What's in this article?
You know you can’t close sales without leads. And you probably know there are countless ways to work with leads to increase their likeliness of closing.
With a confusing range of tools and solutions available, it can be a little overwhelming to know where to start. What will get results without interfering with your current sales process? What is lead management?
What will directly empower your sales team, convert leads, and improve your ROI?
If you’re looking for straightforward solutions focused on optimizing sales operations, here is your definitive sales lead management guide.
We’ve broken down each step of this tried and tested lead management system, from getting leads to closing sales. Dig into our comprehensive guide, and learn how to convert more leads into deals.
Need more? See exactly how your lead data is performing with our free data analysis.
Your Lead Management System Starts with Lead Generation
Lead generation means essentially building traffic to grow your audience and attract people who will potentially be interested in buying your product or service. To have any sales, you first need to generate leads and reach potential customers.
There are a handful of ways to generate leads. What works best for your organization will likely depend on your industry, your customer base, the current market, and how leads are managed once they’re generated to optimize converting them to customers.
Many organizations realistically use a combination of the three tactics below, which also can add to the complexity of how leads flow into your business and the path they take to convert.
How you generate leads is the first step to getting customers so it’s important to begin optimizing the lead process from this very first step.
Leads From Referrals
Some organizations rely on generating leads through referrals, either from current or past customers or from referral partners.
This might involve spending time networking and building relationships with potential customers, as well as looking for ways to engage new audiences through connections to grow a customer base.
With more businesses reaching customers online, there are many other fast and convenient ways to generate leads. One is as simple as buying leads from lead aggregators. This involves ordering leads based on certain demographics and details within your desired industry.
Buying leads has its tradeoffs. It can get expensive and be competitive. Managing the leads needs to be effective to hit a positive ROI. This is where sales operations becomes increasingly important to ensure leads are managed effectively.
Inbound Leads and Marketing
Another option is to generate your own leads for your organization by building an audience online to attract potential customers through inbound marketing. This is often done with content marketing through digital advertising, social media, blog content, webinars, email marketing, etc.
This can also get expensive and complicated without sales operations and marketing teams working together to do it strategically.
Next, You Have Lead Acquisition
After having generated leads, you start to collect them to begin moving them through your sales funnel. At this point in the lead management process, the focus is on lead acquisition, or capturing the leads.
This is a crucial step. Doing it well involves the right tools and structure, so it will require technology and software more than, say, the right sales training.
From lead acquisition to lead nurturing, many organizations miss simple steps that would optimize lead data and convert more customers. If the leads aren’t captured properly, much of the budget that is invested in building traffic or buying leads can be wasted.
A Clear Path for Customers
It needs to be easy for leads to take action and connect with you. You need to capture certain information to start them on the right path through your sales funnel. Capture that data both in a user-friendly way for the lead and in an internally structured way for your sales and marketing teams to act on.
Although it’s technical, it is also still a step in the potential customer’s journey and so must include elements that help build the customer relationship:
- Actionable forms need to be accessible for leads to enter their information easily, such as on website landing pages and within other content and sales materials.
- The forms themselves need to feel like minimal work for the user while generating the optimal data sales agents need to start selling.
- Once a user fills out a form, set clear expectations for what comes next. A confirmation message at the end of the form, along with an email that explains the next steps are a huge help that prepares them for what’s to come.
- From there, the sales team is set up to quickly engage the acquired leads.
A Clear Path for Sales Agents
Beyond how the information is captured from the lead, you need a clear path for that data to flow internally so that sales agents can make sense of the data and act on it.
This is where your CRM is an essential piece of lead management software. Within a CRM, your sales agents’ actions and the tools that support them will begin to build the customer relationship for each lead.
Integrate additional tools with your CRM to make the most of the following steps in the lead management process.
Lead Scoring & Grading
You’ve captured leads and want to begin working them as quickly as possible, right?
