Tuesday, April 20, 2010

OneSource Survey: Salespeople Accept Value of Leads from Marketing

Summary: A survey of business-to-business salespeople finds they (still) consider themselves their best source of qualified leads. But marketing-generated leads are gaining increasing respect and salespeople are increasingly looking for help from outside data vendors. Marketers should work closely with salespeople to reinforce these trends, which promise to lower the overall cost per sale.

Most of my interactions are with marketers, so it was interesting to see the opinions of 136 salespeople reported in a recent survey from data vendor OneSource.

The most interesting information was what respondents saw as their largest source of qualified opportunities. By far the leader was “outbound prospecting”, which is a bit frightening given the high cost of such leads. For example, the State of Inbound Marketing 2010 survey from Hubspot found that outbound leads (from telemarketing, trade shows and direct mail) cost an average of $332, compared with $134 per inbound lead (from social media and Web sites).

I suspect that sales people have always felt they must rely on their own outbound prospecting to be successful. What’s probably more significant is that the three next-ranking sources in the OneSource survey come from marketing: Website, inbound calls and email campaigns. Events and trade shows actually rank below all of these. Bringing up the rear are social networking and direct mail, which are rated equal – a pretty impressive showing for social media if you think about it – and Webinars. All together, I see this as a perhaps-grudging recognition by sales people that marketing plays a critical and growing role in generating qualified leads.

Other survey answers were largely consistent with the theme of salesperson self-reliance. The most valuable types of information were targeted contact lists and new CRM contacts; the most useful external data was email address, direct phone numbers and segmented; and the most useful company information was the basics of location and size. These draw a picture of salespeople saying, “Hand me the leads and let me do the rest.” There’s no hint of a role for marketing in nurturing unqualified leads or building brand awareness, although those questions were not exactly asked.

One anomaly in this data is sharply increasing reliance on external business information services. Twelve percent of respondents said they had recently started using these services and a whopping 37% said they were relying on them more heavily. Just seven percent were relying on them less and only 24% are not using them at all. I see this as an acknowledgment by salespeople that outside resources can indeed make them more efficient, even if they still do the actual outbound prospecting themselves.

For what it’s worth, the survey (taken in December 2009) also found some optimism about future sales: 55% said their pipeline was significantly or somewhat better than last year, compared with 33% who said it was significantly or somewhat worse. But sales cycles are still growing: 59% said they were longer than last year vs. 16% saying they were shorter. Although I wouldn’t read too much into such a small survey, this is at least consistent with the hypothesis that there’s a long-term trend towards lengthier, more complicated sales cycles that will continue even once the economy recovers.

Altogether, the results reinforce the conventional wisdom that marketers need to work closely with sales departments to ensure they are delivering qualified leads and that sales people recognize this. Longer-term projects such as lead nurturing and branding are harder to tie to specific sales revenues, but marketers must trace this connection to justify their funding.

No comments: