Tuesday, January 6, 2009

7 Best Practices to ensure Sales and Marketing Funnel Integrity

Last week we launched a new Demand Generation campaign that ran into a minor hiccup prior to launch. None of the Leads we were capturing were getting published to Upon troubleshooting we found out that there was a data type mismatch between a field we were capturing in marketing and the corresponding field in Our marketing process was asking for a range of values for Annual Revenue:

  • $1 million to $50 million
  • $51 million to $250 million
  • $251 million to $500 million
  • $501 million to $1 Billion
  • > $1 Billion

But expects Annual Revenue to be a number field on the Lead object in One of our new operations team members made this change without knowing the constraint on Fortunately, our system allows us to have one set of values that a Prospect sees on a Landing page and another set of values that can be published to We were able to quickly fix the problem and launch the campaign.


This is one of the many process and data related issues that can break the integration between marketing and sales funnels. Here is a list of best practices that we have built over time to ensure that the integrity of marketing and sales funnels is always maintained.

Guaranteed Delivery - Ensure mandatory information is always captured: Most SFA systems require a few fields to be always filled in. For example, in the default configuration expects Last Name and Company Name to be required fields. Most companies make modifications to this default setting and might add more fields to the list. Some typical fields I have seen are Email, Work phone, Job Title, Time frame, Budget among others. Marketing processes might or might not be able to collect all the required information from online and offline interactions. In such cases ensure that there is always a default value that the system can assign to these fields. For example, at Market2Lead we assign a default value of '' for email, 'UNKNOWN' for Budget. This will ensure that Leads are propagated to the SFA process.

Appropriate Assignment - Ensure Lead's get assigned to the right sales rep: The one process misalignment that I am very cautious of is broken lead assignment rules. I have seen a few instances where customers find hot leads that require timely follow-up are stuck in some administrator's queue because the lead assignment rules were not triggered appropriately. Marketing processes should ensure that data values that trigger lead assignment rules are always in synchronization between marketing and sales systems. If the sales process uses geo based routing then check whether the rules are based on ISO codes or full names for states and countries. If the routing is more complex like a combination of geo information and product mix then ensure that along with geo values the product names match between the sales and marketing systems. At the end of the day administrators of marketing and sales systems need to keep their systems in sync to ensure Leads end up in the right rep's inbox.

Provide Progressive Intelligence - Search before creating a new Lead: One of the goal's of Lead Nurturing is to keep the sales reps' abreast of marketing activities and their Lead's response to these activities. This objective is defeated if the marketing system is not incrementally updating the Lead record that the sales rep is looking at and instead creates a new record for every interaction. Marketing systems should always search for an existing Lead in the sales system before creating a new Lead. If a match is found the existing Lead should be updated. The search and merge criteria has to be robust too. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
a. Email is not a water tight method to detect existing Leads. In fact, reps rely on phone numbers more than emails. So, the detection process should be sophisticated to include a combination of multiple checks like email, first name + last name + company name, first name + last name + work phone among others.
b. *NEVER* update key fields in the sales process without a rep's permission. Marketing systems are good at collective basic information through online interactions but are not always the most reliable method to capture critical fields like phone number. Imagine the plight of a sales rep if you update a real phone number with a bogus number like
111-555-1212 that marketing collects from an online form. marketing should work with the sales team and identify fields that can be automatically updated and fields that require a sales rep's manual oversight. In the second case it's a good idea to publish new information to the comments field and allow the rep to make appropriate changes.

Align with Sales Follow-up Process - Make it easy for reps to access marketing Leads: Sales reps like to spend as much time as possible selling (and rightfully so). Therefore, it is the responsibility of the operations team to support the sales team by making it easy for them to access Leads from SFA systems and also minimize any change to the way they are used to interacting with these systems. Marketing might be providing top quality Leads to the sales but will not be assured of appropriate follow up if they make it difficult for the reps to access these Leads. Before setting up an automated Lead delivery method marketing teams should familiarize themselves with the method/methods sales reps use to access Leads from the sales system. In I have seen different methods being used. A couple of examples are:
a. Rep based views: Sales rep's have their own views setup and they look for new Leads within this view. In some cases the filter criteria for the views is standardized across the organization and in other cases it varies by territory, product line or other criteria. Get a holistic view of how these view's are structured.
b. Dashboards with alerts: In other cases I have seen sales organizations use more sophisticated dashboards that have a combined view of Leads, events, tasks, alerts and Initiative based follow-up procedures. Get an understanding of how these dashboards are setup.

