The Complete Guide to Lead Management

Many marketers tend to invest too much time and effort in top-of-funnel activities.

It’s not that these aren’t important—you can’t do a lot if you’re not attracting new customers. The problem is that many of us get so excited at the prospect of capturing more and more leads that we forget that there’s a lot of work to do after we get them to convert.

The solution to this problem is a solid lead management process. That is, a system that moves leads from “Hey, this problem is kind of annoying!” to “I need to do something about it now, and I know the solution!”

In this guide, you’ll learn how to build that system. We’ll cover the basics of lead management (like the benefits of doing it in the first place and the tools you’ll need) before diving into the 8 steps of an effective lead management process.

Table of Contents

What is lead management? 

Lead management is the process of capturing, storing, monitoring, and tracking leads throughout the customer journey and the corresponding sales process.

A better lead management process improves your ability to convert customers and drives a more efficient and seamless customer experience, especially during points of handoff between departments (like when marketing stops and sales takes over).

Let’s look at an example to illustrate this.

Lead management begins when you first capture a lead. At a minimum, this is a customer contact detail (like their email), but it can also include their name, company details (if you’re working in a B2B environment), and some indication of their interest in your product or service.

Leads are generally captured using some form of lead generation device, like an ebook, webinar, or free account signup.

Those leads are stored in your sales CRM, which acts as a lead management system. What happens next depends on your specific processes. 

However, leads generally go through a nurturing process where prospects receive a series of emails from your brand. Engagement with these emails and other kinds of content is measured to understand when it’s time for sales to engage. This is known as lead scoring, something we’ll cover later on.

Then, the sales process begins. Leads are tracked throughout the various stages in your sales pipeline until they convert to a paying customer (or you close them as a lost opportunity).

Throughout the lead management process, you’ll track a variety of metrics like:

  • Pipeline stage conversion rates
  • Engagement with sales content and communication
  • Sales cycle length

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What are leads exactly? 

Leads and customers are not exactly the same, though they are the same people.

A little confusing, we know.

Leads are potential customers, and customers are people who’ve already bought or are currently buying from you, in the case of SaaS and subscription business models. Once a lead hands over their credit card, they become a customer.

Most marketing and sales teams distinguish between 2 kinds of leads:

  • MQL: Marketing Qualified Leads
  • SQL: Sales Qualified Leads
MQL vs SQL
MQL vs SQL

Most companies use a scoring system or measure purchase intent to define whether a lead is an MQL or an SQL. The distinction is that an SQL is ready to speak with a sales rep, whereas an MQL isn’t. 

Let’s say you capture a lead using an ebook download offer.

A potential customer downloads your ebook and gives you their email address in exchange. However, you really have no signal that this person is ready to buy.

Just because they’ve given you their email doesn’t mean they’re even remotely a fit for your company. They could be right at the beginning of their research journey or could be downloading it simply for market research.

At this point, they’re an MQL. 

Once they’ve demonstrated sufficient purchase intent, however you define that (maybe they’ve viewed your pricing page a few times, for instance), they become an SQL.

What are the benefits of lead management? 

Managing your leads in a more effective and centralized manner offers a number of key benefits for sales and marketing teams.

3 benefits of lead management
3 benefits of lead management

Let’s take a closer look.

1. Enhanced customer experience

Without a comprehensive lead management system that spans the length of the customer journey, certain aspects of the customer experience can become disjointed.

For example, they enter a bunch of data into your lead form, only to be asked the same questions by a sales rep a few weeks later.

Create a more holistic and seamless customer experience by implementing a lead management system. This should include a series of processes to follow and the use of a capable lead management software platform to manage them.

2. Higher conversion rates

One of the most important benefits of lead management is its impact on conversion rates.


It’s pretty simple: if you’ve got a consistent process for managing leads and improving the customer experience, you will bring in more customers.

Plus, effective lead management processes include a reporting and review step, where you look back at performance and implement strategies for improvement.

For example, you might see through your pipeline stage conversion rate monitoring that you’re losing a lot of customers at the presentation stage and decide to implement measures to improve your sales team’s ability there.

3. Better ROI from marketing 

If you’re closing more deals, you’re driving more revenue. 

And, if you’re doing all of that without increasing marketing spend (because you’ve implemented a more effective lead management process), you’ll improve ROI and be better able to demonstrate the value of marketing to senior leadership.

How lead management tools support the process 

To manage leads effectively, you’re going to need a software platform.

