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5 Strategies for Effective Lead Management

Between leads and sales lies a mystery. Here are a few ways to make the process more transparent and improve the lead-to-sales ratio.

It's no secret: Lead management is an area fraught with potential conflict. The process often causes significant stress between vendors and their channel partners in the same way that it does for marketing and sales teams.

Typically, an organization's marketing people ask the sales team what happened to all those amazing leads they sent over; salespeople say they never got any leads -- or, if they did, that they were too low-quality to be useful. Vendors and channel partners often have the same conversations about their lead exchanges.

But it doesn't have to be that way. The following lead-management strategies can help improve business alignment, increase trust and drive revenue for both vendors and partners:

1. Make sure that the vendors you choose to work with match your focus area. Partners often become part of a vendor's channel program without doing enough evaluation and analysis beforehand. As a result, vendors and partners aren't aligned on their business objectives, and partners may find themselves being measured for opportunities that don't meet their core strengths. When that happens frequently enough, many partners simply stop reviewing the leads they receive. The solution: Actively manage your vendor partners. Make sure that they know and understand your specialties so that the leads you receive better fit your focus areas.

2. Follow up on all leads sent by vendor partners. After reviewing leads for awhile, partners often decide to quit doing so because the quality is so poor. But going that route doesn't inspire a vendor to make improvements. When partners provide specific feedback about leads -- for instance, "Missing information makes it impossible to reach this person" or "The contact no longer works at the company" -- it's likely to improve future lead quality. Take the time to follow up.

3. Manage your expectations about the volume of high-quality leads. One of our vendors spends a lot on lead generation and qualification for partners. The partners' contact rate for those qualified leads usually exceeds 95 percent; leads are acted on promptly and usually close within 60 to 120 days. When vendors and partners follow the first strategy in this list, partners will get higher-quality leads that are a much better match for their certifications and skills. Realistically, they'll also get fewer of them. Set realistic expectations in terms of those numbers.

4. Make lead generation a two-way street -- and get compensated accordingly. Every year, partners are exposed to many opportunities that they can't or won't turn into deals. That happens for any number of reasons: They're not certified on the products in question; they don't serve the regions where the opportunities need to be sold and supported; the opportunities involve entirely different solution areas. In many cases, vendors might have been interested in these opportunities if they'd heard about them in time to act on them -- and partners receive no recognition for the potentially valuable information that they could have provided. This underscores the need for a process in which partners refer leads to vendors in exchange for some kind of compensation, such as cash, discounts or reward points.

5. Develop an internal lead-management process. Lead management isn't just for large enterprises. Doing the job effectively can provide partners of all sizes with numerous benefits, including improved forecasting, increased yield from marketing programs, better alignment and trust with vendors and, in many cases, an accelerated sales cycle. An effective internal lead-management process simply consists of a business flow that has standard outcomes at each stage of a lead and opportunity funnel. Put another way: Effective management requires establishing a process for handling leads consistently so that a partner representative tracks and manages a lead throughout its lifecycle, maintaining its visibility to both the partner's and the vendor's teams.

About the Author

Charles Watson is vice president of products and marketing at BlueRoads Corp., a San Mateo, Calif.-based Registered Member and provider of partner opportunity management solutions for midsize and large companies.

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