Just about every business is looking for revenue growth. In the most reductive sense, the goal is the same it has always been: to “make the numbers go up.” Phrased more practically, what organizations are looking for are increased sales figures. For many brands, achieving those higher sales numbers starts with quality sales leads.
What is lead management? It’s an established strategy for the generation, evaluation, cultivation, and conversion of sales prospects. If you want to know why your current lead management is proving ineffective, and why most instructional content on the subject fails to provide the tools to change that, keep reading.
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What is lead management?
At risk of repeating ourselves and potentially overcomplicating the explanation, here’s a summarized description of lead management: A formalized process for the sales team to generate leads (potential customers), vet them for quality, nurture them to improve conversion rates, and ultimately increase revenue.
Like anything in business, lead management is something that works best when guided by data-supported strategies. Unfortunately, like most things in business, it’s quite often driven by “experience” and “intuition.”
Revenue processes can be incredibly temperamental (market conditions, economic fluctuations, surprise global pandemics, you know, business as usual). As a result, it’s no wonder why professionals in sales, marketing, finance, management, etc., fall back to systems and tactics that seemed successful in the past.
The inherent problem with that approach is the very volatility we’re trying to solve. These days, rapid market changes can completely invalidate the wisdom of previous years. What once was a “safe bet” may now be obsolete, or may even be preventing us from making critical adjustments.
How lead management works
The issue with asking questions like “how do I get more leads?” or “how do I improve lead quality?” is that getting consistent answers—or even effective answers—is incredibly difficult. Depending on who you ask, industry factors, market circumstances, phases of the moon, etc., the responses you get can vary wildly in scope, feasibility, and quality.
So, rather than tell you what to do, we’re going to break down the core elements you’re likely to see in the answers you find elsewhere
Planning lead management
Lead management will usually start with a plan, and that plan will probably have to be assembled internally. That plan will look different for almost every organization, but you should expect to do, at minimum, the following steps:
- Define the characteristics of a “lead,” a “qualified lead” (MQL, SQL, or both), and the grading systems that will be used when evaluating and prioritizing leads
- Mapping the customer journey and the lead funnel, detailing how opportunities are turned into sales, and what causes a lead to go cold
- Outlining segmentation categories, and the lead nurturing tactics that will be used for each market segment
- Building processes, implementing tools, establishing policies, and standardizing
Implementing lead management
Once you have a plan, that plan has to go into action. Otherwise, all that planning was a waste of time. Implementation of that plan will, bare minimum, involve:
- Lead generation
- Tracking, vetting, scoring, and segmenting those leads
- Lead distribution and nurturing
- Converting leads (or cutting your losses as needed)
- Adjusting your aim to improve results over time
Where everyone gets it wrong
Odds are, you already do things to generate and nurture leads. You may even have a “plan,” even if that requires a rather loose definition of the word to justify its use. But if all of that was working to your satisfaction, you wouldn’t be here. Which means you’re likely tripping over some hurdles you’re struggling to identify.
Take a closer look at your current sales funnel and lead management, and see if any of the missteps listed below are gumming up the works.
Remember all those words we wasted earlier talking about “rapid change” and “basing plans on outdated wisdom?” That happens whenever a team never takes the time to evaluate performance data and recalibrate. If nothing changes, nothing is likely to improve.
Success depends on iteration, ongoing adjustments, and rapid try/fail cycles. The things you’re currently doing probably won’t work forever, and many of the things you may test will similarly disappoint. The faster you can identify what’s falling short, the faster you can swap it out for another tactic, tool, or process, and the faster you’ll find something that works.
Assuming quantity = quality
Sure, you can just pour buckets of leads down the funnel, expecting the volume to result in noteworthy increases. A lot of teams do that very thing. But more leads means more work, and if the quality is too low, it’s almost certainly going to be a waste of most of that effort.
Manufacturing crews provide a solid example of why this is problematic. Increasing production is only a good idea if you’re not also increasing the time that’s spent finding defects and tossing products that don’t pass QA. Your ROI on all of this will be higher with slower, more methodical strategies than with haphazard efforts.
Conflating “quality” with “qualified”
For a lot of organizations, marketing tends to earn a bad reputation. They throw large chunks of budget at lead generation, only to pass on their “marketing qualified leads” to the sales crew, who then proceed to throw them in the trash rather than chase all those red herrings.
Sales teams aren’t wholly innocent either, though. They may have a better idea of which leads will actually close, but that may be based on processes and practices that produce low LTV acquisitions. Did you make a sale? Yes. Is that sale going to result in an unhappy customer/client and decreased retention rates? Quite possibly.
Whether MQL or SQL, whoever signs off on the lead, it means nothing unless that stamp indicates higher conversion chance, better customer fit, and increased satisfaction with brand offerings. Just as you don’t want to waste effort bringing in a higher volume of leads at the current quality, you don’t want to leave the lead quality where it’s at indefinitely. Remember, leads are good, but they’re not the destination. Even a sale is not the finish line. The objective is sustained, reliable growth, and that requires prioritizing long-term results over short-term “numbers go up” outcomes.