Yes, you can technically do this in a spreadsheet, but that approach will be largely ineffective for anyone with more than a handful of leads to process. Instead, you should look to incorporate a lead management software platform into your process.

Lead management tool benefits
Lead management tool benefits

These software platforms improve the lead management process because they:

  1. Create a centralized location for storing customer data
  2. Save time by automating repeatable tasks
  3. Deliver insights through reporting and analytics
  4. Allow for customer segmentation to improve communications
  5. Provide A/B testing capabilities 

Of course, it’s important to understand how the lead management process works before introducing a new lead management software into your company.

How does lead management work? An 8-step process

Let’s look at a typical 8-step process for managing leads across the customer journey.

8 step lead management process
8 step lead management process

Bear in mind that these 8 stages should be used simply as a guideline. Every company does something a little different, and you should feel free to adjust the process to taste. 

You’ll also probably find that adjustments are required as you put your lead management process into practice and come to understand what works and what doesn’t.

1. Capture leads 

The first step in the lead management process is where you capture the lead.

There are many tactics for this, but the most common is to offer something valuable in exchange for a customer’s contact details. Examples include:

  • Ebooks
  • Whitepapers
  • Webinars
  • Guides
  • Free trials 
  • Discount codes
  • Email series

Whatever device you use to capture leads, make sure it’s valuable enough for customers to hand over their emails. 

A good litmus test is to ask, “Could they get this for free somewhere else online?” If the answer is yes, then you probably need to build more value.


Capture customer details with a lead generation form like this:

ActiveCampaign lead gen example for capturing emails
ActiveCampaign lead gen example for capturing emails

Your lead form should be connected to your CRM so the data can go straight into the first pipeline stage.

ActiveCampaign Sales Pipeline
ActiveCampaign Sales Pipeline

The full lead gen process is a little outside of the scope of today’s lesson. Learn more in our guide: Lead Generation Forms: Examples And Best Practices.

2. Score and prioritize leads 

Depending on the volume of leads you have coming in on a daily basis and the sophistication involved in your lead management system, you might want to implement a lead scoring process.

Lead scoring assigns points to various engagement activities (for instance, whether or not the customer watched a webinar). Then, you set rules as to what defines that lead’s importance or urgency.

For example, you might set a minimum score for sales reps to engage or assign leads to different reps based on priority. 

ActiveCampaign Lead Scoring
ActiveCampaign Lead Scoring (Image Source)

This is often automated. 

Your lead management system should allow you to set specific point allocations for different activities, automatically score leads, and assign them based on your lead routing rules.

This keeps the whole process hands-off and means that sales reps only need to engage with leads once assigned to them.

We’ve got a dedicated guide on lead-scoring best practices. If you’re interested in learning more, check it out here: Lead Scoring Best Practices (The Only Framework You Need to Get Started).

3. Enrich leads with additional data 

Some companies—particularly those that work at the enterprise level—choose to integrate data enrichment tools to supplement the information they have on prospects.

This helps offset the issue of capturing optimal data in lead forms—the more form fields you add, the lower your response rate tends to be.

Lead data enrichment can also help you obtain helpful qualification information like:

  • Annual revenue
  • Employee headcount
  • Company structure for organizations that own multiple entities

Most small and medium-sized businesses should be fine without this step in the lead management process. Still, it can be incredibly valuable to implement for those that target enterprise customers.

4. Nurture leads that aren’t sales-ready 

Some of your company’s leads won’t be ready to speak with a sales rep (remember what we discussed earlier about the distinction between MQLs and SQLs).

SQLs can proceed straight to the next step (5. Assign leads to a sales rep). For MQLs, it can be helpful to develop to build out some form of lead nurturing sequence. 

This tactic aims to provide more useful information to prospective customers and move them further down the sales funnel.

If they’re not ready for sales conversations yet, it’s likely that they’re still focusing on top-of-funnel issues. They’re just starting to understand that they have a problem they need to solve.

Lead nurture campaigns (which are often email-based but can include a combination of email, SMS, content distribution, and retargeting ads) should guide users down a pathway to purchase.

Lead Nurturing Tactics
Lead Nurturing Tactics

You’ll start by helping them understand more about the impact of that problem on their daily life. Then, you’ll start discussing potential solutions and the benefits and pitfalls of various options.

