Lead management: why you need to get a handle on it

For most marketers, it’s all about lead generation – stuffing the top of the funnel with fresh, new leads. What’s interesting though, is that they often get transfixed on continually generating new leads and forget about the ones they’ve already generated.

Now, most businesses we work with use marketing automation platforms, and they’ve got some good nurture programmes running. But, what’s interesting is that the lead management process is often ill-defined resulting in leads in the middle ground being forgotten and seeping out of the proverbial funnel. Whilst the marketers are busy generating fresh leads, the sales team are busy closing – in between is often no mans land.

There are a few issues here:

  • A lack of effective nurture programmes that properly seek to nurture leads based on who they are and the stage that they’re at
  • A lack of clear definition of what the sales team define as a sales-ready lead resulting in leads being rejected by sales
  • Poor process for what happens after the lead is rejected by sales and passed back to marketing (if there is a process at all)

So what should you do?

Map your process

The first and most important part is to map your process. Find out what happens when a lead enters into your database (whether that database is a CRM or marketing automation platform) and the overall criteria required for that lead to reach the next stage. Stuart looked at this a few weeks ago, examining both marketing qualified lead criteria and the difference between marketing qualified and sales qualified leads. These stage gates need to be clearly defined in your organisation and the trigger behaviours known. As Stuart’s articles suggest, it’s not always a linear process.

It’s also not as simple as just knowing the stage gates and their criteria, it’s also the process – the number of communications, the messaging and the timing of those communications between the stages.

Also as part of that process, it’s important to know how the sales team handle the qualification process at their end. As a marketer, how well do you know what happens and can you document (and ratify) the sales process? This would clearly depend on the size of your sales department and whether you have an international or multisite remit.

Define the criteria

If you don’t know the criteria, then you can’t progress the leads or help nurture them. Being explicit about the qualification criteria is essential – both for marketing qualified and sales accepted leads. In most organisations, the key qualification criteria are usually:

  • Organisation type (they fit the target profile of size and sector)
  • The role of the lead in the organistation (decision maker and has authority)
  • There is a need in the business for the product or service
  • The time frame for buying
  • The stage that they’re at in the process (early on and researching or further down and at shortlisting stages)

Knowing these specific criteria make it possible to create content that can identify leads that are more sales-ready and likely to be accepted by the sales team. It’s not just the right content either, you can also ask appropriate questions on a download form to ensure your data is accurate. Progressive profiling allows you to do this over time, rather than gather deep information about a lead on the first visit (and possibly scaring them off).

Don’t be afraid to qualify early by phone

The fastest and most effective way to qualify, though, is by phone. A quick phone call can provide appropriate information to feed into the CRM and properly assess the lead. The lead can then be placed on the most appropriate programme, assuming that the pre-qualifying sales team know what the programmes are and assign them correctly. Now that the lead is in the CRM, they can be appropriately nurtured by email and by phone.

Monitor behaviour and activate where necessary

When using a marketing automation platform there is a continual email cycle. It’s important to stop and assess performance and track the transition of leads from one stage to the next. For those that stagnate, it’s important to activate them with a killer email, quick call or personal tweet (direct message) to get them to act and re-engage. Keep them going and keep them engaged, so that you’re there when they’re ready to buy.

For those that don’t engage, there also has to be exit criteria. Leads after all are people – needs change, they move on or buy from someone else. There needs to be a process for this group. Leaving them in there and letting them languish will simply pull down your conversion rates and mess up your performance.

Lead management is probably one of the more complex areas within B2B marketing. The mapping of the process and liaising with the sale team, plus the trial and error of getting it right takes time (and patience). It’s worth knowing that these issues are true of small and large businesses alike – and you’re not alone.

The good thing though is if you push hard on getting the lead management process right, there will be a lower loss of leads, the sales team will be more effective and your ROI will increase. Surely that’s a good reason to get a handle on it?

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