Lead management may not be on the radar yet. But like the vibration of an otherwise undetected submarine, the big and unsolved problem it represents reverberates just below the surface. To resolve, marketers can take a cue from sales – with best practices to start seeing (and managing) leads like the emerging opportunities they are.

For many marketing executives, everything about demand generation in the digital age – the red flags, shortfalls, solutions, urgency, and challenges we need to read and respond to – still feels shockingly unfamiliar to navigate. With technology, both the capacity and complexity of our work has grown. Brands and consumers have more access to each other than ever, but the avalanche of information makes attention a rare commodity.

Meanwhile, the pressure on marketing quotas grows higher and higher, and the digital age has transformed every factor in the mix: the complexity of managing brand, customer, touchpoints, communication channels, and expectations.

We know something’s lurking under the surface. We see it daily: our status quo no longer serves us. Not in the digital age. But we’re not sure what *it* is – the phenomenon making those reverberations. Let’s unpack to diagnose.

1. We can’t measure how well we’re doing. We can’t see clearly, let alone replicate, what works best.

When we can’t measure, we can’t improve. Marketing is a highly subjective craft: awareness, influence, emotion, unmet needs, human behaviour. We can’t measure how much a prospect likes us, or how moved they were by a message we wrote. We can’t anticipate human feelings or responses. We can only hope to pop up at the right moment, ringing the right bell.

See? Not measurable. The only things quantifiable are tactics around the perimeter of our work: what percentage of recipients opened, clicked-through, and engaged with a campaign? How many emails did we collect? How many bounced back? How much did we throw over the fence?

Meanwhile, sales is measured and incentivized by closed deals. The last thing they want is to send field reps a high volume of cold contacts – their time is best spent selling, not sifting. Sales needs sure shots. Not long shots.

Before we even begin, we’re already at an impasse. Marketing is motivated by volume. Sales is motivated by quality. Given that the two deeply intersect, how should we define ‘success’?

Lead management gives marketing executives permission to think beyond volume. As unfamiliar as this may feel, it’s a crucial shift in mindset. By letting go of quotas as our primary motivation, we open up to a reality-based view of what happens to our hard work after it leaves our hands. Only then can we start designing to attract quality leads that make a difference on the top line.

2. Sales always asks for more leads, but then says we’re sending them junk. Then they ask us for more leads, and we loop around again.

Marketing lobs a ton of leads over to sales. You’re over-quota. Well done! But then sales doesn’t follow up, and most of those leads languish in forgotten corners of databases. Then they ask your team for more. In this ever-repeating loop, is anyone succeeding?

The team best-equipped to instinctively spot a good lead is Inside Sales. But as marketers, we’re conflicted by the historical chasm between our team and sales, and by the pressure of our quotas. Many of us are rock stars in terms of volume, with the status quo as it is. Why change it? What if listening to sales, let alone co-creating with them, ties our activities to revenue directly, which may not give our work a fair shake?

Let those justified concerns exist. They’re the result of years of experience. But then set them aside and keep listening. What you learn has the capacity to not only improve the working relationship between your team and sales, but to transform how you understand and communicate the quantifiable value of your work.

Ask sales to define the ideal lead from their perspective. What does a perfect lead look like? What lead characteristics would incentivize them to follow-up? How can we best provide and present data to improve the quality of the first call? Observe and record. Simply ask everyone who touches that lead what they need to succeed.

Lead management builds actionable consensus on what makes a great lead – warmed up and ready-to-buy – and enables us to design tangible process around that definition. We can then approach marketing like Field Sales approaches opportunities: a structured revenue funnel with a clear, repeatable process to attract both a high volume and high quality of leads.

3. We’re under pressure to increase lead volume and meet quotas. Running with the opportunity is sales’ job. We’re working as hard as we can.

The more leads sales picks up and runs with, the easier it is for marketing to measure and communicate our value. Their success is our success… or at least, it should be. This should be a mutually beneficial relationship. By co-owning the buyer journey with sales, we can draw a direct line between our activities and revenue, and focus on that direct line (and subsequent goodwill) in our work.

Lead management brings the age-old practice of sales opportunity management and forecasting into the marketing realm by thinking of marketing as a stage-based activity – and why not? The same parameters apply to our work. As does sales, we need to know when to call; when to give a prospect space; how to surface unaddressed needs; when to suggest a demo; when (and how) to make big promises. When we manage leads by stage, we gain a more granular control over targeting, which helps everyone forecast revenue further up the funnel and into the future.

Marketing needs to meet the criteria that every lead will be worth the pitch. Before waving the flag for sales, we’ve got to make each opportunity as close to pick-up-and-run as we can.

Marketing is a spectrum of warmth and readiness. Cold emails are just that: cold emails. So rethink the whole notion of quota. Rather than counting email stats, count the number of qualified prospects who are:

  • Aware they have a problem but aren’t sure how to move forward → In need of guidance on our potential impact as problem-solving partners
  • Aware of our industry as an answer to their problem, but are yet-unlearned on various approaches → In need of recommendations specific to their business
  • Aware of the urgency and potential gains of solving the problem, but facing a steep learning curve to define and choose a potential solution from a competitive landscape → In need of translation to choose the most confident investment from a crowded field
  • Ready-to-buy or already-engaged → Ready to talk to us

Lead management operationalizes the upper funnel – marketing’s domain – as well as the lower funnel (sales). Marketing observes, tracks, and iterates which kinds of interactions attract more of the right kinds of leads.

Funnel Marketing: Warming the Room

With consensus, communication, and follow-through, Lead Management makes troublesome reverberations in the deep disappear. The competition will no longer out-talk, out-present, or out-influence you. Together, marketing and sales will understand where prospects are in the journey and effectively communicate to them in a way that’s relevant. We all see more clearly, and perform better as a result.

By tracking prospects through the buying journey, we have the data and the map to match our message with what prospects most need to hear, when they need to hear it. We out-influence the competition with resonance and follow-through. As marketers, it feels good to know our work drives revenue by smoothing the way for sales to close more deals. But more important, it feels great to be able to prove it.


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