Lead management — definition, process, and best practices

A woman in an office learns about lead management.

If you’re a sales manager or a business executive, it’s your responsibility to improve sales efforts at your company. While lead sourcing is an art in and of itself, how you organize and pursue leads is important too.

You want your sales team to pursue the right leads, and they need an efficient way to understand which leads are ready for nurturing. Lead management gives you a proven framework for identifying which leads are worth your time, effort, and money right now. It’s the best way to ensure that your sales team is focusing their energy on high-quality leads that are most likely to lead to a sale.

In this guide, you’ll learn what lead management is, how it works, and best practices to help you organize and pursue leads.

This post will explain:

What is lead management?

Lead management is a series of steps to analyze data about leads to decide how likely they are to make a purchase. Lead management also helps keep track of when leads become customers.

Generally speaking, a lead is a person who you have some reason to believe might be interested in buying from you or interacting with your brand — because they're in a particular audience segment or they’ve shown some interest in your product or service.

Leads are important, but they’re at the very early stages of the sales funnel. You’ll need to nurture these leads into prospects to pull them down the funnel toward (hopefully) making a purchase.


In B2C marketing, you’re typically marketing to one person. That one person is considered a lead until they either buy from you or don’t. In B2B marketing, however, you’re usually dealing with more than one person because you’re selling to a business. There’s often a buying committee of multiple people who make purchasing decisions. Therefore in B2B you have multiple leads that you’re trying to convince to buy your product.

Regardless of whether you’re a B2C or B2B company, you likely have lots of leads in your sales pipeline. Lead management is a system for organizing those leads within your company’s sales funnel so you can know how to better tailor your tactics to engage and encourage sales.

For example, let’s say you’re a B2B SaaS company. Your marketing team gathered more than 100 business cards at a conference, and it’s up to sales to sift through these leads. How do they know which leads are ready for the next step of the sales process?

Lead management can help your team identify the conference leads that are more likely to engage with you. For example, it can help your team focus on leads that fit your ideal customer profile (ICP) or those that expressed interest in signing up for a contract. That doesn’t mean you ignore the other leads in the pipeline, but you focus on the hottest leads first.

Lead management is a process of identifying potential customers and nurturing them through the conversion funnel to drive new business.

What is the lead management process?

The lead management process involves the use of lead nurturing to move leads through stages of the funnel.

Modern lead management almost always requires marketing automation software because it’s difficult to manage leads manually. Some companies try to do lead scoring in a spreadsheet, but they have to pull in all the information about their customers and analytics from multiple channels. At a certain point you can’t do that at scale. You need the right lead management tools.

Although most of the lead management process happens within your software, it always follows these five steps to capture, track, qualify, distribute, and nurture leads.

1. Lead capturing

The lead management process starts by evaluating contacts from the general populace and adding their information to your database.

Sometimes, the first touch you get is someone coming to your website as an anonymous visitor — but most people don't consider that a lead. It becomes a lead when the person fills out a form and gives the company permission to send them marketing emails, or they take some kind of action that indicates they’re interested in continuing the conversation.

Businesses can generate leads through both outbound and inbound techniques. You can reach potential buyers in a variety of ways, including:

2. Lead tracking

Next, you’ll need to gather more data on each lead. Tracking where a lead comes from allows your sales team to understand the appropriate way to communicate based on the customer’s preferences or past behavior.

It would take ages to compile this information manually. Fortunately, a lead management solution can automatically gather the data on all of your leads.

For example, it can track the pages a lead visits on your website, the content they consume, and the ads they see. Over time, the system will build out a robust lead profile that includes each lead’s interests, location, career, time zone, social media profiles, and more.

3. Lead qualification

During the lead qualification step, you’ll determine whether a lead is a good fit for your business.

What kinds of behaviors are they exhibiting? Are they reading your content? Are they responding to email or Short Message Service (SMS) messages? Are they coming back to your website? If they're on your website, what are they looking at?

All of these actions contribute to a lead score, which determines whether that person becomes a marketing-qualified lead (MQL) or is not quite ready to move through the funnel.

