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How To Effectively Manage Leads Through Careful Planning

Lead management is a lot like fishing. You define your desired catch, choose the appropriate bait, set up your rods and wait for the right moment to land a deal. However, sales stats show that around 80% of marketing leads never convert to sales. Yes, there are plenty of fish in the sea, but none of them are of value to you if they escape your sales funnel. There is nothing more frustrating than spending precious resources – time and money – on leads without converting them into clients.

Let’s take a closer look at sales lead management and the complete lead management process: what it is, what are its vital processes, and how to apply first-rate industry practices to win the friendship and the loyalty of newly acquired sales leads.

Lead management process

lead management sales process
Source: Pinterest.

Sales lead management is the secret backbone of every business. By definition, lead management is a sales process through which marketing acquires, qualifies, nurtures and hands over sales-ready leads to the sales team.

As you might be aware, the lead management process is a complex process. It’s no wonder that businesses struggle with it. Some common lead management mistakes include:

  • Aiming at the wrong audience.
  • Too many low-quality leads.
  • Sales and marketing teams are at odds with each other.
  • Your website’s look dissuades users, or it lacks a clear call-to-action.
  • Following up on leads too late.

Although it might differ per source, generally sales lead management is comprised of four key activities:

  1. Lead identification.
  2. Lead generation and tracking.
  3. Lead processing.
  4. Lead nurturing.

Lead identification helps you determine the buyer types which you desire, while lead generation is all about capturing those ideal buyers. Lead tracking is where you gather intelligence and analyse interests, needs and wants of your prospects. Lead processing includes scoring and qualification, which are key processes to organise, filter and prioritise leads by their potential value. Lastly, lead nurturing is the task of building relationships with potential clients who are not yet ready to buy.

Leads management has a number of benefits. Here are a few:

  1. Increases the effectiveness of marketing budget.
  2. Prevents dropped leads.
  3. Prevents your pipeline from clogging with ‘junk leads’.
  4. Optimises your lead process from capture to close.
  5. Brings in more revenue.

In order to manage leads you must first generate them. Let’s take a closer look at lead generation.

What is lead generation?

Many companies have different ideas of what lead generation is, according to their sales cycle, so the question to ask, in this case, would be: what does lead generation mean to your company?

Hopefully, it sounds something like this:

Lead generation is the process of attracting and converting strangers into potential customers for your business”.

Lead generation starts with prospecting and is the first step in the sales cycle and the lead management solution. However, it doesn’t mean that you should grab the Yellow Pages and start dialing. Experienced marketing teams use a formal system to organise and store sales leads since they realise that working with low-quality leads is worse than having no leads at all. It drastically eats valuable time without any tangible results.

In fact, most marketing executives agree that lead quality is one of their main priorities. A study by IDG reveals that 61% of marketers think that generating high-quality leads is the most prominent challenge they face. Also, according to State of Inbound 2017 report, generating more leads is a significant headache for 63% of marketers. 

lead management marketing challenges
Source. State of Inbound Report 2017

Naturally, the question arises: how to generate more high-quality leads?

There are many ways, but usually, companies provide compelling content or a great offer in exchange for user contact information. Every one of us has filled in a form with our primary (and sometimes not) contact information when signing up somewhere: that’s the point where we become a lead.

In general, lead generation comes from two marketing directions: inbound and outbound marketing.

lead generation inbound vs outbound
Source: Teamgate blog

Inbound marketing. Inbound marketing can be defined in the following way: helping prospects to find your business, creating brand awareness, and converting that awareness into brand preference. When the time comes, brand preference will help convert leads into paying users. Usually, inbound marketing activities start affecting target audiences long before they even consider making a purchase.

In the good old days before the internet, sales and marketing used the traditional approach; marketers used to source lead lists with names and titles and passed them on to the sales team. The sales force were the ones charged with ‘educating’ the buyers about available products and services. Leads also came from advertisements, cold calling, trade shows and other commercial sources. It all meant one thing; marketers were proactively and constantly seeking out suitable prospects. This approach is called outbound marketing.

The digital age has transformed many aspects of traditional marketing, along with lead generation. Today, buyers are in control. They do their own research and can find quality content within seconds. According to Forrester research, a regular tech buyer consumes at least three pieces of content before contacting the sales department. Because of the shift towards buyer self-education, contemporary marketers must have a solid grasp of how inbound marketing works, how to disseminate quality educational content, how to combine inbound marketing efforts with outbound and how to find new ways to cut through the existing noise to generate leads.

