Tl;dr - Lead management isn't merely an admin function of assigning trade show leads once you're back in the office. Rather it's a process of refining your understanding of a lead's status and matching that to the appropriate sales resource. That takes creativity, technology, and some critical steps.
What is Lead Management?
Lead management is the process by which leads are captured, scored, engaged, and assigned. It's often performed by marketing operations and relies heavily on marketing automation technology to manage at scale.
Many industrial manufacturers haven't invested in lead management because they're accustomed to a relatively small number of leads that are consistent and familiar. In other words, they may receive a few call-ins driven by their website and industrial register listings. They may receive a couple of "contact us" form submissions via their website, and they probably accumulate 1,000 leads a year via trade show participation.
Those get routed via whatever territory management schema they use (industry, geography, etc) to a rep for follow-up. The assignment and perfunctory handoff are normally handled by a sales manager or sales administrator who emails the assigned rep. There's often only casual accountability for follow-up.
That's very different than the method used by technology and SaaS companies where lead volumes and sources are often higher and more varied. These companies rely heavily on automation to understand more about leads, properly categorize them, actively engage and nurture them, and assign them to the right level of marketing/sales outreach based on the relative fit to the ICP and activity.
Why is Lead Management important?
There are two major reasons why lead management is important for industrial manufacturers.
First, sales teams' lead follow-up is often not commensurate with the company's significant investment in lead generation. I've worked with manufacturers who attended five, ten, or more trade shows yearly and spend thousands on trade journal ads. Yet they couldn't report on the status of each lead, nor which turned into pipeline or actual revenue, or what efforts were made by sales to actually meet with each.
I've even worked with a well-managed company that had thousands of trade show leads from the previous three years which they acknowledged had never been contacted.... yet the sales team demanded continued advertising and show participation.
The concept of revenue attribution tells us that a company should be able to measure the impact of every marketing dollar spent and inform decisions on where to invest based on cost/lead (CPL), customer acquisition cost (CAC), and lifetime value by lead source.
Further, appropriate sales management would put those who don't work leads on a PIP (performance improvement plan) and eventually fire those who refuse.
But both require data - and lead management process and technology combine to accumulate and organize that data.
Second, the nature of leads is changing, so the way they're managed must too. The gold standard in leads from industrial marketing has always been the trade show booth visit by a decision maker from a company with an active project for which there's a spec, approved capital, and reasonable deadline. The reality in the world of internet research is that many leads don't meet those criteria. In fact, they can be very early stage and nowhere near sales-ready.
Some call those "crappy" leads and opine that inbound marketing is fruitless. That's a gross oversimplification typical of today's common bifurcation of everything into fabulous or horrible.
The fact is that a 3rd shift leader who downloads a guide on improving system OEE at 2 am is sending a very powerful and important signal. Something's not running well. That likely creates an opportunity for a conversation and gradual education around value and authority. When done well, it's reasonable to anticipate that the next time that company buys a similar system, you will be involved in the discussions. In the meantime, with expert sales and marketing, you might frame and accelerate that conversation. But at 7 am, immediately after the download, there is no sales-ready lead.
So who should follow up? And how? Should sales call? Or start a multi-touch omnichannel sales cadence to set a meeting? Should the person simply be left alone with a simple download acknowledgment email linking to a couple of other resources? Should a BDR follow up to learn more? Should marketing put them on a nurture list?
The right answer includes a number of steps and functions that are outlined below, and which include common terminology, and appropriate lead scoring
When those questions aren't answered proactively, then some default action will occur. It will likely be inadequate, and often the same for all "leads." Business leaders should expect and demand more.
Lead management is a perfect example of the complexity of revenue growth in today's markets, and the imperative of following an ORE™ (Overall Revenue Effectiveness) framework. Integration of marketing and sales, and process engineering of the buying/sales journeys help to create appropriate buyer experiences, deliver the right info to leads using their preferred channel, and involve the right sales resources with the right context at the right time
Who's Responsible for Lead Management?
One of the challenges of lead management is that it's more complex than simply distributing a list of trade show lead forms.
Management should participate in discussions to establish definitions of terms including "sales qualified leads." They'll also influence reporting formats and frequencies. Certain metrics like cost per lead will be shared with finance, investors, owners, and across the management team.
