You’ve done the heavy lifting; you’ve written blogs, posted on social media, sparred with the website developer on the best way to make a user-friendly site, and now you finally have the leads that you’ve been dreaming of. Now what? Well now... the real work begins.

Leads are just names and emails in cyberspace purgatory until you do something with them to bring them closer to becoming a customer. Nurturing leads through the sales funnel can be a confusing process, but we’re here to break it down into actionable steps so that you’re not left looking at the footsteps of your competition. Here are the steps to take once you’ve scored yourself some leads:

1. Categorize your leads 


There are two interconnecting parts to consider when categorizing your leads: identify where your leads are in the buyer’s journey and what persona they fit best. One way to accomplish this is through lead scoring. According to experts, lead scoring is a methodology used to rank prospects against a scale that represents the perceived value each lead represents to the organization. The resulting score is used to determine which leads should be engaged in order of priority.

To start, set up a system that scores your leads based on the user’s actions on your site, then set up triggers when the lead is a particular score to determine what happens to them next. For example, a pricing sheet download or request for quote would score differently than clicking on your About page. If you can identify where leads are in the buyer’s journey, then you can manage them more easily and make a more strategic decision about contacting them and where they go next. 

Another question to ask yourself about your lead is if it matches your prospect filter. A prospect filter could include things like company’s annual revenue, number of employees, budget, what service(s) they are looking for, etc. Considering these items will help you narrow down which persona they best fit and the next best step for the lead. It is important to identify the difference between a lead who needs only the slightest nudge to become a satisfied customer versus  someone who only has minimal interest in your product or service. Analyze the data and take the correct next step because the last thing you want to be to your leads is a quick “unsubscribe” button.

2. Identify the lead as an MQL or an SQL 

The next step to knowing how to best follow up with your leads is identifying them as a marketing qualified lead (MQL) or a sales qualified lead (SQL). So what does that mean? An MQL is a lead who is interested in your company but isn't ready to buy. They may have downloaded a content offer or subscribed to your email newsletter, but aren't ready to talk to sales. You should nurture them over time with additional educational content that begins at the top of the funnel, and then slowly move them down the funnel. If they continue this path, then you could reach out to see if they have any questions to turn them into an SQL. Otherwise you need to wait and hope that your website and content calls to actions work properly by leading them to pages on your website that may make them more ready to buy and then they will contact you when they are ready by scheduling a demo or asking for pricing.

In the sales world, SQLs or Sales-Qualified-Leads represent anyone who responds with interest to a cold email or cold call. At StringCan, we refer to them as a lead until they have traveled through the sales cycle and ultimately close and become a client. But not all leads are equal as interest levels vary and the decision making process is almost always different for every prospective client.


Some companies with large sales teams and giant biz dev machines working for them will use complex rating systems to organize their leads. “I like my leads like I like my relationships: not complicated. So I like to keep this process simpler by categorizing leads in Hot, Warm and Cold. Leads travel back and forth between these categories.”, says StringCan’s Account Executive, Matt Grodsky. But why, Matt? He said, “for example, a lead that might express urgent interest in our services would obviously begin at Hot but if after a demo they take several weeks to several months to consider the project plan, they could fluctuate between Warm and Cold. On the flip side, a lead that is hesitant about agreeing to a discovery call or demo would be considered freezing Cold. But if after the discovery call they thaw out, they can easily jump into Warm or Hot depending on the amount their interest increases.”

One way to do this is by setting up email workflows. HubSpot states email workflows are a series of automated emails that will or will not be sent to prospects based on their online behavior. With workflows, you can trigger actions based on any information you have about your leads, allowing you to send the right message to the right person at the right time. At the end of the day, your sales team will have to decide what method works best for them when it comes to lead scoring. It's important to do as it allows you to prioritize your time towards the prospects most likely to close.

