If someone told you that your sales team was mishandling 80% of their leads, your initial reaction might be to reach for the cleaver. Thankfully, it won't  take something so drastic to see more conversions. At this week's SugarCon 2010 conference, Derek Grant, vice president of sales over at a marketing automation company called Pardot, spoke about working leads with a little bit more TLC.  

Ol' Faithfuls

A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is a lead deemed ready for sales hand-off based on pre-defined criteria. Traditional methods of discovering that criteria include:

  • BANT: Budget, Authority, Need and Timeline is tried-and-true
  • Explicit Factors: Leveraging job titles, company reputation or company size
  • Activity Level: Those that grab white papers or attend webinars often get immediately advanced over to sales
  • "Eyeball" Approach: Basing the MQL decision on external factors such as the appearance of a potential client's website

The problem with these approaches? Nothing, really--except that they're people-powered (people get tired), can be a tad presumptuous, and are almost always overwhelming for the prospects.

Lead Nurturing 101

This is where the TLC comes in. Rather than throwing anyone who shows the slightest bit of interest into the sales team shark pool, Grant says you must nurture. His four key areas for implementing nurturing tactics are:

1. Educate non-sales ready leads:
This is pre-sales engagement and should be broad. Considered by Grant to be the most critical form of nurturing, it's an opportunity to push out white papers and webinars rather than waiting for them to pull the customer in.

2. Standardize communication:
This is simply making sure that potential customers are receiving consistent communication. And what better way to ensure consistency than to automate it?

"You hope your sales team will send out consistent messages, but sometimes they're not around--it gets tough," Grant explained. More importantly, you can set automated messages to stop once a prospect clicks the link and accepts the information. It seems simple enough, but Grant claims many sales teams don't quit when the quittin' is good.

3. Stay top of mind throughout the sales cycle:
People like to talk to real people. But rather than waiting for a prospect to be ready to buy before using the "human touch", Grant says it's important to have this relationship building skill right from the beginning. Even if it too is automated.

"Lead nurturing with the human touch should look like something that originated in Outlook or Zimbra," he said. "This gives you the ability to send out something that says the sales person actually thought of them today. Even though they didn't. Sales people shouldn't have to."

4. Reconnect after loss:
Grant also says automated nurturing can run silently for months. Let's say you know a lost prospect has signed into a 1-year contract with a competitor. Automated lead nurturing can be set to send e-mails right at the end of that year, which is a better tactic than aggravating someone who's just signed with someone else.

Related Article: It's Time to Rethink Your Approach to Analytics

Don't You Dare

Does this mean you should nurture everyone? No. In fact, Grant says you can "file that idea under A for Awful." Sending stuff out of the blue without any indication as to why you're sending it, he says, will get a lot of opt outs.

But implementing a system that can tailor content (or the flow of content) it sends out to prospects based on simple signals can lower cost per opportunity, and get the right leads over to the sales department at the right time.

Think about it: the concept of changing content as the viewer changes is quickly becoming critical in the marketing and customer relationship management process. Why not align sales with that nugget of truth?