(512) 333-1942

Salespeople vs. Marketing Automation – Who wins the race for generating Qualified Leads?

If you are one of the companies investigating marketing automation systems then you are aware of their bold claims for generating leads.  And, they would be right.  There is much to love about the benefits of marketing automation systems.

They provide one of the foundational components for Marketing 2.0.  Amongst the highlights are these systems’ ability to:

  • Build an “intelligent”, multi-step campaign – using a prospect’s actions to direct him/her to the next content in a series of messages / events
  • Notify salespeople of activity – such as email opens, the fact that “prospect X” is on your web site… right now!
  • Score leads – based upon demographic data and activity – helping us know “who to call” or “who to nurture”

These are all things that have truly changed the way that B2B marketing is planned, managed and executed.  As sellers and marketers, we know more about our prospects and buyers than we ever have… and we certainly have more people to call and follow up with as a result.

Marketing teams are using these systems to generate more campaigns than ever before.  As a result, they are generating more leads. Quickly – a few definitions we’ll use for the rest of our discussion:

  • MQL – Marketing qualified lead – lead that marketing believes is ready for sales to pursue
  • SAL – Sales accepted lead – lead that meets the criteria that marketing and sales have established for a lead they deem is valuable enough to follow up on
  • SQL – Sales qualified lead – lead that sales has verified meets their criteria for a lead, worth pursuing, to attempt to turn into an opportunity

The definitions that I listed above provide an orderly view of the lead pipeline.  Many organizations haven’t invested the time to build these definitions for their organization.  This is unfortunate… because marketing and sales simply can’t support each other very well without a definition/target of what is an acceptable lead vs. what isn’t… but that is another topic altogether.

When we focus on qualified lead generation… how does marketing automation compare to sales?


Marketing automation excels at collecting these attributes:

  • Demographic data – name, title, email, address, industry, etc.
  • Activity – what emails were opened, what pages were browsed on, how many times these things were done
  • Interest – this is “derived” from activity – prospects consuming case studies and ROI calculators are more “interested” than prospects consuming data sheets / product info

This information is valuable at sorting the top end of the prospect funnel… in other words the earliest part of the sales cycle.  Once a lead is marketing qualified (MQL), usually based on one or more of the three attributes above, that lead is then turned over to sales.

Sales qualification efforts excel at the following three attributes:

  • Need / Urgency / Timeframe – what are the business drivers that make a prospect a potential buyer?
  • Role in the decision – a very different question/attribute than “title”
  • Buying process – what is the buyer’s internal process for acquiring the seller’s goods / services?

Marketing Automation Challenges

While advanced marketers might argue that many of these “need / role / buying process” attributes are discoverable with forms, the right content and automation, my personal experience is that the information is rarely reliable.  This is for a variety of reasons:

  • Because the information is complex… a drop down form (favored by marketers for data cleanliness) doesn’t capture enough detail
  • Buyers don’t tell the truth (i.e.: they lie to sellers… shock!)

Conversations Are The Key Differentiator

To deal with the complexity of “need / role / buying process” qualifying information, sellers must have an actual conversation with the prospect.  While it is a very costly piece of the lead generation process, it is critical, due to the following:

  • It is the only way to ensure that prospects that get moved forward in the pipeline are real (e.g.: for sales forecast reliability)
  • It is the only way to gauge the real value of the leads coming from marketing
  • True marketing and sales alignment depends upon measurement and verification of results

Organizations employ inside sales or business development teams for this purpose… to take leads that are generated from marketing and transform those leads – through lead qualification processes – into a Sales Qualified Leads – SQL.


 Who Wins The Race For Generating More Leads?

The answer is – it depends on your definition of a qualified lead.  For most organizations, marketing with not be capable of generating a qualified lead (refer to definition of SQL).  The information required is simply too complex to gather in an automated fashion.

For early stage organizations that have very low lead flow from marketing, demographic and activity data may be sufficient for a lead that sales would deem a SAL.

For more mature organizations that are generating a higher flow of leads, the bar should be raised to include “need / role / buying process” qualifying data.  This data will need to obtained from a conversation with a prospect.

If your organization fits any of the following… you may be a good candidate to spend some time focusing on your lead definitions and processes:
From Marketers:

  • “Marketing generates lots of qualified leads” (cite two examples of deals done last quarter)
  • “Sales never follow up on our leads”
  • “Our web activity is off the charts… I could be in sales making quota with this much traffic”

From Sales:

  • “All of the leads that we get are worthless” (site two leads that were delivered last quarter)
  • “We never get any leads from marketing”
  • “The CRM/database is full of garbage”


  • Marketing automation excels at creating leads that contain “demographic / activity / interest” information
  • Sales teams use conversations to excel at “need / role / buying process” information
  • Sales and marketing teams should agree on definitions for MQL, SAL and SQL
  • Salespeople should be trained to question prospects from a set of consistent qualifying questions, and to then to set the status (disposition) of these leads to provide the data to measure results
Jim Banks is a sales expert, with over 40 years of sales experience. He has watched CRM throughout the years and realized that it still lacked several tools that the sales professional needed. In 2004 he left his job as a Sales Executive and started improving CRM systems for other companies.
Related Post
Who You Call Matters

Kids are so smart. Have you ever watched them in action? More often than not, when they want something they get it. Why? They get yes answers because they have a natural radar that tells them who to ask? Not really. What they have is a natural instinct to remember what does and doesn’t work […]

Read more
Serve Benefits Straight Up

There’s fancy French Cuisine and there’s meat and potatoes. Which one best describes your sales pitch? Do you proudly tick off your product’s features like they are the appetizers and hope to keep the prospect on the line long enough to serve them the Cognac Shrimp with Beurre Blanc Sauce, or do you recognize that […]

Read more
Confidence Translates to Sales

Laws of Attraction In the early 1900’s there was a “New Thought Movement.” Proponents wrote about, and lectured that “both people and thoughts are pure energy and like energy attracts like energy.“  The idea came to be known as the Laws of Attraction. The concept was sold to the populace with a biblical reference which gave […]

Read more