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Managing inbound leads is one of the areas where Salesforce shines brightest. But for small and medium businesses (SMBs), sometimes all the options and marketing software add-ons can seem overwhelming -- too much money or too much work for your small team.

The good news is that you can build your very own “lead machine,” to improve conversion rates and grow your revenue, using tools that are mostly available already in Salesforce. Getting these lead management basics in place is not difficult, and can have an immediate impact on your bottom line. Here’s how to do it:

1. Establish a lead process

The first step to creating your lead machine is to establish a process for handling leads. I recommend writing this down in a short document, and making sure everyone agrees to the definitions and a common process. Even in a small team, it is common for different people to have varying opinions based on their personalities and prior experience, so best to get on the same page and have a written plan for reference.

  • Who is your target customer?
  • What are the characteristics of a qualified lead?
  • When and how do you follow up with leads?
  • When do you convert a lead to an account with an opportunity?

2. Use Web-to-Lead forms

I am always amazed at how many Salesforce customers I see with a number of email addresses instead of a form on their “contact us” page or landing pages. If you have made an investment in Salesforce, make the change to your processes to funnel more inquiries through forms -- otherwise you have a major "slip through the cracks” moment right at the start of your lead management process.

Salesforce’s Web-to-Lead technology is easy to implement, and leads go directly into your Salesforce organization, with no data entry required or danger of being lost in someone’s email box. Just go to the Web-to-Lead area of Salesforce setup, and do the following:

 Choose the fields you want to include in your form (keep it short!)

  1. Click a button to generate the HTML code
  2. Have your web designer style it to make it presentable
  3. Submit a test lead or three to make sure it works

3. Use Salesforce lead automation

Salesforce has some advanced tools for processing and organizing incoming leads -- start using them if you are not already. Even if you just have 1 or 2 sales people, set up a Queue to own incoming leads. Then create some assignment rules that give ownership of some or all of the new leads to the Queue. You can either manually assign/claim leads from the queue, or even automate assignment of some leads to users instead of the queue, depending on the variety of leads you receive.

 Since you will now be using the Web-to-Lead forms, you can also have hidden fields with prepopulated values in them, which define a lead source or campaign, or indicate which form on your web site(s) a lead submitted. Those values can be very useful in driving automated actions once the leads arrive in Salesforce. Create some email templates for autoresponders, and have tailored autoresponses sent to the leads depending on the values they have or how they are assigned when they come in.

  • Set up a lead Queue, assignment rules, and autoresponse emails
  • Add more information about leads and forms with hidden form fields

4. Track the sources of your leads

 Branching out from the core Salesforce functionality, set up a tracking application that can provide additional information about where a lead came from. This is especially critical if you are spending money on Google Adwords or other online marketing, since you will want to know which advertising produced the best quality leads.

  • Where are your best leads coming from?
  • Which advertising is a waste of money?
  • What keywords are your leads searching for to find you?
  • What unexpected sources are delivering leads -- social, blogs, partners?

Tracking the source of your leads requires a separate app, as well as a small tracking code that needs to be placed on your web site. There are a variety of tracking apps available on the AppExchange, from CloudAmp’s straightforward Campaign Tracker to tracking capabilities in larger marketing apps like Hubspot or Salesforce’s Pardot.

 5. Set up dashboards

 Once you have your leads coming in via web-to-lead, being tracked, assigned and having autoresponders sent out, it is time to get visibility into your lead totals and trends with my favorite Salesforce feature, Dashboards. Having one or more lead dashboards in Salesforce can make it easier to visualize data, spot problems or successes, and quickly understand how your demand generation efforts are working at a high level.

Best of all, you don’t have to start from scratch - there are a variety of free dashboards available for download on the AppExchange that you can use as a starting point. Just install, “clone” the dashboards to make a copy, and “Save as” the reports when customizing so you retain the originals for reference. 

For Enterprise Edition of Salesforce and above, you can schedule dashboards to be refreshed and emailed to you and other team members on a daily or weekly basis, for added visibility into your newly created Salesforce lead machine. This can be very valuable for raising visibility with executives or other team members who may not log into Salesforce daily, as well as a good way to personally check your lead machine status every morning in your inbox with a cup of coffee.

 6. Develop an email program

After your initial autoresponder Email from Salesforce when a lead comes in, consider putting an Email marketing program in place to cultivate your newly received leads. What type of email marketing program should be part of your Salesforce lead machine will vary widely depending on your target market and sales cycle.

If you are selling to technical buyers who are marketing averse, or your average sale takes just a week or two from lead to closed deal, you may not need much of an email marketing program at all. On the other hand, if your average sales cycle is 6 months, or your target audience is expecting to be educated about the need for your product, then a structured email marketing campaign over time is likely to be essential. There are a variety of tools available for email newsletters, drip email campaigns, and more. The most straightforward option is the Mass Email Leads / Contacts feature in Salesforce.

So there you have it, a complete demand generation and lead management machine in 6 easy steps. There are plenty of other options to explore, such as integrating data from web analytics or chat systems, lead scoring, and more, but these 6 basic areas should get you on the road to less chaos, more converted leads, and ultimately more closed sales.

About the Author

FDavid Hecht is the Founder of CloudAmp, a developer of Salesforce apps including the Campaign Tracker for tracking leads from Google Adwords and other sources, and CloudAmp Analytics Dashboards for seeing the top of your marketing funnel from Google Analytics (web site traffic and visitor metrics) inside Salesforce dashboards. He has been using Salesforce to optimize online marketing and increase sales since 2002. Learn more at http://www.CloudAmp.com