How to Effectively Manage Leads at Every Stage in Your Sales Funnel

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Claudia Martinez Monsanto
Claudia Martinez Monsanto

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Effective sales lead management is one of the core principles of any successful business. It helps the right people become your customers and makes it easy for them to buy from you again in the future.

saleswoman managing leads

When you get lead management correct, you can convert more prospects into customers, streamline operations, and improve the sales experience. But it's not always clear how to create an effective lead management process. Is it about quickly responding to leads, keeping your CRM neat and tidy, or using the proper tags and lists?

The short answer is that it's about all of the above. We’ll explore more below.

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  • What is sales lead management?
  • The 5 Stages of the Lead Management System
  • Best Practices for Effective Sales Lead Management

The 5 Stages of the Lead Management System

Sales lead management is ultimately about data management plus relationship building. One of the best ways to view your lead management strategy is through the lens of Data Lifecycle Management (DLM).

DLM consists of five stages:

  • Data collection.
  • Data storage.
  • Data maintenance.
  • Data usage.
  • Data cleaning.

Every lead (and their associated data) passes through similar stages with your business, so it's crucial to get each one right for effective lead management.

Without further ado, here are the five stages of the lead management system.

1. Lead Collection

A successful lead management system starts with having a steady stream of leads rolling in. This is the foundation on which all the other stages are built. Without leads, there is no one to market and sell to.

This step involves enticing people who visit your website, click on an ad, or attend company events, to fill out their contact details. The person can then receive a lead magnet, free trial, product demo, sales call, or sign up for your email list.

2. Lead Storage

Once a lead provides their contact details, it’s best practice to store them in a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. This allows cross-functional teams to organize and streamline lead information for easy access, like lead sources, contact details, notes, and lead activity logs.

Without proper lead storage, you might overlook prospective customers or rely on inconsistent data.

The consequence? Potential revenue goes down the drain.

3. Lead Data Maintenance

Every lead is not going to become a customer. So how do you ensure that you filter through and target the right leads at the right time? By actively maintaining lead data.

This stage involves supplementing the lead data stored in a CRM to get a better understanding of each individual, disqualifying leads that aren’t the right fit, and also ranking leads based on their probability of purchase.

Time is money, and this sets the ground for sales teams to pay attention to the right leads, boosting sales efficiency.

4. Lead Data Usage

Would you buy a product from a random ad that pops up on your Facebook feed for the first time? Chances are, likely not.

But after signing up to their email list and receiving value-driven emails, reading through the company blog, seeing more relevant ads, checking out testimonials, and clarifying any queries via Instagram chat, you might be more inclined to click the “buy” button or book a sales call.

This is what this stage is all about — reaching out, cultivating a relationship, and nurturing leads through frequent touchpoints. Simply put, this stage is where the data is put into action.

5. Cleaning Lead Data

It’s essential to periodically clean and update your data to maintain a reliable and accurate database of leads. You can do this by:

  • Verifying all entries.
  • Deleting outdated data.
  • Correcting mistakes and inconsistencies.

Data drives decisions, and bad data will hurt you in the long run. According to a survey of 300 data engineers, 47% estimated that poor data quality affects a quarter or more of their company's revenue.

In short, cleaning lead data is a lot like visiting the dentist. It’s not a fun task but needs to be done regularly to ensure the health of your database.

Each of the above stages plays a crucial role in sales lead management. To help you maximize your efficiency at every stage, here are some best practices to implement in your business.

Best Practices for Effective Sales Lead Management

Best Practices for Lead Collection

1. Diversify lead sources.

As mentioned earlier, a continuous flow of leads is essential to company growth. But what lead sources work best?

A survey of 1000+ sales professionals revealed that referrals from existing customers generate the highest-quality leads. That’s no surprise word-of-mouth is a potent marketing tool.

Other sources of valuable leads according to the survey include social media, telemarketing, tradeshows and events, inbound marketing, blogs, and SEO.