3. Best practices when following up with leads

First of all, make sure that all inbound marketing and sales leads are entered into your CRM system as soon as they are received. Additionally, ensure that once a lead becomes an SQL, that they are assigned to a salesperson for a follow-up that best corresponds with the status of the lead. You can approach the timeliness of lead follow-up in two ways: follow up with all sales leads in less than 60 minutes or setup automated emails to easily manage your leads. Research cited in the Harvard Business Review states that you are seven times more likely to qualify a lead if the follow-up occurs in less than an hour.

As for automated emails, HubSpot refers to them as sequences. For instance, you could send your lead an email immediately, include a meetings link where they can schedule a demo or consultation with you, and then based on whether they open the email, schedule a meeting, or don’t answer, you can decide what email they get next, if any. Having all of these different email sequences set up in your CRM takes the pain and stress out of how to reply to every lead that comes through your website. Do the hard work beforehand so that the rest of the process is easier to manage.

4. Why should the lead want to hear from you?

When responding to your leads, ask yourself, how you can be helpful, not salesy. The goal in your efforts should be to identify and solve their problem and provide value, not push them to your products and/or services. Bombarding your leads with “BUY NOW” and other pushy messaging is just guiding your leads out your online door empty-handed.


Think of this concept similar to selling Girl Scout cookies. Traditionally, they go from door to door or stand outside of grocery stores with their towers of Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties. People don’t go to the grocery store with the intent of purchasing ONLY Girl Scout cookies; they are nurtured into buying them when they enter and exit the doors. The same thing happens when you’re sitting on your couch and the doorbell rings, you get suckered into buying Girl Scout cookies because how could you not? They’re literally delivered to you! The point is, a lot of people don’t go out of their way to buy Girl Scout cookies, like people don’t go out of their way to become your customer just by filling out a form on your site. It takes more work with delivering value, like to-die-for caramel de-lites, to turn a passer-buyer into a customer.

5. Grab their attention - make them want to respond

You wouldn’t be sending the prospect an email if you didn’t want them to respond, right? One best practice to keep in mind is to customize your outreach to the action they took on your site, such as “I noticed you downloaded our free guide…” This helps your lead understand why you’re reaching out. Make sure you include in the email the action that you are trying to get the prospect to take, whether that means a return email, click on the blog post that you provide to them, or schedule a consultation right then and there. The most important thing to remember is to focus your email on the prospect: who they are, what their pain points are, why they should care, and what you have to offer them that will simplify their life in some way. Focus on the prospect’s needs, not your business.

6. Measure, re-evaluate and improve

Don’t base your entire lead nurturing strategy based on the first few that go well or don’t go so well. These processes take time to perfect and streamline. However, it is important to constantly measure your successes and failures so that you can keep evolving your strategy to what works best for your company. Some questions to ask yourself during this evaluation process:

• How many leads do I receive each week?

• How long does it take to respond to each lead? (Measured by the time between when the lead is received and when a salesperson talks to the prospect for the first time)

• What percentage of my inbound sales leads are converted into qualified prospects?

• What percentage of my inbound sales leads are converted into orders?

Once you have some solid numbers to work with, set goals for these metrics, and check each month to see whether you are achieving them. If you are, set more aggressive goals and fine-tune each element of your lead follow-up process to achieve your goals. If you aren’t meeting your goals, examine each element of your process in detail, and implement steps you can take to improve it. The inbound methodology suggests picking one element to change at a time in order to more easily establish what’s working and what isn’t.

The lead nurturing process takes a lot of time and effort, just like any other aspect of your inbound marketing and sales strategy. Good thing there are experts out there to help simplify the process and turn it into actionable, easy-to-digest steps. For more information on automated emails or the lead nurturing process, please contact us!


Images by brian, Manfred A. Pichler, Brit McBride, and Lisa Rocaille via Flickr CC

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About the Author:
Alix Parker
About the Author:
Jay Feitlinger

Jay, the CEO of StringCan, oversees strategy and vision, building culture that makes going into work something he looks forward to, recruiting additional awesome team members to help exceed clients goals, leading the team and allocating where StringCan invests time and money.


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