Lead distribution: Finding the right system for your sales team
New leads are coming into your sales pipeline—but where are they going from there?
An effective lead distribution process is key to running a successful sales organization.
If you’re struggling to define how new leads are being assigned to your reps, you have a problem.
The solution—set up a lead distribution system for your team.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. After all, with so many options for lead assignment and routing, how can you set up something that’s simple, transparent, and fair to each of your reps?
We sat down with Nick Persico, Director of Sales at Close, to help us understand exactly what lead distribution is, how it works, and how sales managers can simplify the process to help their reps close more deals.
What is lead distribution?
Lead distribution is part of the early stages of your lead management process. After you’ve generated and captured new leads, you put them through a simple qualification process.
Once this is done, you can distribute those leads to the individual reps on your team. Then, each rep can see which leads they’re supposed to follow up with, and focus on closing those leads.
So, what methods can sales leaders use to assign leads?
Popular sales lead distribution methods
Lead distribution can either be done manually or automatically. If you're manually assigning leads, there's basically two ways of going about it:
- Picking from the lead pool: In this scenario, incoming leads are dumped into the CRM, and reps cherry pick the leads they want. This means either the fastest rep wins the best leads, or a blind pull system can be set up where reps only see lead details after accepting the lead.
- Manual assignment: Directors of small sales teams may choose to manually assign each new lead as it enters the system.
If you’re a startup founder or sales manager, and you're dealing with a low number of leads, you’ve probably been assigning leads manually (or simply handling them yourself).
But as you scale your sales efforts and team size, this will quickly become disorganized and difficult.
“I often tell founders that are building sales teams that you’re probably better off doing it manually to start,” says Nick Persico, Director of Sales at Close. “But once you’ve hit a scale where manually assigning leads becomes an outsized part of your day, let’s say 15-20% of your time, then it’s time to automate.”
Here are three lead distribution methods for automated routing:
- Round-robin lead assignment: The simple automation for lead routing, this method simply assigns a new lead to the next person in line. Depending on what software you’re using, you can normally make adjustments for when reps are on vacation or not available for new leads.
- Group-based lead distribution: This is a popular method with large sales teams that are divided into specialized groups. When you group your reps by the type of leads they handle, you can use automated qualification to assign quality leads to the right group. Then, the sales group can either pull leads from a pool, or you can use a round-robin system to assign the leads to individual reps within the group.
- Specific lead assignment rules: If each individual rep on your team has a specific skill set or territory that is assigned to them, you can route incoming leads according to their location, size, or other characteristics that apply.
Ready to set up your own lead distribution process?
6 steps to set up your first automated lead distribution process
If you’re managing more than two sales reps or you find that manual lead distribution takes more than 20% of your time every week, it’s time to automate.
Of course, creating a simple and effective lead distribution process that’s automated can be harder than you think.
Here are the 6 steps you should follow according to the experts:
1. Automate from the moment a new inbound lead is captured
An automated lead distribution process starts with automating how qualified leads enter your team’s radar.
Setting up this early-stage automation will make it easier to pipe these leads to the right team members down the road.
So, think about how new inbound leads are coming to your team. This could be:
- A form on your website
- New trial signups
- Inbound emails or calls to your sales or support teams
- Direct messages on social media channels
When you’ve identified your key inbound lead capture points and the tools you’re using to track them, you’re in the right place to start building automations that will bring leads in real-time in front of the right reps.
Think about the route that leads take from the moment they’re captured to the moment a sales rep contacts them. How are these leads currently being delivered to the team? Is there anything you can do to eliminate manual work in between?
Once your lead capture is optimized, you can move to the next step.
2. Set up a simple qualification process before leads get routed
Part of your workflow while manually assigning leads involves simple qualification. After all, you don’t want to assign leads to your reps if they’re just a waste of time. You probably spend a couple of minutes looking at each lead before you send them out, deciding whether they need to talk to a salesperson or not.
So, how do you set up this kind of qualification in an automated process?
Here are two ways:
First, you could run your new inbound leads through a data enrichment service. There are plenty of B2B data providers that will tell you details about a company and the people that work there. Connect your lead generation tools to a B2B data enrichment tool to see key data points that affect how qualified a new lead is for your product or service.
Second, you could add a simple qualification step within the lead generation process. For example, if you’re generating new leads using a form on your website, add one simple question that helps you see if this new lead is qualified or not.
Here’s how we do this at Close:
When new inbound leads are qualified, it’s time to figure out how to send them to your team.
3. Choose the lead distribution method that’s right for your sales team
Know your team first—then you can decide which lead distribution method works best for them.
For example, are you managing a large, multi-disciplinary sales team? Separate them into core groups and route leads accordingly.
Are you managing a small startup sales team? Then start with a round-robin lead assignment. This is the easiest place to start with automation, and you can always design a more refined process down the road as your team grows.
Right from the get-go, talk to your team. Get their ideas and feedback on how they’d like to see leads assigned to them. This will help you build a transparent lead routing system from the start.
4. Complete and connect your tool stack
Ultimately, new leads should end up inside your CRM. It’s the route they take to get there that’s interesting.
Of course, every tool stack for lead capture and assignment is different. While there are dedicated lead distribution software options you can choose from, there are also options to assign and distribute leads more simply through tools you already have in your stack.
A simple lead distribution tool stack might include:
- A lead capture tool, like ConvertFlow, Unbounce, or Drift
- A sales scheduling tool, like SavvyCal
- Your preferred CRM (*cough cough* like Close *cough cough*)
- An automation tool, like Zapier
This simple stack gives you several options for lead distribution: For example, you can set up an automatic lead assignment process in your CRM through Zapier, or you can let your scheduling tool like SavvyCal assign leads round-robin to your sales team. (Plus, with SavvyCal's native integration to Close, you'll see Contacts automatically synced and updated when a new meeting is booked.)
