Lead Management Process Optimization


  • The purpose of the sales lead management process is to systemically and predictably advance sales leads through the revenue funnel.
  • Lead management process 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 goals are symbiotic.
  • Lead management process optimization is a team effort. Marketing acquires, vets, scores, nurtures and transfers leads to sales. Sales then gets them to closure. Marketing's goal is to convert leads into Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). And sales' goal is to convert SQLs into revenue.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Sales leads fuel the revenue engine. And the better the lead management process, the more fuel to that engine.

However, lead management is one of those phrases that tend to be loosely defined.

So, first some context.

Lead Management Defined

The lead management process consists of up to eight integrated steps that convert leads into sale opportunities. Those steps include acquiring, enriching, scoring, qualifying, nurturing, routing, and analyzing sales leads.

It's essentially a multi-step process that converts sales leads into sale opportunities.

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.

And because it is a high transaction volume activity, the eight steps should be integrated, automated, measured and in a state of continuous improvement.

The Johnny Grow Lead Management Framework

The Johnny Grow 8 step framework is shown below.

Lead Management Loop

The steps are not always 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 others. 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.

Here's some insights for each of the steps.


Lead Acquisition

Buyers control their purchase discovery process and complete about 70 percent of their buy cycle before engaging salespeople. They are performing online research, consuming content, and self-educating. That means marketing owns about 70 percent of the sales cycle.

To reach these buyers before they choose to reach out to the company, marketers apply a combination of SEO, search engine marketing, content marketing and other campaigns.

From a lead acquisition perspective, marketers use a marketing automation platform, such as Adobe or the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, to track anonymous website visitors, use landing pages to acquire leads, and then harvest their digital footprints.

Sometimes acquired leads are referred to as Names because that's the extent of the buyer data. Other times they are called Suspects because they have demonstrated a need for something the company provides. And other times they are referred to as Inquiries.

Regardless of their naming convention, lead acquisition starts the multiple-step process, such as the one shown below.

Lead Management Process

Lead Enrichment

It's not a good use of marketing or sales time to hunt down lead or customer information and manually add it to each record.

Data enrichment services can do this automatically. For example, they may update prospect records with firmographic data such as annual revenues, headcount, industry, IT budget and an org chart.

They may update contact records with demographic data such as title, role, location, prior employer, telephone number, email address and social media profiles.

Data enrichment can be used to improve customer intelligence, the lead profile record, lead score accuracy and communication relevance. It's invaluable to personalize engagement and the buyer's customer experience.

It also improves lead acquisition conversions. When acquiring digital leads every marketer knows the more fields you put on a landing page form the lower the conversion. If you acquire lead data from a service provider, you don't need to ask for it on landing page forms and that increases online conversions.

Appending the lead profile with third party data can also instantly determine things like if the lead possesses the technographics needed for your technology solution, of if it is in your target market, or otherwise fits with your ideal customer profile (ICP). If the prospect is not a fit, you can quickly disqualify the lead before incurring months of unproductive effort.


Lead Scoring

Too many marketers simply throw every new lead over the fence to sales.

That's a mistake as sending unqualified leads to the salesforce contributes to lead leakage (as salespeople then ignore leads). It also lowers sales win rates as salespeople invest time and money in unqualified deals they cannot win. Maybe worst of all, it contributes to a cultural divide between sales and marketing.

A better approach is to use lead scoring to rank leads, send sales-ready leads to the salesforce, nurture the not-yet-sales-ready leads until they become qualified and reduce the perennial problem of lead leakage.

To figure out the lead score calculation, sales and marketing staff must get together and reach an agreement on what makes a lead sales-ready. The best lead scoring calculations are a combination of buyer fit and purchase interest.

When sales leads are objectively scored, the bulk of leads that would otherwise be prematurely forwarded to sales are instead nurtured by marketing until they demonstrate buy-ready signals.

This results in passing fewer but higher quality leads to the salesforce. Higher lead quality also contributes to improvements in sales productivity, shorter sales cycles, fewer sale opportunities that end in no decision, higher sales win rates and stronger ties between sales and marketing.


Lead Qualification

Lead score calculations bring automation and scale to the lead measurement process, but they are imperfect.

So, to provide assurance that prospects are sales-ready, a live qualification activity can be inserted before the lead is transferred to a salesperson.

Typically, when a lead reaches a sales-ready threshold score, it's status changes and it is assigned to an inside salesperson or Sales Development Representative (SDR). That person then makes an outbound call to verify the buyer's purchase readiness and queue up a scheduled sales conversation.