Outbound marketing. By definition offered by WordStream, outbound marketing is:

“…any kind of marketing where a company initiates the conversation and sends its message out to an audience. It includes more traditional forms of marketing and advertising such as TV commercials, radio ads, print advertisements, trade shows, outbound sales calls (AKA “cold calls”) and email spam.”

As you can see, outbound marketing is the total opposite of its inbound counterpart. It runs on rented attention and reaches many more prospects in less time. Outbound advertising pierces through audiences like a needle and can attract suspects who previously had no idea of your existence. Nevertheless, outbound campaigns are costly. Thus, to ensure high returns, they must be finely-targeted and have a clear call-to-action. Also, outbound campaigns are likely to push prospects through your funnel faster, since they create a sense of urgency and give the target a nudge before dragging them into the funnel.

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Let’s explore some of the most solid options for lead generation in both inbound and outbound tactics.

Best channels for inbound leads generation

How can you generate more leads using the inbound approach? The whole lead managing process can be improved greatly by creating buyer interest by offering the right mix of valuable, relevant and informative content helps to cultivate a meaningful relationship with the target audience. However, no matter how good your content is, it won’t be of much use if it’s not distributed where your prospects spend their time. Below you’ll find the most solid inbound marketing channels that are perfect for lead generation.

Content marketing. All of your inbound marketing efforts depend on the quality of your content. It shouldn’t come as a surprise and you’ve probably heard about content marketing before. How can we define it? Content Marketing Institute suggests the following definition.

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Content is bread and butter for all your inbound lead campaigns – email, social media, blogs, or websites. If it’s good, your audience will love it and hopefully share it. However, only quality content will resonate, therefore, make sure that you intimately know your audience and what are their needs and demands. Only then can you start earning buyers’ trust and engaging your prospects in a meaningful way.

Check out this advanced content marketing guide by Neil Patel and Kathryn Aragorn to learn more and make use of this interactive 100-step content marketing must-know Content Marketing Statistics by Ross Hudgens to finetune your content.

SEO. Outstanding content wouldn’t get far if it weren’t for SEO as it guarantees a steady stream of organic traffic. Yes, SEO and keyword optimization play a pivotal role at this stage. However, there is more to the process than that. Google and other search engines associate quality content with quality publishers, so, to capture more leads from a search engine, you need to create content that drives engagement. Many companies simply jump on the content marketing bandwagon and miss out on the key idea of content marketing – audience involvement. Quality content can boost your Google ranking for keywords, so more informative and original, not promotional material, will promote you as a thought leader and return more leads originating from search in the long run.

For more details on how to optimize your content to generate more leads, check you this Google’s 200 factors ranking list by Brian Dean and this awesome guide to SEO by MOZ.

Website. Your website is the heart of all your marketing operations. Whether it’s a newsletter sign-up form or a free-trial request opportunity, it’s the focal point where passers-by are converted into real leads. Of course, it’s easier said than done but be sure to pay special attention to design, layout, sign-up forms, content, and Call-to-Action buttons.

If you have a feeling that your website might be missing something take a look at this holy grail of eCommerce conversion optimization – 91 point checklist by Pancham Prashar.

Social media. If there is one place where there is plenty of fish in the sea, that would be social media. The growing number of social media users makes it a perfect place to fish for leads. Social media enables users to find and learn about products and services through peers and influencers, so, tapping into LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook or Google+ feeds can bring all-around benefits. Not only can brands be where the consumers are but it also grants businesses a voice to chip in on social conversations and express their stance on various issues. In return, active social participation comes to fruition with new leads, free publicity, and unwavering support for the brand.

One crucial aspect of networks is the ability to post at the right time, so this article about the best times to post on social media might come in handy and will get you more leads.

Blog. If you had to choose only one place to generate trust with your prospects that place would be your blog. A well-search-optimized blog has the potential to attract users from all over the web. People remember blogs with valuable content; therefore it helps to position you as an expert and retain readers. Use your blog as a gateway to the rest of your content, products, and services.

Out of ideas for your company blog? Check out these 20 types of evergreen content to produce lasting results and have a steady stream of prospects coming your way at all times.

Now that you know about some of the main inbound marketing channels, you have to put it into practice. If you need help with that, we have you covered with a curated list of 100 powerful inbound marketing tools to help you polish your inbound lead generation process.

Moving on, it is important to note that despite the rise of inbound marketing, a healthy marketing mix still includes both inbound and outbound marketing. Inbound marketing is good for passive and versatile lead generation, while outbound marketing lets you go on the offense and target particular prospect segments. Here are the finest outbound marketing channels which synergise with the above-mentioned inbound methods.

