As I’m sure your local weatherman can attest to, forecasts are not always accurate. This is especially true with something as fickle as B2B companies’ monthly sales predictions. It’s all-too-common to start off the month with a spring in your step, confidently predicting blue skies ahead – but by the end of the month, you’re drenched in a torrential downpour.
You may have found yourself scratching your head thinking, “Our month-to-month sales are all over the place.” One month you might be right on target, and the next you’re left shaking your head, wondering where it all went wrong. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone – many organizations struggle with an unreliable sales forecast.
But fear not! We’ve come to rescue you from the unforgiving floodwaters of uncertainty with steps to make sure your sales and marketing departments are working seamlessly to drive quality leads that enable accurate sales forecasts.
According to Marketo’s Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation, “You would improve your sales results if marketing played a bigger role in the revenue process, particularly as it applies to nurturing relationships with target early-stage prospects.”
Sales and marketing departments are forever intertwined, and their livelihoods are hugely dependent upon one another. A prime example of this interdependency is how marketing’s lead management best practices are key to accurate sales forecasting.
Alleviate those inconsistencies and clear-up your sales-forecasting crystal ball with our ten tips for best practice lead management.
1. Nurture leads before sending them to sales
More often than not, people are simply not ready to buy. This doesn’t mean they’ll never be ready; it just means they need to be nurtured. Would you be ready for a marriage proposal on the first or even second date? No way. Similarly, it may take some wining-and-dining to convince your prospects to say “yes”. Fine-tune your lead nurturing process to ensure you’re delivering quality leads to sales; and sales should practice lead-recycling by sending any premature leads back to marketing for further nurturing.
2. Use thought leadership to influence the buying process
C-level executives are constantly looking for ways to improve their companies and strengthen their bottom lines. They spend ample time browsing the internet researching solutions and consuming thought leadership. Make sure you are creating content geared towards your buyer personas and customers’ needs to help position yourself as an industry expert. Then, when the time comes and a prospect is ready for a conversation, your organization is top-of-mind in the eyes of the decision makers.
3. Work with sales to define when a lead is ‘sales ready’
The importance of sales and marketing alignment cannot be overstated; and both departments must be in agreement on exactly what constitutes a qualified lead. Criteria should include demographic, lead source, and behavioral information to determine the steps prospects should take before they are ready for a sales call. If these two departments are not on the same page, you will inevitably struggle with inconsistency and rarely achieve a sales accepted lead (SAL) from all your marketing team’s preparation and hard work.
4. Score leads using implicit behavioral data
Modern-day ease-of-access to information creates a ‘buyer’s market’. Because your prospect is now in control of the buying process, you need to do what’s necessary to gauge their online activities so you know when they’re ready for a conversation. Score leads using behavior-based data such as email clicks, eBook downloads, and website visits to give you visibility into where your prospects are at in the buyer’s journey.
5. Give sales detailed information to ensure a seamless hand-off
Imagine…you’ve uncovered plenty of information, built rapport with the prospect, and sales is unable to get a win because you forget to mention that the prospect is a natural vegan foods company and sales tries to make an introduction with a lunch invitation to Outback Steakhouse. Though situations will rarely be that clear-cut, these key details can make a huge difference in the long run with your conversion rates.
Sure, you can provide the basics, but what about all the important little details to prepare sales for the next meeting? What aspects of your conversation did the prospect seem most excited about? What was the person’s tone? Where will sales be able to affect the prospect emotionally? We are all guilty of emotional buying, so use it to your advantage.
6. Track sales follow-up; evaluate leads with sales’ input
Lead generation is anything but easy, and unless you have qualified leads falling into your lap, you need to make the most out of leads that come your way by following up and staying in the loop. After sales and marketing have worked together to define qualified lead criteria, they must collaborate once again to determine whether lead quality is up-to-par and to discuss areas for improvement to optimize your lead management strategy.
7. Track every marketing activity, not just lead source
There are dozens of ways to market your product and it’s important to track every single one. How can you be sure what’s working and what’s not if you aren’t taking the time to track your progress? Don’t let all your hard work go unnoticed. Moving forward, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s resonating in the market if you track ROI on all your marketing efforts.
8. Progressively understand the prospect’s needs
Make sure to utilize buyer’s journey mapping and develop customer personas so you can deliver the right message at the right time. Needs will change depending on the type of customer and their stage in the buyer’s journey. You do not want to lose out on an opportunity simply because you stopped taking the time to understand your prospect and where they’re at.
9. Track anonymous visitors and tie their data to new leads
Simple coding will help you track both anonymous and known prospects and provide insight into exactly who is interested in your products. An anonymous prospect becomes known once they complete forms or landing pages on your website, and any previous visits can then be linked to their IP information. This will give you visibility into the history of the relationship with your prospect (including which campaign led them to your website in the first place), which will allow you to determine sales-readiness of these new leads.
10. Develop & enforce data quality standards, including de-duplication
A successful data strategy consists of de-duplication, cleansing, and appending. De-duplication will recognize any duplicates already in your database, prevent more from being entered, and merge any existing duplicates. Cleansing both standardizes existing data (such as titles and company names) and removes bad data (such as contacts that are no longer with the company). Appending fills in missing or incomplete data by adding additional contacts to an account or filling in missing fields (such as address or phone number).
You work hard for your leads! Make sure to do them justice by ensuring data quality. Poor data quality standards can sink any organization’s once successfully sailing ship. If there are duplicate records and no universal data standards, there will be no way to accurately track the number of truly qualified leads.
Ready for next steps?
We cannot stress this enough: the accuracy of your sales forecast will be wholly dependent on the quality of leads in your funnel. Make sure you have a strategy in place to manage your leads throughout the entire lifecycle, and you’ll be able to consistently achieve your sales goals.
After you get your lead management strategy down-pat, you’ll be ready to make accurate sales forecasts. Though the devil is in the details, the methodology for making accurate forecasts is fairly simple in concept.
In the graphic above, Sirius Decisions models the lead lifecycle, then calculates the average conversion percentage from stage-to-stage (according to Sirius Decisions, this equates to roughly one new customer for every 100 leads in your funnel). Thus, if you get accurate inputs for how many leads of each type are put into the funnel per month, with a little math you can accurately predict the number of closed won deals. Multiply this number by your average deal size and BOOM! There’s your monthly sales forecast.
You may also need to take into consideration the length of your sales cycle, etc. So get your teams together to review results and use best judgement to finalize your forecasting strategy.
When it comes to sales forecasting, the hurricane season is over. So grab the nearest pina colada and a beach towel, apply our lead management best practices, and you’ll be in for more blue skies and sunshine.
Eager for the latest demand generation tips and tactics? Stay ahead of the curve by signing up for weekly industry insights.