Lead Nurturing

Research shows that on average, 26 percent of acquired leads are sales-ready, 49 percent are not yet sales-ready and 25 percent are unqualified.

Lead Receipt Disposition

Rather than passing all leads to the sales force and decreasing sales productivity, a smarter approach is to cultivate leads not yet ready to purchase until they are ready.

Nurture marketing campaigns deliver educational and informational content to potential sales prospects over an extended period. They most often send a stream of emails with high value content to new leads, that are not yet sales-ready, until they become sales-ready.

The goals are to share content that buyers find helpful in their purchase process. The seller wants to create a dialogue throughout the buyer's purchase journey, maintain top of mind awareness with those buyers and convert them to customers. In short, the goal is to get sales prospects to select your solution when they are ready to buy.

And because lead nurturing occurs early in the process even small improvements to nurture conversion rates deliver significant increases in the volume of sales-ready leads sent to the sales force. And that delivers a big revenue impact.

In fact, the previously referred to research found that 72 percent of the not yet sales-ready leads became sales ready in 6 to 11 months, on average.

When you extrapolate these results, the data shows that nurture campaigns can produce more leads from the not-yet-qualified volume than were obtained in the initially qualified group.

That doubles the number of total leads sent to the sales force, cuts the cost per lead in half, and creates a high impact revenue growth opportunity that goes untapped by most companies.


Lead Routing

Lead routing gets each sales-ready lead to the right salesperson for timely follow-up.

Manually routing leads is time consuming and delays response time. That's important as lead response time correlates to making contact and advancing the lead.

Fortunately, you can either use a marketing automation system or your CRM system to automatically distribute leads based on sales territory assignment, round robin or other lead routing best practices.

Here's the other important thing.

The lead transfer process creates a blind spot, and as most CMOs and marketing consultants will attest, it represents the single greatest breakdown point in the entire process.

To mitigate this risk, leads distributed to sales should be accompanied with notification alerts and a limited period for the salesperson to accept or reject the lead. Any variances to the lead acceptance period should be immediately escalated and resolved.

Finally, sometimes leads go radio silent. When engagement stalls, but salespeople hold on to those leads, the leads eventually expire.

To prevent this, and keep leads alive until they again become active, the lead routing process should include a lead recycling procedure that uses technology to identify inactive or stalled leads that should be returned to marketing for continued nurturing.


Service Level Agreement

One of our lead management mantras at Johnny Grow is 'no lead left behind.'

That requires sales and marketing alignment and a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that defines accountability for lead management processes and results.

An SLA is an agreement that sets expectations for the quality, and possibly the quantity, of leads that marketing will deliver to sales, and prescribes the steps sales will take to pursue them.

For example, marketing agrees to deliver a fixed number of fully vetted Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) to the salesforce over a set period. Sales then agrees that each lead received will be accepted or rejected within 10 hours and be advanced to a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) within 5 days. Sales should also commit to returning stalled leads to marketing for continued nurturing.

When these defined periods are exceeded the lead may be escalated to a sales manager, routed to another salesperson, or returned to marketing for continued nurturing.

SLAs need not be onerous but must be documented and periodically revisited to confirm mutual expectations and evolve based on experience, learning and shifting buyer behaviors.


Lead Analytics

Lead management reporting is needed to track every lead from inception through close. It should also aggregate the data to identify real-time deviations, leaks or improvement opportunities.

The most important key performance indicators (KPI) include the following:

  • Lead leakage – this shows your single biggest revenue uplift opportunity
  • Stalled leads – this is one of two factors that most contribute to lead leakage
  • SLA variances – resolving these quickly ensures you achieve your SLA goals
  • Lead funnel stage to stage conversions
  • The lead-to-revenue conversion
  • The number and percentage of leads nurtured to sales-ready status each month
  • Program ROI

Our experience is that these KPIs are best delivered in dashboards such as the one below.

Sales Lead Dashboard

The Point is This

When designing or improving your lead-to-revenue cycle, simple math shows that improvements to the early parts of the funnel are far more influential than comparable improvements later in the funnel. Making conversion improvements higher in the funnel delivers significantly more throughput than making similar conversion improvements further down the funnel.

The proof of an end-to-end process is in the payback.

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

Even better, optimized processes accelerate sales velocity, increase conversions, decrease leakage and deliver a linear impact to top line revenue and bottom-line profit.