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How to Define a Sales Lead and Why It's Vital for Your Business

September 2015

For any business to operate successfully, everyone needs to be on the same wavelength and working to a collective goal. But what can you do if your Sales & Marketing teams can’t agree on a most basic requirement – what is a sales lead?

In a study by the Aberdeen Group, companies with strong sales and marketing alignment achieved 20% annual revenue growth..."   By now most business recognise the importance of Sales & Marketing alignment.  However, if you work in Sales or Marketing I’m sure you will agree, ‘Lead Definition’ is one particularly contentious topic – with often a blurry line of what actually constitutes a lead.

And that’s what we are here to discuss today…

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What defines a Sales Lead?

Different companies have different criteria for what a qualified sales lead looks like, and often sales and marketing may not agree on how to qualify leads.  What some people may consider a sales-ready lead, others would class as an ‘Expressions of interest’ for example.  This discrepancy is at the centre of many sales & marketing alignment issues and opens debates about lead quality.

There are so many different names for leads used by different companies and even departments within those companies that it is easy to understand how teams get confused and communication breaks down. MQLs, SQLs, QSOs, BANT Leads, Prospects  – there is so much jargon in the world of lead generation, it can be difficult to pin down exactly what a lead is, and from there, what constitutes a ‘good lead’.

In the world of inbound, a “lead” is usually defined as a person who has taken an action to click a link to a landing page and submit their details on a form, to gain access to content or request contact.  But is that a qualified lead?

Salesforce, a CRM software-as-a-service, defines a lead object as “a person or a company that might be interested in your product or service.” For example, someone a sales rep met at a conference or who filled out a Web form would be a sales lead.

So, let’s get back to the original question: what is a Sales Lead?

Is a click a lead?   Is an ‘expression of interest’ a lead? Is a website visitor a lead?  On the other end of the spectrum there are opportunities that have been qualified hard and meet a whole load of qualification criteria in terms of Budget, Authority, Need, Timescale (BANT) etc. - so is that a lead?

Well we would say YES to all – they are all leads, but just at different stages of the sales funnel, what is important is to identify what stage the lead is at, categorise it appropriately, and agree when the handover from marketing to sales should happen.

It’s important to come to an agreed lead qualification criteria.  If no minimum criteria is applied to the leads you are asking the marketing team to generate, your sales team will quickly start to complain about the quality of the opportunities.

So how do you do this? Understand your lead’s buying journey and map to your Sales Funnel.  Understand that a Sales lead is the result of using lead qualification criteria to identify buyer fit (firmographics and demographics) and intent – that takes the lead from engagement to conversion.

 Set out the key stages of your Sales & Marketing Funnel, for example:

  • Marketing Universe (Target Market)

  • Suspects

  • Marketing Qualified Leads

  • Sales Qualified Leads

  • Opportunities

  • Customers       

Agree lead qualification criteria and rules that clearly define each stage and set out your lead management process!

A lead can be defined in many ways but what is important is that you have a central organisation-wide definition that both sales & marketing align on. It's important that these departments work with one clear definition if you want to better align sales & marketing functions and goals to achieve business growth.

We'd like to hear how you define a Sales Lead; let us know in the comments. 

- You may also like: Ditch the telemarketing scripts and watch your sales pipeline grow