Want to get more creative with your lead collection methods? Here are some other ideas to try.

2. Optimize forms for capturing leads and accurate data entry.

Imagine this: A person reads through your blog on their phone and eventually clicks on a pop-up offering an ebook, ready to sign-up to access your content.

But they’re greeted with a cluttered form with 25 mandatory input fields that appear misaligned on mobile. Do you think they’ll sign up? Likely not.

That’s a potential lead lost. So, it’s important to optimize your forms to improve lead capture. For example, the below form is clear and to the point. It has adequate whitespace and asks for only the necessary details.

sales lead management, optimized sign-up form to boost lead capture

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How you collect leads also determines how organized things will be further down the line. Do your future self and colleagues a favor by collecting leads in a standardized, organized, and accurate manner. This includes adjusting form fields to collect the right data in the best way.

3. Remember data protection regulations.

Data protection and privacy laws have been enacted in 137 countries globally.

Among the most famous is the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe. A core part of this legislation is data protection by design. This means building data security and ethical use into the foundations of your business.

It’s vital to ensure that every lead you add to your database has given clear consent for their data to be stored. Store it only for the time and purpose that you define in your terms and conditions.

See the product demo sign-up form below to see some recommended practices in action.

The form asks for your consent to subscribe to the marketing blog (doesn’t auto-subscribe you) and provides easy access to the privacy policy.

sales lead management best practices, lead capture form with a clear privacy policy

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Lead Storage

4. Centralize all leads in your CRM.

You can't manage your leads effectively if they're scattered between multiple platforms or in an outdated system that's not designed for contact management.

To stay on top of all leads, choose a CRM system that helps your team provide great customer experiences. HubSpot’s Marketing Hub and Sales Hub are two options.

So what are the top benefits of a CRM? Here’s what salespeople have to say:

  • CRMs act as an organized and centralized database.
  • CRMs help identify valuable opportunities.
  • They streamline the sales cycle.
  • CRMs facilitate sharing of data across the organization.
  • You can increase productivity.
  • CRMs help you understand customers and their needs.

5. Create secure backups.

If all your lead data is centralized on a single platform, it's important to conduct regular backups. One effective way to do this is with an automated sync to another cloud-based system.

Secure and reliable backups make it easier to ensure data protection and your contacts' privacy.

Lead Data Maintenance

6. Make lead management easy for sales.

A lead management process that relies on manual input isn't efficient. It's a recipe for human error.

To minimize errors, make lead management as intuitive as possible for your team. You can do this with:

  • Automated processes.
  • Dedicated lead management tools. (HubSpot’s lead management software is a great place to get started for free.)
  • Data entry restrictions to ensure the right format is used.

7. Enrich your data.

High-quality lead data is enriched lead data.

What does this mean? It means that your sales reps aren't just given a name and email address to work with, but rather a comprehensive and high-def view of every prospect.

This can include a lead's industry, company size, and even goals based on previous interactions with marketing content and progressive forms. Data enrichment apps are also a handy way to include more insights into every contact record.

8. Segment your leads.

Segmentation is important for every department.

Segmentation enables marketers to send prospects the most relevant messages and advertising. Salespeople can use it to create a tailor-fit buying process. And, service teams can ensure that customers know about the most valuable features of your product or service.

With tags, labels, groups, and list memberships, you can organize your leads into the most relevant segments for your entire customer journey. Here’s an example of a segmented list in a CRM.

how to manage sales leads, segmented list displayed in a CRM

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9. Sync leads between apps.

Most businesses use multiple apps to manage lead data. It's standard to have several platforms for different purposes within a single department.

Automated synchs between your apps can prevent headaches and contradictory data. With a tool like Operations Hub, you can ensure that everyone is always looking at the latest and most enriched lead data in every app.

10. Use lead scoring.

One of the quickest ways to make your sales lead management more effective is with lead scoring.

This is a common feature of advanced CRMs, although often gated behind higher plans. Lead scoring instantly assigns positive or negative points to a lead based on the information they give and the interactions they have with your company. This enables your sales team to instantly identify the most sales-ready leads at any moment.

