As your sales funnels grow wider and longer, keeping leads within your grasp has become even more challenging. In fact, lead leakage is one of the most costly sales and marketing issues. Plugging the holes in your sales funnel to stop such loss is critical to successful lead management.

Research shows that nearly 80% of leads that Marketing generates are never worked on by Sales, let alone turned into sales opportunities. Do you ever wonder what happens to those untouched leads? Did they have potential at some point to become opportunities, or were they all just unqualified leads?

As many of us would agree, a good percentage of those leads are likely to be qualified but are just not ready to buy. So, what happens in your organization when a lead that looks ready to buy doesn't become a sales opportunity? Does the lead just sit in your customer relationship management (CRM) system and become a competitor's opportunity a few months down the road?

The answer to that question is probably "yes," unless you are renurturing that lead until the timing is right. When that doesn't happen, however, the lead is lost.

A leaky funnel, then, is one that receives leads at the top but those leads just leak out—never to be heard from again—when they don't become immediate sales opportunities.

Studies suggest that upward of 60% of the leads coming into your funnel will buy from someone—your organization or a competitor's—over the subsequent 24 months.

Leaked leads are usually one of two types:

  1. Cold leads (really, just inquiries or suspects) that are passed to Sales and that never work because they're cold and presumed by Sales to be not ready for a call
  2. Warmer leads and opportunities that have been worked by Sales but for whatever reason do not move down the pipeline

Current nurturing programs in legacy marketing and sales processes rarely take into account "colder" leads, which is why they are also highly ineffective.

Sales reps are often still responsible for nurturing leads themselves. That is, in addition to closing business on sales opportunities, reps are supposed to use their CRM tools or Outlook to send relevant messages to each prospect. But how will they know what's relevant to each prospect over time? How will they keep track? How will they prioritize their time with selling opportunities? How will they know whether the prospect interacts with their information?

Nurturing: Giving Sales Teams Sales-Ready Leads Versus Inquiries and Suspects

Instead of just handing off inquiries and suspects to Sales, Marketing needs to become responsible for nurturing and promoting sales-ready leads to the sales team. Loosely defined, a sales-ready lead is a lead that both Marketing and Sales have jointly deemed ready for further qualification.

For marketers to develop, identify, and hand off sales-ready leads, they must engage in lead nurturing. Understand, however, that successful lead nurturing is not about simply sending generic emails to everyone who came to your website or interacted with your company in some way.

Effective nurturing is about sending relevant content to prospects based on who they are (title, industry, etc.), what their interests are (based on digital behavior captured on your website or from comments they've left), and what phase they are in within the buy cycle (e.g., early stage, looking at options). You may not have all that information initially, but gaining that level of intelligence about your prospects is something to work toward.

Though nurturing serves many purposes, in the end it's about driving better-qualified leads and more revenue. Whatever the current maturity of your marketing department, nurturing is a critical component for it to own if you want to make the most of your lead-generation budgets and minimize the chance of a leaky funnel.

The good news is that with today's marketing automation technology and a revised lead-management process, marketers can put together effective, relevant nurturing campaigns in a timely manner.

Renurturing: Keeping In-Funnel Opportunities Warm

Marketing also needs to take responsibility for renurturing the leads that were passed to Sales but were not yet ready to become sales opportunities.

Sales and Marketing must establish and apply rules to determine when a lead or opportunity is eligible for renurturing. Technology enables tracking, trigger-based nurturing, and dynamic content to deliver what's necessary for moving prospects through the cycle until it's time for a rep to engage again. And, with automation, you can easily personalize your messages so they appear to come from the appropriate sales rep.

* * *

Don't let leads seep out of your funnel. Such losses are costly to Marketing, Sales, and your company's bottom line. Of course, as with changes to any process, things should be done slowly and in incremental phases.

You have many ways to start implementing basic nurturing so that your organization can attain a more airtight sales funnel with minimal leakage.

(Image courtesy of Bigstock, Hand Holding.)

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Lisa Cramer is president and co-founder of LeadLife Solutions, a provider of an on-demand lead-management solution.