Ask any CEO to describe his manufacturing or service-delivery process, and he will likely spend hours telling you everything there is to know about it. He will be able to explain not only how it was built up to give his company a competitive edge but also how it has changed over the years.

Ask the same CEO to describe his sales process, and you will likely hear that he has been using the same selling process for years. Or worse, you may just get a blank stare. The reality is that, for many companies, the selling process has not kept pace with the change in buying behaviors. And in too many cases, there is no selling process at all.

Lead generation is one reason the sales process is more important than ever. Progressive sales and marketing organizations have implemented (or are in the process of implementing) lead-generation/demand-generation programs to feed their sales team a steady stream of qualified prospects.

This investment is significant in terms of time and dollars, and many firms are relying on this proven process to gain a competitive advantage. Don’t waste this lead-generation investment by failing to update (or implement) your sales process. The last thing you want is sales-ready leads falling into a black hole.

During several recent engagements, we witnessed some serious sales-process issues that could significantly reduce the effectiveness of demand-generation programs. Here are some of the problems we observed:

1. Insufficient program support from sales leadership. Sales leaders are a critical component of any successful lead-generation program, and their buy-in must be near-maniacal. If the sales leader is not showing passion and commitment to the program, then it’s unlikely the sales team will either.
2. Consistent processing of sales-ready leads. There must be a well-documented process that outlines the required actions and activities once a sales-ready lead is passed to sales. Nothing is a greater buzz kill than to find out that a highly qualified lead has been left to languish because the assigned salesperson was too busy or lazy to follow up. One solution to this problem is to stop passing leads to staff who can’t or won’t engage with a prospect. Problem solved.
3. Lead quality feedback. OK, so not every sales-ready lead passed to sales will be qualified. When this happens the salesperson must send the lead back to the lead-generation team with feedback on why the lead wasn’t qualified. This feedback can now be factored into the process to improve the result. Remember, most prospects will become qualified at some point in the future, so don’t cast them aside.
4. Inability to articulate the firm’s value proposition during the initial contact call. One of the best features of most current lead-generation programs is that they can provide valuable insight into prospect behaviors. These behaviors can be a clue to the needs and issues of the prospect. Taking the time to understand this data and doing some preliminary prospect research will ensure that the prospect sees value in speaking with you. The high level of detail provided by these programs also greatly enhances your ability to gain a face-to-face appointment.
5. Shared responsibility is no responsibility. Making sure that everyone in the lead-generation/selling process knows his or her responsibilities dramatically increases the odds of sales success. If you are a CEO, CMO or CSO, take the initiative to review your current practices and insist on improvements.

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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.