Contributors from members of the Copper team
Managing leads can be a confusing process sometimes.
People tell you to "track" and "attribute" your leads, "segment" and "nurture" different "lists," and use "analytics" to improve your process.
But what does that actually look like in practice?
We'll take a look at how to manage your sales leads so that you can earn more revenue—while spending less time on this work.
First, though, let's agree on a definition of "lead management."
Lead management is the process you use to get leads and turn them into customers. That's it.
If your process is good, it should make you more efficient at marketing and sales because it makes it easier to know what you need to do next when you're "working" a lead (i.e. trying to sell them on your product or service).
The good thing is, establishing a process to manage your sales leads isn't that complicated. In this post, I'll go over each step in detail with you. Here's what we'll cover:
Step 0: Know how to qualify your leads
Before you start managing sales leads, you need to understand how to qualify your leads. This helps you rank and prioritize the leads you should go after.
A qualified lead is someone who's likely to buy from you—and they're the people you should focus your sales efforts on. If someone isn't qualified, you shouldn't be spending marketing and sales time on them because they’d be more likely to leave you later on (because they’re a poor fit for your product or other reasons).
To get good customers who'll stay with you and give you glowing reviews, you need to know who you're selling to and what makes them a qualified lead. Which means you need to know some basic things about your business first. Here are a few questions to think about before lead qualification, whether you work for a big or small business:
- Who do you sell to? If you have B2B clients, what job titles are likely to buy from your company? How big are their companies? If you're in B2C, who's your specific target market?
- What problem does your product or service solve? How is it better than the competition? What makes people choose your product over another one?
- How much money does a customer need to make—or have budgeted—to afford your product or service? Are there economic factors that disqualify a potential customer?
- What does a customer have to achieve or experience after buying to make their purchase a success?
Basically, you need to know who's likely to buy from you and why they want your product or service. When a lead is a good fit for your company, they're a "qualified" lead.
Let's take a look at an example. Say we're selling travel planning services. Let's define a general framework for lead qualification. Our best customers, for example, might:
- be between the ages of 35 and 55,
- make at least $75,000 per year,
- want to go on a trip but not know how to make it happen,
- be planning to travel for at least two weeks, and
- want to emphasize relaxation over cultural immersion.
Now, we know that a lead is qualified and worth pursuing if they check these boxes.
Pro-tip: If you don't yet know how to define a qualified lead and an unqualified lead, these five frameworks can help you get started.
Step 1: Attribute leads to a source
Ever see those commercials that say "Tell 'em Jeff sent you!" or hear an audio ad that says "Use the code PODCAST25 to save $25 on your first order?"
Those are actually simple forms of lead attribution. When you tell a car dealer that Jeff sent you, the dealer knows you saw a particular commercial. When you use that code for a purchase, the company knows you heard their ad on a podcast.
Knowing where your lead came from can be useful both for lead scoring (which we'll talk about shortly) and for improving your future marketing campaigns.
But where should you store this information about where your lead came from? Typically, businesses use a CRM for keeping lead attribution information. (Some CRMs even include a field specifically for lead attribution—or let you add a custom tag with the source.)
It's a good way to keep that information together with your leads' contact details and conversation histories—and some CRMs even pull reports and statistics so you can find your most effective lead sources.
For example, your sales leads might come from sources like "email," "cold call," and "advertising”:
In Copper, you can quickly record where a lead came from and have that information saved to that profile.
Or you can use a more complicated system that breaks down leads by the exact ad or blog post they came from.
If you want to save time, you should find a way to automate this whole attribution process. (For example, Copper is a CRM that can automatically pull in data from a Google Form where your leads give you their info and have that recorded in their profile for you—without you having to type out all the form submission information you get.)
For example, everything a visitor enters in a form on your website will be stored in your CRM and you can set up a workflow that adds the source to the lead's entry in your CRM:
CoSchedule asks for information on your job description, the size of your company, and your goal in using their tools. This information helps them tailor their marketing to users of their tools.
If this sounds like a lot of work, don't worry—it pays off. There are two benefits that make this so valuable.
First, it helps you see how well your marketing campaigns are working. If you're getting a ton of leads from a Facebook ad campaign and not many from your Twitter interactions, you might double down on your Facebook ad spend.
