Demand Generation
Who Should Own Lead Generation For A Complex Sale?

Who Should Own Lead Generation For A Complex Sale?

August 21, 2017
5 min read

You might be thinking, “isn’t the answer obvious?”

It’s not. Let me explain.

I hear the same problem over and over. Sales and marketing aren’t doing a great job of executing lead generation because they both believe it’s the others job.

And you know what? They’re both right.  Here’s what I mean.

Companies don’t typically call what salespeople do “lead generation” or “demand generation.” Instead, they use terms like prospecting, business development, pipeline development or social selling.

Even with the increase of content marketing and inbound marketing, I find salespeople get stuck carrying the load of prospecting for their leads. And they waste time struggling to get their foot in the door to find people who want talk to them.

Why salespeople make cold calls, send cold emails, and prospect

So why do salespeople cold call, cold email, and prospect? One simple reason: they have no choice.

Marketing rarely generates a sufficient volume of qualified leads. It’s not because marketing can’t or won’t. It’s because marketing typically doesn’t get the funding necessary. So salespeople have to pick up the slack.

The mandate for most sales organizations is, make more calls, send more emails. B2B marketing is going through a modernization to align better with how people buy. Now it’s time for sales.

According to Jill Rowley, “…we’re long overdue for transformation, a modernization of the way we sell…” Read my interview with Jill Rowley Chief Evangelist and startup advisor on better social selling.

The high-performing salespeople I’ve met don’t spend much of their time prospecting. They network. They get referrals. And they leverage their social network via LinkedIn and Twitter, and monitor news feeds about key accounts. They practice social selling. When done intentionally, these activities are very practical and do not take up a lot of productive selling time. The rest of their pipeline will come from sales-ready leads from marketing.

Sales needs marketing involved through the journey

A well-crafted, researched, intentional lead generation strategy can’t come from sales. Why? Because their focus is on the immediate and near-term revenue and quotas to fill. Lead generation done right requires an ongoing commitment that marketing can best fill.

The job of marketing is to develop leads that match the buyer’s expectation to buy and the seller’s expectations to sell.  Otherwise, you’ll have a serious disconnect. This why account based marketing is getting so much attention.

Salespeople should not feel stuck with the old, worn-out tactic of cold-call prospecting. They need to do what they do best: sell to potential customers that have qualified as sales-ready. This is where inside sales and sales development reps are filling the gap.  For more on this read, The Biggest Contributor to B2B Revenue.

In tech companies, much of lead generation has been taken over completely by marketing which generates marketing qualified leads that are routed to inside sales reps, or SDRs, for qualification and nurturing. This allows sales to focus solely on developing relationships and closing new business. But outside of high tech, lead generation is still mostly done by salespeople.

Who should own lead generation: sales, marketing or both?

To get a broader perspective, I asked the 19,734 members of my B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group about this topic, and I got some great feedback. The following comments are from our group discussion.

According to Shawn Bezzant, “I think most organizations would agree that both sales and marketing are responsible for lead generation… There are two primary responsibilities any professional salesperson has: building business and closing business. If he fails to focus on both, he will fail as a salesman. In this case, marketing is a support organization that carries a unique responsibility to assist the sales team in building a business. I have never worked in an organization where a salesperson can hand off all responsibility for lead generation to the marketing team, and I have great doubt that model would work over extended periods of time.”

Jessica Sprinkel, wrote, “I think the biggest thing is not finding the magical ‘owner’ but just getting on the same page with sales and agreeing on what’s right for you. Get them involved in the planning process, work back from revenue and calculate lead/opportunity targets for both marketing and sales. Then marketing can focus on running campaigns to hit their respective targets.”

Jonathan Hyde stated, “Lead gen is part of both roles; it’s simply accomplished differently. Our marketing team is responsible for web lead gen, marketing campaigns, email blasts, etc., while inside sales is responsible for cold calling. Both use social selling to increase the number of leads for our outside sales reps.”

Steve Wells wrote, “I think Marketing should own lead generation. In almost any company, the sales group drops focus on all tasks that do not result in a PO by the end of the quarter… Marketing generally does not feel this pressure to change their game plan. Effective lead-gen requires continuity, and losing focus and continuity for up to 33% of the time is not going to help anyone.”

Scott Raeihle stated, “Marketing should ‘own’ lead gen. Sales should ‘own’ converting those leads to customers. And, we should be working together to achieve both. Both departments are revenue generators; why not be aligned? Sales know the ideal customer profile…that information needs to be communicated to marketing so that marketers can do what they do best… so that sales can close more business…”

What’s worked for you to get better sales and marketing collaboration?

According Jene’ Brown, “I work with Marketing and Sales teams on teleprospecting lead generation campaigns, and see best success when Sales is an active participant in the process: defining SQL criteria, input on targeting/messaging, providing feedback to refine lead quality, and kicking back PQLs that don’t result in wins to be nurtured. A sense of ownership from both teams is ideal!”

Liz Fulham wrote, “I always leave it to Marketing or hire a lead generation specialist who reports to sales if there is no marketing team. I found if you leave it to sales, it reduces the time they spend on selling…The only problem is that Sales will blame marketing for bad leads. It is important Sales buy into defining the perfect customer profile and any vendors that supply the leads.”

According to Ahuvah Berger-Burcat, “Marketing owns lead gen/demand gen. But an MQL is not an SQL…and there must be an agreement between marketing and sales when the lead moves from a marketing lead [MQL] to a sales qualified lead [SQL]. Sales and marketing have very distinct roles with a bit of an overlap when it comes to qualifying and nurturing leads.”

According to JC Niederberger, “Marketing has the tactical and functional responsibility for lead generation…but the people who get fired because of leads that don’t close and generate revenue are sales. So, it must flow through sales at the top level. There is always disagreement between sales and marketing on what the characteristics of a “best” lead are. From a sales side, I would think it would be urgency, relevancy, revenue potential, etc.; from a marketing side, I would expect qualification, lead quality, data, open and engagement rates, etc., would be most important. At the end of the day, revenue wins.”


Lead generation is a part of both sales and marketing job to generate revenue. But how exactly they accomplish it is different. It comes down to collaboration. You need to work together on topics ranging from revenue goals backward to opportunities and qualified leads. Additionally, you need to get alignment on messaging, ideal customer profile, universal lead definition, qualification criteria, and lead routing. In sum, treat lead generation as a shared responsibility to generate revenue, and understanding who is doing what, and improving collaborating you’ll achieve better results.

One thought on “Who Should Own Lead Generation For A Complex Sale?

  1. Zahra Ardehali

    Great article and points of views from many.

    I agree that lead generation is a part of both sales and marketing responsibilities, but the key is how you decide on the distribution of it between the two. It is not “one size fits all”; rather every company and sales process is different and special to that company. As a marketer, I found it effective to collaborate with sales at each company to find the best solution for their environment, revenue goals and past performance. Then, we jointly decide and agree on a distribution of the percentage of lead generation that is owned by marketing, inside sales and sales, while you fine-tune and optimize it as you go. In some companies, you also have to include your channel partners.

    In summary, the answer to this important question is not who owns it; rather what’s the formula for each company and who owns what percentage!

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Brian Carroll knows what drives B2B buyers. As the founder of the B2B Lead Blog, a researcher and lecturer on marketing best practices, and leader in empathy marketing, he’s at the epicenter of the shifting B2B marketing landscape. Brian is also the founder of the B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 19,533+ members.

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