I’m sure you’ve all heard of the sales pipeline—I mean it’s the spine of sales leads management—but if you haven’t, here’s the basic rundown.
A sales lead is a sales prospect, or in TechTarget’s terms, an “individual or organization that expresses an interest in your goods or services” (TechTarget). Basically, it’s someone who heard about your product/services, and showed an interest.
Here’s the basic idea of a sales leads funnel:
The little confetti people at the top are everyday consumers, and the ones at the bottom are customers. The vehicle from consumer → customer is the sales funnel.
When consumers’ behaviour changes from indifferent internet surfers to interested and engaged individuals, they become a lead. Lead management is what happens when marketing attains, qualifies and nurtures leads before passing them along to sales, who presents and (fingers crossed!) closes the deal. The success of your entire sales pipeline—and the revenue targets dependant on it—lives and dies by the success of your sales leads management strategy.
Here’s how our Director of Demand Generation, Devon Hennig, puts it:
“[The pipeline] is how the C-Suite knows they're on track to hit their goals; it's how sales reps are kept busy, yet not overwhelmed; and it's how marketing can tell which of their efforts are providing the strongest return on investment.”
Here’s how to hack your sales lead management to optimize your consumer:customer ratio.
Table of Contents
1. Cultivate a strong sales & marketing relationship
Okay, maybe this isn’t starting off how you thought it would, but the relationship between your marketing and sales department is crucial in having a solid leads management structure. Your sales lead pipeline is your business’ lifeline, and that pipeline runs straight from marketing into sales, channeling leads from one department to the next so your sales team can close sales and start partnerships.
As our Marketing Analyst, Taylor Galipeau, puts it:
“The most important thing in lead management is a good relationship between sales and marketing. These two departments should consider their "other halves" when making every decision in order for them to be the most successful!”
And she’s right! A MarketingProfs study shows that organizations with tightly-aligned sales and marketing teams achieve a 38% higher sales win rate. Both departments, and the alignment between them, are crucial in handling leads—from marketing selecting the most likely to convert (identification and qualification), to sales finding and presenting the perfect solution to their needs. The pipeline runs right through both departments, so the healthier the inter-departmental relationship, the healthier the pipeline.
[clickToTweet tweet="Sales pipelines run through sales & marketing, so the better the relationship, the better the pipeline!" quote="The pipeline runs right through both departments, so the healthier the inter-departmental relationship, the healthier the pipeline."]
Rich Seaward, Sales Manager of our Sales Development team, says “Pipeline management starts with marketing's efforts to bring in leads and sales applying effort to reach out and determine whether they are a fit or not for our platform.”
💡 Actionable Tip: Align your sales and marketing team with open lines of communication and collaboration to increase company-wide success and grow your revenue.
The Vendastian method of cultivating a strong sales and marketing relationship involves a few things. We have a monthly combined sales and marketing update newsletter that covers what each team has accomplished in the month, and celebrates the victories between the two. Additionally, we have weekly meetings between the teams to discuss gaps and disconnects in the sales pipeline, and brainstorm together how we can plug them up. In more measurable terms, we have an SLA (Sales and Marketing Service Level Agreement) that measures our commitments, i.e:
- Marketing will provide X amount of leads per month, and each lead will be given to the sales reps in X amount of time
- Sales will follow up with each lead within X minutes, and will call at least X amount of times in the first week of receiving the lead
2. Identify & qualify your sales leads
In the business world, and more specifically the marketing world, there’s something called the “marketing qualified lead” (MQL). This is a lead that is judged by the marketing team to be more likely to convert, and therefore worth paying attention to. The leads that get passed on from marketing into sales are MQLs, and the unqualified leads fall to the wayside.
This may sound like a sad story, but it’s vital in optimizing your sales leads management and moving that consumer:customer ratio in your favor. When only 25% of leads are legitimate, you can’t be wasting your sales people's time by passing the other 75% of the leads down the pipeline with them (DMN3). Besides, the whole process of qualifying a lead is just determining who’s actually interested in your product, versus who’s a) spam b) some old person lost and confused on the internet c) all of the above.
Something tells me that Mechelle wouldn't make it through Panera's qualifying process
So how do you go about qualifying those leads? Every company’s qualifying process is different. As Devon puts it, “On one side of the fence, you've got people who qualify their leads till kingdom come, and by the time their prospects get to sales, they know everything about them—their birthdays, blood types, favorite chocolate bars, etc. On the other side of the fence are those who pass along leads as soon as they have a pulse.”
