Properly tracking and managing sales leads, while always important, has become absolutely essential in today’s digital, multi-channel sales process.
At most innovative firms today, marketing automation, email marketing, and other marketing tools pour opportunities into CRM software in a closed-loop system, but qualifying, distributing, and tracking those leads is a never-ending battle. Increasingly, firms are turning to lead management software to help them organize leads, schedule follow-up contacts, and close more deals. It’s no secret why — companies with mature lead management and nurturing processes generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at 33 percent lower costs than businesses without such processes.1
Lead management, which can sometimes be referred to as customer acquisition management, contact management, or prospect management, is simply the process of tracking and managing your potential customers. The concept and the process seem quite simple at first, but as companies grow, so does the complexity of managing their sales leads. A single system that can automatically log all contacts, their interaction histories, and track where in the sales process each lead resides is invaluable — and even required — when you’re managing multiple salespeople. Companies that automate lead management usually see increased revenues of ten percent or more within six to nine months.
This guide will help you understand the capabilities of lead management software, how it can benefit your company, how to create purchase buy-in amongst members of your executive team, how to compare lead management software, and provide a case study of a leading solution. To learn more about lead management in general, see our piece: What is Lead Management?
As you might imagine, there’s a fair amount of overlap between CRM and lead management software. Both manage current and/or prospective customers and track historical interactions, but in the same thread that not all whiskey is bourbon, not all CRMs are lead management systems. Sure, they’re lead management tools, but most CRMs don’t offer the same sales process automation and high-level visibility that top lead management software solutions can. The single most important differentiating factor between a CRM solution and a true lead management system? Pipeline management.
The sales pipeline, sometimes called the sales funnel, is simply the graphical representation of each stage in the sales process. At the beginning of the pipeline — or top of the funnel — you’ll have a large volume of inquiries, only some of which will qualify for the next step down. Each step in the sales process sees more contacts exit the funnel — or pipeline — as they are disqualified; finally, you close the deal and the lead — now a client — exits the funnel at its end. Pipeline management is simply the definition — as no two companies’ pipelines are the same — and administration of this process.
From a software standpoint, it usually takes the implementation of CRM integrated with marketing automation to deliver true pipeline and lead management, but some of the best CRMs are true, turn-key lead management solutions with full pipeline management. Some vendors offer lead management or marketing automation add-ons — for an additional fee — that are an improvement, but the majority of CRMs on the market today are still just glorified Rolodexes. That may still be fine for a small operation with a few clients, fewer employees, and even less competition, but as all of those numbers grow, you’ll need more from your sales software tools. You’ll need measurable, repeatable processes that will enable the growth of your company and its revenues.
As mentioned before, most lead management systems are actually CRMs with pipeline management and other, deeper functionality designed for managing higher volumes of (usually) inbound leads. The best lead management tools are a marriage of CRM and marketing automation systems, built to handle leads from inquiry to sale, dripping leads down each level of the sales funnel with nurturing content or interactions until they close, potentially months after the initial contact was made. Generic, or non-tailored lead management software is usually a whole-business management solution, sometimes called Professional Services Automation software. The best lead management software systems can have a myriad of functions along with the aforementioned pipeline management capabilities, but they’ll usually also include all or some of the following features:
The marketplace for comprehensive lead management tools is dominated by a handful of large, recognizable players, such as Salesforce, Marketo, Act-On, et al.; however, niche products that specialize in managing just one or two aspects of lead management are becoming more commonplace. Marketing technology is increasingly fragmented, and with the exception of vendors — like Salesforce — that offer an entire software ecosystem and app marketplace which allow you to create your own custom lead management system, this fragmentation and specialization is likely to continue. Comprehensive, pre-integrated products will likely survive longer in the small-to-medium business sector, as the ease of a turn-key solution will remain attractive to small business owners with neither the time nor the budget to build their own custom software solution by integrating various tools.
Lead management software is used in a variety of ways, depending on what marketing channels you use and the depth of your investment in business software tools. A large enterprise with robust marketing automation, web analytics, or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software will usually require a far more complex and capable system than a small business without any existing investments in business software, but the larger firm will probably have an easier time finding a niche product that meets their needs.
Lead management software can be separated into two major segments, but it’s important to remember that no two companies or software ecosystems are the same: you’ll need to make your own decision for your own situation.
The smaller the business, the more important each prospect becomes. Also, since small businesses frequently come with small budgets, software solutions must offer substantial ROI to justify their purchase. As such, lead management software for small businesses is frequently tailored to the user’s specific industry and/or use case. They offer a breadth of functionality that one might not normally expect to be included in a pipeline management-focused system, including project management, accounting, and other tools.
One such example? Realtors. Many are just a one-person operation: one person to prospect for leads, show houses to clients, file paperwork, etc. Many realtors rely on their website to do much of their prospecting for them, but lack the tools to properly track the leads and/or referrals captured there — not to mention the other marketing channels they manage. Most real estate CRM systems are great examples of lead management software; they almost all offer pipeline management and robust integration with various marketing tools/channels.
