The sales funnel metaphor is somewhat misleading; in real life, the process never goes as smoothly as liquid down a funnel. In the last decade, digital marketing, artificial intelligence (AI), and CRM have drastically changed the process of converting new leads into customers. Given this, it’s increasingly important that business-to-business (B2B) sales and marketing teams are aligned in their views on a sales funnel strategy and lead generation as a whole.

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Data insights are again the key to funnel optimization. Three other data-driven technologies follow analytics and sales reporting as the most popular sales tools: account and contact management (65%), sales forecasting tools (56%), and customer relationship management (CRM) systems (58%). The latter is a particularly crucial tool for optimization, enabling your business to organize all customer-related data in a central location.
By now, most marketers understand the importance of mending the traditional rift between sales and marketing. The mistrust and miscommunication that’s so often found between the two teams can act like an anchor on your company’s growth rate. In fact, organizations with good alignment between sales and marketing teams achieved 20% annual revenue growth in 2010, according to a study by the Aberdeen Group. By contrast, companies with poor alignment saw revenues decline by 4%.

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Your company might target financial services companies with 5,000 or more employees, or small service businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Or, you may be only interested in manufacturing companies of a certain size. Within those categories, you also might identify individual lead profiles, such as title or job description and role in the decision-making process -- e.g., economic buyer, end user, influencer. How closely a lead aligns with your ideal customer profile will determine whether and when you hand it over to the sales team.

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The definitions of MQL and SQL (SAL) should be spelled out, and agreed upon, in a service level agreement (SLA). The SLA outlines the terms of how sales and marketing will work together. The SLA should define what MQL and SQL look like, as well as state the time frame and process each team must follow. For example, an MQL has reached a score of 75 through a combination of content engagement and web engagement and fits the ideal customer profile. It must be accepted by sales or sent back to marketing within 24 hours of being assigned. The SLA should be drafted together by both marketing and sales leadership and signed off on by both parties.

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Intercom Acquire – Ever visit a website and notice a happy face in the lower, right-hand corner next to a message like: “I’m Sadie! Can I help you with anything?” That’s a marketing chat system run by a company like Intercom. When people hit your landing page, you can use Intercom’s Acquire service to answer any questions that might not be answered on your web page.

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LeadCrunch – “Imagine if you could reach the right person at the right company with the right message at the right time to find a new customer?” That’s the opening question in the marketing video on the LeadCrunch website. The company uses a sophisticated algorithm to help you find people in your target market. As of this writing, though, it’s meant for companies in the B2B space.

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