The “right” qualifying process is what works best for your company, as long as you can find a happy medium between stalker-level data collection and a barely-existent process. It’s a struggle, because you have to balance passing the lead off in a timely manner with ensuring the leads you’re sending down the pipeline are worth talking to.
Another aspect of lead qualifying is judging if the prospect is a right fit, as well as their interest level. What you do with the lead depends on where they fall in the fit vs interest spectrum:
To nurture, or not to nurture, that is the question...
The qualifying process is also where buyer personas come in. Every lead has varying tastes, needs, position and priorities, and having various pre-made personas you can match them to with the data you collect will give the sales team a huge head start in closing the deal. Buyer personas are invaluable at various points along the sales lead pipeline, so building your own is crucial.
💡 Actionable tip: Become an internet spy and start collecting data about your current customers—everything from job title and company size, down to personal hobbies and interests—and build your own buyer personas. I built a handy worksheet for you to use just for this blog, too!
Start assigning lead scores
Even if a lead is determined as “qualified,” it doesn’t mean they’re ready to buy. Lead scoring is the process of assigning the lead a certain score that gauges their sales-readiness and overall value to your business. Where they are in the funnel, how engaged they are with what content, what kind of buyer persona they match—these are all factors in stampic them with a score value.
If your business is pulling in a strong enough flow of leads, then lead scores are a great idea. Marketing assigning a lead score helps the sales reps know how to prioritize the leads they’re given so they can give the most time, effort and care to the highest scoring leads.
Hot or not? (and how to tell)
Image Source: Customer Magnetism
If there was a room full of MQLs, a hot lead would be the person batting their eyelashes, complimenting your full suite of products, and giving all the right hints that they’re ready to seal the deal (with a contract, of course). These puppies are ready to buy.
Did you know that Vendasta’s Sales and Success Center actually has a “hotness” algorithm? When your marketing team sends out outbound campaigns or nurture emails, sales will be automatically notified when a lead clicks through and shows engagement on that campaign. There’s no better time to engage with your lead than when they’re clicking around your emails and products, and the Sales and Success Center gives you that power.
3. Implement a pipeline management tool
Leave clunky, manual spreadsheets and word processor programs in the past when it comes time to manage your sales pipeline. You can drastically reduce the tediousness of your marketing and sales team’s tasks just by implementing a strong pipeline management tool to help organize, qualify, manage and assign your leads and opportunities. The faster you sort and assign leads, the faster your salespeople will get in touch, and the more likely they are to close (business2community).
One type of tool is a CRM, or “customer relationship management” tool, which is specifically designed to manage your customer relationship...hence the name. They provide value by capturing detailed information about your prospects interactions and engagements, which can feed back into your lead score and the salesperson’s ability to make the sale.
Devon: “I hear it all the time: ‘My CRM is a necessary evil.’ To me, that's bologna. Why put up with something unless it's truly your only option? Thankfully, there's a growing selection of specialized CRMs out there, many of which are getting better and better every day.”
Sales pipeline management tools allow you to track everything about your ongoing sales deals and activity, so you can create sales forecasts your agency can rely on. A good pipeline management tool will allow you to work smarter and keep your sales pipeline organized to increase efficiency.
Vendasta's Sales Pipeline
Vendasta’s Sales & Success Center is built for sales opportunity management with the Sales Pipeline feature. The pipeline allows your salespeople to create, update, and close sales opportunities within seconds. Each account can have multiple opportunities associated with it that you can track separately. The progress of one opportunity remains independent from other sales opportunities within the same account. A system like this empowers your salespeople to make more informed decisions and your sales managers to build more reliable forecasts.
"This is the single most important tool in managing a world class sales organization. Our Pipeline allows our executive, managers & reps to confidently track & predict revenue. This has allowed us to make critical adjustments when needed."
—Doug Campbell, Senior Director of Revenue
With Sales Pipeline, your team can:
- Know where to focus their time and effort
- Make data-driven decisions that lead to more closed-won opportunities
- Build more reliable sales forecasts
Start managing your sales opportunities more efficiently. Get a demo of the Sales Pipeline!
