A Lead Management Implementation Guide

8 Steps to a Best-in-Class Lead Management Program


  • The purpose of sales lead management is to systemically and predictably advance sales leads through the revenue funnel.
  • Lead management goals are twofold. First, to engage, educate and help buyers throughout their purchase journey. Second, to increase lead conversions, decrease lead leakage and maximize revenues. The two goals are symbiotic.
  • Because sales lead processes occur early in the sales funnel even small improvements deliver significant increases in the volume of sales-ready leads sent to the salesforce. And that delivers a big revenue uplift.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

The ability to consistently convert more leads in less time does not occur by chance. It only occurs pursuant to thoughtful design and measured execution.

This lead management implementation guide will leverage research findings and over two decades of firsthand experience to identify the most influential steps to systemically convert the most leads into customers in the least time.

The Johnny Grow Lead Management Framework

You might think of lead management as everything from the point the lead was acquired to the point where it is transferred and accepted by sales.

Ad hoc or informal processes are characterized by inconsistent lead quality or passing unqualified leads to the salesforce. That puts a drag on sales productivity and results in many leads not getting followed-up, followed through, or just slipping through the cracks.

It also lowers lead conversions and increases lead leakage.

A strategic program consists of a multi-step process that is integrated, prescriptive and predictive, and methodically converts sales leads into sale opportunities.

A strategic program requires an operational framework to bring order, measurement, automation and predictability to lead conversions.

The Johnny Grow Lead Management Framework consists of up to 8 integrated processes.

Lead Management Loop

These eight integrated processes create a collective synergy to increase lead conversions, decrease lead leakage and accelerate revenue growth.

An 8 Step Lead Management Implementation Guide

Because lead management is a high transaction volume activity, the eight processes should be integrated, automated, measured and in a state of continuous improvement.

Each step in the framework includes prescriptive guidance, best practices and technology automation. Key insights for each step are shared below.


Lead Acquisition

Acquired sales leads enter the top of the revenue funnel. That means you need a defined funnel with sales stages and lead progression status to bring visibility and measurability to the process.

Most sales funnels have an internal focus. They use sales cycle stages to show the progressive path to closure and lead record status to show where the buyer is in the journey.

However, it's a seller-centric view that fails to recognize the buyer's process and the increasing power buyers yield.

It's a common problem that can remedied by aligning the buyer's purchase process with the seller's sales process.

Buyer and Seller Alignment

With an integrated revenue funnel, the seller can better align communication, content, offers and other engagement pursuant to the buyer's position, progress and goals. This alignment will increase velocity and the probability of advancing the lead to closure.

The buyer will perceive the seller to be more helpful in their evaluation, credible in solving their problem and easy to work with.


Lead Enrichment

Your quest for landing page lead conversions stands in conflict with your desire for rich lead or account information.

You need to ask for as little information as possible to get good landing page lead conversions. But you want much more customer information to get accurate customer segments, deliver personalized digital experiences and calculate accurate lead scores.

You also want firmographic data to immediately know if a new lead is not in your ideal customer profile (ICP) or otherwise not a fit so you don't waste months pursuing customers that are not going to convert.

Lead data enrichment can fill the gap. There are simple data augmentation services from B2B data service providers that add data from their knowledgebases to the lead records.

The data enrichment process reviews lead, contact and account data in the marketing automation platform (MAP) or CRM system and flags data inconsistencies, identifies bogus data, merges duplicate data, replaces inaccurate data, removes obsolete data and adds additional data.

Below is data enrichment diagram that shows how the process can work with a CRM system.

CRM Data Enrichment Process

Here's a few considerations if you want to use a B2B data service provider to append your lead records with additional information.

