“It’s about not getting comfortable, challenging yourself, challenging your team, and trying to make the most of your leads.”

That’s a quote from Dathan Brown, the Sales Development Manager at ActiveCampaign.

He’s talking about lead management: How your business manages sales leads from first touch to close.

The lead management process belongs to your marketing team and your sales team. Marketing brings in the leads; sales converts them.

Both teams need to buy into your lead management strategy. Otherwise, hard-earned marketing leads fall through the cracks when they get to sales. Or marketing drops unqualified, unworkable leads at your sales team’s feet.

A good lead management strategy is the difference between:

  1. Lukewarm leads falling through the cracks, and
  2. Bottom-of-the-funnel, hot leads handed off to sales for an almost-certain close

Keep reading to learn how to manage sales leads with these five steps:

  1. Learn everything you can about your ideal leads
  2. Don’t guess when it comes to lead value. Use lead scoring
  3. Nurture over nature —at least when it comes to leads
  4. Master the handoff from marketing to sales
  5. Track everything to keep improving

1. Learn everything you can about your ideal leads

Before you can use any of your exciting new lead management techniques, you have to get to know your leads. Who are they? Who do you want them to be?

When you know who to market and sell to, your marketing and sales become more strategic — and more likely to succeed. No more throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks.

Fun fact: Properly cooked spaghetti sticks to walls. Throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks means trying a whole bunch of things to see what works.

In marketing, sometimes this approach works! But sometimes, it means wasted spaghetti.

Or a lot of unqualified leads. (via GIPHY)

Ask yourself:

  • What problems are my leads trying to solve?
  • How important are each of these problems? When it comes to solutions, what do my leads consider must-haves vs. nice-to-haves?
  • What words do my leads use to talk about their problems? How can I speak their language?

To find those answers, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do some customer research. There are a bunch of ways to find out how your leads think and talk about their problems — you can find a list of 8 affordable market research techniques here.

For now, let’s focus on finding (and using) your leads’ online conversations to figure out how they think and talk about their problems. Here’s how:

  1. Figure out where your ideal customers are talking about their problems. Google “[keyword] + forum” to find online communities your leads frequent. If you sell car parts, you might Google “auto parts forum.”
  2. Read up! Look for comments that give specifics about both the problem and the solution. What made the problem worth solving? How does the solution solve the problem?
  3. Build a spreadsheet. Create columns for the customer quote, the topic, your notes, and the source. This will make it easier to search and find your customers’ language on a certain pain point as the spreadsheet grows.

81% of consumers want brands to get to know them and understand when to approach them and when not to.

The more that you can answer these questions, the more you can target your marketing. And the more you can target your marketing, the more you’ll attract high-quality leads.

And even when dealing with qualified leads, personalization matters. 59% of shoppers say that personalization influences their purchase decisions.

Defining audience segments based on the questions above helps your sales team give each lead exactly what they need to see before they become a customer.

2. Don’t guess what leads are worth. Use lead scoring

Lead scoring helps you focus on your most qualified leads. A good lead scoring model helps you prioritize leads based on:

  • How likely they are to close
  • How much they’re likely to spend
  • How quickly they’re likely to close

To set up a lead scoring system, you have to figure out what behaviors and characteristics matter. When a lead takes an action, what does that tell you about what they want? Based on those criteria, each lead gets a numerical score.

When a lead reaches a new score, you can trigger email notifications and assign tasks to your sales team. Lead scoring + marketing automation = a match made in CRM heaven.

How to set up a lead scoring system

Make a list of all of the behaviors your leads can engage in, and give each item a numerical score:

  • Fills out contact form (+15)
  • Opens welcome emails (+2 per email)
  • Clicks through an email (+5 per click)
  • Visits the pricing page on your site (+15)
  • Reads a blog post (+2)
  • Downloads content (+10)
  • Signs up for a free trial (+25)
  • Unsubscribes from email (-5)
  • And more…

Lead A:

  • Downloads multiple pieces of content from your site (+10 x 3)
  • Opens and clicks through all three welcome emails (+2 x 3, +5 x 3)
  • Registers for a free trial (+25)

Lead B:

  • Visits your pricing page once (+15)
  • Opens a couple of your emails (+2 x 2)

Lead B has a score of 19. Lead A has a score of 76 — and is a way more qualified lead.

Different activities increase or decrease lead scores based on how important you rank each of them.

ActiveCampaign’s lead scoring can house an unlimited number of rules in the Deals CRM. The rules can be based on:

  • Any contact field (including custom fields)
  • Email behavior (opens, clicks, forwards, replies, etc.)
  • Website behavior (pages visited, time on page, etc.
  • Form submissions

Dathan recommends collecting information about the deal value from the lead themselves. For B2B leads, he suggests finding out the lead’s business size. (Larger businesses tend to spend more.)

“If you have a form, you can include a field that will influence how valuable the opportunity is — number of employees, number of users, what problems their business faces. Apply that info to how you score your deals.”

Lead scoring can help you automate how you manage your sales leads.