You can attribute more than just marketing success, too. You can use this information to find out which types of marketing bring in the most valuable customers for your business. For example, maybe your direct mail leads generate more long-term revenue than those you bring in through radio ads. You can use that information to tailor your marketing campaigns for the best sales results.
And that brings us to the next benefit of a strong lead management strategy: lead scoring.
Manage more leads in less time.
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Step 2: Score leads
How likely is a lead to convert into a customer throughout the sales process, after you determine qualified and unqualified leads? Without lead scoring, it's hard to know.
Lead scoring is the process of assigning a value to a sales lead based on factors that affect how likely they are to become a customer. Depending on your business, there can be literally hundreds or even thousands of factors, like the lead source, location, expressed interest, and interactions with your marketing materials.
A high score means a lead is likely to convert (aka. become a customer) and usually means you should get in touch with that person—quickly.
Figuring out how to score leads accurately can be a complex process, but it's crucial for getting high-value customers as efficiently as you can.
Here's an example of a lead being scored in your system:
- Source: Facebook (+1 - People coming from Facebook have a decent chance of becoming your customer)
- Occupation: Marketer (+3 - Your product is a really good fit for marketers.)
- Opened welcome email (+1 - If someone opens a welcome email, they're at least somewhat interested in hearing from you.)
- Location: London (-1 - Maybe you find less success with European leads than North American or Asian leads.)
- Visited pricing page (+2 - If someone visits your pricing page, they're almost certainly interested in your product.)
This lead has seven points in our lead scoring system. Now let's take a look at another lead:
- Source: organic search (+2 - People who arrive on your site from an organic search are very likely to be looking for your kind of product.)
- Occupation: HR (+1 - Your product isn't as good for HR reps as it is for marketers, but they're still a good market for you.)
- Didn't open welcome email: (+0 - Not opening a welcome email doesn't bode well for continued communication, but it’s not really a negative either.)
- Location: New York (+1 - North American leads tend to convert well for your sales team.)
- Visited pricing page: (+2 - If someone visits your pricing page, they're almost certainly interested in your product.)
This lead has a score of six. So the first lead is slightly better qualified. Our scoring might say that a lead with a score of seven or higher should be assigned directly to a salesperson or contacted right away, while lower-scored leads get put into a lead-nurturing process where they just get automatically sent marketing emails. (After they've received a certain number of marketing emails, calls, or other contacts, you might send them to the sales team, score them again, or drop them entirely if they don't seem like a good fit.)
So, how do you know which attributes should be scored highly for new leads?
The short answer is by digging into your analytics. These can come from many sources—Google Analytics shows you where your web traffic is coming from, for example. It might tell you that people who come to your site from social media are likely to view your pricing page, or that visitors from paid ads don't click "Download" as often as other visitors.
Your CRM can provide lots of useful data, too. It shows you which lead segments (we'll talk about those next) tend to be good customers. You might see that middle-income buyers spend more than high earners. Or that tradespeople make more referrals.
To get these insights, you'll need to learn more and collect a lot of information. At first, it might feel overwhelming, but after a while, you'll start to see patterns.
You might see, via your lead attribution tracking, that people who find your site by Googling you are more likely to make a purchase and continue being a customer for a long time. Or that getting people to download a resource makes them more likely to revisit your website to get more information.
You can start with just a few attributes. For example, if you sell primarily to people with pets, a lead might get +1 if they have a dog.
Your lead scoring should be constantly improving—put some scoring methods in place, adjust them, and run another test. You'll adjust again and keep creating a better, more accurate scoring model. Keep trying out different pieces of information and values in your lead scoring to find what works best for your sales process.
Pro-tip: If you need ideas for a lead scoring tool to use, here are a few.
Step 3: Segment leads
Now that you have an idea of where the lead came from and how likely they are to buy, it's time to segment them... which basically means to put them in a categorized list in your CRM.
The lead segments you use will depend on what you've learned about your leads so far.
For example, if you sell both a personal and an enterprise version of a piece of software, you could put the lead in a "personal" or "enterprise" group so they get the right marketing and sales materials.
Of course, that means you'll need to have information that tells you which list they should be in. In this case, you might have asked someone if they were buying software for personal or business use when you were collecting their information, like we saw above. Or you could offer two different email newsletters, one for personal users and another for enterprise users. The newsletter that people sign up for could tell you which segment to put them in.
