The role of CMO and team in lead generation

The Problem

There is a big elephant standing in your conference room. No one wants to look at the elephant. No one wants to acknowledge the elephant. No one wants to “own” the elephant. Some even believe that the elephant does not exist.

The elephant represents lead follow up and both marketing and sales do a poor job of executing this critical activity because both believe it is the other’s job!

Let me break it down for you.


Marketing works hard to create leads – prospects that have shown some defined level of interest in your solution and are willing to talk to you. Most marketers feel that once a prospect has completed a form or has achieved a certain “lead score” defined by a combination of explicit data and online behavior, the lead should go straight to sales. Job done!

Yet, sales is very often unhappy with the quality of the lead and marketing is unhappy with the way sales follows up with their hard work


In many organizations, sales will get to the lead when they can. Each rep will have his/her own sense of priority for following up on a lead. For example, if a rep gets a lead at the end of the quarter, chances are good that follow up will not happen or at least won’t happen quickly. The only thing a rep thinks about at the end of a quarter is getting business closed – as they should.

Also, sales people are not often classically trained to work the top of the funnel. They are trained to work deep in the funnel and they are compensated on closing business. Working leads is a “necessary evil” to achieve closed business and only minimal effort is applied in this area.

The Impact

The impact is that all that marketing money, time and effort spent on “lead generation” from optimizing a website to creating collateral and executing e-mail campaigns, falls into a black hole with little to show in the way of increased revenue for the organization from marketing.

The Solution

The most successful companies I’ve seen in that create a measurable impact have at least one or both of the following conditions:

  1. Marketing has it’s own Lead Qualifying Team
  2. Sales & Marketing work as one team with all work around lead generation fully shared. Most importantly, there is a vested and financial interest in both parties for leads to become opportunities and to close.

Marketing must take on a new role in lead development so they can deliver higher quality leads that will result in higher conversions to opportunities and closed business. Once the website is set up and/or the e-mail campaign is launched, the marketer needs to start their “other” job – the job of acting like a VP of Sales for lead generation. It is not a role in which many marketers have experience or are classically trained for, but it is a role that is a leading indicator of lead generation success in B2B companies. Lead generation must be treated like its own sales cycle because that is what it is!

And the funny thing about this role? Your VP of Sales is probably begging for you to take on this role – he/she defines it as giving sales higher quality leads!

Executive To-Do’s

So how do you do this? As an executive, you need to:

  • Drive collaboration between sales and marketing that results in optimized processes
  • Build the right structure, the right team and the right skills to support lead management
  • Align and compensate according to lead generation goals
  • Buy and ensure optimization of the right technologies
  • Be a continuous and vocal advocate for marketing’s role in lead generation

Marketing Team To-Do’s (Ten Best Practices)

At the same time you’re doing your work, your team needs to know how to execute your plan! The following best practices will help.

Best Practice #1: Create a Lead Funnel and Treat it like a Sales Funnel

This is typically the biggest challenge for the marketing department in lead generation. Once that e-mail is launched, marketing must assume the responsibilities of creating and driving the “lead funnel”. This process is just like a sales process and includes phases, predictability and accountability. As you are building your Lead Funnel, model it after your company’s sales funnel process.

  • What are the phases of a lead that take it from cold to hot and ready to be turned over to sales? Cold? Warm? Hot?
  • How do you treat these leads differently?
  • What set of actions do you take to move a lead far enough along so it is ready to be turned over to sales?
    • How many touches?
    • Using what channels?
    • Using what content and messaging?
    • What kind of qualifying is required? Automation or human touch?
  • How many cold leads do you need to start with to wind up with hot leads ready for sales?
  • What percent of warm leads become hot leads?

Best Practice #2: Define “Hand Raised!”

This is the point at which the prospect is showing enough interest from your campaign(s) (or as they explore your website), that it is time to for YOU to take action. Typical “hand raised” indicators include the prospect calls you, prospect fills out a “contact me” form, prospect shows strong implicit on-line behavior such as the number of times they open the e-mail, downloading the white paper or other digital asset or visiting key web pages. Depending on what marketing technology you have, the resources you have in place and your industry, each “hand raised” is individually defined for each company.

