7 Best Practices for Successful Lead Management

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Great leads can come from anywhere, but it’s what happens next that matters to your business. With these seven best practices, we'll show you how to manage any lead from cold call to closed deal.

Alec Baldwin may have had it right when he urged his sales team to “Always be closing.” But before you can close a sale, you need to open your door and help a customer walkthrough. This is where an effective lead management process comes in. You need a plan to attract, nurture, and qualify new leads so you can give your sales team everything it needs to close a sale.

From your first steps in prospecting to sealing the deal -- and beyond -- here are seven steps to effectively manage your leads.

1. Define your goals

Do you want more sales? Of course you do. But does that mean more customers, more sales per customer, or sales of higher-margin products or services? You can’t succeed if you don’t first define what success looks like.

Knowing your goals will drive every aspect of your marketing and sales strategy, starting with lead generation. Don’t waste your efforts going after customers you can’t serve -- or those who can’t serve your business interests.

2. Map your process

Even if you don’t think you have a sales process, you do. Maybe you capture leads by writing names on sticky notes or dumping email inquiries into a bespoke folder on your desktop. Perhaps you inherited a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet created in the last millennium. You might even have a Marilu Henner-like eidetic-memory whiz in the office who recalls every customer’s details.

Whatever you’re doing, get it on paper. You’ll immediately see where you have gaps, inefficiencies, or duplicated efforts -- all of which will feed into the next step.

3. Organize your leads

Lining up those dusty sticky notes will not do the trick here. However you decide to manage your leads going forward, consider these essentials:

  • Clean your data: Remove those duplicates, tidy up that formatting, and fill in the blanks for all your customer records. It’s easy to lose a sale because a phone number is off by one digit or because a missing prefix led you to call John Wayne “Mrs. Marion Morrison.”
  • Assign personas: Even if you have only one product, you have many kinds of customers. They won’t care about what you’re selling until you demonstrate that you care about them. If you haven’t created buyer personas, now is the time to think about who your customers are and what problem they need you to solve.
  • Go beyond the basics: Names, addresses, and contact info are essential, but that’s just table stakes. If you want customer info that drives sales, capture details as you learn more about your audience. If you sell dog treats, know the name and breed of your buyer’s pet. If you sell rocket boosters, know whether your client wants to mine an asteroid or colonize Mars.

4. Score your leads

A HubSpot dashboard with multiple graphs showing lead scoring, customer buying stage, and lead sources.

CRM software can capture granular detail on your leads and help your sales team focus their efforts on the best prospects. Image source: Author

Source: HubSpot software.

The Pareto principle is very much in play here. You’ll get 80% of your sales from 20% of your customers. But how do you know whether that website inquiry is from one of the tremendous 20% or the not-so-great 80%? A key factor is where your customer falls in the sales pipeline, but even for those brand new, top-of-funnel buyers, you can score your leads by learning some basic info:

  • Needs: Does this customer need what you sell? Your Jumbo Java coffee enterprise might get initial leads from the curious (I wonder if they have a drive-through) to the confused (Can elephants make coffee?) to the qualified (I’m opening up a chain of coffee shops and need a supplier). This single metric, customer need, can help a true business lead stand out from your wider audience. As you develop your lead capture, let your CRM software do some of the qualifying for you.
  • Budget: Can this customer afford what you sell? Even if you offer products at a range of price points, you want that information early so you can steer your buyer to the right tier for their needs and budget.
  • Timeline: When do they need it? Your business strategy will help you decide if you want to prioritize customers ready to buy now, or if you need to cultivate buyers whose demand aligns better with your supply. If you run a service-based business, you may not be able to deliver a large project with a tight turnaround. It’s best to understand that before you hand off a lead to your hard-charging sales leader.
  • Authority: Can this customer make the buying decision? Any lead is a step in the right direction, but score a purchasing manager or CEO higher on your lead array than a summer intern.

Effective scoring is the key to converting leads into prospects.

5. Assign your leads

No matter where they are in their journey, customers need to be nurtured. If your buyer is a novice in your world, pair them with someone who can explain your product thoroughly for an amateur audience.

If your lead is a trailblazer in your industry, assign them an expert. Consider several ways to assign your leads -- geographically, by product line, or source. You might find your web-to-lead customers need a different approach than your email-to-lead buyers.

Be as creative as you’d like. The important thing is that each potential new customer has a champion, a dedicated concierge that can help them through the decision-making and buying process. Deliver that customer to your sales reps along with all the info they’ll need to close the sale.

And don’t abandon your customers after they buy. Careful, long-term client management is a cornerstone of any successful business. If your sales team doesn’t have the capacity, consider adding a customer success manager role to your company.

6. Track and refine

Capture all the info you can on how your customers are finding you and moving through the sales funnel. Can you identify bottlenecks? Do customers simply lose interest at some point? Have customers identified something in your product they don’t like?

This information can help you refine your process -- and your product -- and eliminate the obstacles your customers face. At each step of the buyer’s journey, give your customers a reason to stay engaged. Tracking your process can pinpoint weaknesses in your approach.

7. Automate

Marilu Henner could tell you what all your customers want, what you talked about in your last phone conversation, and when their nephew is having a birthday. But if she doesn’t work for you, you’ll need to automate.

An oft-repeated mantra in my MBA classes at Notre Dame was “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” If you aren’t keeping track of how leads are coming into your system and where they’re falling off, you’re going to lose sales.

Be sure you have the right prospecting tools to bring customers into your sales funnel. Then enter them into a good CRM system that will organize, qualify, and manage your leads from initial inquiry to purchase order. Some tools require an initial investment, but a string of satisfied customers is almost always worth the price tag.

Don’t lose your leads

Don’t let your buyers get lost along their journey. Use lead management best practices to attract and nurture new customers and help you deliver well-qualified prospects to your sales team.

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