Everything you need to know about lead health

Every marketer I talk to says “my database is a mess and we just need to burn it to the ground and start again.” This feeling that the CRM is filled with dirty data, and is completely unreliable for Marketing programs and reporting, is very real.

But you're in growth mode. You can't stop to spend a few weeks rebuilding Salesforce. So how do you clean things up and keep moving? I believe you can accomplish this by looking at process-related indicators for lead health. This isn't a replacement for lead scoring, but rather a system to evaluate the health of Sales and Marketing alignment.

You can model leads as their own funnel:

As you can see, there are many types of leads you can have:

  • raw lists of contacts, which should live in your automation system
  • new leads (i.e. MQLs or named accounts) are added to your CRM
  • new leads are then worked by the Sales team
  • when leads are worked, they must go somewhere: do they get converted, sent to nurture, or disqualified?
  • some nurtured (and disqualified!) leads will come back to the top of the funnel, becoming recycled leads
  • and within each lead type, you’ll have duplicate leads that are already contacts, and stale leads that haven’t had any activity in a long time.

I’ll walk through each of the lead types, explain why they occur, and how you can clean them up.

Raw lists of contacts

Raw lists of contacts are people in your Automation system. It could be people who sign up for your newsletter or download a whitepaper. It could be people who used a hashtag. Regardless of source, Automation acts as a holding pen in a traditional demand waterfall. Leads can be live here for any amount of time until they start displaying buying signals. You can define those by traditional lead scoring, predictive scoring, or using a list of target accounts.

Sales shouldn’t really care about these leads, even though the bulk of them will live here. Once Marketing has built mutually agreed-upon qualification criteria, these leads will move to your CRM to be worked.

New leads

New leads match your agreed-upon criteria with sales (whether you call it an MQL, SQL, or named account, just define when Sales picks up the conversation.). New leads should be automatically added to CRM and start a clock.

Here you need:

  • strong alignment between Marketing and Sales on a programmatic definition of a new lead 
  • automated processes for assigning new leads to Sales
  • a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between Marketing and Sales for lead follow-up time, i.e. within 1 hour on business days
  • measurement for how many New Leads are still in this holding pen without being worked, and for how long

This is the first place leads will die on the vine. These leads need to be worked quickly. And without measuring an SLA for follow-up, you’re letting your hard-earned leads go cold and be forgotten.

Having an SLA keeps both Marketing and Sales accountable to quality. Doing this is the #1 thing you can do to improve your funnel velocity.

Working leads

When Leads are picked up by Sales they should move to a working state (such as a dedicated lead status or opportunity stage). Here your Sales Development team will be demoing, BANT-ing, or following whatever process fits your Sales model.

Working is a temporary stage. Leads should be converted (i.e. qualified), moved to nurture, or disqualified when they're not a fit. Here you also need to create strong process definitions:

  • what makes a lead converted?
  • what moves them to nurture?
  • what can disqualify a lead?
  • how many touchpoints should happen before we abandon a lead? over what period of time? should abandoned leads be set to nurture or disqualified?

Defining this process is incredibly important for resolving Sales and Marketing conflict. A strong process can tell you if people, process, or programs are the root cause of poor conversion rates at top of funnel.

Stale leads

When leads stop being worked, or stop responding, they become stale. Stale leads are the worst because you won't actually see them! They’re just sitting there in New or Working, taking up valuable space in your coverage model. Stale leads represent all of your resources—the time, money, effort—spent in creating a Sales-ready lead. You don't want to waste your resources.

Stale leads come about because:

  • the lead was unresponsive, in which case you should have an SLA to convert unresponsive leads to nurture after a specific amount of touchpoints/time.
  • the lead was forgotten about by Sales, and not actually worked. Again, this is why an SLA for touchpoints over time is crucial.
  • the lead was disqualified, but not marked as such. You get the idea.

Having a strong process for working leads should prevent stale leads from ever occurring.

