Your company invests good money to generate leads for its sales team. And your sales team turns those leads into paying customers. In theory, that’s how it works. In reality, the story is often different.

Research shows that 80% of leads are ignored, lost or discarded. That’s not just some of the leads, that’s a vast majority. The reasons are many: poor handoff of leads from marketing to sales, lack of responsibility and accountability, no tracking of leads through the sales process, sales doesn’t like the leads that marketing generates, no agreed upon definition of what constitutes a lead, leads are followed-up with once and then forgotten if an immediate sale isn’t made … you get the picture.

To avoid these costly pitfalls and wasted resources, your marketing and sales teams must make a commitment to work together to agree upon the definition of a lead, manage leads once they come in the door, and track the outcome of leads that pass through your marketing and sales process.

Commitment starts at the top
To be successful at lead management, you must have executive sponsorship. The heads of marketing and sales must agree that lead management is a priority and instill the culture of lead management within the ranks. Depending on the structure of your organization, someone from marketing or sales (or even better, a team of individuals from both marketing and sales) should be assigned responsibility for lead analysis and management.

Additionally, working as a team, marketing and sales should agree upon a definition of a lead, taking into account factors such as company type, industry, prospect title, buying timeframe, budget and other relevant data to help analyze the quality of a lead. You may end up with more than one definition: for example, leads that are defined as “marketing” leads because they are not qualified enough for sales, and “hot” leads that are sales ready.

Analyzing and responding to leads
Leads come into your company via registration forms submitted on landing pages, e-mail inquiries, RFQs, phone calls and more. The person or team of people responsible for leads must analyze all leads and handle them appropriately. Established guidelines such as lead definitions will help you decide what to do with a lead. Highly qualified leads may be passed to the sales team directly for follow-up. Some companies give leads to distributors based on type or geographic location. Some leads may not contain enough information to assess; these may be leads for marketing.

It’s important to respond quickly to leads. Most leads today are generated on the Internet, and people using the Internet have grown accustomed to immediate gratification. Therefore, you should respond to every lead within 24 hours, whether it’s a sales call to a hot prospect or an automated e-mail to leads that are not yet qualified. 

The majority of leads you generate are not ready to buy immediately. Yet a timely response is still essential to demonstrate to a prospect you are interested in them, ready to help, and can meet their needs. Try sending an e-mail or series of e-mails with links to information that may be helpful to them, such as white papers, data sheets, Webinar invitations and other content related to their area of interest. This is called lead nurturing — you “care for” or “nurture” your leads by communicating with them on a regular basis. Eventually they might respond in a manner which shows they are moving into buying mode and are ready for your sales team.

Measure if you want to manage
Your hard work of agreeing upon a rock-solid definition of a lead, establishing lead response processes, and ensuring flawless handoffs of leads from marketing to sales won’t amount to much if you don’t track leads throughout the marketing and sales process.

Some companies use customer relationship management (CRM) or sales force automation (SFA) systems that offer robust features for entering, distributing, updating and tracking leads. But if your company doesn’t have this technology, a spreadsheet can get the job done. Enter each lead as a row on the spreadsheet and add columns to identify the source of a lead, track its status at any time in the sales and marketing process, and know who is responsible for the lead at any given time. Anyone who has contact with leads should have access to the system for tracking leads so they can update the tracking information.

One of the reasons it’s essential to keep track of the status of leads is that a lead you generate today may not convert to a customer for six months, a year or even longer. But when a lead does convert, you’ll want to know the origination of that lead so you can measure the effectiveness of your marketing programs.

Final reminder: lead analysis and management is a disciplined process that takes place over time and requires ongoing commitment from both sales and marketing. Better lead management will result in more conversions of prospects into customers and stronger return on investment of your marketing programs.


  1. My company uses Excel to track leads. I am unable to convince the sales team to update this file regularly. I have been told that it is too time consuming. Instead, I am responsible for tracking the leads through the sales process. Basically, I output a form for the sales staff to fill out for each lead. It is hard to get sales to fill out the form completely and to return it in a timely basis. Once it is returned, I then enter the information into the spreadsheet. Needless to say, this is very time consuming. What lead management software would be recommended that would be simple and not time consuming for the sales team to use? Cost is also a factor. Thanks for your input.

  2. Salesforce or NetSuite. You need automated tools to track this. Use campaigns to enter all leads. Convert the sales ready leads to accounts and opportunities. Have sales send email from Salesforce (there is an Outlook plugin) so it’s logged into the history. Campaings track the new opportunities to get $$$ ROI. In theory anyway. Good Luck!

  3. I work at a small company (40 employees, 4 sales) where there is no distinction between sales and marketing. Therefore, the account managers are expected to qualify all prospects. Unfortunately, as indicated in this article, they typically ignore any prospect that has not been pre-qualified. I keep a list of all prospects I have distributed and follow-up with the account managers. Any suggestions for motivation short of replacing the account managers (which I am considering)?

  4. Here’s another, more bottom-line way to look at it.

    45% of inquiries buy within 12 months – from somebody. And another 30% still plan to buy at the end of that same 12 months. That’s 75% of inquiries – that you’ve already paid for – with the potential to become sales for you and not someone else.

    Yet the average conversion rate of inquiries to sales is right around 5.5%. The bottom line: 40-70% of your lead gen results are lost. That risks your competitive edge and escalates lead costs.

    Hold onto more of your inquiries, and you’ll deny opportunities to your competitors and increase the return on your lead gen investments at the same time. That’s why lead analysis and management are so important.

    When it comes to lead management and nurturing, if you can switch your focus to the lead’s agenda – away from the Sales and Marketing agendas – it’ll be much easier for Marketing and Sales to work together. They’ll be working toward the same goal of satisfying each lead’s agenda.

  5. Is it not upto sales to qualify the leads ? Marketing is to provide the leads and sales should be responsible for the customer contact and qualification of the lead as short/long term conversion or a lead which need not be pursued.

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