5 Key Differences to Note Between Lead Generation and Sales Prospecting


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Lead generation is the process of assessing and/or attracting initial interest in a company’s product or service. This then increases sales down the line. 

Sales prospecting is different. It involves engaging directly with the individual to move them closer to a sale.

Both are aspects of the sales process, but they differ in many respects and are beneficial for different reasons.

Both are certainly necessary – a study by Marketo revealed that only four percent of website visitors are ready to buy.

Using lead generation and/or sales prospecting will allow you to follow up on missed opportunities and guide those who are undecided toward purchasing your products.

This article will take you through five key differences between these sales techniques and provide advice on how these will affect your business.

1. Leads and sales are different steps in the sales process 

First, we must consider how lead generation and sales prospecting interact. They’re both steps in the overall sales process, but this is one of their differences – they exist at different stages. 

The process is as follows. First lead generation happens, when a company garners website clicks, blog views, and sign-ups. This reveals people with potential interest in the product.

Next comes sales prospecting. It involves acting on those leads. Employees can contact them over the phone (through broadband, fixed, or non fixed VoIP), online, or through other channels. They can then establish whether there could be interest.

After this, the prospect becomes an “opportunity”, meaning they’re close to buying. This requires another follow-up. Then, the opportunity becomes a client – someone who buys and may buy again in the future.

The below pyramid demonstrates this visually. Lead generation is the largest tier as it involves surveying the whole population.

2. They take place in different departments

Lead generation and sales prospecting are also performed by two different departments. The former is the job of marketing. They might create content or send emails to encourage hits.

The sales team has a different task. They need to spend time qualifying these leads. They must establish who’s interested and encourage these people to buy.

The departments must work together to perform these steps and progress the lead into a client. This can be a challenge. The two will have varying dynamics and goals, but improving the relationship between them will ease the process along. This can be a particular benefit for smaller companies, where the marketing and sales teams may be one and the same.

Having a freelance marketing team or sales team could mean you struggle more with this cohesion, so choose your people with this in mind, prioritizing soft skills like strong communication and an affinity for teamwork.

3. Lead generation may be quicker as it can be automated

Lead generation is usually completed online nowadays. Inbound marketing techniques like writing guest blogs, using search engine optimization (SEO), and social media advertising can encourage clicks. They can also collect information about leads without much exertion.

Other lead generation techniques, such as customer referrals, need even less effort. A business only has to create marketing materials. This makes the process quite simple. Businesses can obtain details en masse and this doesn’t require any manual action.

This isn’t a bad thing. Companies that use marketing automation with their potential clients see a 451 percent increase in qualified leads.

This is in comparison to sales prospecting, which takes much longer. It’s a laborious process, often requiring one-on-one contact with each lead.

This is a significant benefit of lead generation over sales prospecting. Saving time and resources (e.g. staff) is very useful for a business. 

It’s not all plain sailing for lead generation, though. As the below graph shows, in 2021, it was found that 61 percent of 1,500 marketers outlined generating traffic and leads as their biggest challenge. So, although leads require less time and effort, they can still be hard to come by.


4. Prospects are more valuable as they’re more interested

Whereas leads encompass anyone who’s shown even a passing curiosity, sales prospects have a more established interest in the product. They’re already well on their way to a sale. Thus, although lead generation is quicker, sales prospects are more valuable.

There are likely to be fewer of them too. Prospects represent only a small percentage of leads but will contribute a large proportion of your future profits. It’s therefore necessary to ensure more time is spent on sales prospecting than any other step.

Investing time into training sales staff to follow up with prospects is the best course of action. You can train staff to follow up via telephone and email. Some companies are even engaging with customers using SMS.

5. The goals are different

On a basic level, these processes achieve very different things. Their goals are different too. Lead generation involves scouting the public for details of anyone who may be interested. It’s the basis of all company sales and profits.

Sales prospecting involves engaging and nurturing these leads to bring them closer to a sale. This process can be performed via phone, online, or via various other channels.

To improve their success rates, companies should conduct regular email reviews and call monitoring. If you’re wondering “what is call monitoring”, it involves listening to employee calls to improve communication.

The goals of lead generation and sales prospecting are thus fundamentally different and achieve different things. One gains information from a subset of the general population. The other acts on this information and uses it to actively gain sales.


Move fast

One thing that’s important to remember is that success waits for nobody. Plenty of other businesses in your industry will be keen to generate leads and prospect sales as well. There’s a finite number of customers, after all.

Whatever your sales strategy is, you must strike while the iron’s hot. It’s estimated that 30-50 percent of sales go to the vendor that responds first. This may involve restructuring your sales and marketing teams to improve their speed. Investing in this is a practical way to boost sales and empower employees.

Improving lead generation is also a consideration. This may include analyzing current marketing materials or improving your website, using AB testing or Google Analytics (see examples of AB testing here). 

The truth is, making your way quickly through the pyramid from lead to client is the best way to grab sales and make your business a success.

Jenna Bunnell
Jenna Bunnell is the Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Dialpad, an AI-incorporated cloud-hosted unified communications system that provides valuable call details for business owners and sales representatives. She is driven and passionate about communicating a brand’s design sensibility and visualizing how content can be presented in creative and comprehensive ways.


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