Leads are the lifeblood of any business. Converting leads to loyal customers is what it takes to stay in business and thrive. By managing your leads in a systematic and structured way, you can increase both the number of leads you generate and how many of those leads you convert. Many companies use a three-step process for processing leads: Marketing nurtures leads, inside sales qualifies the leads and converts them to opportunities, and sales works the opportunity. Others use just two steps: Marketing converts the leads to sales opportunities when they meet agreed-upon criteria, such as a high lead score. Sales then works the opportunity.

These seven best practices can help you increase your pipeline, make sure you focus on the right leads, and track what works and what doesn’t:

1. Define the Perfect Lead

Know their problems and interests, what content will attract them, where they spend their time online/offline, which channels they prefer for communication, and what their role is in the buying process. Determine which behavioral traits indicate that they’re ready to be passed to the sales team. Familiarize all sales and marketing teams with this persona and your lead generation strategy.

2. Lure Them With Targeted Content

Companies that blog generate 67% more leads than companies that don’t blog. It’s an opportunity to influence the buyer’s decision by showcasing your company’s leadership and expertise, as well a method to learn more about your customers’ needs. Segment your audience and deliver targeted content with clear calls to action. Integrate lead generation with your social media strategy to increase brand visibility, reach broader audiences, and educate prospects.

3. Align Your Marketing and Sales Teams

They should be your company’s quarterback and receiver. They should know the plays before the game even begins. Establish a mutually agreed upon marketing-sales lead response time to work leads efficiently. Allow both teams access to a centralized database of customer contacts and marketing and sales activities. The more visibility and insight each teammate can provide about the customer, the better your chances are of garnering interest and closing.

4. Plan the Nurture Journey

The nurture journey is critical to a) building relationships with prospects, and b) retaining lesser qualified leads for future interest. This is arguably the most frequently broken or neglected part of lead management. Only pass leads to the sales teams once that lead reaches a lead-score threshold. If that threshold hasn’t been reached and they haven’t qualified as the “perfect lead,” keep your lead in the nurture process. What are your top of the funnel, mid-funnel, and bottom of the funnel offers?  

Nurture content - Pardot

5. Invest in Marketing Automation

If you believe your business will grow, you’ll eventually need marketing automation software anyway. So unless you intend to not scale your business, save yourself the trouble of fixing a broken process, and just start off with the right tools. This will help you make smarter decisions about where to invest and show the impact of your marketing activities. For more information, read the Lead Nurturing Basics: How You Can Transform Your Marketing infographic by Pardot.

6. Keep Your Data Clean

Inaccurate data is costly, and can lead to prospect attrition, reputation damage, and lower conversion rates. With quality data, you’ll be able to determine the effectiveness and weaknesses of your sales and marketing activities.

7. Establish a Feedback Loop

You’re not actually done after the deal closes or when you lose a lead. Valuable insights have been gathered by various teams at this point. Why was the customer initially hesitant to purchase and how did sales overcome this? Which product features were a deal breaker? How many interactions were required before the purchase? Establish a system where feedback can be provided to everyone involved in the lead management to improve your processes going forward.

The above post reprints the Introduction from Best Practices for Marketing Managers by John Kucera, salesforce.com Director of Product Management.