Lead Management Best Practices

While the lead qualification process has seen significant advances over the last ten years, Gartner reports that 70% of leads are still not properly followed up on by the sales organization. In many cases, these lost opportunities can be attributed to specific lead management challenges, including inconsistent lead definitions, marketing/sales workflow issues, and faulty lead scoring models.  This guide will provide best practices to help you identify, engage, and more effectively move prospects through your pipeline.


Evaluate your organization's SLAs

The first step to improving any lead management process is ensuring all internal stakeholders are on the same page.  Make sure sales leadership is involved and everyone is in agreement before moving forward.  Here are a few common questions you should address during this stage.

  • What agreements do you have with sales? What leads will they call on? What leads will be nurtured by marketing? When and how will the lead hand-off take place?
  • What process does the sales team have to hand-off closed business to sales and marketing ops?
  • How do you define a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?
  • How do you define a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)?
  • How quickly can sales respond to an incoming qualified lead?
  • How many times will sales reach out before rejecting a lead?

Take a full inventory of your marketing systems

Many organizations use marketing automation (Pardot, Marketo, Eloqua, HubSpot) combined with a CRM system (Salesforce, Microsoft) to drive their lead nurture strategy.  While these tools support the basic foundation of lead nurturing, there are additional tools marketers should consider to improve account insight, prioritization, and response rates.

We recommend you take the time to create a full inventory of all the technologies included in your marketing stack and map each technology to your lead nurture process. This process should help identify underutilized tools, missing pieces, and redundant products. Here are a few questions you should ask as part of this process:

  • Do all marketing contacts/responses start their flow in the marketing automation system or the sales CRM?
  • Are you capturing or investing in intent data? Is this data included in the lead and account scoring process? Are you using it to create target account lists?
  • How do all these solutions fit into the marketing stack? Do they work together? Do you have clear documentation that outlines this?
  • Where are you sourcing contacts and leads from? Are leads scored differently based on the quality of the source?

It's very important to understand this process before starting any large-scale lead development effort.


Step 1: Identify the level of engagement

Lead management and follow-up tactics should vary based on the source of your contacts. Before you can define those tactics, you first need to understand the different types of contacts you have in your marketing database.

Third-Party Contacts:  Contacts you have accessed via outside vendors who have not engaged with your content or brand. The quality of contacts can range from basic names purchased from list providers to the more sophisticated prospects you find in Priority Engine. Follow-up tactics should be dictated by the quality of contacts. For example, Priority Engine Active Prospects should be acted on before non-active contact lists, as their increased purchase behavior hints at an upcoming investment and a closing window of opportunity.

Marketing Responses: Contacts have engaged directly with your content, whether it is on a third-party website, or via an inbound source (blog, site visit, social engagement, content download).

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs): Contacts have engaged with you directly and have characteristics that would make them more likely to convert into a sales-ready lead. An example of this would be TechTarget leads, as these prospects have demonstrated recent and relevant purchase activity and have engaged directly with your content.

Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs):  Contacts have advanced from MQL and are passed to sales. These leads are typically sent to business development reps or inside sales to be qualified and passed to Account Managers.

Step 2: Understand Lead Nurturing/Scoring

Lead Nurturing and Scoring go hand in hand, but they are two different functions.

Nurturing: Marketo defines lead nurturing as...

  • "The process of developing relationships with buyers at every stage of the sales funnel, and through every step of the buyer’s journey. It focuses marketing and communication efforts on listening to the needs of prospects and providing the information and answers they need."

Nurturing leverages integrated marketing tactics to strategically deliver your message in a personalized manner to help prospects understand and solve the challenges they are researching. There are many best practice articles on this concept, but most experts recommend you start with the steps below.

  • Conduct a content audit to understand what buy cycle stage your content aligns with.
  • While most purchases are not linear, it's still important to build nurture streams and content that helps guide buyers through each stage.
  • Target and personalize your communications.
  • Trigger your communication based on user activity.  Include activity from your site analytics and accurate third-party data sources.
  • Keep it short with a clear call to action.
  • Always be testing. Test the creative, test the segmentation, test the content, test the CTA.

Scoring: Sirius Decisions defines lead scoring as:

  • “Lead scoring is a methodology used to rank prospects against a scale that represents the perceived value each lead represents to the organization. The resulting score is used to determine which leads a receiving function (e.g. sales, partners, teleprospecting) will engage, in order of priority."

