Blog | November 30, 2021

The Handoff – Transitioning Leads From Marketing To Sales

By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer

Professional employees discussing ideas of project on tablet pc iStock-836658296

The key to successful track and field relay teams is the interdependent relationship of the four runners. Of course, running speed is important, but the baton must make it across the finish line too. The teams that efficiently transfer the baton from one to another have a better chance of winning. They spend many hours practicing and perfecting just the hand-off and make it look much easier than it is. And great marketing and sales teams that possess the same interdependence win more business.

In October, I wrote an article titled Reframing the Relationship Between B2B Sales and Marketing. In it I proposed a start-point for improving the relationship between the two teams by viewing it from the buyer’s point of view rather than our own. Today, let’s turn to the subject of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs), and specifically, transitioning ownership of the B2B lead from marketing to sales.

Digital marketing strategies that deliver high-value content through all stages of the buyer’s journey can provide us with detailed data regarding buyer behavior. Yet too many of us are still stuck measuring a single data point, the sale, and ignoring everything the buyer did before contacting us. For our MQLs, how many of us have no more than an email data base along with some open and click metrics? When someone completes a personal information form to access gated content, we send the contact information to sales for follow-up. The follow-up is often a standard message, a pitch, sent by e-mail along with an attempt to contact the lead by phone. I know this sounds like a horrible practice to many of you, but it is more common than we’d like to admit.

You have likely defined MQLs and SQLs and have a process for transferring responsibility for leads from marketing to sales. But I find that the current practices by most of us could be improved. The problem that many of us have is that we are qualifying leads based on criteria we expect them to meet. Rather, we should be qualifying them on our ability to help.

If we’re really on our game, our identified MQLs have read some of our early buyer’s journey content, we’ve taken time to understand their interests, and shared more helpful content with them. We then monitored their continued level of interest. At some point, perhaps we use a lead scoring system, we determine when the MQL becomes a SQL and this signals a handoff to sales.

Transferring responsibility for a budding relationship with a lead should be an intentional, planned activity between marketing and sales and I recommend a structured meeting. Relying on an e-mail string or notes placed into your CRM, which tend to be incomplete, is not adequate. Clearly sharing everything that marketing knows about the lead with the salesperson ought to be the outcome. I find that applying the following to be a great guide: who, where, what, when, why and how!

  • Who is the lead? Everything we know about this person should be shared between marketing and sales. Beyond basic name, title and contact information, who else might be on their team? The handoff conversation should include the company and their position in the market, any recent news about them, new products or services, and new leadership.  
  • Where is the lead? Geographic location is an obvious interest—time zone differences, main or other corporate location, perhaps a new location are all important factors. However, we also want to know where they are in their buyer’s journey, the next step will help us with that.
  • What marketing content have they accessed? What do they appear to be interested in? Are they accessing early buyer’s journey content (thought leadership, articles, guides, case studies) or are they accessing late-stage content (product and service descriptions)? What does this further tell us about the lead? Are they sharing the content with anyone else in their organization? How active are those people with the content?
  • When? When did they begin accessing your marketing content and over what period and frequency? This can help us understand how interested they are or if they have an urgent need.
  • Why? Answering this question at the handoff stage may not be possible unless they communicated it to us already. If they didn’t, guessing is not advised. But it is vitally important to understand the “why” of their content interests to advance the relationship. It should be among the first questions that the salesperson has for the lead.
  • How we can help! When “why” is understood, and not before, we can communicate how we think we can help. And we shouldn’t burden the lead by asking them, “how can I help you?” If we’ve done a good handoff, we should be prepared to offer them help that they will see as valuable.

At the conclusion of the handoff meeting, sales should have a complete understanding of the B2B lead and be ready to advance the relationship with the next engagement.

Are you interested in learning more about B2B MQLs and SQLs? Read more: The New Definition of Leads for B2B Marketers.

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I hope you have a great week!