In my first post on sales and marketing alignment, I shared a demand generation alignment checklist I’ve created and have continually refined over many years of marketing with many high-growth software companies.

Here, I’ll dive into the first two items of the checklist:

  1. Get marketing ready by understanding the buyer persona, the buying cycle, and the competitive landscape. And make sure you know the differences by region and distribution channel. Interviewing the sales team (sales reps, SEs, etc.) and answering sales calls helps greatly. Also, interview partners and customers, including ones who have just bought. This process can take months and be quite formal, but you can get started quick ‘n dirty in days. The bottom line is this: marketing can’t play an effective alignment role unless they understand and help create a structure for the buying process.
  2. Create a Marketing Qualified LEAD (MQL) definition. Not all leads are the same. Marketing creates leads in many ways –email campaigns, the website, webinars, trade shows, etc. An MQL is a lead that marketing has qualified and is passing to sales as having a high probability of converting to a Sales Opportunity. But, defining an MQL may not be nearly as simple as it seems. It requires understanding the maturity stage for each of your products and then educating and getting the revenue team’s agreement on the type of lead that best maps to that product stage. It also requires mapping leads to target geographic regions, company size, prospect job roles, etc.

You’ll need some patience here – both in understanding the MQL concept and getting agreement. The lead definition concepts are new to most people, and they’ll need time and education to overcome historical biases.

Check out Sirius Decisions’ research on Demand Types. They’ve been thought leaders in this area for years and have excellent reports. I’ve successfully used their research and analysts to help educate and select the proper lead definitions for my company’s products.

Historically, sales teams want BANT (Budget – Authority – Need – Timeframe) leads. And what salesperson wouldn’t? However, BANT leads work best in replacement markets (think toner, paper, office furniture, and other commodity-like products), where buyers already have the product, have the budget to buy more, and often buy on price or convenience. However, the replacement market is a tough one, and most companies don’t want their products in this category.

Fortunately, most software products fall into the New Paradigm category, where the product performs a function differently and hopefully better than previous solutions. But, because it’s a new approach, waiting until the buyer has BANT is not a good idea. Wait that long, and competitors have likely guided them to that point, and you’re just sales fodder. New Paradigm leads map better to prospects with Need and Interest. Sales reps may resist, but Sirius Decisions research shows that in this market, you’ll get more leads if you focus on Need and Interest, and that opportunities will close at a higher rate and for more money than waiting for BANT leads.

The third type of software product market is the New Concept. New Concept products address a problem that most buyers must be aware of. Wait around for BANT or even Need and Interest in this market, and your sales team will have lots of free time. You want to find people in specific target markets who can sponsor change for New Concept products.

If you’re unsure of what category a product falls under, take a quick survey of sales reps and other members of the revenue team to clarify key questions in the buying process.

A note of caution: if you have multiple product lines, they could fall into different market categories. Training teams to qualify one product on BANT and another on Interest and Need, for example, is difficult, but it’s necessary.

Once you identify the correct lead definition, you must educate and convince the sales team. Marketing can carry most of the education load, but sales management must take ownership of the convincing. It will take group and individual discussions and then monitoring to ensure compliance.

About the authorJeff Whitney is a B2B software marketing executive with extensive experience  –  from early-stage start-ups to achieving marketing equity. Jeff has a passion for building a world-class marketing function, starting with the organization, demand generation programs, sales enablement tools, and aligning sales and marketing.