A sales lead is a potential sales contact, an individual or organization that expresses an interest in your goods or services. Leads are typically obtained through the referral of an existing customer, or through a direct response to advertising or publicity. A company's marketing department is typically responsible for lead generation.
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Pursuing and closing leads normally falls to the company's sales department. For example, an IT vendor or channel partner will promote its offerings at an industry trade show, hoping to attract the attention of qualified buyers attending the exhibit. Each inquiry for more vendor or partner information would be a lead, which might subsequently be developed into a sale.
The amount of information captured in a sales lead varies. It could consist of a person's name and email address, or it could provide a broader view of the potential buyer, including information on the potential buyer's role in his or her company and an anticipated purchasing time frame. A company's lead generation efforts and its approach to dealing with leads can significantly affect its success in the marketplace. To that end, most organizations try to establish effective practices spanning the lead generation, qualification and distribution processes.
Sales lead generation sources
The process of acquiring sales leads begins with lead generation. Lead generation can involve a range of marketing-related activities, or lead generators. At a basic level, lead generation can be as simple as obtaining referrals from existing customers. Companies looking to quickly boost revenue, however, typically adopt other lead generation techniques. For example, they may purchase sales lead lists from a lead generation company that maintains a database of business and consumer leads. Such lists may be used to conduct direct mail marketing, email marketing or telemarketing campaigns, all of which are forms of direct marketing.
Companies may also host or participate in business-to-business events to generate leads. Examples of such event marketing activities include trade shows, webinars and lunch-and-learn meetings. The arrival of digital marketing offers a number of additional lead generation tools. In contrast to direct marketing techniques, digital marketing approaches, such as inbound marketing, focus on appealing to sales leads through company-generated online content. Inbound marketing content can include blog posts, videos, infographics and white papers. This field also encompasses mobile and social media marketing using online platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Sales lead management process
A company's lead generation activities, if successful, will generate numerous sales leads of varying quality and urgency. To maximize the business potential of those leads, a company can develop a lead management process, sometimes referred to as lead-to-revenue management, which involves methods and systems for capturing, tracking and, eventually, distributing leads to the sales team for closing.
Sales lead management focuses on the cultivation of individual leads, which, in the aggregate, populate a company's sales pipeline. The marketing department typically is responsible for lead scoring -- that is, evaluating and ranking leads according to where the potential buyer stands in the purchase funnel, or sales funnel. The sales funnel, also described as the buyer's journey, begins with the buyer's earliest awareness of a product or service and culminates in a sale.
Potential buyers at the top of the purchase funnel are sometimes called "suspects" and may express interest in a product or service when they visit a vendor's website to obtain general information. Getting suspects to move along the funnel toward a purchase is the task of lead nurturing. In lead nurturing, a marketer maintains a line of communication with the buyer, providing information as needed. Along the entire path of a buyer's journey, the marketing team continues to score the leads, often in terms of points or a temperature scale -- hence "cold" or "hot" leads.
Lead scoring can also be expressed in terms of lead qualification. A marketing-qualified lead, for example, is buyer that has shown some interest in the product, but isn't ready to make a purchase in the near term. A sales-qualified lead, however, demonstrates an immediate interest in buying and, thus, become a sales-ready prospect. At that point, the marketing team distributes the lead to the sales team. In the IT channel, lead distribution may take place between a product vendor that generates and qualifies the lead and a channel partner, such as a value-added reseller.