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Lead management is the process of tracking and managing prospective customers, called leads. It combines a set of methods and practices for gathering, qualifying, and pursuing leads who come through outbound and inbound channels.
Without high-quality leads, there’s nothing worthwhile for a sales team to pursue. That’s why effective lead management is considered the backbone of a successful sales operation and a critical first step in the sales cycle.
A lead management system is critical for sales success because it supports increased complexity as a company scales; managing 200 leads is a lot different than managing 2,000 or 20,000 leads, let alone even more.
Once some of those sales leads turn into customers, businesses must continue to nurture those relationships to ensure lasting customer success. That’s why lead management and customer relationship management are so closely intertwined.
While there are several different models of the lead management process out there, most people agree that it can be broken down into five steps:
Lead generation refers to gaining new leads through both inbound and outbound marketing techniques and collecting their contact info. Tactics can include blog posts, advertisements, white papers, social media, events, webinars, public relations (PR) campaigns, and more marketing strategies.
Lead tracking refers to using tools to track how prospects are engaging with sales and marketing tools. For lead tracking, sales teams may look at who is clicking on web pages, opening emails, signing up for giveaways, and so on.
Lead scoring involves deciding which prospects are most likely to make a purchase and rating them accordingly. Businesses use many different criteria for lead scoring, including whether or not they have the budget to buy the product or service and whether or not they have the authority to make a purchase.
Lead distribution involves matching leads to the sales representative who is most likely to convert them. This is helpful for businesses with large sales and marketing teams who have leads across many different products, services, and/or industries with vastly different needs.
Lead nurturing involves building relationships with leads with the intention of eventually converting them into buyers. Lead nurturing can take many different forms, including follow-up phone calls, drip marketing campaigns, product demos, and more.
Lead management and customer relationship management (CRM) are two separate processes, but they are closely related. Lead management focuses on the pre-conversion part of the sales and marketing process, whereas CRM considers the entire customer life cycle. Similarly, lead management tools are mostly used by sales teams, whereas CRM platforms are used by both sales and marketing departments.
Lead generation and customer relations strategies must be aligned for sales and marketing success. Not only is it six to seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an old one, but a simple 5% increase in customer retention can also increase company revenue by 25–95%. If a sales strategy is focused on pursuing leads while completely neglecting post-conversion customer relationships, a lot of hard work and potential profits will be wasted.
For this reason, lead management is often included as a subset of features in a CRM software solution. For instance, Salesforce’s lead management tools are bundled into its comprehensive Sales Cloud, and HubSpot CRM includes lead management features as well. Stand-alone lead management options exist, but an integrated system will most likely be more streamlined and affordable.
The best lead management tools are a marriage of CRM and marketing automation systems. They are 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.
The best lead management software systems can have a myriad of functions, but they’ll usually also include all or some of the following features:
If you’ve even tried to track all of your qualified leads in a spreadsheet, then you know how frustrating and inaccurate manual lead management is. A manual lead management system can be incredibly cumbersome and, in some cases, impossible to maintain, especially for large businesses that have an overwhelming volume of incoming leads.
Manual lead management also greatly increases the chances of human error when it comes to data input. A salesperson may incorrectly capture customer contact info, assign the wrong qualifications to the wrong leads, and/or make another error that negatively impacts the lead management process.
Lead management software allows many of these processes to be automated, which not only saves time but also provides data-backed insight into areas for improvement.
For starters, lead scoring leads prevents sales reps from wasting time with unqualified leads who have a very low likelihood of ever converting into customers. Instead, they can identify the most promising leads and balance their time between converting hot leads and nurturing warm or cold ones. Lead management systems also prevent calls, demos, and meetings from falling through the cracks.
In addition, lead management software helps businesses understand which tactics are bringing in the best leads, so they can optimize their overall sales strategy to be more effective and efficient. Since lead management software documents a lead’s full history of interactions and experiences with a company, sales teams can analyze exactly how a person was converted from a prospect to a lead to a customer and use that knowledge to better inform future sales practices.
When properly implemented, lead management software helps sales teams operate more efficiently and boosts the bottom line. It also ensures the entire sales team has visibility into one another’s work by centralizing everything in one platform, which makes team collaboration easier as well.
All of these practices help create more sales opportunities and therefore contribute to the business’s bottom line. According to Marketo, companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost, which means better leads for less money and greater overall profits.