How to Start a Lead Management Program in 9 Easy Steps

Jeanne Hopkins
Jeanne Hopkins



No two ways about it, starting a lead management program from scratch can be daunting.

Long gone are the days of simply sending out a direct mail piece or placing an ad and waiting for the leads to roll in.

Instead, the channels for lead generation multiply almost daily, and sorting through them to determine which will be most effective, let alone how to manage the leads once they come in, give even the most experienced marketers many gray hairs.

But with careful consideration, thoughtful planning, and the right tools, establishing and managing a solid lead generation program can be the best investment of time and resources any marketing organization can make. Here’s your game plan to get started.

1. Define Your Goals. Be as Specific as Possible

While starting at the end might sound counterintuitive, it’s the most logical place to begin. What do you hope to accomplish with your lead management program? What are your goals for the program? The more specifically you can answer these questions, the more effective your lead management program will be.

Typical goals for lead management programs include: generating more leads, increasing Facebook fans, encouraging more social sharing of content, increasing overall sales, increasing average shopping cart transaction size, increasing blog subscribers, or shortening sales cycles.

2. Establish a Baseline. Take Stock of Your Assets

Maybe you're starting from scratch, or maybe you’re a bit further along than you thought. Either way, you need to understand where your journey begins to know how far you’ve gone in the end. How many leads do you have now? Where are they in the sales funnel? How many new leads currently come in every month? How many result in sales, and how much revenue do they generate? What happens to cold leads? Answer these questions so you have a good starting point; you’ll need this as you progress.

Then take stock of your assets: editorial, technical, and creative. Do you have any content you can use to get the ball rolling? Do you have content that can be repurposed or parsed into smaller pieces and used as blog posts? Do you have smaller pieces of content that can be aggregated into a single, larger piece of premium content, such as an ebook or whitepaper?

See who on your staff that can effectively create and manage your content program. Creating and managing remarkable content takes time and talent. If you don’t have someone on your team with the resources and ability to keep the premium content flowing, find out where can you get it (Hint: The HubSpot Service Marketplace is a great place to start looking).

Index cards and sticky notes aren’t going to cut it when it comes to managing a modern lead management system. Sophisticated, yet simple to use applications such as HubSpot’s inbound marketing platform, are critical to managing the many moving pieces involved in generating leads, capturing them, and responding to them effectively to maximize return on investment. What tools do you have, and what tools do you need to manage the leads you will generate?

3. Understand Your Customers’ Needs and Preferences

It's clear from the beginning of your lead management planning how customers don't want to be marketed to today, but the success of your lead management program hinges on understanding how your customers do want to be marketed to.

Interrupting them at dinner time with a cold call is out, but having a conversation with them about what they like to have for dinner is in. Disrupting their favorite television show “with a word from our sponsors” is bad form (and ineffective in the age of DVRs), but starting a social media dialogue about the show -- even while it’s still being aired! -- is cool.

With so many options to reach consumers -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, email, Pinterest, search engines, blogs, LinkedIn, mobile, and more -- learning about your target audience's marketing preferences, from channels to frequency to buying triggers, is a key part of building out a lead management program. And if you don't already know, well, ask them.

4. Implement a Lead Management System

You may be a novice now, but with each tweet you send, every update you post to your Facebook page, every email marketing campaign you send, you will get better, and you will get leads. Now what?

How those leads are managed once they come in is as important as generating them in the first place. This will vary based on the sales cycle for your business. Some should be handed off to Sales immediately, while others will need a series of contacts from you based on their on- and off-site behaviors and what you learn about them from your marketing interactions.

With lead nurturing, you can use this information to guide these leads through the sales funnel through additional outreach via content. You should also develop a means for scoring these leads based on the input you receive from the various channels you’ll develop so you know at what point leads are eligible to be handed off to Sales, and ensure Sales doesn't reach out to leads before they're ready.

