MarketingProfs has a nice piece on a classic marketing danger zone: handing inquiries off to the sales team. The most important cautionary paragraph:
If you merely dump prospects on sales without first agreeing on the meaning of "lead" and then qualifying each prospect based on your definition, you and sales may end up at loggerheads when supposed leads don't become actual customers. At the very least, you'll confirm any assumptions on salespeople's part that you can't help them turn leads into cash.
Amen. Dealing with the issue goes well beyond that warning, though.
Remember how salespeople think: they need to be focused on closing deals, because they are trying to hit a monthly or quarterly quota. If you give them an inquiry from someone who isn't ready to buy - and that will be most of the inquiries you can get - they will follow up a couple of times, and then chuck it, usually complaining about the crappy leads they get from those stupid marketing people who don't understand how to bring in business.
Worst of all, that person might buy something - in six or nine months. Probably from a competitor.
If you try to handle this by just doing more "acquisition" marketing - getting yourself out there in front of everyone all the time - you will do better, but the price will be a lot of money on marketing and a lot of wasted time sorting through the raw inquiries to find the near-term buyers.
A better approach - look for the real value of that inquiry. It's an invitation to start a conversation. And as a marketer, that kind of conversation is what you're good at.
Not a "please buy now" conversation, but a "tell me about yourself!" conversation. Think of it as a first date. You're not going to pop the question yet.
But you can keep the conversation going until that prospect is ready (or you figure out that she or he never will be).
You can do it through mail, email, seminars, surveys, white papers, newsletters, blogs, podcasts... in fact, through almost any communications medium.
They key, though, is remembering that your salespeople don't have the time, need, or (often) skills to manage that conversation. That's your job as a marketer.
And when it's time to pop the question, that's when you have the "meet the family" moment of introducing the prospect to your sales team. You'll be far ahead of competitors who haven't been having that conversation. And your sales team will be happy because you're giving them something to help them make their numbers.