World-class marketing organizations – at companies big and small – can be intimidating to watch. Read their case studies and listen to their leaders on stage and you might assume there’s an impossible gap between where you are now, and what they’ve been able to achieve.

But if you look more closely and analyze what world-class marketing organizations consistently do well and focus on, you’ll find there’s a much smaller set of accessible best practices that almost any organization can focus on to quickly accelerate performance and sales output.

Recently, Trip Kucera from Aberdeen Group published a research brief titled Marketing Lead Management: From the Top of the Funnel to the Top Line. In it, and by surveying more than 160 marketing organizations across North America, Kucera identified a number of specific, actionable best practices and recommendations for “the rest of us.”

Here were some of my favorites:

1. World-class marketers require fewer marketing responses to generate a deal
In fact, 56 percent of best-in-class organizations develop end-to-end lead management processes that span marketing and sales, which improves story consistency with prospects and accelerates overall conversion rates. The difference in number of marketing responses required to generate one customer between classes of marketing organizations was significant. On average, overall survey respondents required 143 marketing leads to get one customer. Best-in-class organizations required just 68, less than half the industry average.

2. World-class marketers worry less about data quality for inbound leads
Thirty-two percent of respondents put a focus on improving marketing and customer data quality, while only 15 percent of best-in-class marketers make data quality a priority. This speaks to their confidence in the overall lead management process, capturing leads early in their buying journey and nurturing those prospects (while appending information and buying signals over time) to let the overall process determine sales readiness, instead of up-front data appending or longer registration forms that constrain response.

3. World-class marketers constantly refine lead qualification criteria over time
Few organizations set lead scoring models and set common definitions of qualified leads between sales and marketing. But of those that do, only half (50 percent, according to the survey) regularly evaluate and update lead qualification criteria. But among best-in-class marketers, 70 percent have a process for regularly improving lead qualification criteria, and they do so via a collaborative process that involves both sales and marketing representatives.

4. World-class marketers know good leads aren’t always born that way
Best-in-class companies are more likely than others to use lead scoring and nurturing to overcome concerns about initial lead quality. Sixty-five percent of best-in-class companies define & execute multi-step lead nurturing processes, and 59 percent of these same organizations (vs. an industry average of 25 percent) utilize lead scoring to progress leads over time. Without these priorities in place, marketers are left to focus primarily on initial lead quality, which fails to allow for leads to either mature or “heat up” at a later date when their own buying conditions are more ripe.

5. World-class marketers dedicate resources to marketing operations
Best-in-class companies realize that a dedicated marketing operations resource (or team) can be the most important component of effective marketing execution and ongoing optimization. Sixty-nine percent of best-in-class organizations have dedicated resources responsible for optimizing lead management, vs. 33 percent of “average” organizations. A further 69 percent of best-in-class organizations have a resource responsible for implementation and management of marketing systems. Strategies are great, but unless you have the initial and ongoing resources to implement them, you’re losing significant opportunity to not only increase overall marketing investment yield, but decrease costs as a percentage of sales and revenue over time.

6. World-class marketers use outbound telemarketing
This was a highlight of the updated Demand Waterfall from SiriusDecisions, unveiled at their Summit this spring. In fact, 63 percent of best-in-class companies use outbound telemarketing, compared with 38 percent of all other firms. Further research from Aberdeen showed that organizations with a telemarketing focus generate 48 percent higher marketing-qualified and sales-qualified lead conversion rates. Do the math on that difference for your organization and average selling price, and telemarketing can pencil out as a clear advantage very quickly.

7. World-class marketers know exactly which campaigns are most effective at driving profit (not just response)
Most marketers have tracking systems in place, but few have the level of tracking and ROI precision they need to determine – at a campaign, program and micro-channel level – what’s working and what’s not. Even fewer can establish ROI not just based on lead response, but based on closed business and revenue generation. Of best-in-class organizations, 81 percent have the ability to identify the most and least profitable campaigns. That’s almost twice the industry average. Further, 68 percent of best-in-class companies have the ability to determine attribution for marketing-generated leads (more than twice the industry average).

8. World-class marketers make full use of their marketing automation systems
I’ve seen statistics that estimate 70 percent of marketing automation installs are used primarily for batch-and-send emails and landing pages. Aberdeen’s research breaks that down, highlighting the significant gaps between best-in-class companies vs. the industry average by marketing automation feature leverage, including reporting & analytics (95 percent for best-in-class vs. 69 percent for all others), lead scoring (75 percent vs. 55 percent) and cookie-based web tracking (63 percent vs. 44 percent). Or as Kucera put it, for most companies, “it’s a bit like using a supercar to drive Miss Daisy around town.”

The entire research brief is worth reading, and is available for free (registration required) here.

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