What is a Lead?

Really, It’s Not a Stupid Question

The friction between sales and marketing teams in some companies is legendary, and the reason is simple: they’re each speaking a different language. The way we talk about leads is a great example.

Marketing loves generating leads. They’re often measured on that as a key performance metric. “How many leads did that campaign generate?” asks the boss. “450 good ones,” is the answer.

Then go to ask a sales rep, “Did that new campaign generate any good leads?” and you’ll get a different response, “No, not really, just a few.”

Where’s the Disconnect?

How can two visions of the same results be so far apart? Simple. Your lead is not my prospect, it’s just an inquiry. Or maybe it’s a warm lead. But it’s not a qualified lead.

Marketing is notorious for collecting lots and lots of contacts and calling them leads. The marketing team hurls these contacts over the wall at the sales team, who just shake their collective heads, throw up their hands and say, “They just don’t get it.”

You need a better approach.

It starts with answering the question “what is a lead?” For Sales, a lead is generally a qualified contact that has expressed an interest in purchasing something you offer at some time in the near future.

For marketing, a lead may be someone who has expressed a vague interest in your products or services. They may even be assumed to have an interest because of an action they took (like downloading information). Often, this intest has no definite time frame attached to it.

The difference? For sales, leads are immediately actionable contacts, ripe fruit ready to be picked. For marketing, leads include that juicy fruit, as well as lots seeds that can be nurtured for future harvests.

Some sales teams, especially in b2b organizations where the sales cycle is long, will begin to plan the harvest as soon as the fruit starts to develop. Others want to wait for the signal that it’s picking time. Either way, it’s critical for sales and marketing to work together to create a realistic plan for their garden of leads.

The best approach is to define uniform terms to express where a lead is in the sales cycle. You may move from “contacts” to “inquiries” to “qualified leads” to “prospects” to “proposals.”

You might also want to have a separate class of leads owned by Marketing, which I like to call “nurture” leads. These are the people who may have a future interest, but aren’t ready to buy just yet.

Marketing is the ideal place to nurture leads. Programs like email marketing can use a predictable, proven series of communications or touch points to stay in contact with a buyer until they mature into an active lead or prospect.

Use marketing to educate and inform leads while they sit on the back burner. Then, when they’re good and hot (i.e. ready to buy) they can be passed along to Sales to be closed. This method makes the best use of a salesperson’s time, adding value from marketing along the way.

Whatever you decide, don’t worry if your organization’s definitions of the different types of leads and where they fit into the sales cycle is not the same as that of another company.

Come up with language that works for your business’s culture and processes. What matters most is a shared understanding of what lead definitions mean, who owns each phase of lead management, and what is done with the leads in each phase of the sales cycle.

Getting everyone on the same page will increase efficiency and improve communications, helping you close new business faster. You’ll also eliminate poor prospects more quickly,  freeing your team to work on bigger and better deals.

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