If you need to be more exact with your lead assignment rules, you can add these to the above stack:
- A B2B data provider, like Clearbit, ZoomInfo, or ReachHub
- A dedicated lead routing system, like Chili Piper or LeadAssign
5. Build and test new lead assignment rules
Whether you’re just setting up a round-robin lead routing system or trying out more complex ways of assigning leads to your team, it’s a good idea to test the routing rules to make sure everything is working properly.
Do this alongside your team. Be open to their opinions and ask for specific feedback on how new leads are getting assigned to them. Keep testing until you’re sure things run smoothly and you can trust the automation to do its job.
6. Track and measure results
Setting up your first lead distribution process doesn’t stop when leads start getting piped in to your team.
Just like other areas of your sales pipeline and process, you need to track and measure the results to make sure things continue to work over time.
Of course, there’s no single sales metric that will tell you that your lead distribution system isn’t working. But when you track early-stage activity metrics consistently, these can give you early warning signs that something is wrong. That might include:
- Response time
- First call reach rate
- Call duration
- Conversion rate to the next pipeline stage
- Close rate
Measure each of these across the team but also by individual. If someone’s metrics are dropping, find out if your lead distribution system is failing them.
You can also set up a specific KPI to watch these early-stage interactions. Here’s how Nick Persico describes this:
“At a high level, you need to look at what’s coming in compared to what’s coming out—won opportunities. Take into account the availability of the individual salesperson during that specific time period compared to the rest of the team, then check a custom metric like lead assigned to close ratio.
“From the leads assigned to each rep, how many meetings do they book? From there, how many opportunities are created? If the salesperson can’t get a meeting with half of their assigned leads, you obviously need to look at their performance. But to be fair, you also need to look at lead quality.”
When you consistently (and transparently) track the performance of each individual on your sales team, it’ll help you see where your lead distribution strategy may need adjustment.
Lead distribution best practices for B2B sales leaders
Now that you’ve set up your lead distribution process, how can you keep it running smoothly and use it to motivate your sales team?
Document your lead distribution process
The key to improvement is documentation. It’s far too easy to iterate on the process over time and reach a point where you can no longer explain exactly how leads are being distributed to your team.
So, start by documenting each step of your new lead distribution process. When you do this, you can scrutinize that process alongside your team and continually look for ways to improve it without losing control over it.
“If you have your process documented and transparent, and you have great salespeople,” says Nick, “they’re going to tell you when something is unfair and needs to be tweaked.”
Keep it simple
Complexity is easy. Keeping it simple is hard. That’s why it requires conscious effort to maintain a simple lead distribution process.
After chatting with Nick about the lead distribution process at Close, he added, “I can describe our lead assignment process in two or three sentences. If you can’t describe your process that quickly, you’ll have a problem when trying to recruit to your sales team. Keep it simple at first and build onto that over time.”
If you've got a good lead response time, follow up with quality leads, and enable your reps to close deals without having to worry about how the lead assignment works and whether it's fair, thinks are probably in a good state.
Attract and retain top sales talent with transparent lead distribution
According to our Nick, a transparent lead distribution process is also a key step in retaining top sales talent:
“One of the big reasons why a lot of salespeople leave bigger organizations is that their lead distribution process is opaque,” he says.
“Either because it's opaque by design because that's just the way the organization is built–which I strongly disagree with–or it’s become so out of their control that they can’t describe how it works.”
“So be rigorous about updating the documentation and use that as a feature to acquire and retain great salespeople, because they're going to appreciate that. They feel like they're getting a fair shake. They're going to do all the things you expect them to do, and ultimately be happy in the role in the company that they work for.”
Use weighted distribution to reward high performers
To reward their sales reps, many sales leaders look to metrics with a monetary value, such as the revenue generated.
But rewarding reps based on the money they brought in can be unfair to other reps.
Here’s what Nick says about it:
“I’ve found it’s often not the best predictor of a salesperson’s effectiveness. For example, if one in a hundred leads are over $1M, and one salesperson happens to land two of them in a quarter, of course their numbers are going to be at the top because they got the best lead.”
“While you do want to reward people for closing big deals, you can’t make money a black and white descriptor of their effort.”
Instead, Nick recommends using a weighted system to reward reps for their output with the leads that are assigned to them.
“If you get a hundred leads,” explains Nick, “what is your output on those hundred leads? That number can determine who is number one on the leaderboard, and you can reward them by giving them more leads next quarter.”
This kind of weighted distribution based on each rep’s output with the leads they’re given ensures that everyone has the opportunity to make it to the top of the sales leaderboard, and they’re incentivized to improve their efforts and get more leads in their pipeline.
Don’t automate simply for the sake of automating
Automation only makes sense if it saves your team time and effort while generating enough ROI to cover its costs.
“Automate when you have a clear set of repetitive tasks coming in every day,” advises Nick. “Let’s say you have 20 leads coming in every day, you look at the lead, and assign it to the next person. When this becomes mindless and you notice your eyes start glazing over while doing this, then it’s time to translate that into an automated system.”
Create your ultimate lead distribution process and retain top sales talent
If your startup is growing, it’s even more important that you get lead distribution right from the get-go. After all, this is a key aspect of attracting and retaining the type of salespeople that can really make a difference in your business.
So, automate when it’s necessary. Start simple, and regularly measure the results. Optimize transparently alongside your team. You’ll build a happier sales team that feels they’re getting a fair share of your business’ top leads.
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