Lead Management in a Connected World

Haroon Ahmad 

Let me share an interesting thought, for the sales people reading this. All of the 5 billion of the adult human population in this world is a potential customer for some enterprise. Most business in the world depends on a good Leads management process, and no Sales Leadership or Sales Team can ignore this aspect, without risking declining Sales.

We are in an ever increasingly connected world, with more and more information about your prospects available, which can generate a lot of data. But as the information available to your Sales team increases, do they have the tools to make better decisions from that data, or are they overwhelmed by the sheer numbers?

Lead management can be as simple as keeping a list of your 20 prospects in an Excel sheet, or as complex as managing data and interactions with millions of Leads (maybe like Clinton or Trump campaigns during the recent elections)

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been working to automate Sales Processes of various organizations. And I wanted to share some thoughts on the key elements of a comprehensive Leads Management process that need to be in place to ensure the Sales team and the Sales process is empowered for maximum success and productivity.

It’s important to keep the Sales team focused to selling and not on managing Sales data and processes. The question is: does your Sales and Marketing team have the tools so they spent as close to 100% of their time in generating leads and closing deals, as possible.

Lead Management is a huge area, of course. But there are some key aspects that should not be overlooked why designing and running your Sales process automation. I’ll divide those these areas into a few different categories:

  • Lead Ingestion – importing lead into your system from multiple sources. This could be coming from external Forms, or emails, from external system using APIs, or manually uploaded using CSV files.
  • Lead Quality and Qualification – Before and as you bring in new Leads into your CRM system, it’s important to have a clear criteria of what’s a qualified Lead. And once your Lead criteria is defined, you want to put a check in place to make sure unqualified Leads are rejected by your CRM, so your Leads data stays as clean as possible.
  • Lead De-duplication – as Leads are fed into your CRM, it’s important to have a well thought out de-duplication strategy in place. Often times this is a neglected area, as the inclination is to get the data first, and the clean it. But it’s important to have an ongoing (maybe evolving) strategy for your de-duplication process, so Leads stay clean.
  • Lead Assignment – This can be very simple Out of the Box implementation, or a 3 month Apex based implementation, based on the complexity and size of your Sales organization. I’ve worked on a assignment engine, which was so huge it constantly ran into governor limits. But smart architects, will keep their assignment engine as code free, and configurable as possible. Because changes to assignment rules are usually far too frequent, and the assignment engine should be built to be very easy to change and quick to adapt to changing business needs.
  • Emailing Leads – Sales teams widely use email campaigns to reach their prospects. Some key things to keep in mind: Have the email templates as personalized as possible and allow the Leads to opt out of the campaign. Another key thing is to be able to track the number of times an email has been opened. If an email is opened 2 or more times by your Lead, then you know there’s a likely match and maybe a phone call at the time right can be impactful. It was not a coincidence that a person who opened my email 18 times, dropped me a note asking to meet in person shortly after. Also, you should be able to report on all Emails sent to your Leads comprehensively, and be able to see which emails are how effective. Emails remain one of the most powerful ways to reach prospects.
  • Email to CRM Integration – Wouldn’t it be awesome if your communication tool of choice, your email, was able to keep track of all emails sent to and receive from your Leads, let you create Leads from within your email tool, and give you additional information on your Leads as you communicate with your leads. Well, many of these tools are already available today, to plug into your CRM, including Salesforce. I strongly feel the CRM and the Email Tools will come together even more in the days ahead, and it’ll be one smarter CRM which is also a communication platform, with social media integration and chat built in.
  • Phone Calls to Leads – A lot of Sales teams use CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) and built in Dialers to make outbound calls to their prospects, from within the CRM. The CTI tools allow your agents to easily make outbound calls from predefined criteria based lists, log calls, leave pre-recorded voice mails. In sales teams, where efficiency and scale are key, this capability becomes a must have for your CRM.
  • Tracking Leads Activity on Website – If your website and online marketing content is strong, then you must make sure you can use the data from website visits by your Leads, to further qualify and rank your leads. If you Lead just downloaded a white paper, or clicked through five different pages of your product offerings, then you can target them in a much more focussed way, and spend a lot more time in nurturing them. We’re living in a data and knowledge driven world. Sales teams who can use this knowledge to guide and drive their actions will be most successful.
