Improving Lead Process by Focusing on the Customer’s Path

According to our 2018-2019 Sales Performance Study, lead generation is both a top sales objective and a top sales challenge. Sales and marketing likely each have their own perspective on why it’s a challenge and how to go about addressing it, but here’s where sales operations comes in – to help build a bridge between the two organizations by putting the customer’s path front and center when it comes to the lead process.

Differing perspectives on what a lead is, is not such a bad thing. (Click to tweet)

Have you ever been in a conversation on lead generation where there were differences of opinion on what a lead is, who generated it and whether it was a good lead? You more than likely have, especially if sales and marketing were involved in the discussion.

But that’s not such a bad thing. Having different perspectives is necessary, especially if organizations want to move forward and be creative. And with changing buyer preferences (read more here), both sales and marketing need to think outside the box and make the customer’s path the main design point for lead generation and nurturing. (Click to tweet)

Let’s first take a look at why sales and marketing have different perspectives on leads.

Sales and marketing often start from different vantage points when it comes to leads. (Click to tweet) Our research shows that 43% of organizations don’t have an agreed-upon definition of a lead. This number has been rising since 2014, when it was only 19.3%! The misalignment is not only with the definition of a lead, but it also extends into the lead nurturing process. More than one-third (35.3%) of organizations also don’t have an agreed-upon lead nurturing process between sales and marketing. (Click to tweet)



Without alignment around the foundations of lead definition and the nurturing process, it’s no wonder sales and marketing perspectives differ. Because different perspectives can drive creativity, you might wonder if it’s such a bad thing. It could be, when we consider the customer and the impacts such misalignment can have on their experience.

An opportunity to improve: Looking at lead experience from a customer perspective.

As we found in our 2019 Buyer Preferences Study, today’s buyers don’t see salespeople as a resource to help solve their business problems. Not only are there many resources available for buyers to do their own research, but also with automated, impersonal prospecting outreaches (whether from marketing or sales), buyers often aren’t seeing value in engaging with salespeople.

At the same time, an overwhelming 90% said they would be open to engaging with salespeople earlier in the buying process. (Click to tweet) This means organizations still have an opportunity to differentiate themselves and look for ways to add value to the buyer’s experience. We can do this by looking at the lead generation and nurturing processes and putting more emphasis on the customer’s path instead of the more common internally focused approach. Our research shows that successful organizations are connecting their sales processes to the customer.

Partnering with marketing operations, sales operations can play a key role in driving alignment between sales and marketing to shift their focus to the customer’s path, thereby ensuring the buyer experience is consistent and meaningful during the lead phase of the engagement.

Here’s how sales operations can work with marketing operations to drive this alignment:

1.Understand the customer’s path. It sounds simple, but how often do organizations look closely at the customer experience when designing lead campaigns and the processes that support them? The fact that we call a prospective buyer a “lead” in this phase of the engagement shows how internally focused we are. So the first step sales operations should take is to work with marketing operations to understand what the prospective customer’s experience is like when they receive prospecting outreach from marketing and sales.

Document the internal lead generation and nurturing processes, if not already available, from both a marketing and a sales perspective. For this step, focus on the internal steps that marketing and sales go through. Then, next to these steps, list what the buyer’s experience might be like. For example, depending on where in the purchase journey the buyer is, responses to the initial reach-out will vary – disinterested and no response (identify and clarify needs), researching and request more info (identify solutions), selecting vendors and requests a demo (evaluate solutions), etc.

Ideally, marketing shares with sales the type of response they received from the initial email, so the salesperson can adjust their follow-on engagement against the buyer’s initial response. Otherwise, the buyer experience becomes discontinued.

2.Define a “customer-qualified” lead. Lead qualification is usually based on internal criteria, defined by either or both marketing and sales. This is why we commonly use the term “marketing-qualified leads” (MQL) or “sales-qualified leads” (SQL). But if we make the customer’s path the main design point, the qualification criteria may be significantly different. We might as well call it “customer-qualified leads,” as in the customer determines where they are in their purchase journey and what type of engagement benefits them most.

Taking the example from the previous section, if a customer is in education mode and researching available solutions to solve their business problems, the qualification criteria might focus less on whether they have a budget and a need and more on what business requirements they’re gathering information against and what other vendor solutions they may be researching against.

In addition, because they are most likely in the “identify solution” phase rather than the earlier “identify and clarify needs” phase, once qualified, the handoff to sales may be assigned in CRM at a later sales stage than the initial sales stages associated with “identify and clarify needs.”

3.Identify the process and system handoffs and any impacts to the customer experience. Qualified leads pass from marketing to sales. Leads that require more nurturing may involve both marketing and sales in the process. Whatever the scenario, there are process and system impacts that need to be taken into account. By partnering with marketing operations, sales operations can identify impacts to both sales and marketing processes and systems by conducting an impact assessment. Click here to read more on impact assessments.

When doing so, it’s also important to look at impacts to the customer experience, if there are any. While the majority of process and system impacts might be internal, such as marketing automation platform (MAP) to CRM data handoff and marketing to sales team engagement handoff, there may be impacts to the prospective customer during the handoff process as well.

For example, when a prospective buyer is considered “qualified” for sales engagement, the contact data in MAP may be added to CRM, and CRM triggers an email for the salesperson to follow up. If a former salesperson who left the company had previously reached out to the same contact but, due to lack of interest from the buyer, had not entered their information in CRM, the new salesperson reaching out may not be aware of the previous reach out. This, in turn, could make the buyer experience not so positive, in that the new salesperson is not aware of the previous conversation the prospective buyer had with another person from the same company.

If there was a process in place that required the salesperson to enter contact information for anyone they reached out to, whether it resulted in an opportunity or not, this type of scenario may have been avoided.


Shifting the focus to the customer’s path as the main design point for internal lead processes will not only help improve the prospective buyers’ experiences, but it also will help drive alignment across sales and marketing. (Click to tweet) And sales operations can partner with marketing operations to help facilitate such an alignment by adding the customer’s path to the internal way of doing things.


Questions for you:

  • How does your organization define a lead? Is it different for marketing and sales?
  • Do you know what the customer’s experience is when it comes to your internal lead processes?
  • What are the consequences of a misalignment between sales and marketing?


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