Lead Management: Definition & Strategies

Learn lead management strategies and best practices to attract buyers, nurture prospects, and deliver win-ready leads to sales.

Great lead management saves your business time and gives your sales efforts a razor-sharp focus, so you can nurture quality leads and accurately place them within a pipeline.

When you acquire a lead — whether it’s via a website form submission, phone call, or quote generation — there are a few ways to instantly assess quality. Implementing a lead management strategy into your sales and marketing framework can help to recalibrate your endeavors.

Learn lead management strategies and best practices to attract buyers, nurture prospects, and deliver win-ready leads to sales.

In this lead management guide, you’ll learn:


What is lead management?

Lead management is the process of controlling the pathway from new business enquiry to sale — the definition spans methodologies to attract, sort, and convert leads.

In today’s buying landscape, consumers form opinions about businesses before they ever interact with a sales team — in many cases, long before. To get ahead of the curve, it’s critical that you reach them and develop a relationship before they encounter your sales team.

That’s where lead management comes into play. Lead management is defined as the process by which marketing:

  • Acquires
  • Evaluates
  • Nurtures
  • Passes leads to the sales team

While this sounds simple, it’s common for companies to have no standards in place to properly manage their leads, causing sales to spend an inordinate amount of time and money finding qualified buyers.

Working from weak leads is, unfortunately, a common problem. In fact, according to Gleanster Research, only 25% of leads in a given sales pipeline are legitimate prospects. 

By implementing a lead management framework, you can attract buyers and nurture them with unique, personalized campaigns, allowing sales to step in when the timing is right. This ensures that your marketing and sales teams are operating as efficiently as possible.

When a proper lead management strategy is put in place, companies can significantly improve their sales pipeline by developing strategies that incorporate: 

Lead management can also open the door to further technology to continue building relationships with your customers, nurturing potential buyers, and helping inform personalized campaigns that inspire sales.

When done correctly, lead management creates better-educated buyers, helps you better understand your buyers’ needs, and generates more revenue at a faster rate. 


“Today, marketing is every bit a data-driven process as it is a creative exercise. The best lead scoring is only as good as the data behind it. Quality data and metrics includes demographic data (industry, company, title, geography), behavioral data (opens, clicks, searches, shares, views, purchase, AOV), and even operational data (bounces, complaints, growth, attrition).”

– John A. Caldwell, Principal, Red Pill Email


Leads vs customers: What’s the difference?

The difference between a lead and a customer is the stage of the marketing funnel each prospect is at — a lead is a potential future customer. This means all customers were once leads, but not every lead will become a customer.

Lead management allows you to nurture leads by pursuing contact with those who express an interest in your products or services. Smart lead management strategies then sort the valuable leads from those that don’t have value.

A lead is best conceptualized as an unverified identity. You might have an email account, a contact number, or some other identity marker, but this is data rather than a verified person.

By the time a lead becomes a customer, you’ll have noted that the person or business is: 

  • Legitimate. The data you have matches a real-world entity.
  • Purposeful. They intend to explore buying your products.


Common problems lead management can solve.

Without a lead management strategy or framework in place, sales teams can find themselves investing their time in unqualified leads and letting sales-ready leads slip through the cracks. It’s the marketing department’s role to prioritize quality over quantity.

Problem #1: I’m not capturing all the leads who are searching for my company. 

You might feel your existing frameworks aren’t capturing everyone who shows an interest in your company, leaving valuable leads to fall through the cracks.

Solution: Invest in technology.

With the right automation tools in place, you can use simple code on your webpages to help you track both anonymous and known prospects.

Once prospects complete forms on your website or landing pages, their previous web visits can be automatically attributed to the new lead.

Additionally, with multiple demand generation and lead nurturing activities running concurrently, automatic de-duplication is imperative. Forms that can autocomplete if the visitor is recognized not only help your prospects save time but can also facilitate the collection of additional information for profiling and scoring. 

Problem #2: My leads aren’t ready to go to sales yet. 

Are you capturing plenty of leads that seem legitimate, only to find out they’re not interested in pursuing a purchase right now? It’s a common problem that can create frustrations if you have sales and conversion targets to meet.

Solution: Focus on informing.

In today’s market, it’s important to remember that your buyers control their own discovery process.

You can help attract top-of-funnel traffic through inbound and outbound programs and convert leads with landing pages and progressive forms. Your top-of-funnel approach should be education, so when leads first enter your database, emails and offers may provide things to help the customer frame their decision-making, such as:

  • Best practices
  • Statistics
  • Research

When done correctly, this helps build a trusting relationship with prospects and creates a better understanding of their individual needs and pain points, ultimately leading to more sales.

Problem #3: I don’t know how to tell if my leads are ready to go to sales yet. 

You have plenty of leads that fit the right profile, but you just don’t know which stage of the funnel they’re at. This means you can’t separate the ready-to-buy from the merely curious, which can impede lead nurturing efforts.

Solution: Collect more data.

When you develop and qualify potential buyers before they’re passed to sales, you can deliver more leads that close.

This way, buyers have already passed through the process of personalized nurturing campaigns. You should have a log of their online activity, so you can gauge their point in the buying cycle.

You can do this using email clicks, whitepaper downloads, and webpage visits to update scores. 

Problem #4: My sales team is not happy with the quality of leads I’m sending them. 

If your sales team isn’t satisfied, most of the time it pays to listen. While marketers deal in data, sales executives know the art of conversion — so they can usually identify a non-starter.

Solution: Prioritize quality leads.

When leads are ready for sales, context and speed matter. Prioritize best bets and focus sales conversations with quality and urgency ratings.

