Operationalizing lead management - a case study

  • By Idan Carmeli
  • 15 Dec, 2016
One of the key functions of any marketing operations role, or system, is to ensure the proper handling of new leads. Depending on your business process implementation, this may involve any combination of the following sub-procedures:

  1. Auto response triggering
  2. Email address validation
  3. Tagging the record with complementary information, e.g. inbound campaign data, automated record enrichment data, etc.
  4. Basic de-duplication, i.e. identifying the pre existence of a database record with similar key values and preventing the creation of a duplicate record
  5. Advanced de-duplication, i.e. identifying the pre-existence of a database record and initiating processes like record linking, record merging, deletion or human decision request.
  6. Lead scoring, e.g. based on the demographic details included in the inquiry
  7. Syncing to CRM, or the suppression of sync
  8. Assignment to lead owner or queue, including sending out email alerts or CRM notifications to the record owner
  9. Associating the lead to a campaign object, useful for future first-touch or multi-touch ROI analysis
Ideally, your CRM & marketing automation combo will be properly configured to handle all the above processes, with certain add-ons or 3rd party tools to power non native processes like data enrichment, email validation, or advanced de-duplication.

What I’d like to present below is one of our client implementations where many of the processes above are actualized, step by step. It’s interesting because it offers a highly specific view of technical processes that, as a whole, contribute greatly to the success and effectiveness of lead management and its sister process: customer acquisition.

I will present this by looking, piece by piece, at the evolution of Marketo’s lead history log (aka the activity log) in the client’s Marketo instance. This particular client, a B2B SaaS provider, has a robust data quality solution implemented that handles advanced de-duplication scenarios. To protect the privacy of the client’s own customers, I have removed any identifiers from the log below.

Step 0: Lead submits a web form inquiry

In this case, a person answers the provider’s ‘free trial’ call to action and fills a form. The lead is registered immediately in Marketo’s database, and details about the activity, such as the form’s name and, behind it, the form’s field values, are stored.

Step 1: An automated response is sent

Almost immediately, an auto response email goes out to the person. This step is important for various reasons:
  • The person expects it. Notice below the open action that was registered on the same minute. 
  • These emails, which we consider as transactional or operational emails, have very high response rates, because they are sent very close to the person’s own inquiry action, which means their mind is usually still ‘on topic’ when they receive it. Pro tip: use your auto responders to say something meaningful to your leads, they’re still paying attention to you.
  • If they entered a bogus email address, the email will bounce back and Marketo will make special note of it, allowing you to take careful steps to either fix the record or prevent it from being treated at all.
  • If the recipient opens and/or click the email, Marketo registers it, in effect validating the address. Alternatively, or independently, you can initiate an external validation process. See the next step.
The next operations (steps 2 and 5 below), are initiated by a webhook mechanism called from within a triggered smart campaign in Marketo.

This webhook is part of the client’s implementation of Ringlead’s data quality platform . It triggers several data tagging, enrichment and deduplication protocols that are part of the platform’s Salesforce integration, leading to the record becoming much more optimized for handling.

Step 2: a validation service is requested

In the case of the present implementation, the client has opted to implement a database-wide email validation call, not just for web leads but for any new lead received in the system.
Note: there are many reliable 3rd party services that offer email validation APIs, notably Kickbox (which we use quite a bit at Converto) and Clearbit .

Step 3: automatic data tagging 

Next, we use triggered workflows (aka Marketo smart campaigns) to collect and tag source data about this lead, to help us run various marketing analytics in the future.
The only limit to what data you’d want to tag and track at the point of entry is your imagination and ability to anticipate future analytics needs. Typical use cases include timestamping, UTM parameter or other referral source parsing, segmenting, etc.

Step 4: Basic de-duplication

One major advantage of implementing marketing automation systems, like Marketo, is their implicit de-duplication mechanisms. Essentially, if you implement it correctly at the ‘Head of Funnel’ position, i.e. as the first point every inquiry or record first reaches in its ‘data journey’, the system uses the email address field to de-duplicate the record against the existing database.  This is basic de-duplication.

In our case here, Marketo did not find a similar email address in its database, so a new record has been created, as we saw in step 1 above.
However, advanced de-duplication uncovered a different reality...

Step 5: Advanced de-duplication

To perform de-duplication that goes beyond email address matching, a 3rd party tool is required. In our case, Ringlead’s data quality platform is in place and takes care of the more advanced aspects of data cleanup. If you don’t have access to it, no worries - there are alternatives in the market, and you can always ask your Salesforce service provider to custom develop advanced de-duplication for your organization. At Converto we’re not huge fans of custom Salesforce code, though, as we’re of the opinion that a product is always better than a custom solution.

At any rate, at our implementation here, advanced de-duplication protocols are initiated via another webhook.

And, lo and behold, a duplicate was indeed found! Based on additional criteria, an existing account was identified. This isn’t trivial, mind you. Identifying an incoming inquiry as belonging to an existing account could make a real difference in your sales team’s chances in closing a deal with the account. What if that person is a decision maker, or a strong influencer? Without the proper process in place, sales might entirely miss it!
In our case, the lead is linked to the existing account, which is also identified as a past customer, and as a result the correct sales owner is later assigned.

Not only that, but the solution automatically triggers, using the Marketo API, the Merge Leads function, effectively handling the deduplication and cleaning up the data and its loose ends.

Step 6. Automatic lead scoring

Having properly tagged, de-duped and processed the new record, it’s time now to score it, based on the global scoring rules. B2B marketers use scoring to quantify subjective lead quality and relevancy, to help their sales teams prioritize and select leads, who have stronger indicators than others in the database, for accelerated treatment.

Step 7. CRM syncing

The rule of thumb for when to sync a new lead to the CRM is that there is no such rule. It depends solely on the preferences of your organization, as manifested in the alignment between your marketing & sales teams. Sometimes, sales wants 100% visibility of all incoming leads, with no judgment room left for marketing or its systems. Other times, sales would trust marketing to run the proper lead nurture and warm-up processes, and to bring into the CRM only quality leads.

There is no single “best practice”. The key is to align and have all stakeholders on the same page about which leads go into the CRM and at which stage of their lead management lifecycle.

In our case, the client’s sales organization opted to have all inbound leads automatically entered into CRM upon creation, to enable rapid lead qualification by inside sales, and defer assignment to lead nurture to a later stage.
To this end, a dedicated workflow for lead syncing, routing and assignment is called soon after the lead is received. Afterwards, the record is kept in constant sync between the systems, and updates to it in either system cause the ‘sync lead update’ process to run when needed.

Finally, it has become impossible for me to write or say ‘lead syncing’ without being reminded of this most excellent Berlitz advert.


In this post I have outlined the nine steps involved in managing new leads, and used a live implementation to demonstrate how they can be operationalized using a well integrated marketing automation environment, and carefully planned business processes.

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