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B2B marketing 101: What is a lead?

Posted by Chris Hubbard on Apr 10, 2013 10:06:00 AM

At the heart of inbound marketing is lead generation. But what exactly is a lead? Ask 10 different people and they’ll all say, “Sure, I know what a lead is.” But then you’ll likely get 10 different definitions, all of which fail to recognize that there is actually more than one kind of lead.

Why Is This Important?

If you only have one definition of a “lead” in your database, you treat each prospect the same, no matter their level of interest or how close they are to a sale. This is a fundamental error that results in poor conversion rates and wasted resources. If you market to them all the same, no one receives the marketing they should.

What Can You Do?

You need to break apart your leads into at least three distinct types, so that you can market appropriately to each type.


If you go to a trade show and set out a fishbowl at your booth for people to put business cards in, and you get 700 cards, do you now have 700 qualified leads?

No. You have 700 names. Because they were at the trade show, this is a better list of names than most you could come up with, but you don’t really know why they put their card in the bowl. You don’t know if they have any real interest.

Yet you often hear lists of names referred to as marketing- qualified or sales-qualified leads and treated as such, with the corresponding investment of marketing and sales resources.

Marketing-Qualified Leads

Drawing people into relationships by offering them valuable content (email newsletters, downloadable whitepapers, instructional videos, etc.) enables you to collect information about them to determine if they’re real leads. If they don’t meet the criteria you’ve set for a lead, no more energy is wasted on them. If they do qualify, you now know that you need to focus on nurturing them.

You can also use the information gathered to further segment leads based on how promising they are, as measured by your predetermined criteria. This is known as lead scoring, and it enables smarter resource deployment and even-more-targeted marketing.

For leads at this stage, much of the marketing can be automated, although human involvement is still important.

Sales-Qualified Leads

Lead scoring is essential in deciding when to declare a lead “sales qualified.” Obviously, if someone clicks on a link to talk to sales, they’re sales-ready. But many times this is a determination you must make, and it’s a critical one. Sending leads to sales before they’re ready causes sales inefficiency, while not paying proper attention to leads that are ready for sales can result in lost opportunities.

Lead scoring can make the “sales-qualified” determination beforehand, with leads automatically going to sales when they reach a certain score.

The Bottom Line

You can’t treat all sales prospects the same—some are just names, some need marketing attention, and some are ready for sales. Marketing differently to each of these types is crucial to inbound marketing success.

Topics: b2b, leads, marketing automation