  • Lead Information using Social Media Handles – More and more companies are looking to tap into automated Social Media integration to get latest information on their prospects. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you knew your Lead was going to be at a certain event, or commenting on a certain blog, to know their interest and inclination to help rank and qualify the Lead. I think this is a trend that’ll increase with time. It’s a connected world, and there’s no reason why salespeople shouldn’t know the latest about their Leads.
  • Lead Scoring and Qualification – Think about this: I just sent someone a marketing email that she opened 5 times. Right after that I sent a LinkedIn invite that she accepted. She also happens to represent a company which I know is using the services/product of a competitor, and is in my geographical area, and is of the size of my typical customer. All of these different factors should go into building up a high score for that Lead. While there is no perfect science to Lead scoring, smart Sales leaders know how to qualify good leads, and institutionalizing that logic into your CRM, will help focus your sales teams on the most likely to convert prospects.
  • Define and Institutionalize a Lead Process – This defines what are the different steps along the way in your Lead process from a Lead being created to being converted to an Opportunity. This process could have multiple paths or flows, based on different types of Leads. But it’s important to have a Lead process in place, and institutionalize it with your CRM system. When and how Leads will be contacted, qualified, converted and by whom, what are the different statuses a Lead can have, and what fields need to be filled up at each status, and what actions can be taken at each status are the typical things specified in a Lead process. Lead Campaigns would typically be part of Leads Management process.
  • Convert a Lead at the right time – At what point you convert a Lead to an Opportunity, is unique to a company’s Salesforce process and needs, and different for different companies. But this is basically the point when your sales team decides that there is a high likelihood of getting business from this prospect. The Lead Conversion can be manual done from the UI individually, or automatically done using Apex, when certain criteria are met in the Lead data. Also, in many cases custom Lead conversion process and UI has to be built, to meet the business requirements.
  • Have a company wide view of the Leads – A company could have multiple leads in your system. If you connect to one Lead, and are able to move ahead with that Lead in the Sales cycle, you probably don’t want other Leads in the company being contacted. Similarly, when a Lead for a company is converted, you probably want the other Leads of that company converted as well.
  • Do Ongoing Lead Data cleanup and refresh – A colleague of mine, making cold calls and sending emails found out that the Lead data is about 2 years old, and the companies he’s calling to don’t exist anymore. And I’ve seen cases where old Lead data causes confusion and errors in running and reporting of the Leads process. And for some companies, it’s a question of legal compliance to remove PII information from their CRM system, after a certain period. So, for various reasons, ongoing constant cleanup and refresh of Lead data is very important. It will, of course, also help you limit data storage usage. You’re probably aware of high storage costs charged by many Cloud CRM companies.
  • Capability to ‘Un-Convert’ Leads – The reason why many CRM systems, convert a Lead, is when the sales team think, they need to interact at a much deeper level. Interaction and data capture needs of a converted Lead (Opportunity) are much more. But, what if the converted Lead, didn’t become a customer, the deal failed at some point. And now you want to put back the converted Lead into a lead nurture campaign with your other prospects. for these reasons, it’s nice to have the capability in your CRM to un-convert a Lead, and put it back into a Lead nurturing campaign.
  • Lead Reporting and Analytics – This is of course more important for high volume CRM systems. But being able to have visibility about how the Leads are flowing through the Lead process is key to monitoring and refining your Leads process and pipeline. In addition to the normal Leads reporting like ‘New Leads per week’, ‘Leads by Source’, it is important to be able to have a comprehensive view of Leads Lifecycle Metrics. Some examples of this include what’s the average time before a Lead gets converted, what’s the Lead Conversion ratio, which agents and Lead sources are producing better Lead conversions etc.
  • Apply Machine Learning to Lead Management – Lead and lead management can generate a lot of data. Are you leveraging data analytics and machine learning, to help find patterns in your Sales data, to make smarter decisions. Which are your best Lead Sources, who are your highest ranked leads, who are your best agents, and what do you need to change your Lead management process to increase your revenue by 50%? It’s important to make Machine Learning work for your CRM, so that as more and more lead data becomes available, Machine Learning can help you focus on the key Leads that will likely become customers.

We know how focussed sales teams are on selling and closing deals, in an ever changing customer and competitive landscape. A lot of Sales leaders don’t have bandwidth to pause and review their Lead management processes, especially for small and mid-size companies. But it’s critical for Sales leaders and CRM technology experts to come together and partner to build the right Lead management process.

So that when the Sales Rep comes to work everyday, he feels empowered to connect with the new prospects and close new deals to propel your company forward.