  • Start with a well-defined customer data model. This means the lead, contact and account data models should be normalized before appending any new datasets. Normalization separates unrelated table data (i.e., there is no need for Campaign and Case data to be in same table) for improved query and reporting performance. Normalization also makes the MAP and CRM systems easier to use and maintain.
  • You will also need to ensure data model consistency between the lead record in your MAP and the lead record in your CRM system. Data flows between these two records throughout the process.
  • Know what firmographic and demographic data you want before approaching third party data providers. Otherwise, you are likely to over invest in data that looks interesting, but you will never use.
  • Not all data is equal in value, so apply a value indicator for each data element. This will help you prioritize data acquisition and use cases. If you want to start small, only procure customer data that contributes to your ICP or customer segments.
  • Third party data providers can examine your baseline lead or customer data and advise what's accurate and not and optionally fix just the inaccurate data.
  • To identify the best fit data provider, start by comparing their match rates. That's the calculation that shows how much of your lead or customer data can be augmented with the data providers database. Poor data quality in your MAP or CRM system will lower the match rate, which is why starting with as clean data as possible lowers your cost and improves the result. Data providers may also report a metric called coverage, which calculates the alignment between your customer data and their dataset.
  • Once the lead or customer data profiles are updated, they should be synchronized with other systems that share this data. For example, if the updated lead data is in the MAP, it should be shared with the CRM system, a master data management system if you have one, and possibly the ERP system. Failing to sync the data risks systems with inferior data overriding the superior data.

Lead Scoring

This process is a two-part exercise. First, you must reach consensus on the measurable definition of a sales-ready lead and then you can implement technology automation to score leads.

Begin by getting sales and marketing staff together to determine the criteria that calculate a sales-ready lead score.

That criteria will be a combination of firmographic data that measure prospect fit and behavioral data that measure prospect interest.

Measuring lead fit will generally use the same criteria that define your ICP. For example, you can identify buyer characteristics that align with customers that most often buy your products.

Measuring lead interest requires more consideration. Here you will attribute point values to online activities and digital footprints. This will allow you to gauge where the prospect is in their purchase journey and when they are ready to speak with a salesperson.

The below illustration shows an example of assigning point values to digital footprints.

Lead Score Activities and Point Values

When working with clients to design the lead score model, we like to test the calculation against previously won and lost sale opportunities to see if the score would have predicted the result.

It's also important to identify fast-track paths which bypass lead scoring and instantly designate the lead sales-ready. For example, if a senior executive at a company within your ICP asks for a product demonstration, you may choose to fast-track that request directly to a salesperson.

Lead scores can be automatically calculated by your MAP. A lead score best practice we routinely implement is to have the MAP calculate multiple lead scores, including a numeric score on a scale of 0 to 100 and a lead temperature score of hot, warm or cold. Comparing the results accelerates learning and scoring refinements.

Lead score calculations improve with every iteration, so you need to schedule a regular cadence of review meetings. You want to review leads that have been passed to sales and leads that have been held back.

If you find too many unqualified leads get through you need to modify the measured behaviors, decrease point values, or increase the lead threshold score. If you find that too many sales leads are held back, you need to relax the score calculation.

I generally recommend weekly reviews for the first month and then shift to monthly reviews. Later when the calculation stabilizes, and changes become less frequent, you may choose to defer to quarterly reviews.


Lead Qualification

Every lead management process thus far can be automated.

But once a lead score reaches a threshold value that suggests the lead is sales-ready, inserting a manual live qualification can deliver assurance of buyer readiness, improve the buyer experience, and queue up a sales conversation.

Sales qualifications vary in terms of questions asked, data captured and duration. However, the time duration should generally not exceed 30 minutes. The Sales Development Representative (SDR) should at the minimum verify prospect fit, purchase interest, contact information and willingness to engage a salesperson.

Live Lead Qualification Process

The process is actually semi-automated. Upon a lead reaching the sales-ready lead score, the lead status is changed, and a CRM activity record is created and assigned to an SDR.

The SDR performs an outbound call, confirms buyer readiness, and then updates the lead record. This kicks off a system process that either disqualifies the prospect, inserts the prospect into a nurture campaign, or transfers the prospect to a salesperson.


Nurture Campaigns

We know from research that for most Business to Business (B2B) companies, upon lead acquisition, about 26 percent of acquired sales leads are sales-ready, 49 percent are not yet sales-ready and 25 percent are unqualified.

It's that middle segment of not yet sales-ready leads that is either cultivated until they become sales-ready or lost to lead leakage.

