What is lead management?

Lead management integrates CRM business processes and technology to build a closed-loop process across marketing and sales to drive mature and higher-value opportunities. Lead management improves demand creation, execution, and opportunity management.

CRM lead management converts unqualified contacts and opportunities from various sources, including web registration, direct-mail campaigns, email marketing campaigns, multichannel campaigns, database marketing, third-party leased lists, social media, content syndication, and trade shows lists.

Lead management defined

Drive buyer interest by managing your leads. A comprehensive B2B marketing strategy always includes a game plan for lead management. Lead management is the process of identifying, qualifying, engaging, and managing potential buyers. On the spectrum of B2B marketing initiatives, lead management falls somewhere between broader activities (branding and advertising) and direct, one-to-one efforts (direct or channel sales).

Before you start creating your specific lead management process, you need to understand the lead stages for your business and how the sales process works. Here are five lead stages in most buyer’s journeys that both B2C and B2B businesses often use:

  • Subscriber Stage
  • Lead/Nurturing Stage
  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) Stage
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) Stage
  • Opportunity Stage

Get started with lead management

Lead management starts with lead generation, which is accomplished through a range of demand generation marketing tactics including: social media, public relations campaigns, blog posts, technical papers, advertisements, webinars, and events. Potential customers respond to your marketing by giving you their contact information, and if all pre-established criteria are met, a sales lead is created. Lead management programs focus on building prospect interest and engagement as they move through the sales cycle.

Lead scoring: Filter the pipeline

Lead scoring assigns a ranking to each sales prospect based on your understanding of their level of interest and buying intentions. As prospective buyers remain engaged and begin to educate themselves on a particular market space, they may begin to display signs of buying interest. By keeping track of these signs of interest, you can identify when prospects are ready to buy and determine the right time to convert them to a sales lead and connect them with sales.

How lead scoring works

Lead scoring can’t begin until marketing and sales agree on what constitutes a qualified sales lead. Working together, marketing and sales should develop a lead scoring strategy that determines which leads are worth pursuing and where all the leads fit within the company’s purchasing cycle.

How do you decide if a lead is worth pursuing? You must look at a prospect’s identity, background, and level of interest including:

  • The explicit information you know about a prospect’s role, industry, company, and revenue
  • The implicit information you have about a prospect’s activities, such as a favorite topic and level of interest

Even after you’ve developed your lead scoring system, it’s not over. Over time, a lead’s level of interest might waver, increase, or plateau for a multitude of reasons. A qualified prospect’s lead score will change with every action they take—whether it’s downloading a business brief or browsing your website. A comprehensive lead management system triggers a rescoring process so that you can stay on top of their behavior and be able to time the delivery of relevant content. It’s all about keeping your potential buyers interested and engaged throughout the sales process.

Lead nurturing: Building brand preference

How do you keep those leads engaged? Lead nurturing uses highly relevant educational content that answers their questions and offers solutions to their problems. Successful lead nurturing delivers the appropriate content to keep your audience interested as they move through the sales process. If you do it properly, lead nurturing can help you build a strong brand and solution preference in your prospects long before they have become actively engaged in a buying process. Lead nurturing software tracks qualified sales leads and automates content delivery through various marketing channels.

There are three components of a good lead nurturing program:

  1. The prospect has given you permission to keep in touch. This is critical. Make sure that you have your prospects’ permission to engage with them. If you don’t, they will most likely unsubscribe, mark your emails as spam, or delete them.
  2. Establish key points, ideas, or comparison points through education. A potential buyer may not actually enter the buying process for a long time. The lead nurturing phase is where you can educate prospects, positioning your company and solutions in their minds for when they are ready. Make sure that your content delivers the right marketing messages at every stage of the buyer’s journey.
  3. Watch for signs of progress throughout the buying cycle. Watch your prospects’ digital body language to get an idea of where they are in their buying process. Digital body language tracks and monitors their online behavior—how often they’ve visited your website, content they’ve downloaded, etc. Digital body language can help indicate when a prospect has progressed to a point that they are ready to interact with a salesperson.

Lead management and lead nurturing strategy

Lead nurturing helps you develop relationships with your prospects. When you execute the process successfully, you establish buyer preference for your solutions while you gain an understanding of buyer timing. But this will only be possible if your lead nurturing programs deliver content that’s of sufficient value and interest to prospects throughout the sales process.