But without a clear course of action and outlined goals, this often quickly becomes a mess. Leads get missed, sales agents are unsure where to start, next steps aren’t tracked, and any number of things can go wrong.
Before this snowballs, pause to set up the right structure for the leads to flow through. By first scoring and grading leads, you take the guesswork out of next steps.
Leads are ranked based on the probability of each lead turning into a closed deal. Using a combination of collecting the right data from leads and then using it to score them allows you to know whether they’re qualified leads.
By ensuring leads are qualified, sales happen more efficiently and revenue increases, while leads get a better customer experience.
To rank leads, consider these questions:
- What is the source of the lead?
- Is the lead the purchase decision-maker?
- What are their needs/pain points?
- When do they need a solution?
- Do they have the necessary money to spend on the solution?
- What are their general demographics?
The “right answers” to these questions should be decided by your sales and marketing teams and then used as a standard to compare all leads to.
As the relationship builds with each lead, their score can change based on more specific factors, including new information they provide, how they continue to engage with you, and other criteria you choose.
Ultimately, the higher a lead’s score or grade is, the more likely they are to close a sale.
ProPair Rank: Determine the probability of a lead turning into a closed deal
Criteria and scores or grades need to be reevaluated and adjusted over time to find the perfect formula. This is where the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies bring simplicity and efficiency.
With a tool like ProPair RANK you no longer need to wonder which leads and lead sources have the highest probability of converting, you will know.
ProPair RANK helps you qualify leads, providing the following benefits:
- Analyzes a multitude of lead attributes at scale and without bias
- Calculates the likelihood of converting leads
- Prioritizes lead assignments and focuses on the right leads
- Optimizes nurturing and follow-up activities
- Customized to your team
Sales Agent Scoring & Grading
The quality of leads is not the only factor that impacts whether someone converts to a customer. Sales agents play an essential role in this point of the process as well.
Just as leads can be scored and graded, so too can sales agents. This offers many of the same benefits, including increased sales efficiency and revenue.
Setting criteria for sales agents may involve considering:
- Historical sales agent performance data
- Each sales agent’s capacity for new lead intake
- The flow and cadence of leads into each sales agent
- Basics such as region, product expertise, etc.
Sales agent scoring and grading informs where training is needed. Beyond each person’s performance, it takes the guesswork out of distributing leads to the right person, at the right time, to get the job done efficiently.
ProPair MATCH: Determine the probability of a sales agent closing a deal
By tracking certain sales metrics, data can be gathered that — with the right interpretation — shows a history of performance against certain types of leads and related attributes over time.
ProPair’s Machine Learning product ProPair MATCH analyzes this data for you to help assign leads to the sales agents most likely to convert them.
By replacing manual workflows with automated data science, ProPair MATCH empowers sales teams with data-driven lead assignments to maximize conversions. The technology continually learns from its prior decisions and the experience of your sales organization to drive higher close rates.
ProPair MATCH recommends agents most likely to convert each lead, providing benefits including:
- Confidence in which sales agents to assign leads to
- Optimization of the sales team you have
- Elimination of bias and static workflows
- Quantifying and acting on agent strengths
- Ability to scale easily with quick data analysis
Once leads and sales agents are scored and graded, you need to keep leads moving through the lead management system. The next step is lead distribution.
At the very least, leads need to be distributed or assigned to a salesperson that can engage with them to begin building a relationship.
In the past, sales teams relied on methods like Round Robin, Cherry Pick, Blind Pick, and Shark Tank, which are based on trying to make leads accessible through a fair and clear, standardized process. However, none of these methods consider lead and sales agent scoring or any other data for that matter.
For this reason, sales operations increasingly relies on lead management software to distribute leads more intelligently, using technology to automate and track many steps of the process efficiently so that qualified leads get into salespeople’s hands quickly.
AI/ML tools make the most of lead and sales agent scoring and grading to distribute leads intelligently, making data-driven decisions in a split second to set up sales teams for success.
