• Just like a relay race, the B2B lead management process requires smooth and efficient handoffs across team members
  • The sales accepted lead (SAL) stage provides the signal of successful change in control of a lead from marketing to sales
  • Companies who incorporate an SAL stage in their lead management process experience dramatic increases in Demand Waterfall throughput

In a 4 × 100 relay race, a four runners on a team each run 100 meter “legs” sequentially while carrying a relay baton. Between each leg, the runners must transfer control of the baton successfully at the handoff.

Men in Suits With Baton

While the speed of the runners in each leg of the race is important, the successful exchange of control of the baton is also crucial. Runners define detailed guidelines for the exchange, including which hand to use, the direction of the hand movement at the point of exchange, the number of strides the receiving runner makes before the handoff and the signal used to indicate a successful exchange of control. As evidenced by the 2008 Olympic relay race, a sloppy or dropped exchange can add hundredths of a second (or more) to a team’s time, often costing the team victory. 

In many ways, the B2B lead management process is similar to a relay race. There are multiple “runners” (e.g. marketing, teleservices, sales) who each have a leg in the race. There are handoff points (of leads) between the functions. There are best practices (service-level agreements [SLAs]) that help govern the rules of the handoff. The SLAs include definitions of lead attributes, roles and responsibilities, and timing. Within the process, there are signals (acceptance stages) used to indicate change of control. There are rewards (closed deals) for seamless handoffs, and consequences (lost or stalled deals) for fumbled exchanges or drops. 

In the session “The Revenue Stream: Completing the Demand Waterfall®” at SiriusDecisions Summit this year, we provided compelling research on the importance of the sales accepted lead (SAL) stage in the lead management process. The SAL stage is used to signal a successful change in control from marketing and/or teleservices to the end quota-bearing sales rep. Sales reps who accept leads are simply acknowledging that the leads they’ve received meet the agreed-upon lead definition criteria in the SLA. Their acceptance indicates a commitment to contact the lead within a specified period of time, rather than a reflection of the quality of the lead after the contact.  

Our research focused on the performance and process maturity of the lower phases of the Demand Waterfall® (the sales qualification and close phases). Our research found that 72 percent of the surveyed companies had a formal SAL stage signaling the acceptance of a lead by the sales team. In those companies with an SAL process stage, our research also found that sales accepted 42 percent of the leads sourced by marketing. 

To understand the importance of the SAL signal, we then compared the overall efficiency of the lead management process (the net Demand Waterfall conversion rates from inquiry to close) for companies with and without a formal SAL stage in their process. The results are compelling: Organizations with a formal SAL stage in their lead management process generate 9.3 closed/won deals per 1,000 inquiries, while organizations without a formal SAL stage generate only 4.6 closed/won deals per 1,000 inquiries. That’s more than 100 percent higher performance for companies that have the rigor of sales acceptance in their lead management process. 

So, it’s clear that an SAL stage is important. But there are a few other important observations we can make from this data:

  • While we’d like to see an even higher rate of SAL stage usage, it’s encouraging to see that the majority of B2B companies (72 percent) understand the importance of sales acceptance and the signal back to marketing.
  • While the process is in place, the acceptance rate of 42 percent is still much lower than it should be. When marketing, teleservices and sales are aligned on lead definition, the SAL rate should be at or above 85 percent. The 42 percent rate could be an indication of either disagreement in lead definitions in these companies, or inconsistent adoption by the sales team of the SAL stage in the process. So it’s great that companies are measuring this, but there are still significant opportunities for improvement.
  • Another possible contributing factor to the 42 percent SAL conversion rate is the SAL stage being triggered by lead quality assessed from the first sales conversation instead of by handoff. The SAL stage is intended to provide insight on the execution of the sales handoff process, not reflect lead quality. Lead quality will be assessed against the progression of leads and opportunities to the later stages in the Revenue Stream after the successful change-in-control process handoff. 

As we’ve all seen in track meets, it’s not just about the speed of the individual runners in relay races – handoff execution often wins or loses races. Likewise, in B2B lead management, it’s not the performance of the individual marketing, teleservices or sales functions that exclusively governs overall Demand Waterfall performance. Fumbled exchanges or the dropping of leads sent to sales will keep you from reaching the closed/won finish line.