Last week we conducted a webinar with a marketing organization called “Revenue 2012: Making It Happen vs. Hoping It Happens.” As part of the registration process we asked CEOs and salespeople to tell us about their top priorities as they plan for 2012. Almost 30 percent of the respondents said their top priority for next year was to improve or optimize their lead-generation processes. Not really a surprise since many companies struggled in 2011 to achieve both their bookings and revenue objectives. Lead optimization is critical to your survival. So, how can you build a process that works for you?

Lead generation has traditionally been a function of the marketing department and is often done in a silo with little input from sales. This doesn’t mean that the sales department has no role in the process. If salespeople get involved in defining the lead-generation process, it actually makes it easier to streamline and optimize the lead-management strategies. It allows both teams to collaboratively define the “perfect prospect.” There is continuing dialogue about the need for sales and marketing alignment, and collaboration on this important part of the process is a good first step. Below is a possible framework to consider:

Mutually define a “qualified lead.” By mutually agreeing on the definition of a lead, sales will be getting the leads they want and the marketing organization can laser focus their lead-generation activities. If you don’t have a good lead definition, the sales teams will continue to self-select prospects and any demand-generation programs in place will have diluted results. The other benefit is that the sales organization will have no excuse for not acting promptly when leads are generated, as they have agreed on the qualification process.

Communicate. Sales and marketing core teams should meet a minimum of once a month to discuss the effectiveness of the lead-generation program. By determining which lead areas are providing the highest results, the marketing team can adjust their focus even further. This forum also allows for open dialogue between the teams to continue fostering the alignment lacking in most firms. After all, both organizations have the same goal, and it helps to feel like you are a united team. This meeting can also be used to discuss upcoming campaigns, programs and messaging calendars.

Sales execution: Time helps no sale! When provided a lead through the lead-generation function, the sales team must act immediately. Letting a lead languish for a few days or weeks is the quickest way to lose a good prospect. If sales ultimately determines that a prospect is not fully qualified, they should not abandon the prospect. A best practice is to return that prospect to the lead-generation process for continued nurturing and provide feedback on why it was not fully qualified.

Share successes. When a company is consistently making their sales numbers, both the sales and marketing teams should be jointly recognized. It was a team effort after all, with several individuals contributing. To further align these teams, consider building compensation plans for all participants that reward all contributors based on the sales success attained. Money is motivation, so build plans that drive the behavior you are seeking.

Lead-generation optimization is a must have for 2012. If you don’t have a formal lead-generation program, start one today. If you have a program, build a process to make it better. Your firm’s survival may depend on it.

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Dan Hudson is the co-founder and president of 3forward and has a B2B sales and sales leadership background of more than 30 years. He can be reached at dan.hudson@3forward.com.