Here is one example of what I mean. I have many more examples, but then the article would get too long, so I will save those for another day.
That time I assigned some leads.
Way back when my first company was small and we didn’t have many tools to support our processes, a lot of what we did was manual. And one of those manual things was assigning leads to the sales team. Marketing would run a campaign, generate some leads and pass a file to sales. Sales would assign the leads, and reps would start calling and emailing to book qualified appointments.
I was head of sales, and Justin was the head of marketing, but I don’t know how often we actually looked at these lead files ourselves.
Actually, I do know how often: never. I was the co-founder leading the sales function, but I had a sales manager who handled the day-to-day running of the team. Justin was the co-founder leading the marketing function, but he had a marketing manager. Those team members actually handled the file itself.
Justin and I collectively cared about how many leads were generated, how many turned into opportunities and how many of those turned into customers.
So, this process where marketing generated leads, and then passed them to sales in a file was just how we did it, we were growing and no one was complaining. There was nothing to inspect, no problem to solve. No one was paying attention to this well-oiled part of the machine.
Until one day, through a benign set of events, I uttered the words, “Send the lead file to me.”
Allow me to start from the beginning of the story.
I had just stepped in to run the sales team myself after parting ways with a sales manager that wasn’t a good fit. The typical process until then had been that when a big campaign concluded marketing sent the file to the sales manager, who then spent a few minutes slicing the file up based on territory and then sent each rep their assigned leads to follow up with. Territory was based on the alphabet, so the surgery on the file literally only took a couple of minutes—popping leads from companies that started with A-C into one tab, leads from companies that started D-G onto another, etc. You get the drift. The lead file would eventually make its way into the CRM too, but this was before marketing automation was great at syncing this stuff in real time, so even that was manual.
Anyway, back to the story. With me as the new head of sales, when marketing wrapped up a webinar campaign and had 700+ leads to send to sales, they came to me to ask who they should send the file to.
If I wanted to stay out of the mundane work of the sales team, I would have had them send the file to all the sales reps, for them to each grab their own leads. Or I could have had the file sent to the office manager who was available to help with extra admin tasks. I could have even asked the marketing manager to do it. It was the perfect job for an intern.
But instead, I said: “Send me the lead file, I will take care of it.”
Every best practice in the world is that a leader is too important to do something in the weeds like this. Many, many (every?) leadership gurus would say that this was a mistake—that I should be focused on the big picture strategic stuff and not worried about the basic task of slicing and dicing files.
They would be right. And they would also be wrong.
I told marketing to send me the files for two reasons. First, at that time I was a control freak micromanager and my first inclination was to just do something myself, rather than take a moment to explain to someone else how to do it. Second, I was just innately curious, and excited, about the leads. It was the first time my sales team would be receiving fresh leads under my leadership and I just wanted to lay eyes on those leads. I was excited for the team to start working them.
On the sales team, campaign lead follow up was based on speed. Normally, once we received a file from marketing, we wanted to get leads into the hands of the sales reps within hours. Sales was always primed and ready to jump as soon as new leads from a big campaign flowed to them. We created schedules and managed our time for these campaigns so we could touch all the leads as quickly as possible.
That afternoon the sales team had blocked a few hours to start calling and emailing as soon as they received their leads.
So, I dropped everything and opened up the file. I sorted based on company name, and I got to work dumping each alphabetical territory into its own tab.
As I was doing this quick admin task, I wasn’t paying attention to the leads, but I also wasn’t NOT paying attention to the leads. My eyes were naturally scanning the list. I noticed a few company names like “ABCD” and prospect names like “Mickey Mouse”. No biggie, people give funky data all the time.
I also noticed a few company names that seemed like they were attached to a small business, like a local dry cleaner or chiropractor. These were not our target audience. Without thinking about the boat I could be rocking, I just started deleting “leads” that were junk data, and a few of the obviously small local businesses that weren’t our target. I figured it was faster for me to delete these out quickly than for the sales reps to have to do it.
I loved the idea of saving them time so they could get to the better leads faster, without having to weed through the junk.
This was the start of the rabbit hole. Suddenly, without thinking, I found myself curiously looking closer at some of the leads. What was this company? Who was this person? Before I knew it, I had LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google search tabs pulled up and I was switching back and forth evaluating the legitimacy of the leads.
It started to dawn on me that handing off the raw file of leads the way we had been was wasting a whole bunch of time for the sales team. They had to weed out the junk leads themselves, and then either make a bunch of dials to people who weren’t in our target audience or take the time to validate the leads with some online research prior to calling.
I decided, without really stopping to think about it, to go through all the leads myself, and get rid of any that were at companies who weren’t in our target. It was an off-the-cuff experiment. My gut told me that this was wasting our sales reps time.
I came up for air 12 hours later. Seriously.
I dug in. And came up for air 12 hours later. During that time, I reviewed and validated each lead we had generated, making sure it was from a company who was in our target audience and was a real person (validating mostly via LinkedIn stalking). I also did some on-the-fly lead “scoring” denoting A for the best leads, B for the pretty good ones and C for the iffy ones. This would give the reps a way to ascertain who to follow up with first.
We were a very small sales team, perhaps at the time 3 or 4 reps and their time was incredibly valuable. I didn’t want them spending time sifting through bad leads. Certainly not 3 or 4 hours each. EACH!? My 12 hours of lead validating would equal that. I was flabbergasted. And I did want them calling the most qualified leads first, something they had no way of doing without a lot of manual work.
I hope you know my point of this story isn’t about our lead process. This was back in the day and there are tons of modern sales & marketing tools that automate this stuff now. The point is that we had a process that was wasting the most valuable time we had. And we wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t gotten my hands dirty.
Could someone else have pointed this out and made a recommendation for a better way? Sure. But they didn’t. That’s often what happens in organizations, right? People don’t challenge or question a well-established process until it’s really broken, or someone new comes in and sees it with fresh eyes.
Our team was small and our reps were high performing. If I could have them spending more time opening opportunities and working their deals, I was for it. By not having them wade through raw lead files I could boost their productivity significantly.
The cost justification was pretty obvious. I hired an entry-level sales operations manager the next week. She spent about 50% of her time scoring leads, and the remaining time helping me organize and run the sales team. Eventually, once she had our lead scoring process and criteria documented, she got low-cost interns to score leads and then found tools to score and assign leads and created a highly efficient machine.
I decided then, I would never feel guilty for getting my hands dirty.
Entrepreneurs can be control freaks and micro-manage everything, which stunts a company in so many ways. But, on the flip side, I know a lot of “leaders” who rarely get their hands dirty in the actual work their team is doing.
Read some leadership articles, or talk to other company founders, and you can rack up some big guilt over getting into the weeds of something like an admin task to sort a lead file. But I saw that day that sometimes jumping into the weeds could have significant benefits. I decided to trust my judgment moving forward. Sometimes, I would get my hands dirty, and sometimes I wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t question it or, or think about all the ways I should be spending time “on the business” instead of “in the business”. If you spend all your time “on the business” and are never in it, you can quickly lose touch with the actual business itself. Ivory towers definitely aren’t for me.