Pro-tip: There are many ways to segment your list. Annual income, whether someone has requested pricing information, purchase history, and purchase intent are all possibilities.
You're only limited by the types of information that you've stored about your lead. Going back to the software example, you might ask people for a couple quick facts when they download a resource from your website and then gather more information when you get them on a sales call.
However you collect information, be sure to keep it in a central place that everyone can access. Again, a CRM is a great tool for this because you can use it to segment your leads and run reports (we'll talk about the importance of running reports later).
Pro-tip: If you're already using G Suite (like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Docs), then you can do pretty much every step the whole lead management process right within those tools. Here's how.
The more information you collect, the more versatile your segmentation will be. You might want to group leads by their age, their occupation, how they found you, the currency they use... there's really no limit to how you segment your leads if you're storing information in a CRM. More importantly, you'd be able to search and filter all your leads (when you have thousands, or even tens of thousands of leads, that time adds up. (Imagine trying to do that with a spreadsheet.)
For example, Copper lets you filter your leads by tag, which you can use to easily create and manage segments. Here, we're looking for entries tagged with "MQL" (marketing qualified leads, which are candidates for becoming good customers):
When you're getting started with the whole lead management process, you might want only two or three segments—it's easier to manage a smaller number and you can better customize the messages you send to each segment when you aren't dealing with 20 different groups.
Remember that the point of segmentation is to help you deliver the right message to the right people—if you have multiple segments that you think are best served by the same information, you can save time by combining them into a single segment.
For example, you may not need "Previous equipment customer" and "Previous consulting customer" segments. "Previous customer" could cover it.
Again, experimentation is important here. Use different kinds of marketing and sales messaging to see which work best with each segment. If you start to see that one segment could be broken down further, find an attribute you can use to guide that separation.
Let's say you send an email campaign to a group of mid-level managers and you notice that half of them opened it and half of them didn't. You might dig into that to find out why so you could improve your segmentation. You could discover that mid-level managers at small companies are significantly more likely to open your emails—and that could become a new segment. Or you could see that mid-level managers with over 15 years of experience aren't impressed by your subject lines. You could create a new segment list to experiment with different marketing techniques.
Pro-tip: Review and refine your segments on a regular basis (even once or twice a year would probably be fine)—you may discover new things about your audience.
Finally, automate as much of this process as you can. Most CRMs make it easy to filter and apply tags, meaning your search can take seconds instead of half an hour or more of reading through lists of people. This is an easy place to start with automation and can save you hours.
Step 4: Nurture leads
The leads that look ready to buy will go directly to your sales team—but most of them won't be ready. These leads need nurturing.
Lead nurturing is the process of building a relationship with your leads. This might involve occasional calls, regular emails, special promotions, or another method of keeping your company at the forefront of your lead's mind (without being annoying, of course).
Here's an example of an lead-nurturing email shared by Wishpond:
This is a great way to nurture leads: it's short, so they don't have to spend a lot of time on it, and it includes valuable information that people will appreciate receiving.
How you nurture your leads depends on your customers. If your customers are large organizations and you're selling an expensive piece of software, they might require multiple phone calls and meetings before they make a purchase decision. If you own a pet store, your buyers might need nothing more than a 10% off coupon to convince them to buy.
You can use all kinds of drip marketing techniques (basically a series of emails that gradually pushes your sales leads to become customers) to start building this relationship. And your CRM can help you automate part of it.
Imagine you have a customer who downloaded a technical information sheet on your product. You might send them a different series of emails than you'd send to someone who just downloaded a checklist for newcomers to the industry.
You can use your CRM to assign both of those leads to different categories so that you know to send them different email nurturing campaigns later on.
(Note: You'd usually need an email marketing tool, like Mailchimp or Constant Contact, to actually create and send email campaigns. Ideally, your CRM would integrate with that tool so that it can automatically send your contact list to the email marketing tool. For example, Copper easily links up with Mailchimp for this purpose.)
In the beginning, it's probably good to start with a general email newsletter as your nurturing campaign. Once you've segmented your leads, you can start thinking about how you might want to market to them more specifically with a more personalized campaign.
When you think a lead has been nurtured enough and is ready to buy, it's time for the pitch! (Or if you have a salesperson, it's time to hand that lead off to them.)
Step 5: Go for the sale (or assign leads to salespeople)
Leads, by themselves, don't do you any good. You need to get those leads to become customers.