Proven channels for outbound lead generation

Display advertising. Display ads are useful at every stage of your funnel and generating leads is no exception. Based on your objectives, you can choose the most suitable advertising method, whether it’s programmatic marketing, ad space with some online publication, targeted display advertising, or a retargeting campaign. You have full control over where you want your ads to appear and what it should convey. Display advertising networks can provide you with rich data, thus allowing your messages to reach even the most peculiar segments.

Here is a Kissmetrics article on how B2B businesses can drive sales and generate leads with display advertising.

Pay-per-Click (PPC) ads. PPC advertising is a great way to draw attention to your latest campaigns and offers. Paid search lets set your lead catching nets in search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, and others, or in the most popular social networks, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Just like display advertising they can be highly targeted and can lead to highest grade leads.

If you think that PPC ads are for you, learn more about Google AdWords from this informative guide by PPC Hero or learn how to attract the most desirable leads via Facebook ads by checking this 101-point guide to Facebook Custom Audiences.

Email marketing. Emails are still irreplaceable when it comes to marketing campaigns. Since it is a direct one-on-one communication channel, it also remains an excellent channel for lead generation. In fact, emails deliver the best value when combined with marketing automation. An automated lead management system connects with your CRM to allow users create multiple highly targeted and personalized emails and schedule their delivery time. It’s personal, affordable, and delivers results. According to VentureHarbour, email remains the number one lead generation channel to this day.

Events. Event marketing is often overlooked but it remains a highly impactful location to form meaningful connections. They allow you to clarify your solutions and establish a more definite brand image. Whether it’s a webinar, trade show, fair, or industry networking event, they are valuable opportunities to deliver speeches and demonstrate your thought leadership. Overall, events are more likely to convert a prospect into a strong lead. After all, it’s the life experiences that leave us full of unforgettable memories.

Content syndication. As your prospects go on with their lives, they may not always show up where you are. Therefore, it’s integral to establish your presence wherever you go. Content syndication is a content-sharing strategy that bears sturdy results for pre-sales processes. Its essence is to promote your resources (articles, press releases or other materials) on other websites or newsletters. The best part is that most of the leads end up directly in your inbox.

Unsure where to start with content syndication? Check out this chapter about content syndication networks on Quicksprout.

If you’re interested in learning more about inbound and outbound marketing, check our ultimate inbound versus outbound marketing guide.

Do’s and don’ts of lead generation

Do. A marketer whose target audience is ‘everyone’ is doomed to fail. Before you decide where to focus your lead generation efforts, some quick pre-prospecting can go a long way. If you’ve been selling for some time, you probably already know who to look for based on your preferences – a CRM sales management system is the ideal way to do this. If not, then all you need to do is get a sheet of paper (physical or digital) and compile a list of qualities that your ideal customers share.

Don’t expect immediate results. Let’s assume you took the time to identify your ideal clients, the simple rule is that to reach these clients effectively, you will either need to invest a lot of money or time.

Do. The savviest sales and marketing teams use a formal system to organize and store leads – your CRM lead management strategy can greatly enhance the process. According to HubSpot, 46% use Google Docs, 41% use marketing automation software, and 37% use CRM software.

lead generation lead storage
Source: HubSpot

Don’t. Not all leads have the same quality due to the fact that some sources will deliver a high rate of ‘junk’ leads. That’s why it’s a common practice to purchase high-quality lead lists. Radius writes that the difference between low and high-quality lead lists can be up to $600 per lead. However, according to HubSpot 2021 Demand Generations Benchmark Report, the average cost-per-lead across all industries is approx. $200. It’s necessary to acknowledge that the stat is entirely useless because the real value of a lead depends on the industry it operates in, company size, revenue, and other factors. The standard advice is to avoid buying lead lists at all. Purchased leads don’t know you and if the prospect has never visited your site or shown any interest in your products or services, you will be interrupting them and that is likely to do more harm than good. Here is a more extensive article on this topic regarding email lists.

Don’t. Some salespeople have been known to cherry-pick their leads, which is a huge mistake and can cost you a portion of sales. Even if you have the gut feeling, you can’t just assume which leads will turn out to be good and which ones are not even worthy of a cold call.

As mentioned above, lead generation is only the first step in the sales cycle. You also have to keep in mind sales lead qualification, nurture, and retention strategies as a part of your holistic marketing efforts.

