Similar to a relay race, the lead handoff is when marketing passes the lead (or baton) to sales. The first runner, marketing in this case, has given it their all and is probably exhausted, but their job isn’t done until the handoff is complete. This final step requires focus and precision. And just like in a relay race, fumbling the baton would cause seconds to be lost in a race where every second counts.
An efficient and effective lead handoff can look different depending on your marketing and sales team size & makeup, the tech stack used to facilitate the process, or even the characteristics and preferences of your target market. That being said, there are a set of characteristics that all good lead handoffs have in common. They need to be timely and informative. They must be a joint effort and must end with a good feedback loop that kicks off the next action. Let’s explore each of these in more detail.
Characteristics of an efficient and effective lead handoff
1. Timely – occurring at the right time.
Successful handoffs need to happen at the most opportune time in order to avoid fumbles. This means marketing doesn’t send leads over too early or too late.
Premature handoffs often end up with a sales rep failing to get ahold of the prospect, or worse, leaves the prospect with the perception that your company or brand is “pushy” or too “aggressive.” Instead, marketing needs to listen for both implicit and explicit cues from the prospect that signal that they’re ready for a sales rep to reach out. Then, it’s “go time.”
On the opposite side of sending a lead over too early, there’s the error of taking too long to pass the lead to sales. “Sales Conversions are 391% Higher in the First Minute”. Yes, you read that right. This doesn’t mean we revert to sending leads over prematurely, but it does means that if and when a prospect raises their hand and is looking for more information, there needs to be a process in place to get that lead to the right person and fast. The quicker you can get that lead to sales, the higher the likelihood of sales getting ahold of the prospect while their intent and interest is high! If 391% higher conversion rate wasn’t convincing enough, how about this stat. According to a study by Lead Connect, “78% of customers buy from the company that responds to their inquiry first.” And in sales, if you’re not first, you’re last.
Stop & Reflect: Stop for a minute and ask yourself these questions. Does your team understand when a lead is ready to talk to sales? If so, what are those actions, behaviors or sets of criteria that would qualify a lead to be passed to a sales rep? How long does it take from the moment a prospect raises their hand to speak with sales to the time a sales rep picks up the phone and calls them? Is it less than 1 minute? 5 minutes? If not, then what are the roadblocks to making it happen?
2. Informative – Providing useful and interesting information
Immediately prior to a handoff, there’s a signal that communicates the handoff is about to begin. In a relay race, this is often the passer giving a short verbal queue of “up.” One word is all it takes for the receiver to understand where the passer is and what is needed in order to prepare for the handoff. In marketing and sales, when a new lead is passed to sales, the sales rep must also be notified that the handoff is imminent and should be given all the information required for them to be prepared and make successful contact with the prospect. The rep will need a little more than just the single word “up,” but it’s important to keep the communication succinct. Adding too much information will only create more noise and the arena is already noisy enough. Include the prospect’s contact information, what they’re inquiring about, and relevant marketing engagements so that the rep can have a meaningful conversation with them.
Stop & Reflect: Are reps being notified when they’re given new leads? Is the notification proactive or passive? How are they notified–email, sms, pop-up, excel spreadsheet? Is sales given enough information to have a meaningful conversation with the prospect? Is there extra noise and unnecessary information included? If you’re not sure, go ask a sales rep or shadow them for an hour and see for yourself.
3. A joint effort – Supporting each other as teammates to the finish line.
When a baton is successfully passed, the first runner doesn’t go to the locker room and call it a day. The first runner watches intently and cheers on as their partner races to the finish line. The same should be with marketing and sales. Marketing can support sales to the finish line by providing additional content, messaging guidelines, market insights, competitor intelligence, references and testimonials, and more. The challenge for marketing is usually less about creating the content and resources for sales, but more about effectively delivering the content and having a system in place for sales to easily access and utilize it. This requires effective communication channels between the teams, alignment on roles and responsibilities, and most importantly, a healthy relationship built on trust and empathy. Supporting your teammates should not feel like a chore, but should be something that comes naturally and gets you excited because you know it’s helping to reach a common goal.
Stop & Reflect: Are your marketing and sales teams aligned and working towards common goals? Do they even talk or know each others’ names? Is sales communicating what kind of resources they need from marketing post handoff? Does the content exist and is there a process to share out to the sales org? *If you’re starting from scratch with marketing and sales alignment, then I recommend taking a step back and beginning the sales and marketing alignment journey first. Then you can focus on improving the communication channels between the teams to ensure sales has the resources and support needed to seal the deal!
4. Ending with a Feedback Loop – Generating outputs that become the inputs for a future process.
Let’s be clear here. In order for feedback to be effective, the feedback (or outputs) must be Actionable. As with any sport, after a race, smart athletes spend time along with their coaches discussing what went well and what could have gone better. Great partners don’t just say whether it was a “good” or “bad” race–they spend time together reflecting on what made the race good or bad so that they can take those lessons learned and apply them in their next race. The same is true with sales and marketing. Marketing needs to be telling sales what the prospect is looking for when a lead is delivered to sales. This is actionable and enables the sales rep to follow up with the right pitch and messaging. On the other side, sales reps need to send back messages to marketing regarding their interactions with the prospect–was the lead qualified or not and why. This means no more disqualifying leads with a reason code of “bad.” What was bad about it? Was it bad timing? If so, marketing can learn from that and can continue to nurture them up until they are ready again and the timing is right. If the prospect is qualified, then let marketing know so they can do more of whatever it is they did to acquire that lead. Each reason code should have an action tied to it as the next step–whether that’s put in a nurture campaign or remove from marketable database.
Stop & Reflect: Is there a process in place to provide feedback between the teams? Does marketing know what ends up happening with the leads they send to sales? Does every reason code have an action assigned to it? Are there any dead-ends in your process post handoff?
The lead handoff is just one small element of the entire marketing and sales process. However, it is the one process teams cannot afford to get wrong. Organizations spend too much of their time, money and talent on acquiring leads to ignore this critical step. Not only does an efficient and effective handoff process lead to happier employees, it also leads to a better customer experience and higher conversion rates! If you need help improving the handoff between marketing and sales, don’t hesitate to reach out – I’d love to geek out about this stuff with you!