Best Practice #3: Follow Up on the “Hand Raised”

At this point, you have created a digital relationship through your online efforts. Digital relationships at this phase are tenuous at best so professional and quick response is required to leverage this budding relationship. Someone is on your site or has responded to your e-mail. They are showing interest in what you have to say. When that hand is raised, the best practice is to follow up with a phone call and an e-mail within 1 hour of the observed on-line activity. A follow up report system needs to be put in place that includes:

  • % of hands raised that were followed up on within 1 hour
  • % of hands raised that were followed up on same day
  • % of hands raised that were followed up on within 24 hours
  • % of hands raised that were followed up on within 48 hours
  • % of hands raised that were followed up on within 72 hours

You’ve invested a lot to get to this stage of lead generation and to not follow up on the leads in a best practices manner, puts your investment at risk. This is quite often a no-man’s land between sales and marketing. The companies that produce the most revenue from lead generation programs have this process down to a science.

Best Practice #4: Script and Level I Qualification

The purpose of a follow up script is to ensure Level I Qualification (MQL – Marketing Qualified Lead) takes place prior to passing the lead over to sales for a Level II Qualification (SQL – Sales Qualified Lead). The follow up script should be very consultative in nature and ask 5 basic questions that will best qualify the prospect. Each organization will use a different set of qualifying questions because each sales cycle is unique.

Sample question set:

  • What is working well for you?
  • What can be improved?
  • What happens if those changes don’t occur?
  • Confirm BANT – budget, authority, need and time
  • When can we set you up to talk to one of our consultants?

Best Practice #5: Follow Up Assets and Protocol

For each e-mail campaign that is created, a set of follow-up e-mail templates is also required. This includes instant e-mails sent from an automated program to the e-mails that a telemarketer and/or sales person would send out as part of their follow up. This helps keep the messaging on target and speeds up the follow up process making it easy to do follow up. Additionally, a voice mail and an e-mail should be left at the same time for the prospect that raised their hand. This is a powerful best practice, as you don’t know if this prospect responds best to voicemail or e-mail at this point. Depending on the resources available for follow up, several attempts to reach the prospect live should be made during the same day before leaving a voicemail/e-mail combination.

Best Practice #6: Lead Designations

Marketing is responsible for creating a lead funnel so creating lead designations that help you manage the funnel is critical. There are many names for these leads the key is to get a set of definitions that are common to both sales and marketing. Common designations include:

  • Cold lead – no activity
  • Warm lead – they have raised their hand and you are trying to engage with them
  • Hot lead – they have raised their hand, you are in dialog, not quite ready to turn over to sales
  • Turned Over lead – this lead has been qualified by marketing per the Level I Qualification guidelines and has been turned over to sales

Best Practice #7: Turn Over Process & Level II Qualification

Once the lead has been qualified by marketing per the Level I Qualification guidelines, it is turned over to sales. The following steps should be followed:

  • Sales talks to the lead
  • If acceptable, meaning it really is qualified, sales will notify marketing the lead has been accepted and it enters the sales funnel. This completes the Level II Qualification process.
  • Each company will designate what happens from here but a best practice is to change the lead to an opportunity with the appropriate weighting, even if it is 0%.
  • The opportunity should have a note that marketing generated this.

Best Practice #8: Use your CRM system

Whatever CRM system you have, notes on all conversations should be included. This way, when the lead passes to sales, sales will have relevant information to use. In addition, when the lead is passed to sales, the digital body language information should also be passed in a way that is easy for sales to understand and act on.

Best Practice #9: Closed Loop Reporting

Reporting that follows the life of a lead is critical for the recognition of marketing efforts. Depending on what systems are in place, what this looks like will vary from very sophisticated to very basic. Closed loop reporting is what every revenue marketer strives to achieve.

Best Practice #10: Follow Up Team Set Up

It is a best practice to have a resource(s) dedicated to follow up and providing a Level I Qualification. The reason this is so critical is:

  • Immediacy in creating a relationship is key to on-line lead generation
  • Sales typically does not have the time to do this
  • Sales is not trained to handle the top end of the funnel and in fact, are spectacularly bad at it

This resource can be borrowed, full time or outsourced but needs to be in place for effective follow up. 50% of the time, this person(s) is in sales and 50% of the time, they are in marketing. Either model works as long as the resource is in place.

Two questions for you. As an executive, how have you enabled this critical activity? As a marketing team member, what are your best practices? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

If you enjoy this, you may also like our lead management process series.

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