What the heck’s a “Lead” anyway?


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What’s a Lead?

With MarketingSherpa finding 8 out of 10 companies say the lack of quality sales leads is their #1 problem, companies are looking for leads. But one of the problems we find is that the definition of “Lead” is all over the map. So let’s explore the complex world of leads.

A long conversation with a CEO recently indicated he was looking to improve leads. We talked about Google AdWords, blogs, seminars, webinars, YouTube and other strategies to generate traffic. But it’s clear traffic is not the same as leads. He was concerned about revenue results.

So the question is – What is a lead?

To answer that question, look at this process and let’s discuss what a lead really is.

I think the definition of a lead is best described using this chart which we call the Revenue Cycle. (Please note that much of this comes from the marketing gurus at SiriusDecisions.) Customers move through a complex Buying Process. Notice that the Leads and Sales Leads stages are in green and well to the right.

On the left you have the results of your attraction strategies, such as Google Adwords, Search Marketing, Blogs, guest posts, third party sites, live events, YouTube videos, website traffic, etc. These folks attracted here go into the All Names category. Don’t call these Leads and don’t qualify at the All Names stage.

The next thing to do is to engage All Names in an automated fashion using Lead Nurturing. Some will drop out (probably by Unsubscribing or ignoring you.) But a large percentage enter the Engaged stage. They are reading, watching and listening to your content and their Trust in you is growing. They like us.

But do we like them? Not unless they are a good fit for our offerings.

We start qualifying them using Lead Scores. Are they In Profile? (Assuming we’ve developed a clear Ideal Customer Profile, we look at revenues, employees, SIC code, titles).  If so, we assign point values. The better fit – the high the point values. We also start watching behavioral events (which page(s) did they visit?, how often did they visit?, what search words did they use?, did they watch our online demo?) We assign values for behaviors and subtract values for negative behaviors (Has not visited us in 30 days.) At some point, Marketing considers them a valid Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

Since we previously sat down with Sales and hammered out an agreement on Universal Lead Definition, we know what qualities the salespeople want. When our Engaged folks are deemed to be in profile and exhibit the buying behavior that matches the Universal Lead Definition, we set it so it changes to the Lead stage and automatically passed to CRM and assigned to the proper salesperson. It then becomes a Sales Lead. (It’s also important to have agreement with Sales on how quickly they follow-up.)

One important point here is that Names can move slowly or very, very quickly through this process. (The proverbial “hot lead.”)  A new Name can become a Lead in a matter of less than a day or many months. For those who move fast, it’s essential that a process is put in place to identify these Fast Track Names for special care and follow-up.

This process can only be done using marketing automation like Marketo, Eloqua or Silverpop.

(Please note that Find New Customers is now a Gold partner for Silverpop.)

Next Sales talks to the person and assesses the quality of the Sales Lead. If he or she deems it good, an Opportunity is created in CRM and it becomes a Sales Accepted Lead (SAL). (We also share the wonderful prospect info we collected during lead nurturing with Sales. This helps sales have quality prospect conversations.)

As Sales works it, and it moves through the sales process, it eventually becomes a forecasted Opportunity and goes into the sales forecast. From there it is a typical sales process and we win a good portion who become Customers.

Jon Miller, Marketo

Jon Miller, Marketo

Does this process work? Jon Miller, VP of Marketing at Marketo (Who explained how they use this process in his Secret Sauce webinar) said “While this process is a bit expensive per sale, we more than make up for it by having our salespeople carry higher quotas than industry averages. And last year they all made quota.”

Please note that with overall sales quota achievement around 50%, having 100% of salespeople make quota is a very big deal indeed.

Let’s go back and answer our earlier question. What is a lead?

A Lead can be defined to be either of the stages in green – Lead or Sales Lead. But it requires that they be In Profile and exhibiting buying behavior.

The key is to engage prospective buyers and move them thought the Revenue Cycle to become qualified sales Opportunities.

What do you think? Do you use (or want to use) a process like this? We love to read your comments and appreciate those who share our content on social networks.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jeff Ogden
Jeff Ogden (http://jeff-ogden.brandyourself.com) is President of the Tampa based Find New Customers demand generation agency. http://www.findnewcustomers.com .


  1. The explanation was very in-depth and a lot longer than I thought, althought I have to admit I got quite fascinated by this definition of what is a lead. Very good, I’m impressed!

    Fernando Cavendish


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