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Effective lead management can boost profits, Gartner says

Gartner analyst Chris Fletcher explains where companies should be focusing their lead management efforts.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Lead management is alive and well, and companies that fail to use it properly could be in big trouble, according to Gartner Inc.

Speaking at the Stamford, Conn.-based IT analyst firm’s annual Customer 360 Summit, Gartner research director Chris Fletcher said companies could face extinction if they don’t tap the full potential of lead management.

Alternatively, organizations that use lead management techniques effectively can expect major rewards, he added.

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Lead management is the process of tracking and managing the leads of prospective customers, from their inception to their eventual development as sales and long-term relationships.

Organizations that want to update their lead management programs should focus their efforts on several key areas, according to Fletcher. That work includes enhanced qualification, prioritization, distribution, augmentation, allocation, tracking and closing of leads from multiple sources.

“There’s so much stuff sticking to the wall that if you don’t use lead management, you’re in trouble,” Fletcher said during his highlighted talk at the conference.

That stuff is customers’ social media output. To demonstrate the power of social media, Fletcher pointed out that Twitter users create 250 million tweets each day, and LinkedIn had 7.6 billion page views last year.

“All these conversations are happening on the Internet about you, your product -- about whether you’re giving good support or not,” Fletcher told the audience. “You’ve got to integrate that into your lead management processes.”

One Gartner survey showed that 75% of companies have integrated the call center into lead management processes but few other channels of information. “We’re in this big social world, but we’re still struggling to manage and integrate those channels,” he said.

Conference attendee M.J. Crabbe-Barberis agreed with Fletcher’s point that companies are having trouble getting their acts together when it comes to managing channels. Companies still have a departmental approach to dealing with customers, as opposed to having everyone work together on the issue, she said.

“So much of it is about internal policies with companies and silos. So much of that you have to overcome. That has nothing to do with leads,” said Crabbe-Barberis, the director of global CRM product marketing at Infor, a provider of enterprise applications and services and one of the sponsors of the Gartner event.

Fletcher acknowledged that making the most of customer leads is challenging. He said lead management may ultimately not take off because it may prove too difficult to implement.

But Fletcher hedged on the possibility of failure by also suggesting lead management could work for companies, because multichannel customer engagement will inevitably be too large to ignore, he said.

Within a company, the corporate vision has to mirror the vision on the lower levels; everyone has to be on the same page in harnessing customer leads, he said.

Companies, he said, are trying to quantify a lifetime of data about a customer. The life insurance industry does this best, he said. It’s a relationship that lasts for about 50 years.

But life insurance companies obviously take a longer perspective than a fast-paced software company, Fletcher said. It might be time to rethink that perspective, he suggested.

“You’ve got to shift the conversation from volume to value,” he said.

It can be done, Fletcher said, citing a mobile electronics provider he works with but didn’t name.

The company had 300,000 contacts from all over the world stored in several CRM databases and finally merged them into one database, Fletcher said. The key to this integration was creating a single lead management solution platform that enables each employee to track a customer’s status and activities and all, right down to his home region, he said.

But so far, only the company’s interactions with customers have been integrated; the customer’s social output has yet to be included, and there has been little feedback from sales, he said.

Fletcher urged attendees to develop a cross-organizational team of marketing, sales and channel oversight, and to then define processes and metrics for handling customer leads. They should create measurable and transparent lead-tracking workflows and processes, he added.

He also reminded attendees not to become so focused on social media that they lose sight of the traditional customer channels.

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