Check out our Guide to Lead Distribution: Getting the Right Leads to the Right Sales Agents
ProPair MIX: Get the most out of your leads and maximize sales team production
Beyond distributing leads to make sure contact is made, ProPair MIX allows you to get the best leads to the right sales agents. You no longer need to guess the best way to distribute leads.
ProPair’s Machine Learning makes data-driven decisions that optimize the entire sales process.
ProPair MIX allows you to maximize the potential of every lead and every sales agent, providing benefits including:
- Maximizing yield from the highest value leads
- Ensuring top performers spend their limited time with the highest value opportunities
- Equitably distributing leads from top to bottom performers
- Growing the skills of sales agents at all levels
- Reducing the need and expense of churning your salesforce
Lead Tracking & Sales Automation
Throughout each step of the sales and lead management process, there are several data points to be collected and actions to take. This is where lead tracking software and sales automation come into play.
Again this use of lead data can mean the difference between simply managing leads from a logistical standpoint and actually getting them to convert.
When set up correctly, lead management software will automatically create a profile for each lead with the information they provided, as well any other public information if you choose, like their location, social media profiles, job, etc.
From there, sales lead tracking software monitors actions the leads take on your website or other channels. You can see what website pages they’ve visited, links they’ve clicked, emails they’ve opened, etc.
By tracking leads and comparing their actions to your KPIs, you start to see whether you’re heading toward your goals or whether something is interfering with how leads move through the sales funnel.
Using lead tracking data, sales automation allows you to set up actions that are triggered by certain lead behaviors.
One basic example is to automate follow-ups, confirmations, and reminders with leads. When they take a certain action, sales automation triggers sending an email, auto-dial call, or text message to the lead to quickly engage them further.
The data and automated engagements help your organization understand lead behavior to create targeted marketing materials and campaigns that engage future leads.
And Finally, Lead Nurturing
The final piece of leads management supports you in handling what many know to be true about leads — a lot of them just aren’t ready to close.
As they continue to research, get clear on their pain points and compare solutions, your organization stays top of mind and earns their trust through lead nurturing.
The content marketing of lead generation comes back into play here as you work to educate leads and provide them with valuable resources and information that helps move them closer to closing.
Sales automation engages leads as their behavior triggers certain actions. It can also be used with more robust marketing efforts for longer-term engagement with leads during the lead nurturing phase.
Sending an automatic weekly or monthly email newsletter can help you earn the trust of leads and keep you on their mind as a solution to their pain points. Promotional offers may also help sway them to make a purchase.
Many organizations drop off at this point, losing out on the benefit of these ongoing marketing efforts. Just because a lead isn’t ready to close today doesn’t mean they won’t convert soon with a little more engagement.
See the competitive advantage ProPair offers with our free data analysis using AI/ML models.
Do you have the right tools to optimize lead management?
Many organizations struggle to implement every aspect of sales lead management we’ve described in this guide. It’s often because they’re afraid it will be too complicated or they just don’t have the right lead management software.
But what they miss is that smart lead management means the difference between a successful sales system and a sales team that ends up burning through resources and struggling to convert customers.
The secret to using a lead management system to convert more leads into deals is in the tools you use. With AI and ML, much of the data collection, tracking, reporting, and assessment can be done automatically and without interfering with the human side of the sales process — if you have the right tools.
ProPair’s lead and sales agent decision solutions offer easy implementation while also consistently providing 10% increases in close rates. Unsure if your lead management system would benefit from machine learning?
Try ProPair’s free data analysis to see how our solutions could raise your ROI.
We’ll analyze your leads and their performance to help you see whether you’re missing opportunities to convert more leads into deals, and how our AI/ML tools can help.
How does machine learning increase sales?
Download our executive guide to understand the current state of machine learning. We’ll show you how innovative sales and marketing organizations are using it to get the edge on their competition.