That means you need to either go for the sale or get your leads to a salesperson, or sales rep, quickly. Leads can cool off fast—especially if their circumstances change. If you wait too long, you could lose the sale from a potential customer.
This is where a CRM can automate a lot of your work.
Take a look at this example of an automation from Copper. Let's say you're at a pretty big company and you have a Business Development team that takes care of bigger deals. You've set up this automated workflow where, if someone adds a "MOVE" tag to a lead, that lead is automatically moved to the "Schedule meeting" stage of the "Business Development" pipeline. Now, instead of manually emailing your BD team every time you've got a lead for them, you can just add "MOVE" to the custom field and they'll see it in the CRM and know they should schedule a meeting with that lead:
The less manual work involved here, the better — automation can save you and sales reps from making a lot of mistakes.
If you're at a big enough company with a sales team, you'll need to get the right leads to the right person to close the deal. Whether it's based on region, company size, product line, or something else, some companies may have sales reps that focus on specific leads.
Automation can help you here, too. For example, leads classified as having 1–5 or 6–10 employees can be automatically assigned to one person, while those with 11–49 might be assigned to someone else who’s better at selling to larger companies:
Filtering leads by size is just one of the ways you can quickly view different lead segments.
No matter how complicated your sales lead management process is, as long as you have the right tool, you can get the right leads to the right people with no effort or time wasted.
As another example, think of how often you've had to dig through scattered notes before having the right info in hand to call a lead. If you had a CRM, all of your contacts' information is in one place—you can just open up your contact's record, review all your past conversations with them, and get on the phone to close the deal with the new lead:
In Copper, you can see a lead's name, position, company, title, contact type, and more. There's also room for tags, descriptions, and social accounts in the same tab.
Step 6: Track everything in your sales pipeline
Lastly, for effective lead management, it's important to remember that the way you manage your sales leads should always be improving.
You might find that a campaign that involves a lead management strategy works well for a certain audience but not another one. Or that your segments aren't working as well as you thought.
How will you get those insights?
By tracking your sales pipeline. (If you’re unfamiliar with what a pipeline is, or how to create one, read this.)
Use your CRM to find out which segments are spending the most money, which nurturing campaigns work better than others, which types of customers are easiest to sell to, and so on.
Pro-tip: The more diligently you store information in your CRM, the easier it’ll be to find useful insights.
Here's an example of a detailed report that you can get with Copper, which integrates with Google Data Studio to grab data that shows how you're doing with leads:
Pro-tip: To get a report with the metrics shown above, you'd need info like the names of your salespeople, leads, lead sources, whether each sale was won or lost, and the value of each sale.
On this screen, you can see which salespeople have strong pipelines, who’s closing the most deals, and which sources are providing the most leads.
Collecting this information seems like a lot of work, but it gives you access to very detailed insights that can help you improve your marketing and sales programs. For this reason, it's a good idea to start tracking information in your CRM as early as you can.
Here are a few metrics to track when you're starting to manage your sales leads:
- Time to close (the amount of time between first contacting a lead and closing the sale)
- Deal value (the amount of money your company brings in from a sale)
- Customer acquisition cost (the amount of money spent on getting the customer—you might divide the cost of a marketing campaign by the number of new customers)
- Lifetime value (the total amount of money a customer brings into your company throughout the entire customer lifecycle)
There are lots of marketing and sales metrics you might track through your lead management process. Decide on a few to start and focus on improving them, then move on to other metrics.
Your CRM should make it easy to find and analyze this information. If you can integrate data from multiple sources (like Google Sheets, if you use it), save custom views, and run regular reports, then the hardest thing should just be taking the time to set it up.
For example, here are the types of reports you can see in Copper, which show you sales forecasts and how many deals are in the pipe:
Always learn more and review your reports regularly to see where parts of your sales lead management process can be improved, as well as which of your marketing and sales campaigns are performing well.
Create a repeatable sales lead management process—and close more deals faster
Creating an effective, repeatable way to manage sales leads and win over potential customers takes time. You'll find that some things work well with sales lead management, while others don't — that's okay. It's never going to be perfect, but it will get better over time.
The key is to continually improve your lead management process. Make small changes, see if they make a noticeable difference, and repeat. Soon you'll see improvements in both your marketing and sales efforts, regardless of whether you work for a big or small business.