There’s a lot of great information out there on how to create an inbound marketing machine. Entire businesses were built on inbound marketing, HubSpot being a prime example.

But what happens after a lead comes inbound? It’s a topic worth exploring more, especially since the rules of sales development are rapidly transforming.

Just because a lead converts on a piece of website content doesn’t mean he or she is necessarily a hot prospect, ready to buy. The chances are greater that an inbound lead will close, but pursuing each and every single inbound prospect is not always worth the time. How a sales rep spends his or her time prospecting is crucial to their success. That’s why it’s important to establish a clear and well thought out protocol for handling inbound leads.

However, I see many salespeople making mistakes with inbound leads that cost them time and money. As a lead comes in and goes through your sales funnel, mistakes along the way jeopardize your chances of closing. Let’s walk through the five most common and costly mistakes with inbound leads.

1) Not delegating the responsibility of inbound leads to a specific person or team.

In order to build an effective sales development machine, you must implement a process for dealing with inbound leads. If you’re like most companies, you have a dashboard for all untouched inbound leads, and they’re all up for grabs. But if everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible.

So who should own the inbound leads? Should Marketing be responsible for following up since they are largely responsible for their conversion? Or should Sales be responsible because they’re ultimately tasked with closing them?

In my opinion, since Marketing is the first team to get notified of an inbound lead after a form has been filled out on your website, it’s Marketing’s responsibility to field those leads. Every organization is structured a little differently, so the first line of response could actually be Sales, Marketing Operations, or even Sales Operations. The bottom line is that there needs to be a clear cut process in place. 

Once someone has been assigned responsibility, the appropriate department can follow up correctly, and no opportunities will be missed.

2) Not properly qualifying inbound leads.

After you know who is responsible for your inbound leads, the first step is to qualify those leads. Simply put, is this prospect a good match for your product/service or not? You must establish and clearly articulate criteria for what is considered a qualified lead.

Some important things to consider:

  • Is this lead a part of an account already in your system?
  • Does this lead match the profile for your ideal account?
    • Company size
    • Industry
    • Funding
    • Company age
    • Revenue
    • Technology they’re using
    • Etc.
  • Does this lead match one of your targeted buyer personas?
    • Title
    • Department
    • Tenure
    • Pain points/challenges
    • Goals/aspirations
    • Etc.

If the answer to these three questions is “no,” then put the lead into a marketing drip campaign; there’s no use following up at this point. However, if the answer is “yes,” then it’s time to pass the lead on to Sales. 

If the answer is “maybe” because you don’t have all of the information to confidently make a decision, you have a few options. You can choose to put that lead into a marketing drip campaign and offer additional valuable information to progressively profile the lead until you can qualify him or her. Alternatively, you can manually do a little background research and manually qualify him or her.

To begin uncovering the necessary qualification information, visit profiles of your prospect and his/her company on sites like:

  • CrunchBase
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • VentureSource

3) Not conducting proper research before reaching out.

Now that you’ve qualified the lead and passed him or her along to the sales team, it’s important for the sales rep responsible for following up to do more research. Another big mistake I see sales reps make is reaching out blind. Sure, you may know what company the person works for, but do you know what that company does? Do you know what that specific person cares about? Do you know why the person downloaded a specific piece of content? 

By having a good CRM in place and tracking the right behaviors, you’ll be able to read buying signals. This will give you a good idea about a prospect’s intent and interest. Look for:

  • What offer the prospect converted on
  • What type of content the prospect has viewed
  • What emails they have opened and clicked on
  • To what degree they have engaged with your company on social channels

Just as with traditional prospecting, it’s very important for a rep to perform proper research on an inbound lead before reaching out. First impressions matter. Small errors get amplified. 

The caveat here is to avoid spending too much time or waiting too long to follow up. According to a study by and, a lead contacted within five minutes of converting is 100x more likely to convert than if follow up happens 90 minutes later.

If you don’t have access to or can’t find the proper information quick enough, it’s perfectly reasonable to call your prospect and simply ask. You might say something like this:

“I noticed you were checking out our [type and name of content]. Were you able to access it? What challenges are you having around [topic]? How is that affecting you? Let’s schedule another time to chat and see how we can help you achieve [specific results].”

4) Not personalizing follow up communication to inbound leads.

If you weren’t able to get in touch with that inbound lead immediately, no problem. Though your chances of connecting may drop, if there’s one thing that I know it’s this: persistence wins.

There’s a lot of focus on creating and sending effective emails to sourced prospects, but salespeople don't often take those same principles and apply them to inbound leads. The reason you’re reaching out is a given: they requested some information and you’re following up with them. However, they still want to connect with a human, so you must personalize your messaging. Automation kills rapport -- no matter what. 

You can even take some of your best-performing email templates, do a little re-tooling, and use them with inbound leads. For example:


Hi [first name],

I noticed that you [action] [piece of content].

I wanted to reach out because we help companies [one-sentence value proposition]. We’ve already helped [customers] achieve [specific results].

Do you have 15-20 minutes on [date] to explore how we can help [company] do the same?

[your name]


5) Not following up enough times.

Though there’s no standard for the number of follow up attempts you should make with sourced prospects, any smart sales rep knows persistence is important. But most reps don’t think of applying this same mentality to inbound leads as well. Effective follow up strategies can and should be used for managing inbound leads too. 

Email and phone are not the only ways to follow up with your inbound leads. This is where social selling comes into play. Use social channels to warm up your prospects by building familiarity and trust.

Here is an example of a tempo that I’ve found works well:

  • Day 1: Call and email
  • Day 2: Email and Twitter follow
  • Day 3: Twitter favorite and retweet
  • Day 5: Email and LinkedIn connection
  • Day 7: Email
  • Day 10: Call and email
  • Day 17: Email and blog comment
  • Day 21: LinkedIn like
  • Day 28: Call and email

When following up, keep offering value at each touch. When you say “just following up” or “just checking in” that’s when you become an annoying pest rather than a welcomed guest. Instead, when you’re following up, consider re-emphasizing business value, offering insights, educating or sharing relevant industry news.

Inbound leads are an essential part of any company’s sales development effort and overall growth. However, if you don’t follow up with them properly, you’re missing great opportunities. Investing the time to create a process and getting on the same page with your marketing team will pay off tenfold. Establishing the right practices for following up with qualified inbound leads can launch your growth into hyper speed.

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Originally published Feb 5, 2016 7:30:00 AM, updated October 30 2019


Sales Process