The ultimate guide to automating the entire lead lifecycle
Table of Contents
This post is a part of a series on integrating and automating lead management across the entire lead lifecycle. If you’re already well-versed on the lead lifecycle, visit these pages to drill down on specific ways to accelerate lead management in your organization:
- How to: Automate Lead List Uploads
- How to: Automate Lead Enrichment
- How to: Automate Lead-to-Account Matching
- How to: Automate Lead Routing
- How to: Build a process-driven lead lifecycle
Lead lifecycle 101: Where marketing meets sales
For marketers, lead lifecycle management is a serious challenge. Leads should be met with unique attention at every stage of the buyer’s journey, but when you start to scale your pipeline, that’s much easier said than done. And with speed being a key factor in converting leads to opportunities (spoiler alert: it’s very important), you need a lead lifecycle that quickly and accurately guides buyers through information gathering, evaluation, and eventual decision making.
How can marketers manage the lead lifecycle with speed and accuracy at scale? They need automation. Modern marketing teams are now automating critical lead lifecycle processes by fully integrating their entire MarTech stack. By using automation, marketers can orchestrate an automated lead lifecycle across multiple applications, teams, and funnel stages. As a result, sales teams can follow up with qualified leads instantly, while your marketing team can ensure that quality leads aren’t lost in the shuffle.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we dive into automation, let’s address some of the basic questions you may have regarding the lead lifecycle.
What is lead lifecycle management?
Fundamentally, the lead lifecycle is the entire process by which leads are evaluated, segmented, qualified, and make their way to your sales team. The process begins the moment a prospect engages with your website all the way until they become a sales qualified opportunity. The lead lifecycle spans both marketing and sales, and often relies on prespecified scoring criteria to determine precisely where a lead should reside.
To ensure leads are moving correctly through the lifecycle, marketers rely on a number of processes to push the process along. These include lead list uploads, lead enrichment, lead segmentation, and lead routing.
What are the stages of the lead lifecycle?
The typical flow in a lead lifecycle. Image courtesy Root3
One of the most important things to understand about the lead lifecycle is that it isn’t one size fits all. After all, different organizations have different go-to-market strategies and can promote their offerings in a variety of ways.
Here are a few of the most common stages in the lead lifecycle:
- Anonymous - A stage reserved for “unknown quantities,” or prospective leads who are not yet fully identified and haven’t engaged with your content.
- Known - “Known” prospects are those that have been identified by visiting your site via organic search but probably haven’t engaged with your content.
- Lead - In order to be labeled as a “Lead”, the prospect would have likely engaged with you in a way that warrants follow-up, typically in the form of a nurture campaign.
- Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) - Once your lead has engaged in multiple offerings, it can then be converted into an MQL, which have been indicated to be warm enough to consider for sales follow-up.
- Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) - After your sales development team qualifies a lead, it can then be classified as an SQL.
- Sales Qualified Opportunity (SQO) - SQOs indicate that a lead has passed muster with an account executive who agrees that a sales deal is worth pursuing. Now, our lead becomes a fully-fledged sales opportunity.
So how do teams create and maintain their lead lifecycle? One popular way is through a marketing automation platform, like Marketo or Eloqua. Many of these platforms offer the ability to perform functions such as capturing leads via campaigns, but they don’t always readily integrate with other marketing and sales systems. Now, we’ll show you how you can automate the entire lead lifecycle to follow-up faster and more effectively.
Guide: How to Automate the Entire Lead Lifecycle
Part 1: What causes slowdowns in the lead lifecycle?
One of the most important factors when moving leads through your lifecycle isn’t something you solve with more strategic programs or cleverly-designed campaigns: It’s speed.
Speed is so crucial that up to 50% of all prospects will choose the vendor that responds first. Following up within an hour makes marketers 7x more likely to qualify leads - that is, to have “a meaningful conversation with a key decision-maker.” (In comparison, the average response time for all leads is 42 hours):
Not all firms respond quickly enough to leads. Image courtesy HBR.
Encouraging faster follow-ups can be a challenge across a complex, multi-stage lifecycle. But slow responses can cost real dollars in missed opportunities. Here are some of the most prominent challenges that prevent marketers from following up with leads fast enough:
A recent survey of 400 executives found that 87% of companies feel their data is siloed among different sources - locked up in various applications or databases with no way to take action on it. This is frequently the case for marketers, whose lead and customer data locked up in their MAP isn’t necessarily synced with data in their CRM, outbound solution, or elsewhere.
Not having unified, synced data creates constant lead management headaches, including duplicate lead lists that incorrectly inflate lead counts, routing leads at the wrong stage to the wrong destination, or accidentally continuing to contact leads that have opted out.
One of the most common causes of data silos is a lack of robust integrations among marketers’ tech stacks. While some surveys have found that 97% of marketers believe tech integrations are important for growth, others show that only about half are doing anything about it.
