This article was published on February 20, 2022

How to manage your sales leads — and turn them into customers

These 7 key elements will help you manage leads and ultimately convert them

How to manage your sales leads — and turn them into customers
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I’ve been working in sales and marketing roles for more than 30 years, and in that time, I’ve found that—as big a deal as lead generation is—it’s typically lead management that makes the struggle real.

Getting lead management right involves a lot of moving parts, so let’s jump in.

1. Alignment between Marketing and Sales

In my experience, this is how it usually goes.

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A potential customer fills out a form or comes to a trade show booth.

Marketing hands off the lead to Sales, saying it’s a hot lead that needs to be called ASAP.

The sales rep calls the prospect, who says they aren’t ready to speak to anyone; they were only gathering information.

The result is a frustrated sales rep, a frustrated marketing team—and no progress on the deal. This is why it’s so important that Sales and Marketing are on the same page. Here’s how to make sure you have alignment across teams:

That last one is the one I’ve found is missing more often than not, and it’s one of the most important aspects of lead management. If the marketing team thinks that a sales-ready lead is anyone who’s downloaded a whitepaper, but the sales team thinks that those folks are still just gathering information, that’s going to lead to frustrated reps, confused prospects, and not many deals.

  • Start by describing your ideal customer, including information like:
  • Industry or vertical
  • Company size
  • Annual revenue or income
  • Location

Then, identify lead sources and behaviors that are common clues that the lead is ready to engage with Sales. Things like:

  • Subscribing to your newsletter
  • Following your brand on social media
  • Responding to offers
  • Visiting specific web pages
  • Downloading certain content
  • Attending an event
  • Requesting a demo

Your first effort at this won’t be perfect—it never is. Over time, you’ll update and refine your description of what a sales-ready lead looks like based on results and feedback from all the teams involved. But agreeing on initial definitions and descriptions will prevent the blame game later and help you focus your efforts where they count.

2. Information gathering

The vast majority of the buying process is completed online without human-to-human interaction. Throughout this process, leads will engage with your content, your website, your social accounts, and so on. This digital journey makes it easy for you to gather information about your leads, helping you recognize when it’s time to send them a lead nurture email, retarget them with an ad, or pass them off to the sales team.

You’ll want to get their email address (that’s the bare minimum), ideally their name and industry/role, and maybe their phone number, depending on how your business operates. Lead generation is a whole different game, but you can use things like gated content and lead gen forms to gather this kind of info. You can also use other tracking tools to understand, for example, which pages of your website they’ve visited.

The most important thing on the lead management side is deciding where you want to store this information. If you’re just starting out, it might be a spreadsheet; if you’re more established, it’ll likely be a CRM. Either way, you can make sure all your leads are funneled into your tool of choice by using an automation tool like Zapier to connect all the apps you use.

3. Lead scoring

Lead scoring is the process of identifying sales-ready leads, so you know when to pass leads over to the sales team to contact them. To score a lead, you’ll use all the insights you gathered (step 2 above), and score them against the description of a sales-ready lead you created (step 1 above).

Lead scores are a numerical (or at least, less subjective) representation of the interest the lead has shown in your business, their current stage in their buying process, and how well they match your ideal customer profile.

A screenshot of ActiveCampaign’s lead scoring system, where you can add custom rules with points
You’re not going to be putting gold star stickers on pictures of people’s faces or anything: your CRM software should do all the work for you. And because it’s automatic, it means the timing will always be right—that timing, as you know, can be the difference between winning or missing out on sales.

Here’s the general process:

You tell your CRM what point values to assign to specific demographic information and various activities (such as event attendance, visits to certain web pages, content downloads, and form submissions).

  • As leads come into the CRM during lead gen, the CRM starts scoring them automatically against your criteria.
  • When a designated score is reached, your CRM notifies the sales team to further qualify and advance through the sales process.
  • Getting this right means not wasting time on unqualified leads, which, in turn, gives Sales more time to speak with prospects that are ready—at the exact moment that they’re ready.

Initially, it’s best to err on the side of caution and hand leads over to Sales earlier—and, if necessary, have them passed back for more lead nurturing until they’re ready. Based on this kind of feedback, you can adjust your lead scoring over time.

4. Lead nurture

Most leads aren’t ready to buy the first time they interact with you. To nudge them through their customer journey, you need to nurture them. Lead nurturing allows you to stay in touch with potential buyers until they are ready to buy.

Providing leads with relevant content helps them get to know your brand better, see that you understand them, and know how you can help them. This all builds trust—and keeps you front of mind when they’re ready to make a purchase.

A nurture email from Zapier
The content you use to nurture leads will depend on your audience, but I’m describing things like:

  • Blog articles
  • Email campaigns
  • Customer success stories
  • Whitepapers
  • eBooks
  • Infographics

The marketing team will likely create this content, but the sales team can provide feedback on its effectiveness and what types of questions potential customers are asking. Sales reps can also help marketers identify content gaps that need to be filled to help buyers in their decision-making process.

Keep in mind: while lead nurture starts the moment someone interacts with your brand, it doesn’t finish once they’re passed along to Sales—or even once they purchase. You’ll continue to nurture your leads (and customers, once they convert) throughout the buying process.

5. Lead distribution

Once leads have passed through the lead scoring process, they need to be sent to the sales rep best equipped to help them. You’ll consider things like:

  • Geographic location (aligned with the prospect)
  • Seniority
  • Experience selling to a specific industry or customer type
  • Performance
  • Availability to respond to the lead fastest

Of course, not all of these apply to every business. Which elements you prioritize will be based on your industry, what you’re selling, and various other factors.

In some cases, you might just send out leads to reps in consecutive order or even allow reps to select leads from a pool. But having Sales leadership involved in these decisions is important—they know which reps will be able to best help the people who are ready for them.

Just like with lead scoring, once you define criteria in your CRM or marketing and sales automation tool, it’ll do the distribution for you.

6. Tracking and adjusting

Lead management is an iterative process. You need to track which leads end up as paying customers, what worked, what didn’t work, and where improvements can be made. You’ll be looking at metrics like the length of a sales cycle after a lead is handed off and the percentage of leads closed by sales reps. Combined with feedback from the sales team, you’ll be able to tweak your lead management processes.

Once again, all the tracking will be automated in your CRM. Most CRMs can offer one-click reports to give you information on your primary metrics, or you can set up more complex reports to track the metrics that are most important to you.

7. Using the right tools

When it comes to lead management, automation is your friend. Start by using the right tools to help you capture, track, score, nurture, and distribute leads without dropping the ball. I’m talking things like a CRM, email marketing platform, event platform, and so on.

Once you have those tools, make sure they can all talk to each other, just like your internal teams. Lead management automation will send information where it needs to be when it needs to be there, increasing not only your efficiency, but also your effectiveness.

In my decades working with sales and marketing teams, I’ve seen the technology available to us advance—I say jump on the bandwagon, and use it to your advantage.

This article by Margot Howard was first published on the Zapier blog. Find the original post here.

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