Ensure Timely Follow-up - Ensure sales reps are sent alerts when Leads respond: It is always a good idea to alert the sales team when marketing is able to generate a response from an existing Lead or generate a new Lead that requires timely follow-up. Get a good understanding of how the sales team is setup before coming up with an alerting scheme. For example, in some organizations all follow-ups triggered by marketing have to through an Inside sales organization. In other cases the follow-up process is dependent on where the Lead is in the sales cycle. Early stage Leads will require a follow up by inside sales and advanced stage Leads/Opportunities require follow up by field sales. Depending on the need alerts can be delivered to the the rep's dashboard in the SFA system or can be a combination of dashboard alerts and emails to the reps. Ensure you strike a balance between alerting the sales team and bugging them :-).

Avoid Data Black Holes - Align data standards between marketing and sales systems: I have seen quite a few companies suffer from what I call the 'Phantom Record' syndrome. One will be surprised how many records get buried in the database and don't show up on anybody's dashboard purely because the data values are not visible in the UI. CRM systems are notorious for being very forgiving when it comes to enforcing data integrity checks. For example, allows data to be imported to a pick list that does not match the pre-defined list of values. Here is a typical example. Let's say, a company uses personalized Lead views to allow their sales team access Leads and these view are geography based. One of the area manager Joe's territory includes California, Nevada and Oregon. The view is based on 2 character ISO codes CA, OR and NV. marketing publishes a set of hot leads from California and the state name is set to 'California'. Joe will never see these Leads since the view will not pull these records and Joe can't access them manually too since the state pull down menu in the UI has 2 character codes. It is always a good idea to have proactive oversight procedures in place to avoid users violating data policies when systems can't enforce them. The next bullet talks about reactive procedures that can be put in place to catch issues that slip through the cracks.

Track Outliers - Setup Exception reports to track outliers: It might not be feasible to systematize all the processes and best practices and build logic based rules to catch errors pro-actively. As the saying goes, it's better to be safe than be sorry. Always augment proactive checks with reactive exception reports to catch outliers. Some typical reports could be:

a. Weekly lead flow reports: A mature marketing and sales process will provide guidance into typical lead flow on a weekly basis. Setup a 10%-20% tolerance and trigger alerts if the system detects unusual Lead flow. A few month's back we were working with a customer who used to get regular data feeds from an external source. At some point one of the system parameters (FTP location information) was changed by the operations team to consolidate data feeds from multiple sources. The receiving function was not aware of the change and for a few weeks these Leads went untouched. The problem was caught and rectified before too much damage was caused. An exception report would have caught a sudden decline in the Lead flow and the resolution could have been much more timely.

b. Weekly lead follow-up reports: It is a good idea to track how many Leads are being followed up by sales. This is a good way for marketing to stay on top of any process changes that might take place within the sales team that requires a change in the Lead publish method. For example, in a particular situation, one of our customer's changed the 'Lead Status' values and the associated follow-up business rules. The marketing team was not made aware of the change and the workflow rules were still setting 'Lead Status' values that was no longer used by sales. With an exception report the marketing team realized that existing Leads were not being followed up on and upon investigation found the cause and made appropriate changes. In this case the exception reporting process was in effect and helped catch the problem right away.

To conclude integrating marketing and sales funnels requires proper attention from both marketing and sales teams since it's a cross functional responsibility. Over and above the 7 steps I mentioned above, a robust communication protocol is extremely critical to ensure that the two functions are always working in tandem. This might sound banal but I still get surprised to see many organizations not investing enough in this critical integration that can directly impact top line revenue.

This article was originally published on in June 2008


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