Want to turn Leads Into Sales? Don’t give them to Sales Reps!

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Wow, what a title! For those of you who are already a bit wary, I challenge you to continue reading; if not for the ideas and thoughts herein, then at least out of pure curiosity.

Before you go any further, let’s agree on a couple of things first:

a. 80-90% of leads (from activities such as trade shows, advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, etc…) do not have an immediate need at the time that they are generated;

b. Of the leads that don’t offer an immediate sales opportunity, the vast majority do buy the types of products/services you offer and therefore are worth cultivating. They just have an existing supplier they are happy with, don’t know you or your company, or don’t have a project on the go right now.

Now that we agree, let’s move forward and discover the 4 reasons why sales people should not follow up your leads.

Management’s Focus

Walk through the sales department of any organization and you will constantly feel the pressure to close sales. Presidents are pressuring sales managers who in turn pressure their sales force. Everyone has a “number” or quota that they are trying to hit this month or this quarter. It’s the topic of almost every conversation.

That very culture is neither wrong nor inappropriate. Companies live or die by their sales and need to set short term, quantifiable objectives for their sales organization. As to be expected, the sales team’s focus is not on the long term stability and quality of the sales pipeline, but rather on what is going to close right now. As a result, leads that don’t offer any immediate sales opportunity tend to be left behind and get lost.


Most sales people are compensated in some portion by commission or bonuses. As a result, these sales people have no choice but to focus on the ‘low hanging fruit’. Since we agree that the vast majority of leads generated will not offer them any short term revenue, the sales person will tend to let those leads fall through the cracks and concentrate only on the ones that help them pay the bills today.

The very manner in which sales people around the world are compensated motivates them away from the long-term cultivation and nurturing of future opportunities.


To secure a new customer or win a project requires certain skills. Skills such as the ability to understand a customer’s needs, develop and present a solution, and ask for the sale. The ability to nurture and cultivate a lead, over-time, until a project materializes requires a different set of skills. Some of these skills include patience, perseverance, and a high tolerance for rejection.

Rarely does the typical sales person possess both the ability to drive a sale short term, as well as cultivate a lead over the long term. Yet, over 90% of corporations expect their sales people to perform both roles. The result is that either the sales person uncomfortably plugs away at lead follow up – growing more and more frustrated, or more often than not, the sales person simply chooses not do it, which frustrates their management. Often when asked what happened with the lead, the sales person will simply respond with, “they were poor and unqualified” just to shut their manager up.


The last “reason” is related more to the inter-personal side of things than to the business, structure or organization.

The basic fact for sales people is that making the sale, closing the deals and working on projects is simply more fun and far more motivating than trying to turn unenthusiastic suspects into actionable opportunities. Especially when for so many companies the buying cycle can be anywhere from 6 months to 2 years or longer.

So, if sales people aren’t the right resource for the job, who is?

Well, if we agree that the compensation structure, skill set and motivating factors required for the lead follow up and lead cultivation role are not suited for the every day sales person, then we need to turn our attention toward finding people who are a better fit.

These people – Business Development Representatives, as I call them – are a different breed. They find joy in working a relationship long term, researching and digging into a prospect and persevering through the battle.

Typically, these people are motivated less by commissions and ego and rather by success for the team and self-worth.

The Business Development Representative works in a separate department with the mission of taking leads generated by marketing and “driving” them until such time as an actionable project is identified. At that point, they hand off the opportunity to the sales person to consult and close.

So where does the money come from to pay for this new department?

There are 2 answers to this:

  • By actively cultivating and working every lead generated until there is an actionable project (whether that takes 1 day or 2 years), your organization will generate far more projects/opportunities from those leads than you ever did when you just handed them out to the reps and watched 80% of them fall through the cracks. These incremental projects will turn into incremental sales and therefore pay for the additional expense.
  • 2. If you are like some companies and just can’t stomach waiting that first 3 to 6 months for the projects to begin turning into sales (and the ball to get really rolling), then I suggest you take a look at your lead generation budget as your source of investment capital. The idea behind this is that if, for example, you are currently spending $200,000 to generate 1000 leads of which 800 fall by the waist side, then it would seem logical to rather generate only 600 leads at a cost of $120,000 and take the other $80,000 to truly maximize the sales potential of each lead generated. This way, you are still spending $200,000 but actually securing more opportunities from the 600 leads than you ever did from the 1000.

In closing, the role of marketing is to fill the pipeline with stuff for the future. Yet, the role of sales is to focus on the “now”. With that clear mismatch in objectives, the Business Development Representative is your middleman.

And remember … if you can’t afford to turn your leads into sales – don’t generate them!

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