With the holidays around the corner, there’s no better time to be thankful. As a former sales development rep as well as SDR manager, I wanted to highlight a few reasons why the Sales-Qualified Lead (“SQL”) is a critical part of the modern-day sales process.
With all the sales and marketing channels that have emerged because of the internet, the SQL has become more important than ever. Think about it: between social media, search ads, marketing automation, product signups, and other new methods of capturing leads, the amount of customer data being collected and categorized as a “lead” is massive. Never in the history of business have prospects been able to contact a company and interact with their brand so easily.
The downside of this reality is that sales and marketing organizations must be more aligned than ever before. Moreover, these teams must understand and categorize leads using states or stages that mirror the realities of where and how these leads are being generated. In practice, this means salespeople must understand the steps a prospect takes from the moment they interact with their brand to the moment they convert to a qualified opportunity.
Salespeople must understand what steps fall under the marketing umbrella, which typically results in what we call a Marketing-Qualified Lead (“MQL”). These MQLs have a certain level of qualification associated with them. They are not sales-ready but have met the criteria that your sales and marketing organization have agreed upon such that they have been qualified and passed over.
Managing the SQL is a very powerful yet, at times, complicated part of the sales process. The main issue I have encountered is that what qualifies as an SQL today can change and, more importantly every organization has a different set of criteria to define what an SQL. The sales development organization’s primary function is to handoff SQLs to the closers. The critical difficulty is deciding when a lead is an SQL and ready for the handoff.
Here’s a snapshot of the characteristics to consider as you formulate your SQL criteria:
You might require your SDR to ask the prospect if they have a timeline for making decisions. This might be a good question when dealing with qualified inbound leads that came to you and you are merely taking an order.
However, it’s less applicable when conducting outbound prospecting when the prospect needs to be sold and convinced to move forward. This is something that will take time and skill.
You must determine when it’s the right stage in the sales process to ask about the decision-making timeline, whether the SDR or closer asks, and if there are nuances between inbound versus outbound.
Based on my experience, most sales teams assume that decision-making always happens at the prospect’s corporate headquarters. So, if a lead comes in from a regional or satellite office, it may not be as qualified but, at the same time, still be a solid entry point. When this happens, is the SDR or AE responsible for further penetration into the account?
Does the size of the organization matter? Hopefully, your reps understand your ICP (“Ideal Customer Profile”). However, sometimes you get leads that come in that may not meet your ICP but nonetheless are ready to buy or are interesting enough to spend time on. Does the size of the prospect’s organization influence the handoff?
Famous venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has said that software is eating the world and I believe him. This is another parameter that should be included in your ICP.For example, especially if you are a SaaS technology company, your prospects will be using technology to power aspects of their business. You want to understand what complementary technologies your prospects use. Should this be something that the SDR digs into or should it be the AE?
Whether you are working on inbound leads or outbound prospecting, some sales organizations require their SDRs to estimate the opportunity value of a prospect. For example, if you sell to marketers and have a per-user model, you might want to have the SDR confirm how many possible users a prospect might have. This will give you an estimated opportunity value.
Decision maker or influencer?
You may receive an inbound from a non-decision maker or you need to break into an account via a junior person on the team. How does your SDR handle this? Does the SDR own the conversation until the decision maker is reached? Or does the SDR handoff to the closing sales person even if the decision maker has not been engaged yet?
Demo or no demo?
There are mixed messages about this topic. Some sales teams require their SDRs do the first demo and then hand them off to the closing sales rep. Others want their SDRs to hand off the SQLs. This depends upon a few variables, such as whether this is a target account that the SDR has been tasked to break into and handoff immediately. Another variable is workload on the AE’s plate and the size of the pipeline. If the AE has enough pipeline, the SDR might be asked to conduct the first demo and potentially nurture the prospect for an extended period of time. Think about how this process will work and how you will manage these ever-evolving variables.
Beware of edge cases
What do you do when an SDR hands off an SQL, which has met all the criteria, to a closer, yet the prospect was far from being ready and SDR nurturing is still required? Make sure you have a comprehensive process of managing these situations so that you eliminate as much bias and subjectivity as possible.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Node!