It goes without saying that last 24-36 months have been challenging. According to analysts, while the economy has shown some improvement, the top B2B sales and marketing pressures today remain the difficult economic environment, fewer dollars, reduced headcount, an inability to move leads forward to a sales cycle, a noisy competitive landscape and too few leads. In other words, spending less is getting you even less. Something has to give. This is not my opinion .. this is simply the facts from multiple analysts in public reports. Few would dispute them. It all adds up to the need to be smarter with your money and, more importantly, your time. To think ‘out of the box..’ in how you do your demand generation.

What’s more interesting to me is that many companies are still not being smart. Companies are either intuitively getting the need to change or they aren’t. And some are still locking themselves in the box voluntarily and pulling over the flaps. All the time, we talk to executives who are stuck on the organizational boundaries of ‘who owns what’ versus ‘how to I build enough qualified pipeline with all the options possible.’ Or marketeers who forlornly cling to the hope that the tens of thousands of unqualified names in their lists and databases will yield results without working more closely and better with sales.

On the other hand, sales needs marketing more than ever too. I believe many VPs of Sales rue the day they ‘took over marketing’ and converted the headcount .. only to find they ran out of content to sell or fresh blood in their pipe.

For more than a month now, we’ve been stringing together hard facts from public reports from both sales and marketing watchers – from Meta to Aberdeen, and CSO Insights to Sirius Decisions. We’re doing this because of our continual desire to search for ‘best practices’ in the business case for more closely integrated sales and marketing (which is bottom line what we believe drives better results in 2011).

Here is one result of our research on the research. According to CSO Insights, one of the top sales effectiveness initiative remains from last year .. enhancing lead generation.

The $64,000 question .. how?

What the facts show is that there is a marked difference in the habits of highly effective versus lagging organizations in terms of answering this question.

And those that DO get it are pulling away from the pack. A shocking three quarters (and some say as high as 98% of the bottom performers) of marketing generated leads are STILL not acted upon in lagging organizations because sales still find them unqualified.

On the other hand, best in class sales & marketing organizations get around HALF of their leads that result in closed business from aligned marketing and sales. And they are also seeing a 20% INCREASE in improvement of revenue generated from integrated sales and marketing campaigns from last year to this.

So what are the habits of these companies? Here is my take on the facts in front of me.

First, they have an EXPANDED their view of lead generation from just marketing, into engaging via sales development and making sure that end-to-end INTEGRATION between sales & marketing actually happens. According to one analyst, 83% of the best organizations follow marketing campaigns with phone calls to qualify. Companies with integrated sales development convert eight times the numbers of leads into qualified sales opportunities!

Second, they focus on improving the QUALITY of leads sent to sales, not the top-line volume going into the pipeline. By this read one simple thing: they want leads that are accepted by sales as truly qualified. In one report, “generating high quality leads” is the top priority for marketers at 78%. In another, 82% rank increasing the amount of qualified leads as number one priority.

Third, they NURTURE. Not like a momma bear but as a sales and marketing parental unit. Based on a strong knowledge of their buyers journey, they use both sales and marketing in lock step. When we go into organizations, the signs that nurturing is happening is whether we hear of a notion of campaigns, a content marketing plan, unhampered use of real marketing automation tools like Marketo, and a sales development and/or inside sales team that operates to a ‘service level agreement’ with marketing and the rest of sales. One report shows that murtured leads can achieve a 47% higher average sales value and that companies that nurture can achieve a two to three times improvement from cold lead to qualified opportunity.

Fourth, they recognize the need for MULTI SKILLED marketing staff that can deliver multi-touch, multi-channel campaigns and INVOLVE SALES in strategy and campaign development. 50% to 82% of best in class companies are more likely than industry average to possess multi touch/multi channel skills in their organization. The days of marketing specialization are over inhouse. The surest sign we see that someone is suffering here is when we are mailed a ‘template’ by the lowest level person in a project chain who has the power to stop ALL progress as only they can click their heels to get (wait for it) .. a simple brochure or web page done. The truth is that there are literally hundreds of cheap tools nowadays that make it easy to do your own PDF collaterals, blog, web, graphics, animated presentations, interactive videos, press releases, emarketing .. you name it. Better learn them all. Or if you are a manager demand staff they try them all voraciously.

For me, the facts are clear, compelling and consistently show .. top performing sales organizations do integrated demand generation well and the laggards don’t.