Let sales co-workers know what marketing strategies the prospect has responded best to and indicate which products interest them the most based on prior responses and activities. You can then work together to filter out what isn’t yet likely to land a deal.

When leads aren’t closed by sales as expected, recycle them back into marketing for further nurturing. 

Learn more about the power of lead management in our guide Ten Tips for Best Practice Lead Management.

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Components of a lead management strategy.

Managing leads is a combination of lead definition alignment, lead scoring and nurturing, and lead management software for the purpose of automation. Here are the most important components to know about.

Lead definition alignment. 

Sales and marketing teams often have conflicting views of what constitutes a qualified lead. For instance, a marketer might consider any contact that responds to a marketing campaign to be a lead, but a sales representative might only care about leads that are ready to buy.

Sales and marketing must work together to clearly define what they think a lead is. Consider the following criteria when evaluating your leads for sales-readiness: 

  • Demographics. Geographic location, company size, and so on. 
  • Lead source. Pay-per-click (PPC) search ads, social media, and the offer they responded to.
  • Behavioral information. Webpage visits, content downloads, event attendance, and so forth.

Lead scoring and nurturing. 

Lead nurturing is the process of delivering targeted, personalized resources and offers to your entire lead funnel to move prospects through the buying process. We have found that companies with excellent lead nurturing programs generate 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost.

Lead scoring is the methodology by which sales and marketing determine how likely a prospect is to be ready to buy. Using the data compiled from lead nurturing programs, your marketing and sales teams will be able to organize leads based on who is ready for sales and who needs further nurturing. 

Lead management software. 

According to an Aberdeen study, 71% of surveyed best-in-class companies said they utilized lead management technology.

Automated lead management tools help companies monitor prospect behavior and engage in timely, individualized interactions more likely to generate revenue. Automation also enhances the quality of customer data by removing duplicates or merging customer data from disparate sources.

This important functionality provides sales with a clean, up-to-date list to work with, in order to help you win more business, faster.  

Learn more about what lead management can offer in our article “5 Critical Components of Lead Management Software.”

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Return on investment (ROI) in lead management.

When you implement a lead management program, you ensure more follow-ups, responses, and sales. This is largely because: 

  • Lead management results in more follow-ups. 46% of marketers with well-planned lead management strategies have sales teams who follow up on more than 75% of leads (Strategic IC, 2017). 
  • Lead management leads to more sales at less cost. Businesses who nurture leads make 50% more sales at a cost 33% less than non-nurtured prospects (Strategic IC, 2017). 
  • Lead management helps companies reach sales quotas. Organizations with lead generation and management strategies have a 9.3% higher sales quota completion rate (CSO Insights). 

Learn more about how lead management contributes to the bottom line in our video case study on GE’s lead management solution.

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How to implement a lead management framework.

Implementing a lead management system can seem like a large project, but once you get marketing and sales on the same page, you can start logging behavior data and automating your processes to set yourself up for success.

Step 1: Work with sales to determine when a lead is sales-ready. 

In order to properly create a solid lead scoring framework, work with your sales team to build criteria that determine the steps prospects should take before they are ready for a sales call. These criteria must be agreed upon by both sales and marketing in order to be effective. 

Step 2: Score leads using behavioral data. 

Since your prospect controls their own buying process, you need to make sure you are monitoring their online activities to know when they are ready to move to the next stage.

Lead scoring determines where your buyer is in the sales funnel and should consider the prospect’s interest level defined by their actions. 

Step 3: Track anonymous visitors and tie their data to new leads. 

Simple code on your webpage can help tell you who is interested in your products.

As anonymous prospects complete forms on your website or landing pages, any previous website visits can be automatically attributed to the new lead. This helps determine the sales-readiness of new leads, since you know the entire history of the relationship with the prospect, including which campaign helped them find you in the first place.

Step 4: Progressively understand your prospects’ needs. 

As you build a relationship with your prospects, you should be learning more about their needs. Remember, every campaign that a prospect responds to tells you about their interests. Every link they click and every piece of information they fill out on a form tells you more about them.

To really build out your profiles, don’t ask your prospects to enter information you already know. Use progressive profiling to find out something new to create deeply personalized campaigns.

You can also use this information to target what sort of content may appeal to them in an email or lead nurturing campaign. 

Step 5: Measure, optimize and recycle your leads. 

Any effective lead scoring model should account for all the available data, including demographics and behaviors. Use this data to define lead scoring thresholds that indicate whether a prospect is qualified, but still nurturing, or a true sales-ready lead.

Use lead scoring software to automatically assess opportunities and pass prospects on to sales the instant they are deemed sales-ready. In instances where sales teams have concluded that certain leads are not quite ready to engage, or sales has not followed up, implement lead recycling frameworks to make sure they aren’t lost in the shuffle.


Frequently asked questions about lead management.

How do you manage leads in Excel?

To tackle lead management in Excel, create a spreadsheet with each lead’s details, including names. You may also wish to add contact details. Be sure this is stored in compliance with data protection laws in your jurisdiction. Add at least one column for your emails and calls, then mark each interaction with a Yes/No drop-down tool. Repeat this all the way to purchase.

What is lead management in CRM?

In CRM, or customer relationship management, lead management helps your company to understand which activities are bringing the leads that are most likely to result in a sale or conversion. CRM software may help to track engagements more seamlessly than pen-and-paper methods, including by adding context to each conversation.

Why is lead management important?

Lead management can help your sales team to reduce time wastage by sorting unqualified leads. Unqualified leads are those that have not been nurtured and verified. They represent a varied group — some may not yet understand your product offering, while others perhaps don’t need or can’t afford your offering.