In other words, proper lead management is a team and management function.
That being said, much of the work is handled by marketing operations since they control the marketing automation software which collects leads, harvests intent data, performs lead scoring, nurtures leads, and reports on results. Sales operations and sales management are also often involved. It's another illustration of the need to integrate marketing and sales, and to use an ORE framework.
In most capital equipment sales organizations the marketing coordinator (who manages the marketing automation) will need to collaborate with the sales leader to create proper lead management programs - with guidance and encouragement and guidance from senior management.
Becacuse lead management is a journey of gradually refined process and adaptations to evolving marketing conditions and buyer expectations, periodic adjustments will be required as well.
Key Lead Management Functions
Effective lead management is both a mindset and a set of tasks and functions that collectively improve sales efficiency and effectiveness. These include:
Lead scoring is the automated process that associates a dynamic score with each lead. The scores include a number of factors including contact activity (frequency, velocity, types of activity, specific pages visited, etc.), company activity (aggregate of known and unknown users, variety of job titles, etc.), and account fit (measured against the ICP.) Lead scoring is normally managed according to a set of rules which run in the background of marketing automation software. Lead scoring rules should be the product of marketing and sales collaboration and should be periodically updated.
Lead scoring helps to focus the right sales resources on the right leads at the right time based on objective factors. Intent data, particularly first-party intent data, is an important lead-scoring tool.
Industrial companies often think of lead assignment as an administrative step - simply forwarding a lead to the sales rep whose industry, target account, or geographical assignment matches.
It's more nuanced than that.
Leads vary tremendously by job function and seniority, account fit, stage in buying journey, problem they're trying to solve, budget authority, etc. As noted above, some are very, very early stage.
Lead assignment can be improved with proper scoring, and establishing combinations of score thresholds with other factors to match the lead to the best resource. Leads can be assigned to executives, sales managers, sales reps, marketing, customer service, etc.
Lead Definitions and Terminology
If someone requests top-of-the-funnel information and provides a Gmail address (so you don't know their company) are they a lead? Or if someone from a target account requests a quote, are they a lead? or a prospect?
Without clear definitions, used consistently throughout the organization, you'll struggle to improve lead management.
Definitions to refine include "lead," "contact," "prospect," "suspect," "sales qualified leads" and more. You'll find a more complete list of sales lead related definitions here.
As more marketing information is ungated (no form required), forms are shorter and more conversions happen with chat bots, the conversion information associated with many leads is too sparse for effective management.
Lead scoring is most effective when considering job titles, account fit, and other higher-level factors.
Bridging this gap requires research and a process for appending data. That can be done by a sales rep or a BDR, but it's inefficient, time-consuming, and error-prone. A better solution is to automatically append data with info from outside sales leads databases. Using a tool like HubSpot's OperationsHub, it's easy for marketing and sales operations folks to query databases to augment lead information with critical properties to improve lead scoring and management.
OpsHub also provides a helpful tool for database hygiene to improve and maintain data quality.
Software and Technology
Lead management is built around the tools that are found in marketing automation and sales force automation software. Dynamic lead scoring, complex assignments, reporting, sales rep dashboards, lead notifications, and prompts and prospect alerts are all driven by these important software tools.
Reporting is integral to lead management. It helps with accountability - ensuring that each lead is engaged according to the company's established policies, and that marketing and sales each contribute according to their agreed roles and responsibilities.
Sales managers should use lead management reporting to coach and evaluate reps, and sometimes to change assignments as a result.
The ROI of marketing efforts, including the Cost Per Lead (CPL) metric, is calculated based on lead management outcomes. So reporting delivers accountability to ensure that the outcomes are supported by consistent process, and that the data is accurate. Lifetime value, the return for each lead source and customer acquisition cost are other metrics to report. Remember that proper revenue attribution is key to accurate reporting.
Lead Management is a Process, Not a Transaction
Lead management is about much more than the sausage making during the week or two after a trade show, and the periodic spasmodic requests for lead status.
As lead generation changes and lead sources become less direct, lead management becomes an important function to make sure that sales reps aren't diverted from their important work, that a company's investment in marketing is properly leveraged, and that management has accurate insights into what works and to what degree - for each lead source and sales rep.
That requires technology, accountability, technique and consistent, thoughtful collaboration between marketing and sales.