales-ready leads. 

Recommended reading on this topic:

General FAQ’s

What is a Lead?

Today, a lead referred to are mainly online leads, generated by filling in a form on the internet, although they could equally be the result of a phone call or it could be a business card from an interesting person from a networking event.

What is a sales qualified lead (SQL) in sales?

A sales qualified lead is more than just contact on a list you may have just purchased or someone that recently filled out a form from a landing page on your website. It includes further information on the person or the company they represent, information that qualifies them for a particular product.

What does BANT stand for?

BANT is short for budget, authority, need, and timing. It’s used in many sales organizations to manage the sales cycle.

Who Should Qualify Leads?

When your sale reps have to qualify leads themselves, it diminishes their closing power. Instead, leave lead qualification to a Sales Development Representative (SDRs) or Marketing Development Reps (MDR).


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