5. Develop the Criteria for Successful Content

You know that content is the lifeblood of inbound marketing -- and that extends to your lead nurturing efforts, too. If your blood is anemic -- if your content, in a word, sucks -- your marketing efforts will fail. When no one reads, no one buys. It’s not enough to get content in front of consumers. Your content has to:

  • Get their attention (amid the vast ocean of content on the interwebs, no less.)
  • Engage them. Once they’ve seen it, will they click to read more?
  • Get them to act -- to download, subscribe, maybe even “Buy Now.”

To understand how you will accomplish that, you need to set the criteria for successful content. The fundamentals of good content are the same no matter what you sell. What makes the content succeed is how interesting, relevant, timely, and useful it is compared to your competition.

6. Map Your Content to the Sales Cycle

The contacts and content your customers and prospects receive should be based on behaviors they’ve exhibited, the passage of time, or both.

Take some time to understand the different phases your customers pass through from initial contact to sale and even post-sale. Then, develop a series of outreach pieces -- based on the guidelines for successful content you set out in Step 5 -- to help them gain trust in your ability to meet their needs before, during, and after they buy from you. This could be a series of emails or an ebook that educates them, incentives to get them to try or buy, rewards for joining you on social media or social sharing of your content, or any number of things that address their needs at each step of engagement. This is also known as content mapping, and we've written a content mapping guide to help you successfully map your content assets to each stage in the buying cycle.

7. Develop an Editorial Strategy and Editorial Calendar

You know what great content looks like, and you know what content you need to fill in your content map. So create an editorial strategy and the calendar that executes it to start developing those assets.

Look at the totality of your content arsenal -- emails, blogs, videos, LinkedIn group content, whitepapers, ebooks, even a funny cartoon panel that just lets people know you’re there with them in the uphill slog toward profits and revenues. Then, develop a calendar that includes a rough title of the piece (or subject line for emails), a two- or three-sentence outline of the piece, and the resource(s) you will draw on for materials that formulate the content.

By planning your content in advance and setting milestones for when to publish it, you eliminate the last-minute panic that often causes content gridlock -- no more, “I need a blog post today and I have no idea what to write about.” That steadily flowing content means leads will flow in at a steady rate, making the results of your lead management program more consistent and predictable.

8. Refine Your Plan, Develop More-Targeted Communications, Repeat

With a plan in hand -- any plan -- you can get the ball rolling with lead management. Do a little A/B testing if you can when you roll out new content. Try different subject lines, experiment with different incentives, and study the effectiveness of different publish or send times for content.

With each message you deliver, each piece of content you post, use your lead management tools to study the effectiveness of your efforts, then double down on what’s working and walk away from what’s not.

9. Metrics Matter: Measure Your Results

Integral to all the planning that goes into a great lead management system is the tool that helps you execute and deliver on those plans. You may be steering the ship, but without an instrument panel that tells you where the leads in each of your chosen channels are and how your lead generation is performing, you cannot guide it safely toward your goals.

Don’t just record metrics. Record the right metrics. What these metrics are is directly related to the goals you’ve set up for your lead management program, but they may include:

Percentage of Sales Lead Follow-up

Sometimes there is a wide chasm between the reported follow-up by salespeople and the actual follow-up by salespeople. Is your sales team following up with 80% of your leads or 20% of your leads? Once you understand whether leads are being followed up with, and which leads are valued more highly than others, you can take steps to improve the numbers.

Average Time to Conversion

This is a measurement of how fast leads, from various sources/campaigns, are moving into a qualified opportunity state. The goal is not to get the time to zero, but understand the range of time for various leads that are moving from lead capture to conversion. 

Cost per Lead, Opportunity, Customer

Look beyond the standard cost per lead metric (by unique sources such as PPC, email, blogging, etc.) and consider the cost per opportunity and cost per customer acquisition in the analysis. If customers vary greatly in size, don’t let one large deal skew the results; use an average sale instead.

Before you know it, you’ll be managing leads like a pro -- which is to say, always learning, never fully satisfied, and always looking to improve on your last go-round.

Image credit: lindz graham

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Topics: Lead Nurturing

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