From The Editor | September 22, 2020

Thinking Beyond Net-New Leads: Part 1

Abby Sorensen July 2017 Headshot

By Abby Sorensen, Editor


Let’s talk about “net-new” leads. Marketing wants them. Sales needs them. B2B organizations can’t survive without them.

You can read about the differences between marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads, sales-ready leads, and sales winnable leads here. But what gets lost in translation when debating what makes for a “good” lead is that marketing and sales teams often have differing opinions on how to handle net-new leads.

Simply put, a net-new lead is one that enters your system/database/funnel for the first time. Net-new leads are worth celebrating. Marketers use them to measure their effectiveness, and sales hopes they’ll soon show up in their paychecks. By definition though, the excitement over a net-new lead is a one-time occurrence.

In reality, a lead can function as a net-new lead over, and over, and over again when:

  • You uncover new information such as a new hire potentially involved in a purchasing decision
  • That lead’s content consumption habits change, possibly indicating a new buyer’s journey
  • Market intelligence such as a new round of funding or an acquisition signals a readiness to buy

The problem is that sales teams often don’t have the patience and persistence to act on that information. Sales reps want net-new, period, not data about “old leads.”

As a B2B marketer, you need to be armed with a passionate explanation of the buyer’s journey to defend the immense value uncovering information about “old leads.” You need a data-driven response the next time your sales team says, “We’re already working that account. We only want net-new leads.”

In part one of this discussion on net-new leads, you’ll learn how B2B marketers can champion additional marketing intelligence about prospects already in the funnel. In part two we’ll continue the conversation as it applies to active customers.

Buyer’s Journey Intelligence Can’t Be Automated

Lead nurturing systems are great at continuously delivering content to potential buyers. But these systems are not so great when it comes to behavioral analytics for existing leads. A net-new lead can only enter your nurture stream once, at which point most marketers employ a “stalk your buyer” strategy instead of a follow your buyer one. Once in the system, the lead is nurtured for the rest of eternity (or until that lead unsubscribes). And all this nurturing is based solely on what you know about that lead the first (and only) time it entered the system.

But what if a lead enters the system, then goes dark for a year, then starts engaging with your company again? Maybe that lead interacts with you via a different channel. Or maybe a mostly inactive lead starts downloading much more content than usual. Technically, that lead can only count once toward marketing’s net-new target. But shouldn’t that spike in activity indicate that the sales team needs to follow up on that “old” lead?

And what happens when a new contact from an “old” prospect company enters your system? That contact might be net-new, but the sales team might dismiss it because they “already know that company.” That’s why marketers should constantly remind their sales colleagues what Gartner’s research says: “The typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers‚ each armed with four or five pieces of information they’ve gathered independently and must deconflict with the group.”

Marketers need to be skeptical and assume a sales rep likely only “knows” one or two people at an account. And even if a sales rep claims to have those six to 10 people identified, those stakeholders can change. Not to mention it’s one thing to identify key stakeholders in a buyer’s journey, but it’s another to influence them – and that’s a battle no sales rep can fight without air support from marketing.

See why the initial excitement over a net-new leads fizzles out? A sales rep cold-called that lead once, emailed twice, and then logged those efforts in CRM, where the lead will never see the light of day because the rep has already moved on to the next opportunity. Then, when marketing sends that lead back over to sales with new information, the rep is already resigned to believe it’s a “bad lead.” It’s easy to see how the obsession with net-new leads is at the heart of dysfunction between sales and marketing teams.

Marketers: Put Yourselves In A Sales Rep’s Shoes

Marketers need to understand certain stereotypes about their colleagues in sales. At their core, sales reps are territorial. Once they start working a lead, they don’t want marketing’s input (because if marketing knew how to sell, they would be in sales, not in marketing, right?). And they certainly don’t want another sales rep talking to anyone else at that company (even if it’s another division with completely different products/services).

And speaking of buyer’s journeys, sales reps are not interested in hearing your theories about that. Why not? Because their next paycheck depends on what they sell today, this week, this quarter, and buyer’s journeys don’t happen in that time frame. They’re primarily interested in net-new leads – not in information on leads they stopped working months ago – because those are their meal ticket.

Marketers: pause here. Have empathy for your sales team. They aren’t lazy. They are stressed and under constant pressure to sell. They are incentivized to look at the immediate future rather than the entire buyer’s journey. The longer a buyer’s journey takes, the longer it takes them to make money.

Instead of losing your patience and becoming combative – or worse, apathetic – when sales reps claim they’re “already working those leads,” put yourself in their shoes. How are they are paid? What are their incentives? Why are they giving up on good leads so quickly? Why do they struggle with follow-up?

There’s a fine line marketers walk between challenging their sales team and tearing them down. Once you understand why sales is obsessed with net-new leads, you still need to figure out a way to inspire them to act when you discover new, actionable intelligence on a lead already in your system. You might have to hold a sales rep’s feet to the fire.

For example, take a batch of leads dismissed for not being net-new and see what you can find out. Are those names even in CRM to begin with? Has the rep even tried contacting them? Can you verify the other names the sales rep knows from that account are still with the company? Are the “old” leads showing signs of being involved in a buyer’s journey?

Net-New Is One KPI, But Not The Only Or Most Important

There is nothing wrong with using net-new leads as a B2B marketing KPI. You can, and you should. But it shouldn’t be the only metric – or the most important metric – used to evaluate marketing’s effectiveness. Instead, marketers need to look at the quality of leads, the amount of opportunities generated, revenue, and customer intelligence gained. And if sales reps complain that they only want net-new leads, then marketers will have to push back to implement new information about “old” leads in their nurture stream.

If your marketing team truly believes leads are valuable – even if they aren’t net-new – then it’ll be up to you to ensure that sales acts on those leads. Marketers can’t just pass names over in a spreadsheet and assume sales will correctly handle it from there. The buyer’s journey is so much more complex than rows and columns of data on a spreadsheet of leads. Net-new or not, it’s ultimately up to B2B marketers to ensure that their sales colleagues appreciate the full value of learning new information about leads.