Companies invest valuable time, effort and budget to generate sales leads for their products and services. But your leads are only as good as your company’s ability to respond appropriately and track them through the sales process.

Research studies show that up to an astounding 80% of leads are ignored, lost or discarded. That translates into a lot of wasted resources. Some leads may be ignored or discarded by the sales team because the target customer is not properly defined or marketing is not generating the right sales lead. If this is your situation, marketing and sales must work together to create profiles of target customers and agree upon a definition of exactly what constitutes a sales lead. Part of the definition might include the prospect’s role in their organization, authority in the buying process, stage of buying process, budget and other attributes.

Yet even if you have a clear definition of a good sales lead and are generating leads through marketing programs, the process of managing sales leads — even the best leads — might be flawed, leading to lost opportunities, wasted resources, and dissatisfaction among your sales and marketing teams.

To make the most of your lead generation efforts and to give you the best opportunity to convert leads into customers, you must define an ironclad lead management process. An ironclad lead management process will:

  • Place someone in charge of lead management
  • Provide guidelines for responding to leads
  • Clearly indicate how to distribute sales leads
  • Enable you to know the status of leads at all times in the sales cycle
  • Continue nurturing leads that are not ready to buy
  • Better track ROI on marketing programs

Who’s in Charge?
Depending on your organization, responsibility for lead management may belong with the marketing department, the sales department, or even with a cross-functional team. The point is to make lead management a priority and to assign someone who has authority and influence with both sales and marketing departments to be responsible and accountable for it. That’s the best way to make sure something gets done.

Leads Happen: What’s Your Response?
Leads come in to your company: through the Web, over the phone, at an event . . . what do you do with them? Key components of an ironclad lead management process include creating a central repository for leads, responding to leads in a timely manner, and distributing leads appropriately for follow-up.

A central repository can be as simple as a spreadsheet with a few columns added to track the nature and status of leads, or it can be a sophisticated database-driven CRM system. Either way, whoever touches leads should have access to the lead repository system to update information.

Once leads come in, you need to respond to them quickly and appropriately. Today, many leads are generated on the Web, which means your prospects are on Internet time. They expect a response within 24 hours and may forget about you and move on to a competitor if they don’t hear from your company in that timeframe.

Your definition of a lead as well as knowing how a lead prefers to engage with you will help determine your response. For example, an RFQ is a hot lead; you should generate a fast response in terms of a proposal. A more general e-mail inquiry about your company’s products might be better suited to a simple e-mail response with additional information. The nature and timing of your response will often determine your ability to establish a positive relationship with a lead.

Who Gets the Leads?
Part of your lead management process is knowing how to distribute leads. Every company is different and there is no right or wrong way. Just make sure you know who gets what lead. Some companies distribute leads geographically based on territory, others use distributors for some or all leads, others give only highly-qualified leads to sales and the others go to marketing.

Wherever the leads go, they need to be tracked using your lead tracking system. Define who is responsible for updating the status of a lead so that at any give time you can determine what’s working and what’s not in terms of lead generation and lead management.

What About Long-Term Leads?
It’s likely that the majority of leads you generate are not ready make an immediate purchase. They might get pursued by a salesperson and pushed aside if there isn’t an immediate opportunity, or they might not qualify for a salesperson’s attention to begin with.

Do not discard or ignore these leads! Long-term leads can represent significant sales opportunity down the road — as long as they keep your company in mind and remember to engage again when ready to buy. Marketing should take control of these leads and “nurture” them by sending relevant information and offers: keep them interested with white papers, articles, product announcements, Webinar invitations and other useful information. There’s a high likelihood that someday these prospects will raise their hand again, at which point they will be a hot lead ready for your sales team.

While this article provides an overview of lead management, establishing and maintaining an ironclad lead management process takes cooperation and discipline among your team. For more in-depth advice, please download GlobalSpec’s complimentary white paper, “Sales Lead Management: Proven Strategies for Engineering, Technical and Industrial Marketers.”


  1. I agree with the 80% of leads “lost”, etc. The biggest issue is qualifying leads before sending to the sales team. Significant time and effort is spent to qualify leads and make them of value to the sales team. Unqualified lead distribution wastes everyone’s time and ultimately undercuts the lead generation program.

  2. I agree that most leads are lost too. It’s crazy, since marketing works so hard to generate them. We work very hard with our clients to help make sure they implement and follow good systems.

    We’ve implemented a system where all leads get automatically entered into our CRM system with a lead date and lead source, and are then called and qualified by inside sales. If necessary, they get routed to more senior sales staff.

    We then have a process to review all of the leads each week to make sure they’ve been followed up. It’s not perfect, because there are still manual processes involved, but it’s gotten us very close to 100% follow up. Tracking the source of each lead allows us to close the loop with sales, which is critically important to optimize marketing spend.

  3. At 90octane, we’ve found several ways to effectively lead nurture – or use planned marketing messaging to bubble a sales lead up to warm status. One method is nurturing through ongoing communications, such as an e-newsletter. It’s relatively low cost and doesn’t require any sophisticated, data-driven targeting. Your brand will be top of mind for prospects ready to move from the research or evaluation phase of their purchase cycles into decision-making.

    Drip marketing is a bit more sophisticated. It’s putting targeted messages in front of prospects based on their individual profiles – information you glean from registration forms or what you can infer from offers they’ve accessed in the past. The better you know your prospects’ industry, the more tailored your offers and the paths you push them down can be.

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