At this stage, your lead management solution can help identify qualified leads to pursue and unqualified leads to forego at this time.

4. Lead distribution

Once the leads have been captured and tracked, they’re distributed to the relevant sales team. This allows you to have different teams focusing on different types of leads. For example, one team can specialize in small to mid-sized companies, while another works with large enterprises.

From here, sales reps will get to know the lead. They look at all the information, follow up with the customer, ask questions, and try to figure out if a lead is interested in becoming a customer.

If sales determines the lead is ready for action, the lead then becomes a sales-qualified lead (SQL). At that point, sales will enter a dollar amount into the lead management software — and the lead becomes an opportunity. And from there you can work to win the sale.

5. Lead nurturing

It’s important to remember that not every lead will generate an immediate sale. Few people are ready to buy the first time your sales team speaks to them. But instead of letting that connection fizzle out, lead management ensures your sales team stays in touch with leads over time.

In fact, lead management requires sales reps to nurture the relationship so you maintain a connection until the lead is ready to convert. It’s the best way to bring leads back into the fold and hopefully convert them into a customer.

Best practices for lead management

Some of the best practices for lead management are to monitor and maintain lead generation efforts, and to use clean data.

Your sales cycle and techniques are unique to your business. But even so, there are some lead management best practices that can streamline the sales process.

Monitor and maintain lead generation efforts

Even if you have a good lead generation process, monitoring and maintenance are required to ensure it is continuing to work.

The most important thing is measurement. You need to look at all the different touchpoints and figure out what’s working and what’s not working. Today, there are great capabilities around what is called multitouch attribution.

In a B2B customer journey, you might have 10 different people involved in making the buying decision, and they're each engaging with different communication channels and content. When you close the deal, you have to determine which touchpoints made the most difference with which of those people. Once you know which touchpoints are making a difference, that should influence your scoring model, which determines how leads flow through your funnel.

Use clean data

It’s harder to organize and manage leads if you’re using bad data. It’s tempting to collect any and all customer data you come across, but quantity doesn’t equal quality.

Instead of buying customer data from third-party lists, gather it yourself with lead management software. First-party data is both cleaner and more compliant with data privacy laws — so not only will you worry less about compliance issues, but you’ll also build a more accurate view of your customers.

Align your sales process with your pipeline

Your lead management process needs to work with your sales pipeline. Some businesses have very long funnels, while others have a shorter buying process. Depending on what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, the management of how many leads are in each stage of the funnel at any given time is vital.

If you don’t have one already, work with your sales team to create a clear sales pipeline. This standardizes your process and ensures that all sales reps — regardless of their specialization or department — follow the same process at scale.

Foster collaboration between marketing and sales

Marketers are part of lead generation, so there needs to be strong collaboration in place to pass these leads off to sales. Unfortunately companies often face tension and misunderstandings between sales and marketing. Lead management software brings both teams together because it forces them to define what a “qualified” lead is.

Since lead management requires the sales and marketing teams to work closely together, a big part of the project is linking the marketing automation software with customer relationship management (CRM) software so the leads can be passed back and forth and the data can be shared.

When you integrate your marketing software with your CRM, your sales team can have a better understanding of the customer’s prior engagement with the marketing team. Sales can see that a customer looked at a web page or read a report, which can help them move forward with the lead.

Evaluate software for your lead management

Lead management gives businesses a more efficient method of organizing sales-worthy leads. When you’re ready to improve how you organize and pursue leads, evaluate your sales software and tools to see if they can handle modern lead management.

It’s nearly impossible to manage this manually, but effective lead management software can help companies capture, track, qualify, distribute, and nurture leads at scale without overwhelming their sales team. If you need a more robust option, consider Adobe Marketo Engage, which can help you boost engagement and growth with marketing automation.

Marketo Engage gives marketers the complete toolkit to deliver winning lead- and account-based marketing automation — from acquisition to advocacy.

Watch the Adobe Marketo Engage overview video or take an interactive tour now.