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10 Ways to Better Manage Sales Leads If you're not following these ten tips for managing your sales leads, you're probably letting good prospects slip through the net.

If you're looking for ways to increase revenue--and what smart entrepreneur isn't--one of the fundamental processes you need to review is your lead management program. Prospect leads can originate in a variety of ways, and there is often only a very loose structure in place to manage and react to those leads. Your sales pipeline and your ability to hit revenue targets all begin with good lead management. Try these ten strategies for improving your lead management efforts.

1. Develop a concrete definition of a lead and make sure all employees understand it. One of the biggest disconnects between sales and the rest of the company is the definition of a lead. When does a prospect become a lead that a salesperson will actually work on? It's estimated that 90 percent of the leads that are sent to sales staff are never acted upon. And there are generally two primary reasons for that. First, the lead is routed to the wrong person and never gets passed along to the correct person or at least not in a timely fashion. Second, the lead isn't ready to engage with a salesperson yet. So the sales person will make one, maybe two contacts with that prospect and then move on to "lower hanging fruit." For better sales effectiveness, your sales staff and the rest of the company need a more granular definition of when a prospect becomes an actual lead that should be forwarded to sales.

2. Install an effective customer relationship management (CRM) tool. For optimal sales effectiveness, you need to provide employees with a tool that captures information about each and every interaction with your prospects and customers. This includes integrating your different channels, such as your website.

3. Track the source. People most often hear about your company and products and services through ads, referrals, online banner ads or some other form of advertising. You need to keep track of what actually caused these suspects to raise their hands so you can better determine what works and what doesn't. In addition, it's important to capture the source of each intervening event so you can determine such things as how many times you need to touch a customer or what order of touches work best. If you don't capture the source, you have no way of figuring out what's working.

4. Distribute your leads quickly. Studies have shown that if you respond within 48 hours of a prospect contacting you, your sales closing rate goes up dramatically. Think about your own experiences. How many times have you tried to contact a company to request information and they never get back to you? By responding quickly, you set yourself apart from your competitors.

5. Nurture your leads. Depending on the products and services you offer, most people are probably not ready to buy based on their first interaction with you. Best practices call for nurturing your leads over time. You need to develop campaigns that allow you to touch your prospects multiple times so you can move them through the sales cycle until they're ready to think about actually purchasing from you.

6. Excite your sales staff about each prospect. The best salespeople focus on detailed qualifying, and so should the rest of your staff. The more information you have about a prospect, the more excited your salespeople will be about the lead. Whoever's collecting prospect information needs to extract additional information from every prospect with each interaction, including such things as "what interested you about our products" and "why is it important to you." They should also try to may the organization so your salespeople are getting in touch with the decision-makers in each company.

7. "Tag, you're it." How do you save those interesting bits of information about customers and prospects? If you tag your records with the names of your competitors on deals, what their objections are, whether they'll be a referral or not, which products they already own and so on, you can then find those detail fast in the future. This allows you to leverage what you learn in order to be more successful.

8. Treat your prospects like customers. By capturing the source I mentioned above in #2 about each prospect, anyone at your company can answer a call from that prospect and more effectively answer their questions. This will have a significant impact on your prospects and will cause them to want to engage with your team further.

9. Measure everything you do. But in order to measure your results, you need to decide what you want to measure and why. Then you can capture the correct information upfront. And once you have the right information, you can determine the return on investment of your campaigns and focus on the campaigns and prospects that will increase your sales pipeline.

10. Hold regular meetings with your sales staff and anyone else involved in the sales process. You should meet with appropriate staff members on a regular basis to review lead quality, win/loss records, and tracking CRM systems so you can continue to improve your sales effectiveness.

Bonus Tip: Preload your database with the right prospects. Your customers are the first step in prospecting sales leads. Most people think they already know who their customers are, but many companies tell us they find a few surprises when they do an analysis of their customer base. So confirm what you know about your customers. Then, once you know who your customers are, define a few key attributes about them. This could be external attributes such as geography, SIC code, company size (employee count and revenue), or internal attributes such as products, territory, credit type and contract type. Now you can use the profile of your best customers to better define and acquire new prospects.

Greg Anderson is the director of product development for GoldMine software for FrontRange Solutions.

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