The Buckets Method: A Guide to Efficient Lead Generation


Traditional cold calling is killing your company’s bottom line.

If your salespeople regularly spend hours looking for leads on the phone, you’re wasting time and losing money. If your business approaches cold calling like most companies, you likely have your sales reps dialing unverified, unvetted numbers off a list you got from a data vendor or database.

Unfortunately, this approach to cold calling has been around for nearly a century. Most people would agree that the business world has changed dramatically since the 1920s. So why are you still using the same old approach with how you generate and manage leads?

We’ll show you how you can supercharge and optimize your lead gen with Buckets – a system that helps you figure out who to call, when to call them, and why. When you apply this tactic, you can immediately start having more productive and efficient conversations in a fraction of the time.

With hours saved daily, your sales team can then focus on what they love doing (and what actually matters for your bottom line): closing deals.

Related: Top 50 Lead Generation Tools in 2023, Ranked & Rated

Garbage in = garbage out

Before we can start applying the buckets technique, we must understand how most companies (and likely yours) get stuck in the mud with cold calling. The problem with top-of-the-funnel prospecting for most businesses isn’t the actual cold calling itself. Rather, it’s their approach to figuring out who to call. Most sales teams get their leads in one of three ways: manual research, internal CRM, or purchased from a data vendor.

Regardless of which tactic your company uses, they all share the same pitfall: a lack of efficiency. Whether you get your leads from research, CRM, or a data vendor, there’s no guarantee that the people you call will be interested or even pick up the phone. Your salespeople then start blindly calling leads just to waste hours getting sent to voicemail and hearing, “sorry, we’re not interested.” An unoptimized, inefficient lead gen method only brings you unoptimized and inefficient prospecting: garbage in, garbage out.

Luckily, there’s a better way to prospect by using the buckets technique. And the first step to applying this strategy is finding your swimlane.

Find your swimlane

Before you can put your leads into buckets, you need to figure out who you should and shouldn’t call. This is known as finding your swimlane. By setting strict boundaries and guidelines for who you contact, you take the guesswork out of cold calling for your sales team.

When you get a brand new set of possible leads (regardless of which method you use), the first thing you must do is determine which ones are in your swimlane. While the factors you use for determining your swimlane can vary, there are four general swimlanes that you should be segmenting your leads into:

Too small – not in your swimlane

Calling prospects who have too small of a business comes with a couple of problems. While they might not be getting approached by as many of your competitors as a large company, they might not have the finances or resources to buy your product. Contacting companies who are too small often results in your salespeople having to deal with strict budget constraints that make your product a bad fit for the client.

Too big – not in your swimlane

Calling prospects who are too big has the inverse pitfalls of calling small prospects. While these companies usually have large budgets that can easily accommodate your product, they also have every competitor in your industry knocking on their door. Your salespeople will spend countless hours trying to fight off dozens of competitors, and the prospect will have significant leverage during negotiations because “the other guys do the same thing for less money.”

Outside of your industry – not in your swimlane

This swimlane is highly self-explanatory, but it deserves mention. Just because a company exists doesn’t mean that you should be selling to it! For example, if your company specializes in creating products for the dentistry industry, stick to that market. Focus on making your product the perfect fit for a specific consumer. Trying to sell to everyone just results in creating a mediocre product and sales pitch. Stick to your target industry – all other leads, no matter how attractive, are outside your swimlane.

Just right – your swimlane

These are the leads that you should be focusing on during prospecting. They are in your target market and not too big or too small. Concentrating on these leads is the key to having productive conversations and efficient cold calling.

Now that you know how to find your swimlane, it’s time to talk about buckets.

Understanding the 4 key buckets

At its core, the buckets technique is all about segmenting and prioritizing who your salespeople will contact during a prospecting session. This tactic lets you minimize the time you waste on unproductive tasks while maximizing your sales efficiency. Buckets are a way for your salespeople to easily categorize leads by their priority and status – allowing you to spend less time dialing numbers and more time having meaningful interactions that close sales.

Once you’ve determined your swimlane – the prospects on your radar, it’s time to segment them into buckets based on where they are in your sales process. In essence, you’re figuring out which leads are the closest to signing a contract and which require the most convincing.

Bucket 1: Uncontacted

The Uncontacted bucket consists of all of your possible prospects – both those who are in your swimlane and those who you haven’t assigned to a swimlane yet. These are your freshest leads. As such, this bucket requires the most research and internal work before you can contact the prospects within it. Priority activities for this bucket include researching leads, eliminating leads that are outside of your swimlane, and contacting prospects who are in your swimlane.

Bucket 2: Working

The Working bucket is made up of all the prospects who are in your swimlane and you’ve made at least one attempt to contact. Optimally, this bucket is filled with validated contacts. Leads become validated when you confirm that the number associated with that person actually reaches them.

When working in this bucket, your sole priority is to get these prospects interested enough to set an appointment. Activities for the Working bucket include trying to contact prospects multiple times daily, reaching out through other mediums like email and social media, and taking note of the phone tree path required to reach the lead.

The Working bucket should be your biggest one. Keeping this bucket full of prospects ensures that you’ll never run out of people to contact. Salespeople who are full-time appointment setters should never have less than 100 leads in the Working bucket at all times. For full-cycle sales reps or closers, the bucket should have no less than 50. How can I ensure that I keep this bucket saturated with leads, you ask? By working hard to get leads out of Bucket 1 and into Bucket 2.

Bucket 3: Priority

Leads in the Priority bucket are prospects who have been reached in the past or only need a small nudge to set an appointment. This includes inbound leads who are in your swimlane, Bucket 2 prospects who engage heavily or pick up the phone but haven’t set a meeting, or leads who were in your deal pipeline but failed to close in the past 2-3 quarters.

The priority of the Priority bucket is to continue engaging with these leads and trying to set an appointment. Reach out to these prospects through email, phone, and social media. Getting a meeting scheduled is your only priority in Bucket 3.

Bucket 4: Scheduled

Bucket 4, your Scheduled bucket, is reserved for prospects who are scheduled for an appointment. These leads are the closest to converting into paying customers, so pay extra attention to this bucket and do everything you can to ensure that prospects attend their appointment.

Priority activities in Bucket 4 center around staying in touch with prospects and confirming meetings regularly. When the appointment is a week away, call your prospect to confirm the meeting. When the appointment is 12–24 hours away, confirm it by email. If the lead doesn’t respond to your confirmation email, verify the meeting by phone two to three hours before the scheduled time.

What happens if the prospect fails to attend the meeting or cancels, you ask? They simply go back into Bucket 3 (Priority) until you can schedule another appointment.

Prioritizing your buckets

Now that you’ve optimized your cold calling and lead gen by finding your swimlane and using buckets. You might be wondering which buckets you should prioritize? When it comes to determining your daily workflow, the best practice is to work backward from Bucket 4 to Bucket 1. In other words, prioritize the leads closest to buying and work your way back to those who need the most nurturing.

Although vetting and contacting the leads in the Uncontacted and Working buckets is critical, starting at Bucket 4 ensures that you give your most prospective leads the time and attention they need to turn into customers. Think about it this way: losing a lead from Buckets 1 or 2 costs your company less in potential profits than losing a likely buyer from Bucket 4.


When you use the buckets technique, you simplify and optimize your cold calling and lead gen activities. You take the guesswork out of prospecting and turn it into a simple process for your sales team. Your salespeople simply categorize prospects based on swimlane and buckets and execute on their priority activities.

With so much time saved, your people can now focus less on guessing their way through lead gen and more on closing sales and making a real impact on your company’s bottom line!

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