Lead Generation

What is a Lead? Getting Sales and Marketing On the Same Page

By marta ·  January 15, 2021

Marketing and sales teams may approach their jobs differently, as they should, but there’s one important thing that they need to agree on in order to work together efficiently, and that’s the definition of a lead.

If you haven’t already, ask both teams at your company to answer this question: What is a lead? The variety of responses may surprise you. 

A marketer might say it’s anyone who has filled out a form on your website, initiates a chat, or interacts with you on social media. A salesperson, on the other hand, would probably say it is someone with a need or an interest in what you are selling.

So what’s the right answer?  Let’s take a closer look at these different perspectives of what is considered a lead and talk about the importance of finding a common definition to achieve your common goal—to grow your business!

What are Leads in Marketing? 

Marketing leads

Marketers are focused on getting eyes on your website, blog or product and generate online leads. As soon as someone shares their contact information, be it a phone number, an email address or a social media handle, a door has been opened which may or may not result in a sale.

Around 85% of B2B marketers say lead generation is one of the most important content marketing goals. So when they gather a bunch of leads, it means success for the team, right? Well, maybe not the whole team.

While marketers are high-fiving each other for the leads they’ve generated, the sales team might be rolling their eyes and claiming that these aren’t “true leads” because very few people who’ve shared their info online are ready to receive a sales call or other form of contact to work towards a purchase. 

According to HubSpot, less than 10% of salespeople feel that leads from Marketing are high quality. In order to better understand this concept, let’s see how salespeople define leads.

What are Leads in Sales?

sales leads

It’s true that anyone who has filled out a form or shared their contact information online has some level of interest in your business and may move on to purchase something from you one day. This is certainly an online lead –  someone the company can contact to nurture a relationship– but what makes it a sales lead? 

Sales leads are often called “prospects”. These are potential customers who are likely to spend money with you in the not-so-distant future. Some companies go so far as to define a lead as a contact already determined to be a prospective customer.

It’s the sales team’s responsibility to convert a maximum amount of leads, and this is where the quality of the lead comes into place. Is the online lead that has been passed on from Marketing just interested in downloading a white paper or participating in a webinar or are they in the market for what you are selling?

When you take the time to qualify leads, you avoid spending time and resources pursuing leads who are not in a position to buy your product or service.  

The Importance of Qualifying a Lead

Qualifying a lead is a big topic that needs an article unto itself to cover everything, so here’s a simple, bite-sized version: to qualify a lead, you need to go a step further than acquiring someone’s contact information and ask them questions to discern whether the lead is a potential buyer or just a curious visitor doing research for their business school paper.

For Sales, you can reach out and gauge the customer’s interest but this takes time. If you can connect on the phone, you will have immediate feedback. If not, it’ll take a little more work on your end to get in touch and get a sense of what they want and need.

For Marketing, it’s a bit trickier, especially if the team’s lead qualification process is not standardized or their goals are focused on volume. Are the quantity of leads or the quality more important? 

If it’s the marketing team’s job to generate leads, nurture them, and get them interested in a sales conversation, they definitely need to know that. Team goals and responsibilities should be crystal clear so that the sales team is not wasting their time chasing impossible leads.

Here are 5 important steps for qualifying leads:

  1. Develop a highly detailed buyer profile: Discuss things like demographics, values, pain points, priorities, research habits, and characteristics to create buyer personas. 
  2. Determine the difference between interest and intent: Monitor web activity to find the leads showing signs of intent (i.e. looking at your sales page and checking out pricing as opposed to those registering for webinars or commenting on blogs). 
  3. Review a lead’s company website: Wondering how your product or service might integrate with someone’s current reality? It’s all there in black and white (and maybe color) on their website.
  4. Use a CRM with Marketing Automation: Nothing can replace your team, of course, but you can qualify leads more effectively when there is a simple process in place to gather and report data on them. You’ll also benefit from things like lead scoring and tracking tools. 
  5.  Verify authority to buy: CRM software may give a potential lead a high score, but you’ll need to take an extra step and research their authority to buy. Even if they don’t have it, with a little leg work you can determine if they can help you gain access to key decision-makers.

Clearly Defining Different Types of Leads

Remember that question we said to pose to your teams? Asking them, “What is a lead?” Well, if you found that the answers from Marketing and Sales varied slightly, then you know it’s time for everyone to get on the same page.

Let’s say someone fills out a form on your website to receive something. This would be considered a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). They’ve engaged but are not ready for a sales call. 

Only 4% of website visitors are ready to buy at any given time. MQLs should be identified as such and not immediately passed on to Sales, unless they are prepared for rejection.

Perhaps the marketing team has identified a potential buyer based on the above recommendations on qualifying a lead, and this lead has been passed on to Sales. This is now a Sales Accepted Lead (SAL), and they will be given further scrutiny and evaluation to determine if they are qualified or not.

If it seems like this person needs your product or service, they have the ability to buy, and the timing is right, they become a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) and it’s up to the sales team to determine exactly when and how to reach out. 

sales funnel

There are two more types of leads – one with an acronym and one without (because it’s already been used). A PQL is a Product Qualified Lead, meaning someone who has used your product – most often freemium version – and has indicated that they would like to upgrade.

A Service Qualified Lead is someone who has told a customer service representative that they are interested in becoming a paying customer or that they would like to upgrade their current subscription or plan. 

Your company might not use all of these definitions, but they are a good way to think through your lead-generation process and separate marketing from sales functions.

How Sales and Marketing Can Agree on the Definition of a Lead

Assessing and defining different types of leads together is a very important part of the qualifying process and will save your team time and money. If everyone comes together to create a standard definition of a lead, your sales and marketing teams will be in sync and find it easier to achieve their own specific goals.

Defining an ideal lead and having a proper qualification system in place will ensure that leads from Marketing will progress to Sales only when they fit the persona, they’ve taken a sales-specific action and they’ve got the power to buy.

If you want to learn more about sales and marketing lead generation, we have an entire series on the topic or you can simply ask one of our experts on lead generation.


Check out these other articles: B2B Lead Generation: 15+ Tried and Tested Strategies Other Companies Benefit From, How to Leverage User Stories to Generate Leads & Grow Your Business, B2B Content Marketing Guide

About the author

Marta Olszewska Marta is a growth marketer with a passion for content and partnerships. Formerly a leader of a semi-distributed marketing team at Piktochart, Marta is now a content consultant and COO at Zengrowth helping companies achieve stellar growth. She has recently founded Refill Aqua, an initiative to reduce plastic pollution in Barcelona. She also enjoys singing and photographing people.