How One Tweak to the Funnel Increased Conversions 150% at Avaya

J. David Green
September 18, 2018

A methodical approach to Avaya’s sales and marketing funnel sent conversions skyrocketing at all stages of their pipeline, using a simple change any marketing team can implement. Would you love to tell your board how you boosted sales-qualified-leads by 150 percent?

I’ll also cover:

  • The far-reaching impact of a fragmented funnel
  • One critical factor every sales pipeline needs
  • Real guidelines for building a funnel that works

How well does your funnel perform?

I don’t have to tell you a proper sales and marketing funnel can make or break a company.

The better the entire funnel performs, the more significant the impact on the bottom line. Even small changes have a positive effect.

I interviewed Mike McKinnon on two podcasts which you can listen to here and here. He ran me through his time as Director of Global Marketing Operations for Avaya and shared how one improvement to their funnel drove sales-qualified leads from 10 to 25 percent.

It was eye-opening.

Setting the scene for a leaky funnel

Stepping into Avaya, Mike faced a perfect storm.

Recalling a meeting with his fellow marketers, the mood was jubilant as they congratulated each other on their success. They’d hit their KPIs. Nailed them. But a question from Mike brought a sobering reality.

“You know what? If we showed this number to the sales team, what would they say?”

Silence. Not one person could say what sales thought of their performance. His team simply didn’t know. They were celebrating a hollow victory.

“If we have a party celebrating our number, sales should be in that room having a party too. We should all agree that we reach that number.”

Therein lies the problem.

Despite marketing’s best intentions, the funnel wasn’t working. Qualifications were being done by different teams, in different ways, by different countries all over the world.

There was no standardization.

“The handoff was different, qualification was different, everything was different. They didn’t have a defined funnel.”

This lack of standardization created another ill-effect. No formal processes meant no metrics. No ability to report or even track campaigns, and an impossible task for the marketing team. Without data, you can’t determine ROI on your marketing spend. How do you benchmark? How do you improve?

A simple analysis reveals a problem

Using a waterfall chart to understand each stage of the sales cycle, Mike uncovered the gap. Simple in retrospect, but it had a profound impact on the way Avaya worked.

The lack of transparent processes created silos within the organization. Dysfunction. A breeding ground for chaos. As marketing teams struggled to track whatever they could, they had become focused on the wrong KPIs.

And worse yet, sales and marketing weren’t talking to each other. The leaks in the funnel had everyone working towards different goals.

One single change for real impact

B2B marketing is complicated, but when Mike arrived, Avaya was operating at only the most basic level of marketing maturity.

With a focus on the top of the funnel, the marketing team was happily shoving leads into a database. But that’s not where the real value is. That’s not what sales wants. A top of the funnel KPI like lead volume is one of the most immature measurements of marketing’s value.

Qualified leads aren’t much better.

With further analysis, Mike realized the problem was the sales-handoff. It was more of a dump off.  Marketing threw leads in without an agreement with sales about what a lead is.  Mike knew that once marketing started providing sales with leads they actually want, conversion and revenue from marketing leads would increase.

Otherwise you’re just saying, “Hey, sales, we’re handing you a bucket of gold and you’re not following up on anything.” Sales is coming back and saying, “Yeah, you know what? Those aren’t leads.”

See the problem?

Now here’s where Mike made a real impact. Adding a new step to the sales process can get everyone on the same page. It’s called sales acceptance. Mike introduced this change to Avaya’s funnel, and conversions on sales-qualified-leads jumped from 10 to 25 percent.

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Taking a look at a newly designed funnel

After tweaking the process at Avaya, here are the new steps.

Leads entering the funnel are automatically ranked (automation qualified lead).

If a lead is above a certain threshold, it’s marked as tele-qualified and a global team reaches out to the prospect to identify a series of four criteria.

  • Do you have a budget (within a specific range)?
  • Do you need a solution like Avaya?
  • Do you have a timeline to buy within a year?
  • Are you willing to meet with a representative within a month?

Leads that pass these criteria go to sales.

But pay attention to this next critical point. The handoff is no longer one-sided. Sales now needs to confirm and “accept” the lead. In most companies, it’s this process that’s broken. Sales isn’t confirming anything, and that’s a recipe for disaster.

“The handoff is the most important element, because that’s where the rubber meets the road.” Mike said. “A good handover process sets the stage for campaign attribution, ROI, marketing bookings, marketing funnel, pipeline influence, and all of that is where marketing gets their bang for their buck”

The handover is critical. Once a sales rep accepts a lead, the ball’s in their court to keep the sales process moving.

Creating this simple step meant that sales and marketing had a means of identifying if rejects were a marketing issue or a sales issue.

Why this all matters to you

Remember when we said marketing couldn’t measure their ROI?

The new processes rolled out globally. A new team took charge of tele-qualified leads to ensure the metrics for qualifying prospects were standardized. Baseline measurements would soon become now possible, as one set of criteria applied to leads around the world.

But not only that. Creating an explicit acceptance and handover process allowed management to see exactly what was happening to leads at all stages of the funnel. Forget anecdotal evidence, Avaya now had a scalable reporting system for tracking and improvements.

By looking at what stage a lead failed to progress, the new system shows me the issue 99% of the time, along with the person, or the group I need to go back to. That’s how you want to construct a funnel tracking system, to eliminate the guesswork at each stage of a pipeline.”

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The bottom line results for Avaya

Following the changes to the funnel, conversions skyrocketed 150 percent.

The number of automated leads successfully tele-qualified jumped from 1 to 5 percent.

That’s a five-fold increase.

But most important was the acceptance rate. The number of qualified leads handed to sales jumped to 90 percent. Sales were getting real leads that fit their criteria. They’re better able to do their job, with real value added by the marketing team.

And that brings us to the final metric.

The one that counts.

Arming sales with real leads resulted in a much higher conversion of marketing qualified leads to sales qualified leads. It jumped from 10 to 25 percent. A 150 percent rise after a simple change in the funnel.

Wouldn’t it be great to have these kinds of results in your organization?

Listen to both podcasts:


Further Reading

Olin Hyde
November 27, 2018