You can also automatically add leads to nurture campaigns based on their lead score or behavior. And speaking of lead nurture…

3. Nurture over nature — at least when it comes to leads

Even though sales owns leads, marketing can lend a huge helping hand by nurturing the leads with marketing automations between sales calls and emails.

Not all leads are created equal. That begs the question, “Who should I follow up with and which leads should I leave alone?”

Some leads will self-close, while others need a little nudge in the right direction. Let’s say there are three (super broad) types of leads:

  1. Leads who will probably never close
  2. Leads who might close
  3. Leads who are likely to self-close

Photographer Heather Read calls the first type of leads “zombie leads” — leads that will never end up converting. She found herself wasting a ton of time and marketing efforts on zombie leads instead of qualified ones.

By removing the zombie leads from her workflow, Heather freed up time to nurture qualified leads. Read more about Heather’s story here.

Here’s how Heather uses ActiveCampaign to focus on nurturing the right leads:

  1. Heather collects leads through a form that offers pricing information in exchange for lead name and email. Using an opt-in form adds enough friction to eliminate some uninterested leads.
  2. She nurtures leads through an automated follow-up sequence that reflects her personality. Automating this sequence saves Heather 10 hours each week.
  3. Heather automatically unsubscribes leads who aren’t interacting with her follow-up emails. This lets her focus on the leads that are engaged and interested — and more likely to close.
  4. If a lead interacts with the follow-up sequence, Heather asks them to book a time to speak with her by phone using a scheduling service called Calendly. Calendly integrates with ActiveCampaign via Zapier, so Heather can use the act of setting a Calendly appointment to score leads, create a deal record, and more.
  5. Heather speaks with the leads on the phone — often closing the deal in one phone call. The number of leads that Heather takes the time to talk to is a fraction of the total leads entering her pipeline, but they’re all qualified, warmed-up leads who are ready to close.

Once you know who to follow up with, building lead nurture campaigns through your marketing automation platform helps you:

  • Warm up cold leads
  • Shorten the sales cycle
  • Share different information depending on how familiar they are with your brand
  • Customize the content based on what they’ve clicked, downloaded, or shared
  • Create a personalized experience throughout the sales funnel

“Show the prospect things they haven’t seen before, that would thrill and excite them,” Dathan advises. “Make them feel like your solution will improve their lives.”

This drip campaign delivers a series of messages over the course of 7 days — perfect for lead nurture.

You can use this automation for a classic welcome sequence, or customize it with tags and triggers to show certain content to certain leads. Get this automation here.

4. Master the handoff from marketing to sales

Lead management is a lot like a relay race: the handoff is key.

Your marketing team has to pass off qualified, sales-ready leads to your sales team. This is where leads slip through the cracks.

How can you make sure your sales team gets qualified, warmed-up leads?

Combine automation and sales.

“We have a couple of features that are critical to staying on top of your pipeline and opportunities,” explains Dathan. His team uses ActiveCampaign for sales automation and lead management.

How to distribute leads automatically

Use your CRM to automate lead distribution. ActiveCampaign lets you automatically assign leads to different sales team members.

You can distribute leads based on:

  • A round robin format
  • Lead score
  • Win probability
  • Territory
  • Deal value

Say you’re a B2B company. Your target audience: other business owners.

Your sales team splits up leads based on company size. As we talked about in #2, the number of employees a company has can indicate deal value. Bigger companies tend to have more needs — and bigger budgets.

  • Salesperson A handles leads with fewer than 10 employees
  • Salesperson B handles leads with 11-50 employees
  • Salesperson C handles leads with over 50 employees

Here’s how automatic lead distribution works:

  1. A lead submits a form on your website requesting more information about your company
  2. In the form, you collect information on business size. This lead’s company has 20 employees.
  3. Your CRM automatically assigns this new lead to Salesperson B
  4. Salesperson B receives a notification and a task assignment to follow-up with the lead with a phone call

Make sure to connect your marketing automation to your CRM. This keeps your sales team up-to-date on everything your leads have done so far:

  • Lead source
  • Lead score
  • Website activity
  • What content they’ve looked at
  • Which emails they’ve received
  • Segmentation

Having this info on-hand helps you provide a personalized, well-informed experience to each lead.

ActiveCampaign automatically tracks each interaction a lead has with your company, then adds it to their contact record.

You can include notes, assign tasks to your sales team, and view deal information, all within the contact record.

Stop sales tasks from getting forgotten or piling up. Use sales automations to assign tasks to your sales team when a customer completes a certain action or reaches a certain lead score.

For an even smoother handoff, give your team sales enablement materials.

Moving a lead from marketing to sales should feel like a natural progression — not a leap. One-pagers, talk tracks, and other helpful content make sure that your sales and marketing teams are sending the same message.

5. Track everything to keep improving

Once you put all of the above in place, how do you know if your lead management strategy works?

Set measurable goals for your sales team. These can include:

  • Average deal value: How much your average deal is worth
  • Lead conversion rate: What percentage of leads become customers
  • Lead velocity: How quickly a lead closes
  • Sales quota: The number of deals each salesperson is re