Who is Responsible for Lead Generation: Sales or Marketing?

Has there ever been a sales organization, leader or person who thinks they have enough leads? Even those who meet their quota and revenue targets year after year do so because they make the opportunities they have count, not because they have more than they need. This is why improving lead generation and management is one of the four top strategies that sales leaders are focusing on in 2019 according to our recently released 2018-2019 Sales Performance Study.

Unfortunately, lead generation is one of those topics that causes continual strife between sales and marketing organizations. Marketing sees their role more broadly as “demand generation,” which also includes objectives like increased name recognition and awareness of the problems your solution is intended to solve. They may also be responsible for a host of other areas such as customer-facing content, your website, analyst relations, events, product launches and PR – just to name a few.

Lead generation is only a small part of what they do. And as many salespeople would have you believe, it is a very small part of what they do. So that begs the question: Who should be responsible for lead generation: Sales or Marketing?

What the Research Says

Before we address the question of who should be responsible, let’s take a look at what our 2018-2019 Sales Performance Study has to say about who is generating the most leads today.

The usual assumption is that lead generation is first and foremost a marketing responsibility. However, looking at our long-term research, the data tells a different story. The percentage of leads generated by sales has steadily ticked upward: 46.9% in 2014, 47.8% in 2015 and 52.6% in 2018. At the same time, the percentage of leads generated by marketing has dropped: 25.9% in 2014, 25.5% in 2015 and 20.2% in 2018. (click to tweet) It’s also worth noting that year-after-year, more than a quarter of the leads come from other sources such as referrals and service personnel.

Does the data suggest marketing is shirking its lead generation responsibilities? Not necessarily.

For one, it is near impossible to measure lead source when your organization doesn’t have a common definition of a lead, And, per our study, the majority of organizations are working without such clarity. Secondly, the idea that Marketing generates leads and Sales closes them, doesn’t really marry up to the ways modern buyers prefer to engage with their sellers.

Marketing is increasingly combining traditional tactics such as e-mail campaigns with more targeted approaches such as account-based marketing and targeted, digital advertising. Marketing optimizes website content to funnel more traffic to the website.  Potential buyers engage with the website downloading content and being score as potential customers by marketing automation.  Once the score meets a predictive threshold, the Sales Development Representative (SDR) engages.  Interestingly, it is quite common for such roles to report to Marketing, rather than Sales.  All of this targeted activity moves marketing from just raising awareness to actually starting the sales conversation.

At the same time that Marketing moves into the Sales world, Sales is moving into Marketing. In our recent Buyer Preferences Study, 70% of B2B buyers surveyed said that they were well into the buying decision process before engaging a seller.   To increase their chances of success, salespeople find themselves needing to conduct outreach differently and put themselves on the radar of organizations who are beginning a buy cycle.

This outreach increasingly includes increasing social networks with potential prospects, building a personal brand on social media and sharing content to the market which puts you into your prospects feeds and gets you on their radar. Many of our studies underscore the growth in  importance of social selling. Our recently released 2018 Sales Enablement Optimization Study found  that social selling adoption rates continue to grow. In 2017, only 29.7% of respondents to the study had adoption rates greater than 50%. In 2018, that percentage grew to 38.2% of organizations. In order to feed such outreach, sellers are becoming content-marketers assembling multi-drop campaigns for dropping and following up on content.  It’s a content-driven world, requiring a steady stream of educational, informative content that is aligned to the core message as well as specific industries and buyers.  (As a side note, that raises another question…who is responsible for content creation?)

You may never solve for the finger-pointing between Sales and Marketing (“Marketing doesn’t generate enough leads. No.  Sales don’t follow up on the leads we generate.  Well, those aren’t really leads.”)  But you can absolutely reduce the tension by evolving both functions. Both need to be sourcing leads, building on each other’s market activity to increase hit rates.  Worry less about the proportion of leads generated by Sales and worry more about whether or not they are fruitful leads.

Questions to ask:

  • What percent of leads come from which sources in our organization?
  • Have we made lead generation a focus for each team?
  • Has everyone acknowledged and accepted their individual responsibilities in the lead generation process?
  • How are sales and marketing supporting each other’s lead generation goals?
  • Do our marketing and sales professionals know how to use social media most effectively to achieve their unique goals?

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