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Most Important Lead Management Practice: Align on Standards

Of all the lead management best practices a company can invest in, the one that stands out as most important is defining standards.  Recently, IDC interviewed technology marketing executives to learn what’s working and what’s not in 21st Century lead management. When asked for a description of their greatest success, many more companies stated consistent global standards (including a common language) than gave any other answer. 

Why is standardization so important?  Variation is a main culprit in erratic and unreliable processes. No two leads are the same. No two geographies are the same. No two campaign tactics perform the same. Nothing in lead management is really the same. Though companies can’t hope to eliminate all variation in their lead management, the best practice companies get rid of much of as much unnecessary complexity and redundancy as possible. By reducing variation, companies gain better control and achieve more predictable performance.
Important areas of lead management standardization include:
  • Definitions: “All marketing groups and geographies use the same stages, taxonomies, and definitions of what it means to be sourced, what it means to touch a lead.”
  • Data: “We strive for a single version of the truth.” “Instead of a 60-minute meeting on why my data is better than your data, we now talk about results – why is Hong Kong doing better?”
  • Procedures: “We consolidated 40 lead queues into six. We standardized BANT criteria, implemented standard SLA’s, standardized everything.” “Even though we are a decentralized company, we run a single process.”
  • Systems:  “Everyone uses the same common business intelligence system so we pull data from the same source.” “Using the same marketing automation system enforces our processes. It has accelerated best practice sharing.”
How to Increase Standardization

Marketing leaders acknowledge the difficulty in getting alignment on standards and offer tips from their experiences:

  • Cross-functional groups: “Bring together a core cross-functional group (regions, field marketing sales), people who are passionate and have a direct stake in the outcome.”
  • High-level sponsorship: “The sponsor was responsible for both sales and marketing. She publically gave me power.”
  • Appropriate specificity: “At first we standardized at too high a level – defining one stage as an “opportunity” for example, and things were too confusing. By getting more granular, putting in more stages, making routing rules more specific, we’ve gotten better results.”
  • Persistence: “The secret is to keep revisiting the model and the results. We’ve needed to revise it multiple times to accommodate changes in sales and marketing capability.”
  • Transparency: “Collect the data and let everyone see how bad it is. Then pick your battle.”
  • Training: “We conducted initial roll-out training as well as ongoing training to maintain momentum.”

Recognize the Limits of Standards and Allow for Some Flexibility

 Although aligning around standards is the most important best practice, it’s important to recognize that exceptions are occasionally needed. Companies should start with a goal of full standardization but then be alert for where variation is reasonably required.  For example, an emerging region with fast growth, such as China, may have genuinely different requirements than a more developed North America for what percentage of leads gets handed to sales.  However, demand a strong business case for any variation, especially in early days when people aren’t used to standards. Then be sure and treat the variation as an exception.
IDC’s report, IDC CMO Advisory Service Best Practice Series: Realizing the Vision of 21st Century Lead Management, will be available soon. IDC also offers taxonomy to assist companies to standardization. (See IDC’s Worldwide Sales and Marketing Taxonomy 2012 #231252)

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