There are multiple factors that should be used to influence your lead scoring model. Oracle suggests using Identity and Fit as guidelines. Is it the right contact? Is it the right fit? Similarly, Marketo likes to look at behavior and demographics from an implicit and explicit level. They list out 250+ attributes to consider when scoring in their lead scoring guide.

Step 3: Measuring & Attribution

In order to prove ROI, marketing teams need to be able to track the influence and impact of their actions.  To help understand marketing's influence on the buyer journey, we recommend adopting a multi-attribution model. Google views 6 basic lead attribution model types:

Last Interaction Model attributes 100% of the value to the last channel before conversion or sale. It’s a great baseline for comparison with other models.

First Interaction Model can help you understand which campaigns create initial awareness for your brand or product.

Linear Model might be used if your campaigns are designed to maintain contact and awareness with the customer throughout the entire sales cycle.

Position Based Model can be used to adjust credit for different parts of the customer journey, such as early interactions that create awareness and late interactions that close sales.

Time Decay Model assigns the most credit to touchpoints that occurred nearest to the time of conversion. It can be useful for campaigns with short sales cycles, such as promotions.

The type of attribution model used will vary based on resources, goals, and product. For a deeper dive on the models, and the challenges each can offer, read this article by Avinash Kaushik.

Best Practices for Attribution

Think integrated: Marketers often try to measure impact based on singular channels or tactics. Brian McCullough nicely addresses the problems with data silos when he says:

  • "All too often, advertisers tend to analyze their marketing channels in isolation – keeping mobile data separate from display, display separate from email, and so on. However, this doesn’t reflect how consumers interact with marketing messages on their paths to conversions. A display campaign may initiate interest in a product, while an email offer closes the deal. Both are equally important. A single, integrated view of data from multiple marketing channels is needed to accurately attribute the impact of each touch point on the customer journey. Advertisers may find that the channel initiating a conversion cycle is not getting proper credit, or perhaps that another channel isn’t having any influence on conversion cycles at all. These cross-channel nuances are impossible to measure when data is locked in silos."

Fit your attribution model’s window of time to your sales cycle/research journey timelines:  For example, if your sales cycle is 9 months, you should consider using a 12-month look back.

Understand the goals of your marketing tactics and the role they have in the purchase cycle: It’s unlikely a banner ad click will generate the final conversion before a large IT purchase, but it is likely to influence the decision. Don’t measure an awareness stage tactic by its ability to convert, measure by its engagement.


Speed: According to a Harvard Business Review Study, contact and qualification rates drop dramatically if you don't immediately respond. Inside sales professionals should be able to respond within five minutes to maximize contact/qualification rates. Waiting ten minutes has a 400% decrease in the odds of qualifying a contact.

Persistence: The same Harvard Study found that persistence is equally important. Most reps give up after three call attempts. However, by simply increasing to six calls you will see a 70% increase in connect rates. Make sure you are prioritizing the most qualified leads based on purchase intent and instructing the sales team to call these prospects more frequently.

Acknowledge Prospects: While speed and persistence are important, it might not be realistic for your organization to call every lead within five minutes. If your sales team can’t respond as quickly as the Harvard study suggests, design an automated workflow that will acknowledge the contacts and start nurturing them. Email contacts as quickly as possible and offer additional content that's relevant to their recent research behavior.

Use Actionable Data Sources: Accessing data is not a problem. Using it is.  Marketing and sales teams need to work together to not only decide what data types will be the most useful for improving lead management but also identify the solutions that will make the data actionable. Priority Engine can be a critical tool throughout this process, helping you determine:

To learn more about how Priority Engine can help support your sales and marketing efforts and deliver results, please read the Quick Start Guide to Priority Engine.


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Davidoff, Doug. “How and When to Follow up With All Types of Leads” HubSpot. N.p., 23 Dec. 2014. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

Lewis, Steven. “Lead Nurturing: 9 Best Practices for Lead Follow-up” MarketBridge. N.p., 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

Sincavage, Dan. “Lead Response Management: Best Practices For Winning Sales Teams” Tenfold. N.p., 24 Feb. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

Thornton, Kendall. “7 Best Practices for Lead Management” Salesforce Blog. N.p., 7 Apr. 2013. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

"The Definitive Blueprint to Lead Management" N.p.: HubSpot, n.d. HubSpot. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

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McTigue, John. “10 Steps to a Killer Lead Generation and Lead Management Process” 10 Steps to a Killer Lead Generation and Lead Management Process. N.p., 3 Nov. 2013. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

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