Here are some actionable steps that can help you get started with lead scoring.

Lead Data Usage

11. Nurture your leads.

Effective sales lead management keeps leads engaged and moving through the funnel. This is where lead nurturing comes in. One way to achieve this is with timely and relevant email sequences that guide each lead toward a set goal, such as requesting a sales demo.

12. Nurture existing customers too.

In the race to generate and convert new leads, it’s essential not to forget your current customers. Strengthening the relationship with your customers can boost loyalty. This can lead to upselling and cross-selling opportunities.

Upselling contributes 11-30% of revenue for 47% of companies, according to HubSpot's 2022 Sales Strategy & Trends Report. That’s a sizeable percentage.

Further, 86% say they’ll recommend a brand they’re loyal to, according to a KPMG International survey of 18,000+ people.

Remember the stat about referrals from existing customers producing the best source of quality leads? All this combined makes the value of nurturing your existing customers a no-brainer.

13. Use automation for the fastest outreach.

Much of the heavy lifting of lead management can be alleviated with automation. Some of the best ways to automate lead management include lead scoring, assigning leads, and syncing lead data between apps.

Automation is also excellent for nurturing leads through the sales funnel while still delivering a personalized experience. In fact, almost 80% of business leaders believe consumers spend more with a personalized experience.

This can be done through segmentation, targeted advertising, email personalization, and tailored product or content recommendations based on lead behavior.

14. Create insightful reporting dashboards.

By visualizing your lead data, you can understand exactly how your team is performing. For the best insights, create reports that break down performance by funnel stage. Here, you can understand where your team is thriving or where efficiency is breaking down.

how to manage sales leads, dashboard offering a visual representation of lead generation data

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15. Automatically assign leads to the best owner.

Another handy way to use automation is with lead routing, which directs each new sales-ready lead to the right salesperson or support agent.

You can route leads based on their location, product requirements, business size, or other attributes.

16. Develop sales enablement content.

More than half of sales professionals who use sales enablement content say that it plays a “very to extremely important” role in making sales.

So what type of content should you invest in? Data says:

  • Product one-pagers
  • Product demos.
  • Market research.
  • Customer testimonials and reviews.
  • Social media content.
  • Call scripts and email templates.
  • Competitor analyses.
  • Case studies.

17. Bring sales and marketing on the same page.

Lead management overlaps between the marketing and sales departments. So it’s essential that each team doesn’t operate in silos.

Eighty-five percent of sales and marketing leaders believe that aligning the two provides the largest opportunity to improve business performance. But what should both teams be aligned on?

Salespeople feel that certain vital aspects include overall marketing strategy, sharing customer information and feedback, sharing market research, buyer personas, content creation, and account-based marketing.

Watch Debbie McClure, Dropbox’s VP of Sales, share tips on what sales teams want marketing to know.

Cleaning Lead Data

18. Conduct regular cleanups.

Frequent housekeeping is an essential part of managing lead data. It keeps your data fresh and reliable. Without it, decaying data can quickly get unmanageable and expensive to fix.

19. Establish data entry standards and processes.

Having set standards for CRM data entry (whether manual or automated) addresses the issue of inconsistent and missing information at the root. This helps ensure that the right data can be found in the right place in the right format.

20. Avoid duplicates.

Having duplicate contacts in your database is a barrier to effective lead management. To avoid duplicates, focus on:

  • Preventing duplicate contacts with a two-way contact sync between your apps. This doesn't delete duplicates but enables you to sync the cleanest data to avoid duplicates and intelligently merge data that might overlap.
  • Fixing duplicate contacts with a built-in feature offered by your apps, or with a third-party solution.

Making the Most of Your Leads

Effective sales lead management depends on how you collect, store, maintain, use and clean your lead data. With the help of a great CRM, solid processes for nurturing and automation, and regular housekeeping, you should be well on your way to streamlining your funnel.

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