Lead management 101: Everything you need to know to get started

Use a robust lead management process to boost your business and move qualified leads down the sales funnel.

By Cristina Maza, Contributing Writer

Published June 21, 2021
Last updated January 12, 2022

Imagine you’re a restaurant owner serving pizza to 20 different parties in one evening. But instead of waiters writing down orders, the patrons shout the pizza they want from the table. You’d likely struggle to maintain order in the kitchen, much less give customers the food they want.

It’s hard to meet customers’ needs without a transparent management system, whether you’re operating a restaurant or a software company. Having this type of structure is especially important when it comes to managing leads. If you don’t have a clear, repeatable process for nurturing potential customers, you’ll slow down the growth of your business.

A lead management system will simplify the sales process and help your business convert more leads into loyal customers—without chaos.

What is lead management?

Lead management is a system for organizing your company’s leads so you can understand where they are in the sales funnel and tailor how you engage with them to encourage sales. It helps you invest in the leads that will generate business and keep opportunities from falling through the cracks.

The stages of lead management

Every business can design its lead management system slightly differently depending on its needs. Generally, the process includes separate steps for identifying qualified leads, lead acquisition, lead rating, and nurturing leads to become loyal customers.

  1. Define a qualified lead. A qualified lead is a potential customer who’s the right fit for your business. One of the first steps in lead management is to get very clear about your company’s criteria for qualifying leads. That way, you can pursue the right customers and build relationships with them.
  2. Create a standardized lead scoring system. This is a process that helps sales agents or marketers determine whether a lead is likely to buy a company’s product or service. It generally involves giving each lead a numerical score based on their behavior to indicate how sales-ready they are.
  3. Map out every step of your customer journey and use a lead scoring platform. The customer journey is a culmination of all the interactions a qualified lead has with a brand, from discovery to purchase and beyond. Mapping out this journey will give you a clear picture of precisely where each lead or customer is in the sales funnel. For example, are they considering a purchase or are they still just looking for information about your brand?
  4. Set up processes for how to follow up with each type of lead in every stage of the sales funnel. It’s wise to know exactly how you plan to engage with leads at every stage of their customer journey. If a potential lead is starting to gain awareness about your product, for example, you might plan to obtain their email address so you can send them more details about how your product can solve their problems. Each stage will require a different action.
  5. Create a process for continuously nurturing leads until they become advocates. It’s essential to build trust with your leads. That can include sending frequent emails with promotions or interacting with them on social media. The idea is to maintain their interest and engagement until they become a loyal customer.

Following these steps will help streamline your lead management process and make your team’s jobs easier.

How lead management helps your sales team

Lead management provides sales agents with the customer data they need to move leads further down the funnel with confidence. Sales teams will be able to:

  • Filter out unqualified leads

    Lead management prevents your sales team from wasting time on unqualified leads. A process that starts with using the right prospecting software tools. Agents will have clear guideposts for how to nurture leads and how to streamline the sales process for potential customers who are likely to convert.

    Remember, lead qualification only works if you have clear criteria for your target customer. When sales agents have that criteria to evaluate a lead, they’ll be able to easily determine whether the lead is likely to buy your company’s product or service. For example, if a lead hasn’t answered repeated attempts to contact them or isn’t a decision-maker at their company, then it might not be the right time for your company to pursue that lead.

  • Tailor their strategy to each customer

    Your sales agents can use lead management to curate their approach around each potential customer’s needs and where they are in the sales funnel.

    To collect this information, you may set up a questionnaire for potential customers to fill out in the lead generation stage. You can also use lead gen software. Your sales team can then use the information on the form to assign numerical values to potential leads—this is where your lead scoring system comes in—and figure out how to invest time in building a relationship. For instance, your sales agents might approach leads who’ve expressed interest in your products with offers for similar items.

3 lead management best practices to bolster your business

managing leads

No matter how well thought-out your lead management strategy is, you could still miss out on opportunities to contact potentially valuable leads if you fail to follow some best practices.

  1. Check lead activity metrics to evaluate your strategy

    Tracking metrics is necessary if you want to know what is and isn’t working well. Monitor how much you’re spending to generate leads by campaign or platform and how many of those leads convert into customers.

    You may want to see what percentage of leads turn into paying customers, for example, after an email marketing campaign, a sales call, or another touchpoint. Or, you might want to know the percentage of leads clicking on a certain Instagram ad.

    This type of data provides invaluable insights for your sales team and makes it easier to identify where to make adjustments and shift priorities. If you’re gaining the best leads from a particular channel, then you’ll likely want to invest more in that area. But if you discover that a virtual event or promotional email isn’t bringing in quality leads, then you’ll know to drop it.

    You can even segment metrics based on industry, geographic location, and product. You may find that leads in different roles or different areas aren’t interested in the same products. This information allows sales agents to determine the best way to market particular products to certain leads.

    Using key metrics to evaluate the impact of your lead management strategy is vital to ensure you aren’t wasting time on things that aren’t adding value.

  2. Use clean data to ensure the information you have is relevant

    Lead management relies on data and metrics that you and your team can understand. That’s why it’s so important to have best practices for keeping customer data organized, relevant, and accurate.

    Ensure that all the data you collect is stored in the same way, with accurate and uniform formatting. Use a software system that will standardize the data’s format. You should also remove irrelevant and duplicate pieces of information. For example, if you’ve collected details about the potential customer’s location or gender, but it turns out that isn’t relevant to the sales process, delete it instead of keeping it for posterity.

    It’s critical to implement a system for updating the data regularly, too. Assign this task to someone on your team who’s in charge of refreshing information on a monthly basis (or however frequently you need to update it).

    Your data is only as good as its usability, so make sure it’s safely stored and easy to leverage.

  3. Invest in lead management software to centralize information

    Many businesses use Excel spreadsheets to track leads, but this process can result in mistakes and missed opportunities.

    Lead management software is more reliable. It houses information from the entire lead management process—from generation to nurturing—in one place, so your sales team can quickly gain insights about encouraging conversions.

    Zendesk’s lead tracking software goes beyond centralizing information with even more features. Our solution has custom lead forms that work on websites, landing pages, or email marketing campaigns. It also provides templates to organize information about your new leads, create to-do lists, and sort leads by priority or activity.

    Zendesk Sell—a customer relationship management (CRM) software solution for sales teams—also has a pipeline conversion report function, so you can better understand all the data you collect on sales leads.

Lead management will help you find qualified leads faster

Leads keep your business alive. Without them, you won’t obtain new customers, and your business won’t grow.

If you’re able to identify high-quality leads that are worth your time, you’ll increase your chances of boosting sales for your business and improving your bottom line.

Implement a lead management system, and you’ll generate qualified leads faster and facilitate their journey through the sales funnel or pipeline until they become loyal customers.

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