Types of Lead Management Systems

Businessman drawing a CRM flowchart
Customer relationship management systems. matspersson0/E+/Getty Images

Good sales leads are hard to find. But if you don't have a well-organized lead management system, you won't be able to give those hard-won leads the attention they need. A lead should stay on your radar until you have either closed the sale or shifted it to the 'dead' pile, but the only way to keep an eye on every lead you get is to create a system that works for you.

There is no one best way to manage leads.

Different salespeople have different approaches to the sales process. The best lead management system for you is the one that's easy for you to master and that you can use intuitively. Here are some examples of lead management techniques, from low tech to high tech.

Rolodex / Index Cards

Old-school salespeople still prefer a paper and pen approach, but most salespeople have migrated to other methods. The card lead management system involves writing down each lead's information on an index card or Rolodex card and placing them in some logical order, often sorted alphabetically by the lead's last name (or the company name for B2B salespeople). Paper card systems are extremely cheap and easy to set up and can work well with small numbers of leads. But as the number of leads increases, card systems become very unwieldy. Worse, your entire lead management system can be wiped out by a careless coffee spill.

Business Cards

Some B2B salespeople collect business cards and use them to track leads, writing notes down on the back of the card. This system is even cheaper than index cards (all you need is a pen) but is also even more prone to becoming disorganized and out of hand. It's easy to misfile a card or even lose it entirely.

And there isn't much room to write on most business cards, so additional notes must go elsewhere – which increases the odds that you'll lose some critical piece of information.

Spreadsheets

Salespeople with a computer can use Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet program to track their leads. Computer-based lead management systems are much easier to alter – for example, if you decide you want to include notes on where you acquired each lead, all you need to do is add another column to the spreadsheet and start tracking the new info – and spreadsheet systems can track huge amounts of data. Like most computer-based systems, a spreadsheet file can be searched and sorted by any field, so it's easy to find and organize your leads. However, sales lead tracking spreadsheets are only as good as the data that goes into them. If you misspell a lead's name or forget to enter some vital piece of information, you may have trouble retrieving that lead later. And spreadsheet programs may not have a way to generate reports about your leads, so tracking your progress can be tricky.

CRMs

The top of the heap in lead management systems is the CRM, or customer relationship management program. CRMs come in dozens of different forms and can cost thousands of dollars – although many are quite cheap or even free.

CRM programs have all the benefits of sales lead tracking spreadsheets and usually also come with report functions that give you a better look at your successes or failures. For example, you might pull up a report every week showing how many leads you closed and how many new ones have come in, so that you'll know right away if you're keeping up with incoming leads. Many CRM programs can also be accessed remotely from your home computer or smartphone, so if you suddenly remember a critical detail, you can simply log in from home and add it to the system.