When you think about lead generation and sales prospecting, you likely know that the two have similar goals for your business.
Both aim to bring new leads to your door, giving your salespeople the opportunity to convert them to lifelong customers.
You’re also aware that though the two try to accomplish the same, they aren’t quite the same. In fact, lead generation and sales prospecting have very little in common outside of their shared end-goal.
Many business owners confuse lead generation for sales prospecting (and vice versa), not realizing that the two strategies really require completely different skill sets. In fact, within most businesses, they are managed by two completely different teams; marketing manages your lead generation efforts, while sales heads up the sales prospecting process.
But here’s exactly where huge opportunity exists for your business. Just because the two strategies operate differently doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to bring them together to maximize your conversion rate.
In fact, the best businesses have aligned their sales and marketing teams through new technology and hard data to marry the worlds of lead generation and sales prospecting into one.
This post walks you through everything you need to know about bringing your sales prospecting and lead generation strategies together to improve your conversion rate.
First, start by defining exactly the difference between lead generation and sales prospecting.
What is the Difference Between Lead Generation and Sales Prospecting?
Lead generation is the term used for top-of-the-funnel prospect nurturing campaigns led by your marketing team. It’s the long-play, focused on taking initial prospects in the “Awareness” stage of the customer journey through a strategic campaign leading all the way to the the “Decision” stage.
For decades, marketers focused almost exclusively on lead generation. The goal of every campaign - whether it be print, television or otherwise - was to funnel more leads to sales reps.
Now, in the era of digital marketing, lead generation is just one component of most businesses’ larger demand generation strategy. Whereas marketers of old focused solely on top-of-the-funnel activities, digital marketers today focus on nurturing leads at every stage of the sales cycle, well into “Retention.”
Sales prospecting is another way to bring new customers into your book of business, albeit in a dramatically different fashion.
Where lead generation requires patience and long-term execution, sales prospecting is a strategy centered around immediate satisfaction. Sales teams prospect because it’s the fastest way to get new leads in your pipeline. Whether it’s the most effective strategy or not is up for debate, but nevertheless, even the most marketing-focused businesses continue to have their sales reps cold call to some degree.
The truth is, though both strategies have their own unique applications (which this post explains below), the two are most effective when brought together.
Think about it. What good is a lead generation campaign if there’s no one following up with the leads from sales?
At the same time, cold calling without any marketing insights is the business equivalent of playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”; you’re blind, dizzy, and bound to break something swinging that bat around so recklessly.
Before diving into how exactly you can marry these two action plans for your business, let’s take a brief look at their unique applications in a standalone setting.
When Should Businesses Employ Lead Generation Techniques?
Lead generation should be playing a continuous role in your customer acquisition strategy.
Because not all customers will be receptive to a conversation with a sales rep early on in the customer journey. In fact, statistically speaking, most will not. According to HubSpot, it takes your average sales rep 18 dials to connect with one potential buyer.
And that’s just a conversation - not a closed deal.
Lead generation focuses on giving your prospects everything they need to get acquainted with your brand, your value proposition, and even their own problems (because it’s true that many sales reps will cold call businesses about a problem they may not even be aware they have yet).
According to DemandGen, 47% of buyers engage with 3 to 5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep.
That’s why your business needs a lead generation strategy, namely, to ensure those buyers get that content from you and not your competitor.
Here are some other instances where lead generation makes the most sense:
- Establishing your business in a new segment
- Demographic data shows you’re likely not dealing with a decision maker
- You want to automate your stream of new leads
- You’re interested in improving lead quality
Here’s another instance that may sound unconventional, but does happen. You just don’t need any leads right now (sounds like a pretty good position to be in, right?). Most businesses think that you should always be bringing on new business, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your salespeople, current customers, and leads alike is turn the funnel off.
When Should Businesses Employ Sales Prospecting Techniques?
While lead generation can generally be viewed as an ongoing effort that really only ever stops by necessity, sales prospecting has a much more niche use case.
Businesses should have their salespeople focus on sales prospecting when there’s an immediate gap in the pipeline. Maybe a new lead generation campaign isn’t yielding expected results or it’s the end of the quarter and your reps need a handful of quick deals to make quota. Either way, this is where hitting the phones can be most effective.
How Can The Two Be Used Together for Better Conversions?
Now, take a look on how you can meld the long-term nurture campaigns of lead generation with the fast-paced, quick results of sales prospecting.
Marketers have a tremendous amount of data surrounding potential leads engaging with your website or content. Salespeople have a huge amount of data on your existing customers. Bring the two together (preferably through a platform that integrates your CRM and marketing automation, but more on that in a moment), and all of a sudden, you’re looking at the past and the future side-by-side.
Here’s what your customers look like. Here’s what your leads look like. Which of those leads look the most like your current customers?
That’s a simplified way to think about lead scoring. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, lead scoring brings your high school report card back to life. Essentially, the idea is this: as each new lead comes in from the marketing team’s execution of a success lead generation campaign, a score is assigned by marketing to indicate to sales the warmth of the lead.
That way, sales can take immediate action calling on the warmest leads, which can have a huge impact.
Leads contacted within five minutes of their inquiry are 100 times more likely to convert.
Think about what that means for the partnership between marketing and sales. Marketers might spend months nurturing prospects with the right content to turn them into a lead, and based on the historical data provided by sales, can turn a specific lead over to a sales rep within 5 minutes of the prospect making that transition. Your conversion rate just increased by 100x.
Plugging Leads Back Into Nurture Campaigns
Here’s a pretty startling statistic:
44 percent give up contacting a lead after just one follow-up.
However, if you begin plugging your lead generation strategy into your prospecting sessions, you won’t need to make calls 2, 3, or 4 right now. Salespeople can take leads contacted who are still top of the funnel and plug them directly into the right nurture campaign for their needs.
Here’s an example. Suppose a sales rep calls a prospect and finds out through some quick discovery that she is in fact the decision-maker, but is not quite at the “Decision” stage of the buyer’s journey yet. She’s still considering options and weighing her budget.
A sales rep not plugged into the marketing team’s lead generation strategy might discard this very good lead and never follow up again. A sales rep working alongside marketing, on the other hand, will be setting up for future success working with that decision-maker and may very well close the deal down the road.
What Technology Helps Facilitate the Relationship Between Lead Generation and Sales Prospecting?
The right technology can make the relationship between sales and marketing improve dramatically. A recent post on the ReachForce blog detailed exactly the technology your business should be utilizing to foster partnership between sales and marketing for demand generation purposes. Here’s a brief recap of what platforms make the most sense:
- Data enrichment software. Tools like SmartForms take the lead data and enrich it in real time to ensure that when marketing hands the lead off to sales, sales has all the contact and demographic information they need to have a successful conversation.
- A CRM that links to your marketing automation software. Plugging leads into nurture campaigns must require minimal effort on the part of sales in order to be truly effective.