Find New Customers: What the heck’s a Sales Lead anyway?

What’s a Sales Lead?

If you are like most salespeople, your response is “The sales leads that Marketing gives me are crap.” And most likely, you’re exactly right. They are crap. So what do we do about it?

I suggest, if you like this post, you share this article with your top sales and marketing executives. They need to hear this. You can light a fire under them.

You can also download the free and highly acclaimed white paper on how to implement lead generation programs, How to Find New Customers.


With MarketingSherpa finding 8 out of 10 companies say the lack of quality sales leads is their #1 problem, companies are looking for b2b sales 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 sales leads, especially since so many firms are trying to do B2B lead generation.

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. And we thank the folks at SiriusDecisions and Marketo for the insights they added here.

I think the definition of a lead is best described using this chart which we call the Revenue Cycle from Sirius Decisions. If you are trying to do sales lead generation online, keep in mind that 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. They are slowly becoming real Sales Leads.

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) That means Marketing considers them good sales leads, but Sales has not yet agreed.

Since we previously sat down with Sales and hammered out an agreement on Universal Lead Definition, we know what qualities the salespeople want - what THEY consider qualified sales leads. 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. (The image here is from Marketo’s Best Bets functionality in Bets Marketo

(Please note that Find New Customers is now a Gold partner for Silverpop and we are highly respected by the others.)

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. Marketo is doing it the right way. You can too.

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.

What do you think? We love comments and people who share.

Jeff Ogden is President of Find New CustomersLead Generation Made Simple” Check out the online show every Friday at 11am ET, “Laugh and Learn with the Fearless Competitor.” Find New Customers is one of few lead generation companies in New York.

Find New Customers helps companies like yours (with 50 to 5,000 employees and complex products) implement lead generation programs to improve the way you find and acquire high quality sales leads using best practices in online lead generation. Quality leads matter. In fact, a recent study found that sales teams with fewer, high quality sales leads closed more than sales teams with more leads of dubious quality.

If you wish to do sales lead generation online, contact the B2B lead generation experts at Find New Customers. Use the form below to send me a personal note or Leave a Reply to post a permanent comment on this article.

“Find New Customers, can certainly help your business dramatically improve the flow of sales-ready leads to salespeople.” Paul Dunay, Buzz Marketing for Technology.

  • Mark Gibson

    Hi Jeff,

    I really like the post as it nicely describes the inbound marketing process, nurturing and the hand-off issue of getting sales and marketing to agree on what a sales ready lead looks like
    Good luck with the Blog on Kindle.

    All the best,

    • jefflogden59

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your nice note and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
      Find New Customers