Here’s the problem: your most important marketing applications probably aren’t seamlessly integrated to the customized use cases you need for your organization. This means your most important lead data remains locked up within each of your apps. Without robust integrations, none of your individual apps can provide important insights on the full picture of how your leads engaged with you...and the best way to follow up.
Research suggests that 60% of sales professionals spend at least an hour on manual data entry every day. How much time are you spending on manual processes daily, such as vetting lead spreadsheets, or copy-pasting lead data from one source to another?
Manual lead management processes cause many challenges, like introducing human error, not to mention eating up tons of time, which means your response time gets longer and makes you significantly less likely to convert.
More than 60% of sales professionals spend at least an hour on manual data entry every day. Image courtesy HubSpot State of Inbound.
Part 2: How to super-charge your lead lifecycle
Throughout the lead lifecycle, marketers need to perform crucial operations to prepare leads for follow-up. Each of these operations comes with its own considerations - and its own baggage that can slow down the process:
Lead list uploads
After capturing leads from a source, marketers need to upload their leads to their system of record, such as their marketing automation platform (MAP) to set the stage for follow-up campaigns. This process can be a considerable burden on sales teams between tedious data entry, reformatting, and de-duplication.
Automating your lead list uploads is an effective method in reducing the resource drain of manual data entry into your CRM while ensuring data hygiene across all of your records.
Read our guide: How to Automate Lead List Uploads
Once leads are loaded into the system, marketers need to ensure each lead is fully-formed and contains sufficient data for follow-up. (The hottest lead in the world isn’t actionable if it’s missing key information such as company name, job title, or phone number.) Ideally, this also includes a seamless transfer of lead data from your MAP to your CRM.
Lead enrichment automation provides your sales team with crucial context to provide more personalized value during discussions.
Read our guide: How to Automate Lead Enrichment
Lead segmentation (scoring, account matching)
Ideally, marketers use a filtering process (or processes) to segment leads before follow-up. This can include steps such as scoring to identify the hottest leads for sales, or lead-to-account matching to match new leads to existing accounts to ensure sales teams don’t waste their time chasing leads from accounts already in play.
These processes increase sales productivity and mean a higher win rate overall, but can be challenging to modify as business needs change. Automating scoring and lead-to-account matching can help sales teams prioritize high-value leads while preventing duplicate work.
Read our guide: How to Automate Lead-to-Account Matching
After your leads are properly segmented, operations professionals need to route the hottest leads to their sales teams. After matching leads to accounts, marketers can then assign the hottest leads to sales team members that own those accounts, route warm leads to sales development reps (SDR) for outbound follow-up, or send cooler leads to nurture programs.
With an automated process for lead routing, your SDRs can spend less time waiting on new assignments and more time selling.
Read our guide: How to Automate Lead Routing
Every step in your lead lifecycle is important. Unfortunately, many marketing teams experience challenges at one stage or another, whether that be issues properly formatting lead lists for upload, routing leads to the wrong sales reps (or not at all), or something else entirely.
Breakages at any of these stages can lead to painful delays that can make you 7x less likely to ever speak with a decision-maker (and puts your sales team that much farther from turning any of those costly leads into closed-won deals).
Only about half of marketers are actually taking action on integrating their data. Image courtesy eMarketer
Part 3: How to fix lead management with a General Automation Platform
So how can you orchestrate every one of these important processes to drive faster, error-free follow-up? Marketers from around the world are using General Automation Platforms (GAP) to unsilo their data, deeply integrate their marketing apps, and automate key processes to cut out the manual errors and move faster. General automation platforms have these capabilities:
Full API integration
GAPs can connect any cloud-based app (including MAP, CRM, outbound, database, project management, and many others) at the API integration level. You can think of APIs as the level at which cloud-based software communicates with other software. The best GAPs deeply connect applications via APIs to flow data even from highly customized instances and from custom fields.
Sophisticated automation with flexible logical operators
GAPs automate processes among multiple cloud apps, such as setting a process to update lead information automatically and trigger appropriate campaigns in CRM, outbound email automation, and other apps whenever leads engage with your campaigns or website. The best GAPs support complex, multi-step workflows with logical operators for if/then, looping, and branching steps to do exactly what you need with your leads.
Ease of use
Another important feature to look for is a completely visual, user-friendly builder. One that lets anyone - not just engineers - easily build workflows to process and upload lead lists, route enriched leads to the right owners, and execute customized follow-up - faster, without errors, and without having to code.
The best GAPs scale with your team’s data usage and needs, and are built to help you collaborate with your team, not bottleneck your progress by limiting access to individual connectors or individual users.
Marketing leader Outreach uses a GAP to automate the entire list upload process to save dozens of hours in manual labor. Advertising leader AdRoll uses this technology to rapidly enrich enormous lead lists and drive 13% more sales appointments.
Learn more about how you can use a General Automation Platform to close your lead management gaps by joining our weekly group demo.