Lead Receipt Disposition

Nurture marketing campaigns deliver periodic educational and informational content to sales prospects over an extended period. And when done well they significantly increase the volume of converted leads. And every additional converted lead lowers the average cost per lead.

They also ensure that campaign investments are not squandered for leads that have been acquired but are not yet ready to make a purchase.

The best nurture marketing campaigns align high quality content with each stage of the buyers' journey. This process systemically advances early stage leads from initial interest to the point where they are ready to make a purchase.

There are three factors that will most influence whether your nurture campaigns deliver nominal or exceptional conversion results.

  1. Relevant content – content is the currency for every nurture touchpoint. It is the single most effective tool to engage leads, measure their position in the purchase cycle and advance them through the sales funnel. But trying to please everybody with the same content pleases nobody. Content must be relevant and personalized. That's best done by aligning content with personas or customer segments. The more precise the alignment, the higher the lead conversions.
  2. Remarkable content – this is the content that gets consumed and remarked upon (i.e., forwarded, liked, shared, and commented). Most content is not remarkable. It’s mundane and gets a once-over. That puts nurture marketing efforts dead in their tracks.
  3. Actioned content – to advance from interest to engagement, good content must be followed with a good call-to-action (CTA). This process is best done pursuant to a conversion optimization strategy.

There are also several nurture campaign best practices to consider. Here's a few examples.

  • Advancing from email-only distributions to multi-channel campaigns will meet more prospects in their preferred channels and in the places they gather purchase information. That's why integrated marketing campaigns achieve higher conversion rates than single channel campaigns.
  • Allow salespeople to insert their leads and opportunities into nurture campaigns they choose. Also allow them to put their leads or accounts into suppression lists that remove those accounts from all campaigns. Salespeople are close to their accounts and their recommendations for campaigns tend to be much more relevant.
  • Measure digital footprints and conversion results to make updates and adjustments. Don't get stuck in set-it-and-forget nurture campaigns. Every campaign can be improved by reviewing the engagement of each flight. Every campaign can be tracked to better understand each leads specific needs. Every piece of content they consume, every click they make, and every social channel or website page they visit can tell you more about what they want to buy and how to better sell to them.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) in marketing automation software and CRM software can be configured to detect stalled leads in the sales pipeline. You can then either have those leads inserted to specific nurture campaigns or recommend precision content distribution to unclog them.
  • AI can also consider multiple factors when recommending content such as lead type, product interest, sales cycle stage, level of engagement and much more. This level of intelligence is proven to increase engagement, improve conversions and accelerate leads through the revenue funnel.

Lead Routing

Lead routing automation from your MAP or CRM system ensures that each sales-ready lead gets assigned to the right salesperson for quick response.

That's important because the transfer of ownership from marketing to sales is the single biggest opportunity for miscommunication, delay and lead leakage.

Depending on your defined process, when the lead is scored sales-ready or qualified by an SDR, the marketing automation system will immediately route the lead to the CRM system. This process will create a CRM lead record, apply a lead routing strategy or method to assign a salesperson, and then create a CRM activity record for follow-up. You can also have the system send an email alert to the salesperson with a link to the activity.

While the salesperson now owns the lead, marketing continues to have a role. Marketers must ensure that the lead's online activities and digital footprints, and especially activities that may indicate a change in buying behavior, are updated to the CRM lead profile record.

Additionally, it's a good idea to create an automated daily digest email which summarizes each salesperson's most active leads and those leads' online activities during the last 24 hours.

Or as an alternative, create Hot Lists for each salespersons most active prospects. These updates can also identify leads that were dormant but have become active and allow the salesperson to strike while the iron is hot.

The lead routing process should also define when leads distributed to sales should be returned to marketing. A lead recycling procedure is needed to reduce lead leakage and ensure that no lead gets left behind.

Sometimes hot leads get cold. A lead many incur management turnover, budget changes or competing priorities that suddenly stop the purchase process until a later day. When transferred leads later stall, there must be a technology-supported process that identifies those stalls and allows sales or marketing people to return them to marketing for periodic nurturing.