How do you know what types of content to use for which prospects? Your content marketing strategy for nurturing your leads will depend on a variety of factors, including your company’s products and unique sales cycle as well as your prospects’ preferences, background, and where they are in the sales process.

When creating relevant and interesting content to nurture leads, keep the follow in mind:

  1. Personalization. Tailor your lead nurturing approach as much as you can. Personalization helps build an authentic conversation with your prospects. Make sure your content is specific to issues that your potential buyers are dealing with. Does it help them solve their business problems? Is it delivered in a format that they prefer? Is it relevant to their position, industry, or the software they use?
  2. Don’t forget your current customers. While you’re keeping prospects engaged, don’t ignore your current customers. After all, you have an established business relationship with them. So stay in touch. Chances are that your existing customers will need a service or product update, or there’s cross- or up-sell opportunity.

What is a sales lead?

What constitutes a sales lead? A sales lead is the result of using lead qualification criteria to identify buyer fit and intent to take a lead from engagement to conversion. Different companies have different criteria for what a qualified sales lead should look like, but even within a single organization, sales and marketing may not agree on how to qualify leads. What some marketers consider a sales-ready lead would merely be considered an inquiry to others. This discrepancy lies at the heart of many sales and marketing alignment issues and fuels countless debates about lead quality.

Qualifying leads by fit

The definition of a lead is subjective and has everything to do with an organization’s lead management process. But the most critical differences between qualified and unqualified sales leads are expressed in terms of buyer fit and intent. Take, for example, the leads you generate at a trade show. Their quality often varies, and many aren't leads at all—at least not initially. People who just stopped by your booth to grab a free pen probably aren't hot leads you want to send over to your sales team. But if you cultivate them through lead nurturing, some could turn into buyers down the road.

Now that’s bad form

Some marketers consider a single form submission to be a lead. But the quality of the leads that come in through web forms is as diverse as the marketing programs that generate these leads. So, one best practice in lead management is to start by defining what constitutes a qualified sales lead and get buy-in from sales and marketing.

Why intent matters

Now, just because someone is the right fit for your solution doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a qualified sales lead. Let’s look at trade shows again. Many companies don’t differentiate the casual booth visitor from the serious buyer who stops by the booth. If marketing simply sends all trade show leads to sales for follow-up, they’ll probably make life more difficult for the sales reps. In this case, marketing has done nothing to validate the true intent of each buyer. By sending an email follow-up to each lead and analyzing the digital body language that follows, marketing can pare down the list and send only the more qualified leads to sales.

Lead and demand generation partnership

How do lead generation and demand generation support lead management? Lead generation and lead management both play equally important roles in driving revenue for your business. Where lead generation creates interest among your target audiences and prospects, lead management tracks, scores, manages, nurtures, and engages these leads to qualify and route to sales.

Lead management roadmap

Both lead scoring and lead nurturing are critical components of a comprehensive lead management strategy. Remember that your prospects and customers receive vast amounts of marketing messages every day across multiple channels. To properly nurture and manage a lead and have a hope of converting it into a customer, your messages have to stand out.

To stand out in a crowded environment, focus on how your products or services help solve business problems. More than anything, your content should be able to clearly communicate how your products will help the person reading that content. Whether it’s ebooks, blogs, or webinars, your content marketing material must be relevant and useful to drive your prospects’ engagement and interest.

It all starts with marketing and sales working together. With sales and marketing sharing information and strategizing together, you can create a consistent, connected, and personalized experience for the prospect that will nurture and manage leads effectively through the sales lifecycle. Creating a connected experience across all areas of a business—in real time—is no longer a wish within the B2B market. Given our exposure to B2C experiences as customers, has now become an expectation.

Innovation in marketing and sales solutions and strategies is happening at breakneck speed. Organizations of all sizes are starting to realize that unless they transform how they do business to engage and cultivate buyers more effectively, they risk losing market share and revenue to competitors. Oracle’s deeply connected marketing and sales solutions are aggressively advancing our current offerings to help marketing and sales teams to create these micromoments that matter with:

Without the right data pulled from the most relevant, real-time customer interactions, delivering a timely connected experience across the customer lifecycle is just not possible. Oracle makes that possible for marketers today.