Lead processing

The rule of 45 by Jim Obermayer shows that 45% of qualified sales leads will make a purchase within one year. Of course, this generalized number may not reflect your current situation, however, it does provide a decent benchmark from which to put things into perspective. Will they purchase from you or your competitor? Here is where lead qualification plays a significant role and enhances your lead management solution greatly.

lead management lead processing
Source: The MX group

Again, the definition of a qualified lead varies from business to business, but the underlying principle is that a qualified sales lead is a lead suitable to do business with.

The goal of lead qualification is to review, contact, and qualify marketing-generated leads and to deliver them to the sales executives. In simple words, marketing passes on only the most qualified leads to the sales tea. Occasionally, the sales team should take time and assist marketers with every lead, since you simply don’t want to treat your leads as blank faces.

How to recognize qualified and unqualified leads

Qualified lead Unqualified lead
Have a clearly defined budget and are looking for suitable solutions. Your price range is not equivalent to their buying power.
Are in the process of completing your lead nurturing cycle. They haven’t been nurtured enough just yet to close the sales cycle.
Have a list of their precise needs in a solution. Don’t precisely know what features they seek for in a solution.
Are conducting their own educational research about possible solutions. They are unsure of what your company offers.

Usually, marketers filter leads by contacting them directly. It can occur in any form as long as a marketer can ask qualifying questions. Let’s have a look at few examples of qualifying questions:

  • How do you see yourself using this product?
  • How will it help you?
  • What issues are you facing right now and how our product will help you solve them?
  • What do you expect to gain from solving this issue?

Properly asking powerful qualifying questions is the key to practical lead qualification. Read more about powerful qualifying questions here.

What happens if you don’t qualify your leads?

While lead processing has some obvious benefits, many businesses still hesitate to allocate sufficient resources to lead qualification. Such behavior has many drawbacks and there are at least three major ones:

  1. You miss the best sales leads. Some of the best prospects might become a loyal client only after you dedicated a certain amount of time and effort to your relationship. If you can’t recognise high-value leads, you are likely to miss them.
  2. Negative publicity. Companies that had a bad business experience with you will spread negative word of mouth which is likely to damage your reputation.
  3. You’re wasting time, resources and energy on people who are unable to do business with you. Think about it: there are only 24 hours in the day. You should use it wisely.

Even if you manage to turn unqualified leads into customers, their churn rate remains quite high. In contrast, qualified leads tend to have meager churn rates because they closed the deal on their own terms.

Lead nurturing and scoring

Depending on your internal policies, sales nurturing and scoring can start simultaneously with lead qualification process. As mentioned in the begging, lead nurturing is all about maintaining contact with opportunities that are not ready to convert just yet. Companies usually employ one of the two lead nurturing ways:

  1. Marketing takes care of the lead and keeps it in its own pipelines. It belongs to lead the development campaign in which they receive occasional, but engaging letters enquiring about the progress and informing about the news. When the lead has made its decision, it is transferred to the sales.
  2. Companies employ specialised Sales Development Reps (SDRs) whose job it is to nurture sales leads until they are ready to buy.

Lead scoring is a supplementary nurturing technique designed to help marketers rank leads within the marketing funnel. It prioritises high ranking sales leads and allows companies to understand better each prospect’s place in the buying cycle. There are multiple lead scoring techniques, but for starters read the best lead scoring practices or check out this simple guide to lead scoring by Kevin Ho.

Why leads don’t qualify as opportunities

Lead qualification goes through two stages – marketing-qualified leads (MQL) and sales-qualified leads (SQL).

As its name suggests, marketing-qualified leads are the sales-ready leads. They are agreed to by both sales and marketing. A sales-ready lead becomes a sales-qualified lead right after it is engaged by the sales team and moves into the sales pipeline. Sales-qualified leads are also called opportunities because these are the leads that are truly worth your time and effort.

How do you manage your leads?

Eventually, the quality of your leads determines the volume of your sales. Lead management is a vital process that is often underlooked, while it should get special attention. Although in recent years an increasing number of companies have adopted better lead management strategies – usually through CRM lead management – it remains the headache of many sales and marketing departments. Hopefully, this article will help you with your practices towards an efficient and effective sales leads management solution. You know what they say:

Keep your leads close, but keep your opportunities even closer.


Marijus Andrijauskas

Marijus is the CEO at Teamgate. He's a Lithuanian native but always on the move - he works between Teamgate's offices in London and Vilnius.
Marijus is all about building new products and turning them into businesses. An expert in Cloud Computing and SaaS products, writing his deep insights on everything he thinks of worth mentioning.
Find him on Twitter @MarijusAn

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