Finally, there should be a defined method for salespeople to assess the timing, quality and effectiveness of the lead nurturing process. This starts by confirming each lead was truly sales-ready and is measured in the Sales Acceptance Lead (SAL) rate.

But it should also include a channel or method for salespeople to share lead reactions that reveal what points of marketing differentiation resonated and what messaging fell flat. One way to do this is for marketers to listen in on the initial sales discussions with prospects and experience firsthand each leads impressions of the brand.


Service Level Agreement

Sales and Marketing alignment is needed to bring orchestration and accountability to lead management goals. Service Level Agreements (SLA) are the best tool for this job.

The SLA defines mutual expectations for the nurturing, vetting, transfer and follow-through of sales leads.

Those expectations are memorialized with defined responsibilities, actions, timeframes and escalations. The SLA document ensures each team is accountable for their portion of a mutual goal.

A good SLA will manage accountability for sales lead progression and conversion metrics at every stage of the funnel.

Sales Funnel with Service Level Agreement

At the minimum, an SLA should require marketing to enforce the quality of leads they forward to sales, and for sales to enforce the timeliness of lead follow-up and follow-through.

SLAs should also require that leads forwarded to sales are returned to marketing for continued nurturing if the leads fail to engage, fail to become sale opportunities within a designated period, or if they stall anywhere in the sales cycle.

The number 1 reason an SLA fails is lack of enforcement. Governance is a critical success factor for SLA success.

The number 2 reason is trying to enforce too much too quickly. A Service Level Agreement best practice is to start small with only a few SLA metrics (lead volume, lead quality, lead follow-through, lead recycling) in a closely controlled pilot.

It's important to clearly state the top benefits of the SLA program, begin with education and training for the pilot participants, and frequently review progress and reporting. Measurable results will then drive wider adoption.


Lead Analytics

You won't win the game if you don't know the score.

Marketing and sales must have visibility to every lead from inception to closure.

Reporting should measure each of the progression processes, individually and end-to-end. This is required to fix leaks or make improvements that increase the volume and speed of lead conversions.

A combination of dashboards, reports and analytics are needed to bring visibility to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and show what's working and not working.

The most important rule with lead analytics is to measure what matters. But that's not so easy.

Most marketers limit their reporting to the standard reports available in their marketing automation platform.

And while marketing systems have lots of reports, they tend to be generic and pursue a lowest common denominator approach.

Extraordinarily few marketing systems offer the most strategic measurements that deliver the greatest impact to lead management process improvements.

For example, few marketing systems report the percentage of leads nurtured to sales-ready each month. They don't report essential metrics such as stalled leads, lead leakage, lead funnel stage to stage conversions or the lead-to-revenue conversion. They don't capture lead management costs so you can't calculate an ROI.

These types of KPIs are not optional if you intend to maximize lead conversions.

So, what's needed are some custom dashboards and reports that surface the most impactful data. Below is an example of a dashboard we often implement with clients.

Marketing Lead Management Dashboard

The Point is This

The lead management framework steps are not necessarily sequential and not all steps will apply to all leads.

However, many steps build upon each other so a weakness in one will negatively impact all others that follow. For example, poor lead enrichment will degrade lead scoring or poor lead scoring will degrade lead routing to sales.

The reliance between steps also means that inefficiencies should be fixed starting at the beginning as improvements will cascade through future steps. You won't realize that benefit if you start with later steps.

Implementing or managing a lead conversion program need not be a daunting task. These steps and best practices can be applied individually and incrementally. The most important thing is to get started and make continuous improvements.

And the proof is in the payback.

The research referenced earlier found that respondents who implemented seven or more of the integrated lead management processes earned an impressive 211 percent ROI from their program. That was three times higher than respondents who operated six or fewer processes.

And the benefit doesn't end with ROI. End-to-end lead management programs maximize lead conversions, accelerate sales cycle velocity and minimize lead leakage. All factors that collectively drive sustained revenue growth.

See the Lead Management Implementation Guide and learn how to design and implement a program that systemically increases lead conversions and decreases lead leakage.

Click to Tweet / X