This will culminate in recommending your solution over other options and then measuring engagement (using your lead scoring systems) to determine if the lead displays sufficient purchase intent to receive an upgrade to SQL.

Learn more about the lead nurturing process in our guide: What Is Lead Nurturing? Strategy, Tips, and How-tos.

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5. Assign leads to a sales rep 

Leads considered sales-ready now need to be routed to a sales rep. There are a few different ways to approach this.

Lead Routing Rules
Lead Routing Rules

Your lead management platform routes lead to reps are based entirely on your lead routing and assignment rules.

Beyond the round-robin approach, where reps are assigned equally across all reps, one by one, there are 6 common options to consider:

  1. Lead routing by territory. For instance, West Coast leads go to West Coast reps.
  2. Lead routing by deal value. Leads with potential values above a certain limit go to more experienced reps and vice versa.
  3. Lead routing by company hierarchy. For instance, if a given rep already has a relationship with your Fox account, and a lead for a Marvel business comes through (these 2 companies are owned by the same parent company, Disney), it gets assigned to them.
  4. Lead routing by lead score. High scores are routed to more experienced reps or the nearest available rep, depending on your needs.
  5. Lead routing by use case. If you serve multiple industries, this lead routing rule can help to ensure that sales reps with the correct expertise serve customers in industries they’re familiar with.
  6. Lead routing by availability. Leads are routed to the soonest availability rep, maximizing lead response time.

Lead routing can get complex, especially in large teams with complex territory and company hierarchy rules. Discover how to set up your lead routing processes here: What Is Lead Routing? Plus 6 Common Lead Assignment Rules.

6. Engage sales process 

Traditionally, this is the part of the lead management process where prospective customers are handed off to the sales team, and the marketing department washes their hands of them.

In modern lead management processes, however, the 2 teams are more collaborative, and marketing tends to support them throughout the entire sales cycle.

Of course, how you approach this will depend on your organization, goals, customers, industry, and product, though the general sales process includes these stages:

  • Discovery call/qualification/needs assessment
  • Product demonstration
  • Solution presentation/proposal
  • Negotiation and agreement 
  • Close and contract signing

Determine whether you will hand over leads at this point or engage in a collaborative process.

If there is a clear divide between marketing and sales, specify when and how leads will be handed over. Work together in the same platform (that’s why CRMs are ideal for running lead management processes) to ensure the elimination of data silos.

If you’re working together, describe and communicate exactly who is responsible for what. The last thing you want is marketing and sales bombarding a given lead—or worse, sending opposing messages. Nobody likes mixed signals.

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7. Convert leads into customers 

The last in the sales process is closing.


It’s where your lead finally becomes a customer, and you can count that revenue in your quota this month.

This stage should also include a clear handoff process, from sales to customer success.

Customer success’s goal is to help new customers get the most out of your product, maximizing retention and improving their ability to upsell or cross-sell into the account and drive expansion revenue.

As such, they’re going to need as much intel on the customer as possible, and the last thing you want is them asking the same questions of a customer that your sales team just asked (that’s really not conducive to a smooth and cohesive customer experience).

Instead, implement a process where sales reps tidy up any account details and notes in your CRM before handing the lead over to the success team so that nothing is left to assumption.

8. Track, measure, and improve 

No matter how much time you invest in developing a comprehensive lead management process, and no matter how well you follow the (if we do say so ourselves) brilliant advice covered in this guide, you’ll always have room for improvement.

In pursuit of this, determine exactly how you’ll track and measure success and how often you’ll look at opportunities to improve.

Some helpful metrics to track here include:

  • Deal win rate
  • Pipeline stage conversion rates
  • Sales cycle length
  • Annual recurring revenue growth
  • Average deal size
  • Return on marketing and sales investment 

Set up a custom reporting dashboard in your CRM to track the metrics you want access to in real time.

ActiveCampaign Reporting Dashboard
ActiveCampaign Reporting Dashboard

Additionally, establish a cadence for reviewing performance and assessing opportunities to improve. Monthly or quarterly should suffice, depending on the size of your company and the agility you can actually implement changes.

Conclusion 

Implementing a lead management process is critical to maximizing the effectiveness of your sales and marketing efforts and in creating a natural and pleasant experience for your customers right throughout the customer journey.

To manage leads effectively, however, you need more than just a robust process. You need a solid lead management software system.

So, here’s the part where we generate a lead:

Sign up for a 14-day free trial of ActiveCampaign today and get your lead management process set up right.

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