Lead management tools for larger companies are essentially the same as those designed for smaller businesses — just with more functionality. Whereas a small-business focused system usually focuses on breadth of functionality, a lead management system for a larger business usually is focused on depth. Instead of the small business mindset — a do-it-all system like Infusionsoft with marketing automation, pipeline management, task management, document management, etc. — lead management software for enterprise-level organizations is designed as a central hub that tracks leads from all sources. It can take time to properly establish your campaign rules and integrate these robust tools with your CRM and other sales and marketing systems, but once finished, the data analysis capabilities, singular vision, and other benefits provided by good lead management are truly exceptional.
Marketo and Pardot are excellent examples of lead management systems suitable for larger businesses. Sure, they have many of the same capabilities offered by Infusionsoft and other small business-focused systems, but they take a much deeper dive into lead tracking and channel management. Most larger businesses use a marketing automation or lead management solution as the central hub for tracking leads, monitoring emails and clicks, website interactions, contact and sales history, etc.
If you’re the one leading the charge for a lead management software purchase, you’ll need to sell it to your decision-makers, peers, and other future stakeholders within your organization. It’s not a small investment, and in order to ensure success, you’ll have to get your leadership on board first. That means they, like you, will have to see the need for a comprehensive lead management system and the value that it can add following implementation. The following are a few tailored talking points to get you started:
CEO: Your head executive’s main role is to create value and guide overarching company strategy to ensure long-term success. A large number of CEOs rise to the top spot via the sales department, so it should be relatively easy to convince him or her of the value such a system can provide. Before your meeting, meet with your sales director to discover the average time to close, the number of touchpoints required, and what bottlenecks are keeping your sales team from being as efficient as possible — use these numbers, in concert with the ones from case studies like the one below, to bolster your case. If you can show how lead management software can save your sales team time through an increase in lead quality, the product will sell itself.
CMO: Your number one marketer is concerned, above all else, with delivering high-quality leads to your sales team. In all likelihood, you may be the CMO — it shouldn’t be necessary to sell it to yourself. In the case that you’re not the CMO, make sure that you show him or her the customer segmentation, multi-channel lead tracking, and other marketing analytics capabilities that a good lead management system can provide. Of particular note should be lead scoring, and how a well-designed lead scoring program can increase conversion 79 percent.2
CFO: Your chief financial officer is concerned with only one thing: how lead management software can reduce costs and grow revenues. If the new system’s licensing expense is less than your current solution, lead with that. If it’s not, you’ll need to do a bit more math. Show a best, worst, and average case scenario — if the software is X additional cost, what percentage will your conversion rate need to rise to offset the additional expense? Is that feasible, when compared to the results of others in a similar situation to yours? If you have appointment setters, or other employees that help qualify leads, how many hours in labor will a solution like this save? The math is on your side, you’ll just need to show your work.
Response Mail Express (RME), a comprehensive direct marketing solutions company based in Tampa, Florida, was founded in 1995 to offer direct marketing programs with a singular focus: “Response Means Everything.”
For over 16 years, RME has specialized in driving consumer response with their marketing campaigns, services, and event marketing programs. RME works with a variety of regional and national clients in the areas of consumer packaged goods, entertainment, financial services, franchising, healthcare, mortgage, nonprofit, and retail.
Jonathan Cordeau, RME’s marketing director, is responsible for generating quality leads for a team of 26 product marketers. He faced a number of problems:
“We are a marketing machine here at RME. Each month, we ... have an enormous volume of tasks associated with developing ... campaigns, and therefore it’s critical to manage all the moving parts ... amongst multiple marketing vehicles. We also needed a way to determine [prospect] quality and manage follow-up. We needed to ensure efficiency with our efforts, gain clarity about our prospects – and achieve this with a small staff. ” — Jonathan Cordeau, Director of Marketing
According to Cordeau, Act-On’s ability to quickly create and replicate landing pages and forms helped them better coordinate campaigns across channels and properly track each of their clients’ results — not to mention their own! “We currently send over a quarter-million emails each month through third-party email vendors and trade publication broadcasts. Act-On allows us to engage prospects in real time, immediately upon response to a campaign. We create follow-up campaigns and trigger events that are relevant to the actions and interests of the respondents.”
“We launched our first campaign prior to even completing our first official training, and we were productive in one week,” said Jonathan. “We needed about 20 minutes of IT’s time; they handled the DNS and key changes. That was it. The marketing department has reduced its dependency on other departments significantly.”
RME evaluated Marketo and Eloqua in addition to Act-On. The considerations included cost, functionality, degree of staff engagement necessary, customer reviews, and applicability to RME’s business marketing model.
Act-On was the best lead management software for RME, but they might not be the right fit for your unique situation. Some solutions, like Act-On or Hubspot, help bridge the gap between small business-focused and enterprise-level systems, but if you fall more firmly into either of those categories, you may be better served by one of the options below:
SMB Lead Management:
Enterprise Lead Management
Lead Management Software Comparisons
That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Here at TechnologyAdvice, we’ve extensively researched the lead management software market. We’ve compiled product information, reviews, case studies, feature lists, video walkthroughs, and more — all to help you and other software buyers find the solution that best fits your needs.
If you’re curious about any of the lead management products, vendors, features, or concepts we’ve mentioned in this guide, we want to hear from you! Call one of our in-house Technology Advisors for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool on our website for a custom list of recommendations.
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