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How To Successfully Manage Sales Qualified Leads (SQL)

by Doug Davidoff | May 27, 2014 4:00:00 PM

b2b-sales-marketing-alignmentWhen you’re building your B2B lead generation model, it is important that you create clarity in the objectives you have for each function of the process.  This is especially so at the point of transfer between marketing and sales.

For most organizations, that point occurs when a lead can be classified as a sales qualified, or sales ready, lead (SQL). We define a SQL as an organization that:

  • Has the pain you solve
  • Fits your target client/customer profile
  • As a reasonable timeframe for opportunity

What’s critical to understand is that the term sales-ready and order-ready are not synonymous.  In my experience working with sales teams this is the single biggest mistake salespeople make in managing leads created by marketing. They consider the lead “good” if the prospect is ready to buy, and they ignore the lead if they’re not.

As a matter of fact, the key difference between a salesperson that I call a commoditizer and one that is a professional is how they treat SQLs. 

Let’s be clear, if marketing can create “order-ready” leads, then you do not need a new business sales team to manage the sale. The entire point of a new business sales team is to manage the process from SQL to opportunity to customer.

Here are the three keys to managing SQLs successfully:

1. SQLs are the beginning of your sales process.

In Demand Creation Selling, we refer to four segments of a sale:

  • Discovery
  • Diagnosis
  • Advocacy
  • Implementation

The Diagnosis phase is the beginning of the actual sales process.  The phase is all about moving beneath the symptoms of the pain to the underlying causes. Uncovering the key drivers of the business, and influencing the decision criteria that will drive the decision.

This is the primary purpose of a new business team, and it takes time.  An effective B2B lead generation process will provide valuable intelligence to the new business salesperson, as well as to have effectively opened the right doors, but it’s the salesperson’s job to build the case.

2. Stop focusing on the solution

We see this every week when we turn SQLs over to our clients’ sales teams.  Our inside sales team has nurtured a relationship, uncovered some dissatisfaction and created the openness to investigate new approaches.


We turn the SQL over to a salesperson and they reach out and start asking questions like:

  • What do you need?
  • When are you placing your next order?
  • What would cause you to change vendors?

What’s forgotten is that the lead wasn’t created because the prospect wanted to replace their vendor.  It was created because they either came across your content and found it valuable and insightful, or because your inside sales team had a results conversation with them, challenged their thinking and created an opportunity for the new business salesperson to influence.

The focus of the first conversation (and sometimes more than the first) should be on defining the problem, uncovering its cause and costs.  The salesperson should be problem-focused, not solutions-focused.

This is one reason that creating assessments as a part of your sales process is so valuable.  They create clear direction for your salespeople to create value, and a clear path for your prospect to take a next step.

3. Remember that selling is a process

I’ve always found baseball to be a tremendous metaphor for the sales process.  When you’re hitting, the worst thing you can do is over-focus on your desired result (getting a hit), rather than on the process (having a good at bat).

When you’ve built an effective sales system, the process triggers the next step.  When a salesperson has their first conversation with a SQL they should not be thinking about making sales, but rather to have a valuable diagnostic conversation.

The goal should be to uncover a new problem that the prospect didn’t fully understand, and to increase the urgency of addressing the problem.  When the salesperson successfully does that, they can then assess:

  • Is this a good problem for us to solve?
  • Is the problem big enough to cause the prospect to take action? 
  • Is it big enough to justify our solution?
  • What’s happening here that indicates the sales will get bogged down or lost?

By approaching SQLs with such a process, sales activity and resource allocation becomes far simpler and sales growth becomes more predictable.

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