Disqualified leads

Disqualified leads are super important: they represent the gaps between Marketing and Sales. If you have strong process definitions, analyzing your disqualified leads will tell you where your business is changing:

  • if a campaign didn’t bring in your ICP, the campaign should be stopped.
  • if your lead scoring program isn’t creating Sales-ready leads, it should be adjusted.
  • if lead met your ICP, but didn’t pass your sales prospecting criteria—your ICP and prospecting criteria should be evaluated and reconciled.

Another method of disqualification is abandoning a lead, but my view is that these leads should be moved to nurture programs designed for unresponsive contacts. 

Duplicate Leads

Duplicate leads occur when Automation generates a Lead in the CRM during a syncing process. Later on, the Sales rep manually creates a Contact for same person! This can be due to a lack of discipline, typos, or system syncing issues.

Duplicate leads are a huge problem: analyzing our customer data sets, I found 53% of unconverted leads are actually duplicates of contacts!

Duplicate leads inflate your numbers, making your coverage model inaccurate and unreliable; duplicate leads cause you to lose marketing attribution data, meaning Marketing won’t report on the full impact of their efforts for deals that are won; and duplicate leads skew your conversion rates.

Identifying duplicate leads isn’t easy. Some companies go so far as to auto-convert all Leads to Contacts in Salesforce. You can assess your own duplicate lead situation by building a rules system in CRM to automatically match contacts by email or by using a reporting platform with built-in data cleansing (like FunnelCake.)

Unconverted leads

Unconverted leads are a related, but distinct, problem for duplicate leads. For example, Jane Doe from Acme Co. syncs from Automation to CRM. Acme Co. is already an Account with an Opportunity. Now Marketing things Jane is a new lead, but Sales doesn’t even know she’s part of the account—let alone that she raised her hand to say she’s interested.

Similar to duplicate leads, you end up with inflated lead numbers, losing attribution data, and the ability to influence opportunities. Like duplicate leads, you can only solve this with building complex CRM rules or using a platform with data cleansing capabilities.

Nurturing leads

When a lead isn’t ready to buy so we send them to a mythical place, called a nurture program. It's the holy grail of Marketing Automation.

Do you know today how many of your leads marked as Nurture are actually going through nurture programs?

Here are a few questions that can answer those questions:

  • how long are leads in nurture programs before they’re Sales-ready?
  • how many leads in nurture programs have unsubscribed?
  • how many leads in nurture programs haven’t received a nurture email in > 30 days? 60 days? ever?
  • do specific nurture streams perform better than others?

Measuring the efficacy of nurture programs

It’s so important to look at nurture programs beyond open rates. Your goal isn’t engagement, it’s creating Sales-ready leads. I’ve seen so many organizations use nurture as a holding pen for leads to live in forever. Not quite an MQL, not quite disqualified.

Nurture, like all other programs, should be measured on how it impacts the funnel:

  • do your nurture programs influence bookings, such as increasing deal velocity, deal size, or conversion rates?
  • how long do nurture programs take to have an impact?
  • what are the costs (people and software) to create, deploy, and maintain these campaigns relative to the revenue benefit?

I think you’ll be surprised by how many leads marked for nurture haven’t received a nurture campaign in quite some time.

Recycle cycle

Once nurtured leads meet specific criteria, such as activity based lead score, it’s time to recycle them and work them anew. Here is where we can start to measure the efficacy of nurture programs. There’s not much to this state, but it’s important to have a distinct lead source or campaign to report on these efforts.

Recycled leads are going to move through your normal lead funnel, so it’s easy for the nurture programs to get lost in the campaign attribution shuffle.

Maintaining your lead health

The goal of the perfectly clean database is noble, but it’s never going to happen. All of these exercises can serve as one-time monitors for lead health. You can run these programs quarterly or annually, but without constant vigilance around data quality you’re going to run into gaps. 

If you need helping cleaning up your leads, FunnelCake has built-in systems for maintaining lead-health. Send me a note, and I’ll give you a free trial of our Contact Washing Machine to clean and normalize the Leads and Contacts in your database.