Why Your Sales Team Should Steer Clear of Top-of-Funnel Leads


Maybe this marketing + sales snafu is familiar: You've generated a few dozen leads online, and your sales team is chomping at the bit to get them.

You've done your job, so you pass the names on to sales reps. They get called, sales are closed, everyone's happy.

Easy enough, right? Not completely.

What you think you're doing:

Giving the sales team every lead that comes along, leading to the most possible closed deals. You're striking while the iron's hot!

What you're actually doing:

Passing off leads who might buy from you one day, but who really get scared off by a sales call that comes too early. D'oh!

According to MarketingSherpa, 61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to sales — however, only 27% of those leads are truly qualified for a sales call (tweet this). So what can you do?

As a marketer, it's your job to nurture and qualify leads before the sales team begins reaching out. You'll save time and resources — and pass on better quality leads! Here's how to improve the sales and marketing handoff, and why it matters.

Why Your Sales Team Should Steer Clear of Top-of-Funnel Leads
The handoff between marketing and sales is crucial. Slow and steady wins the race!

Nurture leads through the sales funnel stages

According to Forrester Research, companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost. Don't underestimate the value of lead nurture!

Why would this be?

The adage is right: Slow and steady wins the race.

Just because a lead submits a form on your website, downloads an eBook, or subscribes to your blog DOESN'T mean they are ready to buy. They might not even be ready to talk to sales yet. Oftentimes, they want to learn a little more about your brand and product at their own pace.

Even more interesting is this stat: According to the Annuitas Group, nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. This is because they've had a chance to be educated on the value of your product or service, and are likelier to invest in it.

If you jump the gun too soon, your lead could be frightened off. It's important to understand a lead's true place in the marketing funnel.

It's probably happened to you: a sales rep who comes out of nowhere and catches you off guard. It makes for resilient sales calls!

Why Your Sales Team Should Steer Clear of Top-of-Funnel Leads

How to nurture

When a top-of-funnel lead first interacts with your brand, resist the urge to pass them on to sales or reach out immediately. Instead, enroll them into a workflow — a series of emails that tells them more about their problem, sends them helpful content, and builds rapport gradually.

Depending on the length of your sales cycle, you may need to nurture for a few weeks or a few months. How often you follow-up is dependent on your own company. This could be an email every single day, or every few days or even weeks.

Wait until there are a few more touches — website page visits, content downloads, etc. — to pass leads on to sales reps.

Leads will be better educated about your product and more familiar with your brand. When a sales rep calls, it won't be cold. It might be warm or even hot!

Better qualified leads

As a marketer, you can save your sales team lots of time by qualifying leads before reps get to them. In fact, only 25% of leads are legitimate and should advance to sales right away (source: Gleanster Research). This leaves a gaping hole up-front for marketers to step in and qualify legitimate leads.

On a sales call, reps will ask lots of questions to try and qualify leads. Specifically, here's what your sales team expects from qualified leads. This includes things like budget, authority, timeline, and more.

But too many questions makes for lengthy calls. This can frustrate a lead or give the impression that the sales rep is unprepared. And there's always the chance that the lead will be unqualified, which means dead ends and dropped sales.

As a marketer, you can save reps hours of time by qualifying leads beforehand.

In a classic example of qualifying gone wrong...

I recently got an email from a sales rep asking if "I needed marketing or design help in my advertisements." I'm a marketer and a designer, and since I work in inbound, I don't do advertisements — ouch! Triple fail. I was fully unqualified as a lead for his company. I didn't hesitate to tell him so, and I cut off contact before he could say "whoops."

A little qualifying up front could have saved the guy some time and embarrassment. He could have refocused his efforts in better quality leads with a higher chance of closing.

How to qualify

As a marketer, you have many tools available to qualify leads. Depending on your marketing toolkit and software, you can do several things:

  1. Utilize form fields (or better yet, smart form fields) to gradually ask information in exchange for useful content offers.
  2. Use lead scoring, automated or manual, to add positive characteristics of good leads and identify high-scoring sales opportunities.
  3. Follow the path that leads take throughout your content and website. This can show you what they're interested in, what they're struggling with, their level of expertise, etc.

As a marketer, knowledge of your leads makes you more powerful and opens up meaningful conversations for your sales reps.

A great framework for qualifying leads is the customer lifecycle (aka, the sales funnel stages.) You should work to identify your lifecycle stages and the triggers that leads take to become marketing and sales qualified. Ideally, you will wait until a lead becomes sales qualified to pass them onto a sales rep.


It's tempting to pass on leads right away to sales reps — but the stats all indicate this is a bad idea. It's important as a marketer to nurture and qualify leads before they end up on the desk of sales reps. In doing so, you save time and resources, and improve your chances of closing the sale!

Take care to nurture leads with workflows. Build rapport for your brand, and let leads engage with you on their own terms. Then, continually qualify leads to see if they're the right fit for your sales team. Only then should you pave way for the sales call!