4. Become the pipeline plumber
If your sales pipeline was a real pipe, think of yourself (and your team) as the plumber. You can’t just install a rickety pipe, assume it works, and leave it at that. You have to make sure that pipe is doing its job! Is water moving efficiently from point A to point B? Is it slowing down somewhere, or is there a leak where valuable droplets are spilling out? What in your pipe is causing this to happen, and how can you fix it?
Every sales pipeline will run into leaks along the way, and it’s your job as the plumber to make sure they get plugged. The plumber that gets the biggest tip is the one that goes above and beyond with fixes, and even finds ways to further improve the pipe, and your team should strive to be the best pipeline plumbers in town. (I’d say you should strive to be the Mario and Luigi of plumbers--but did they even really do much plumbing in the first place?)
[clickToTweet tweet="You're the pipeline plumber. You can't just install a rusty pipe, assume it works, and leave! @Vendasta" quote="You're the pipeline plumber. You can't just install a rusty pipe, assume it works, and leave!"]
The structural flaws of every pipe will differ, but the most common leaks are often the biggest ones. Once you know where and what’s causing the leak, you’ll be able to craft a solution to plug it up. Here a couple leaks to watch out for that might be losing you those big drops of confetti-people/water droplets/leads (calm down with metaphors and symbolism, Dew!).
Slow lead follow-up times
You’re nine times more likely to convert web leads if you follow up with them within five minutes (LRM). Chop chop! The root cause of this issue may be that you’re assigning too many leads to too few sales reps, so the reps are being bogged down with leads they can’t contact fast enough. The solution to this issue may be to hire more sales reps, or figure out how to lessen the reps’ workload in other areas so they can focus more on contacting the leads.
At Vendasta, we put a cap of 500 leads per sales rep, which has done wonders to plug up the pipeline leaks that were time-based. Before implementing a cap, a rep had to skim from the top of 1000+ leads and neglect any that were 2+ months old, which meant we could have been missing out on some big opportunities.
A lead ghosting on their booked presentation isn’t really your fault, but it can be a major leak in your pipeline. Turn this around in your favor by having the sales rep reach out to touch base and either reschedule, or figure out what went wrong along the way that caused them to lose interest. In many cases, the lead may have just forgotten about the appointment and would be happy to chat another time!
Another gem from Demand Generation Director Devon: “There's a lot you can't control about the sales and marketing process—e.g., gatekeepers, decision makers, budget cuts, etc. The trick is to focus on the things you can control. Personally, I spend a lot of time analyzing speed and persistence. Speed, as in how fast our reps are following up with leads, and persistence, as in how often they're calling back, are two aspects that directly affect conversion and are completely within a company's control. Make sure you have the right tools and dashboards set up to measure those metrics accurately.”
Measure and improve the piping
As I mentioned initially, you should be constantly looking at not just plugging up the leaks in your pipe, but also improving the pipe for efficiency. Knowing your pipeline’s structural flaws starts with observing the water flow, so break out that metaphorical measuring tape and get to work!
Analysing the data in your CRM and tracking specific KPIs will let you determine the success or failure of your pipeline management efforts so you can keep applying fixes and tweaks that will improve the flow of leads from consumer:customer down your pipeline. What’s the most important thing for you to measure, and why? Cost per acquisition, lead source, cost per lead? Once you determine these things, you can set up the right tools in your sales leads management process to track and optimize.
I’ll leave you with some closing thoughts from the sales leads management experts at Vendasta, so you can get out there with your pipeline toolbelt full of tips and start pulling in leads and increasing your revenue!
Do not be afraid to twist dials and try different things if something is not working! What worked months ago may no longer be the answer. You have to accept that change is constant.
- Rich Seaward, SDR Sales Manager
Learn about status quo bias and how to beat it. Don't be afraid to test your sales and marketing SLA. If inbound marketing isn't enough, learn how outbound marketing can fill your pipeline. Be nice to each other, and above all else, remember that money can't buy happiness—although it can pay for the pursuit.
- Devon Hennig, Director of Demand Generation
Transparency is the key to a successful relationship between marketing and sales. Think of it like a romantic relationship—if you're hiding something from your other half, there's probably something shady going on. Sharing all your dirty secrets with the other team may seem rough, but believe me your lead funnel will thank you!
-Taylor Galipeau, Marketing Analyst