Forgetting that touchpoints = branding
Every interaction with customers, potential customers, and never-gonna-be customers will have a cumulative impact on your brand’s public identity. If you’re pushing out an annoying number of nurture emails, that irritate those who don’t convert, and may even turn away those leads that fit your ICP.
If you convert leads that aren’t well served by your brand’s offerings, they won’t stay “converted” for long, and when they finally cut their losses, they’ll be all the more bitter for having wasted their time and investment.
On the other hand, if you can point mismatched leads toward something that better suits their needs, they’ll likely remember how you did them a solid, resulting in positive word-of-mouth marketing.
No one enjoys spending time with the guy at the party that does nothing but talk about himself. And it only gets worse when he tries to get you to sign up for his “foolproof, sure-bet investment.” The last thing anyone wants to do is give the annoying braggart their money.
Take a look at your brand’s communication. Your website copy, your newsletters, your sales outreach, all of it. How do you phrase your value proposition? Does it sound like the guy at the party, all “look how cool I am?” Or does it sound like the person who’s willing to make the run for more drinks for everyone, as long as everyone chips in?
What you’re selling is not your brand, or even your product/service. What you’re selling is some positive outcome for the customer/client. Comfort, convenience, capability, etc. You’re giving them a way to make life better for themselves, and that’s a narrative where they are the hero. So that’s how your branding should phrase it.
Extended car warranty syndrome
If your outreach is as persistent as those car warranty scam calls, you’ve skedaddled straight past “diminishing returns” and into a PR nightmare. Yes, staying top of mind is important. But it only works if you stay on the far side of the line between helpful and intrusive. As alluded to above, the last thing you want is for leads to make their decision out of annoyance.
What you could be doing right
Ok, so what should you be doing instead? Allow us to, at the risk of redundancy, suggest a few of the following ideas.
Sales pros are critical components in the process, but they’re not Terminators. Content marketing, website copy, social media, and other word craft can do what your sales team can’t: sell for your brand around the clock. They’re not a replacement (especially not if it’s all done using generative AI). They’re rocket fuel.
You want your sales staff to spend less time hunting for leads, or even screening out dead ends. Ideally, they’re spending almost all their time working the red-hot, sizzling leads that are the most likely to convert with the highest value. With the right word work in place, your branding can help your sales teams do more with less effort, leading to better outcomes with less overhead.
Your system might actually be doing fine at the moment. But what about next month? Next year? Those numbers don’t go up unless things change, so at best, doing nothing changes nothing.
Leverage data and analytics to find areas of success or struggle in your funnel. Do you have a winning product, but you’re bringing in a lot of bad leads? Or, conversely, do you find that your offering is great, but no one seems to have any need for it? Neither circumstance will lead to long-term growth.
There’s not a lot you can do about market forces and the demands at play. You can make adjustments, so you’re getting the word out to the right people, the people who actually need what you’re selling. Or, you can identify if your product is a solution in search of a problem.
If that’s the case, it’s time to pivot, and find the part of your value proposition that leads are attracted to in the first place, then use it as a springboard for changes to your offerings.
At this point, pretty much all of us probably feel stretched thin across all of the items on our to-do lists. Automation can alleviate a number of those pressure points, making it easier to do our best work.
When looking for places and ways to use automation, though, keep in mind how you felt the last time you called a business, and struggled to get past the IVR bouncer on the phone. It’s frustrating when you feel like you’re not important enough for an actual human being to give you their attention. So don’t do that to your leads.
Most of us can see how important the machines have become to our daily business processes. Nevertheless, people still expect to do business with people. So, use automation where it makes sense, but leverage the human touch wherever you can.
In a perfect world, sales staff would be so busy closing quality leads they never get the chance to do cold outreach. If we ever want to reach that spam-free utopia, marketing needs to do the heavy lifting, bringing in leads and furnishing sales with valuable assets to use, and MQL has to mean something.
This ties into some of the points above, and it all depends on the two teams comparing notes. If Marketing understands what sales is looking for, and has a firm grasp on the concerns that the leads bring to the table, they can tailor their efforts to greasing that chute.
With the right content assets, sales can prime leads with articles and emails that will answer many of the questions they’ve been fielding on calls. That way, leads can self-screen, letting you know much sooner if what you offer is what they need. Sure, some leads will decline. But that drives up the quality of the remaining leads, and odds are they’ll convert faster than before.
Learn to say “no”
Contrary to popular belief, not every sale is a good one. An unhappy customer tends to cost more than they are worth, while declined leads that are treated well frequently lead to better opportunities down the line.
To put a final pin in this message, we’ll phrase it this way. We all want the numbers to go up. But those numbers aren’t just values in a spreadsheet. They represent people, and those people will respond more favorably if we treat them as more than the entry in cell J25.
Looking for the latest in Lead Management solutions? Check out our Lead Management Software Buyer’s Guide.