Defining Lead Status: A Simple Yet Necessary Element of B2B Sales & Marketing Alignment

In a marketing research post published a year ago, titled “6 Reports, Alerts & Strategies for Increasing Sales & Marketing Productivity,” I talked a lot about the need for sales and marketing to align in order to increase the efficiency of prospecting efforts. I wrote in specific detail about six different strategies for aligning both sales and marketing tactics and teams – from setting up Interesting Moments in your CRM and paying attention to activity alerts, to tweaking segmentation strategies, lead scoring and outreach cadences.

While each of these marketing research strategies is as true today as it was a year ago, there’s one simple contingency that will make or break your ability to align – and that’s lead statuses. It’s a simple concept really – one that most B2B marketers and sales teams are familiar with. However, it’s often an overlooked aspect of the marketing and sales alignment process.

What happens in most companies is this – marketing tactics work extremely hard to generate leads from a variety of sources (Organic optimization, Paid Advertising, Tradeshows, Email – you name it). They do their best to optimize their CPL (Cost Per Lead), and usually have tracking set up in a way that will make it easy to show how many leads were generated each month by source. Sales, on the other hand, is concurrently generating leads through their own outbound prospecting efforts. They reach out to “inbound” marketing leads as necessary, but often complain about these leads being less qualified and not yet ready to talk to sales.

As consultants to organizations of all sizes in all industries, we see this breakdown 9 times out of 10, and it usually occurs because a shared definition of lead statuses hasn’t been discussed. Without clearly defined lead statuses, marketing and sales do not have a shared understanding of lead quality – and thus, do not have an efficient process in place for communicating with these leads at each stage.

While some online marketing companies are getting more sophisticated in their lead tracking capabilities (tying leads all the way back to revenue through their CRMs), many are not there yet. For those marketers who still handing leads off to sales without qualifying them first, the following guide will be helpful.

Below is a marketing research list of common lead statuses that need to be defined (and agreed upon) by both sales and marketing in order to most effectively communicate with your prospects:

  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) – This is the classification of a “soft” lead. A visitor that completes an informational form (like white paper downloads) or yielded from a purchased list (content syndication) will be classified in this status. They will be added to Salesforce as a lead in general ownership. Leads with a status of MQL will be marketed to through marketing automation until they complete an action-oriented form, hit an activity threshold, or there is a request made for the transfer of ownership. In any of these scenarios, the lead status will be changed from MQL to SQL.
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) – This is the default status of leads added through, by clicking ”new” in the leads tab, uploads from vertical research or a visitor to the website that completes an action oriented form (Contact Us, Pricing, or Assessment Request). It is expected that the lead owner (BDM or SDR) will contact this lead immediately. These leads are by far the best!
  • Opportunity – This is the positive progression of an MQL or SQL (lead). This classification can be made if you make contact with an SQL and have positive dialogue resulting in a scheduled follow up (meeting or call). When this occurs you should change the status of the lead from SQL to Opportunity. This classification will allow you to create a new account, contact and opportunity. You will also have the choice to add the lead, as a contact, to an existing account (this is important to note for the SDR team).
  • Disqualified (DQ) – This is the negative progression of a lead. You will select this classification if you make contact with an SQL and they are not interested in our services or further discussion.  You will also classify an SQL to this status after failing to make contact within a reasonable time frame, initially 30 days. Leads with a status of DQ will be marketed to through Marketo, until they drop out (unsubscribe, email bounces, etc) or they raise their hand again (SQL).
  • Recycled – this is a lead status assigned to any lead that has previously been qualified by either marketing or sales, but has gone dark. Leads with this status are segmented into a separate bucket and marketed to via a re-engagement email campaign. It’s very important to pay attention to the activity signals of these leads – if they opt out of your email campaigns or don’t engage with ANY of your emails, it’s probably best to stop communication (as it will otherwise adversely affect your deliverability rates).
(Source: Jeff L. Herrmann, Chief Revenue Officer, Fathom: “Defining Lead Status Classifications“)

Once sales and marketing align on a shared meaning of these lead statuses, it becomes easier to plan communication strategies and marketing tactics. As a by-product of alignment, you’ll likely notice an increase among your prospects in engagement with your online marketing company. This is because you’ll be reaching the right person with the right message at the right time, and will be better equipped to gauge a prospect’s interest based on lead status.

Hopefully the lead statuses above give you a starting place to spark crucial conversations between sales & marketing!



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