Sales and Sales Management Blog

March 21, 2008

Book Review: Managing Sales Leads by James Obermayer

Let me start by disclosing my personal perspective—I’m a sales guy, not a marketing guy.  I mention that because when reading anything relating to lead generation I’m constantly examining the information, recommendations, and workability of content from a sales perspective, not a marketing perspective.  Reading Managing Sales Leads: Turning Cold Prospects into Hot Customers (South-Western Educational Publishers, 2007), by James Obermayer was not an exception.

As a sales trainer and sales consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to work with salespeople and sales departments of a good number of companies and to see a wide variety of efforts to manage the leads generated by marketing.  Unfortunately, for the majority of these companies, using the term ‘sales lead management’ is almost laughable.  Not that there isn’t some effort—it is simply futile effort.

I often hear complaints about lead generation from all sides.  Sales complains about the quality and freshness of the leads; marketing complains that they send leads to the sales department and then never hear another word about them; executive management complains that they’re spending a great deal of money on lead generation but have no idea for what—marketing shows them a huge stack of leads, sales complains they’re worthless, and finance or accounting complains that the cost is unjustified.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t companies that have somehow managed to work through the problems and solve them.  I’ve been fortunate to work with some of them also.  Not many—but a few.

With that as my starting point, I was somewhat skeptical of Managing Sales Leads.  It would probably turn out to be either a pie-in-the-sky theoretical treatise filled with graphs and charts—and totally useless information in the real world or it would pontificate on how ROI on lead generation COULD be managed if it weren’t for the miscreants in sales screwing everything up through their refusal to cooperate.

I was absolutely wrong.

Managing Sales Leads: Turning Cold Prospects into Hot Customers aims to resolve three critical issues in lead generation:

Lead Quality:  One of the main objections salespeople have to working leads generated by marketing is the quality and freshness of the leads.  The single most common complaint I hear from salespeople regarding the leads they receive is that the leads really aren’t leads; they’re simply unqualified names and phone numbers.  Marketing, in the humble opinion of the salespeople, has no idea of what a real lead is.  For marketing, the salespeople believe, any piece of paper, phone call, or any other inquiry is a lead.  Marketing pops out a name somehow and it’s the sales department’s problem to find out if they are a genuine prospect.

Obermayer not only recognizes the issue, he sets out in detail how marketing can, through the use of inquirer questioning, not only pre-qualify a lead, but rate the lead’s quality prior to submitting it to sales.

In addition, he works through the lead distribution process, showing where leads get held up and, more importantly, how to uncork the bottlenecks that keep leads from reaching the sales force in a timely manner.  As he points out, sales leads are a perishable commodity, making freshness a major issue—and one that is the bane of many, if not most, companies.

Lead Cost vs Return:  The ever-present issue with upper management—why are we spending all these dollars on leads?  Although not a marketing only issue—sales is often put on the spot to justify what they do with leads, marketing is saddled with problem of justifying the money allocated to their lead generation efforts.  Whether through direct mail, cold calling, advertising, their web presence, or any other method they use, they are constantly under the microscope by upper management.

Most often, according to Obermayer, when marketing is asked to justify the investment the answer is, in essence, “trust us, it’s working, we just can’t prove it in terms of dollars and cents.”   When pressed further to specify where the leads are coming from and which channels are producing the best results, the answer is a blank stare.

Those blank stares and “trust us” responses no longer need be tolerated by management, according to Managing Sales Leads.  The book sets out a workable process for identifying and quantifying the return on investment of each and every lead generation channel marketing pursues.

This isn’t to say the process is easy, it’s to say the process is workable and realistic.  Relying on a software program to solve the problem—as promised by many software companies—is unrealistic.  Although Obermayer discusses the benefits of such programs, he points out what should be obvious but is so often overlooked—the data the program spits out is only as useful as the data marketing allows it to produce.  Then the data must be interpreted by someone who knows what to do with it.  Interpreting the data and making decisions based on that data is the real key to tracking lead ROI.

Yet, the final problem remains.  How can marketing track the data and make rational decisions—and justify the investment, if sales isn’t doing their part by giving full and accurate lead tracking information?

Marketing/Sales Cooperation:  Getting the sales department to follow-up on and track the final disposition of leads has always been a major issue for marketing.  Although earlier I mentioned that one of the reasons has been salespeople’s view that the leads generated weren’t worth the effort because the leads themselves weren’t qualified, Obermayer recognizes that simply beginning to supply qualified leads won’t solve the problem.

Even though the quality of leads given to sales is a serious issue, even more fundamental to gaining their cooperation is how marketing and sales interact.  The vast majority of salespeople I’ve spoken with in many, many companies have no interest in helping marketing track the disposition of leads because it’s a marketing issue, not a sales issue.  In other words, salespeople don’t feel any connection to the process—there’s no ownership on their part.  They are simply given leads and then the demand comes from marketing: “you will report on what happens with these leads.”

Demanding cooperation, complete with threats, achieves little to nothing.  Instead of demanding, Obermayer argues, a full and complete explanation of why a full reporting is necessary and why and how it benefits the salesperson—more and better leads in the future, meaning more sales and income—can not only gain cooperation, but gain buy-in by the sales team.  Once they have some ownership in the success of the program, their interest level and desire to see the process work becomes real.  Not that Obermayer eliminates the possibility of threats, because he doesn’t.  However, demanding and threatening by themselves won’t get the results that voluntary cooperation through a recognition of why reporting benefits the salespeople will get.

Certainly if you’re in marketing or sales management, you should read Managing Sales Leads.  Geared to mid to large companies, any company that generates leads—even the smallest company with any type of lead generation program—will benefit from the book.  Even individual salespeople who use direct mail, advertising and other lead generation channels can find enough benefit from the concepts and strategies outlined by Obermayer to justify the purchase of the book.


1 Comment »

  1. Great review. I couldn’t agree more with your comments about the need for sales-marketing to work together.

    Comment by Scott Sheaffer — March 23, 2008 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

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