29 November 2023

Why comparing marketing vs sales-sourced leads doesn’t work - and what to do instead

Brian Hardie
Written by Brian Hardie

Brian Hardie is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. He has over 30 years’ experience working with clients in logistics, media, technology and outsourcing.

One of the best ways to improve the overall effectiveness and ROI of your marketing is to get sales and marketing working together. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t always easy. One of the biggest reasons for this is measurement. Specifically, companies’ tendency to pit sales and marketing against each other by comparing ‘marketing-sourced’ and ‘sales-sourced’ leads. 

This post will explore why this is such an issue - and what you should do instead to evaluate marketing and sales performance.

Why do people compare marketing-sourced and sales-sourced leads?

Companies measure ‘marketing-sourced leads’ because they want to understand their return on marketing investment. This is a noble goal and definitely something you should do. 

In fact, there’s nothing wrong with measuring marketing-sourced or sales-sourced leads. These are useful and important metrics. However, the problems start when you then compare the two metrics - or even worse, encourage the two teams to compete.

Why is this such an issue?

Marketing and sales need to work together

One of the best ways to help teams work together is to give them shared goals. By the same logic, if you give two separate teams two separate goals, you’re going to drive them apart. Especially if those metrics sound comparable, like marketing-sourced and sales-sourced leads.

By comparing marketing-sourced and sales-sourced leads, you’re making it harder for them to focus on the real end goal for both teams, which ought to be working together to hit your revenue targets for the year.

Goals drive behaviours and if you want teams to work together, you need to give them common goals to work towards. It’s impossible for teams to work together if, on some level, they’re also competing. 

The two things aren’t comparable

Marketing-sourced leads are fundamentally different from sales-sourced leads.

Marketing-sourced leads tend to be ‘new’ opportunities with companies you haven’t worked with before. Sales, on the other hand, typically focus on working their existing relationships.

Opportunities from new leads are often harder to generate and have lower conversion rates because there’s a lower level of awareness, trust and understanding of your products.

That said, despite being harder to generate and close, those ‘new’ opportunities from marketing are essential for growth. If you only work with your existing contacts, you’re probably going to stay the same size you are right now.

Another way to think about it is that sales are focused on short-term revenue and marketing are focused on long-term growth. Both things are important, but they are also very different, which makes head-to-head comparisons redundant.

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What should you do instead?

Generating and closing leads is a bit like scoring a goal in football.

Yes, the strikers score most of the goals, but ultimately, it’s a team effort. The defence, midfield and strikers work together to get the ball in the box and take the shot.

Similarly, when setting goals and evaluating leads, you need to view the process holistically. The best way to do this is to map out and measure the entire buyer’s journey, rather than focusing on where leads are coming from or who’s closing them.

Understand your buyer journey

The first step is to map out your buyer journey and understand what needs to happen at each stage to move customers through it. You’ll then be in a position to divide responsibility for the different stages between marketing and sales.

You’ll typically (but not always!) find that marketing are more involved in the early stages and sales are more involved later on. Whatever stage of the journey you’re looking at, the key thing is to understand what needs to happen at that stage to move opportunities forward.

Measure the conversion rates of the different stages

Once you’ve mapped out your buyer journey and the activities required at each stage, you’re ready to assign responsibility for the different stages to your marketers and salespeople.

The best way to do this is to measure the conversion rates for each stage along with the time it takes to progress an opportunity from one stage to the next. This will tell you whether enough of the opportunities are progressing - and highlight areas where opportunities are getting stuck. 

This is a much more useful way of measuring marketing and sales performance than who generates the most leads. Because ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many leads are being generated or by whom, if those leads aren’t being converted into revenue. 

It’s also worth noting that the goal here is collaboration, not competition. It’s wise to assign responsibility for the different stages in such a way that marketing and sales work together, rather than compete. Making marketing totally accountable for the early stages and sales totally responsible for the later ones will drive the teams apart. So mix it up and create shared responsibility for the different stages across your teams. 

Set the right goals

Setting goals is essential to holding your team accountable and understanding marketing ROI. But the wrong goals will incentivise the wrong behaviours, which can be just as bad as having no goals at all.

By measuring the entire buyer journey, you encourage sales and marketing to work together, while each taking responsibility for their own parts of the sales and marketing process.


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