Lead Vs. Prospect: What’s the Difference?

Lead vs. prospect: What’s the difference—and why does it matter?

For B2B marketing and sales teams, this is a critical concept to master but one that many confuse without even realizing it. The two terms are mistakenly used interchangeably when they refer to different steps of the buyer journey.

In this article, we’ll clear up the confusion around prospect vs. lead once and for all, and help your teams communicate with each group effectively to keep buyers moving down your sales pipeline.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Leads are earlier in their buyer journey than prospects, which have been determined to have some level of purchase readiness.
  • Lead communication is primarily one-way (business to lead) while prospect engagement is a two-way dialogue.
  • It’s important to tailor your messages to leads vs. prospects and align them with their current stage in the marketing/sales process.
  • Both leads and prospects expect personalization and want to build relationships with brands they’re considering.
  • Marketing automation tools are essential to execute lead and prospect engagement at scale.

Lead vs. Prospect: Definitions and Key Differences

First thing’s first: What is a lead, and what is a prospect? Let’s begin with some clear definitions.

A lead is anyone in your target audience who has shown some level of interest in your product or service. This interest is typically indicated by sharing contact information (for example, in exchange for a lead magnet or via an email subscription form).

Lead generation in B2B happens across many channels, including website landing pages, social media, SEO content and search engines, online events, and more.

Prospects, on the other hand, are one step further in the sales process. A prospect is a qualified lead that has been evaluated based on lead-scoring criteria your marketing and sales teams have determined to be important. This criteria is built around company attributes (such as industry, budget, or company size) and behaviors (such as downloading content, attending events, requesting a demo, etc.).

In more succinct terms: A prospect is a lead that has been vetted and deemed to have high potential to convert to a paying customer.

Chart outlining the key differences between a lead vs. prospect

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As you can see, these foundational differences also require different levels of engagement. Because leads are at an earlier stage in their journey, communication with them is primarily one-way (business to lead), while prospects are more engaged in a dialogue with marketing and sales teams.

Being aware of these key differences and building smart strategies to account for them is critical to a seamless buyer experience and reliable pipeline movement.

Let’s look at some helpful tips for optimizing lead and prospect communication to boost sales results.

Prospect vs. Lead Engagement: 6 Pro Tips to Boost Results

Tailor Your Message

Leads and prospects require different kinds of messages to stay engaged. For leads, it’s all about learning about their current problems, challenges, and needs, and how your company and solutions can help to remediate those issues. 

Your messages should aim to show a strong understanding of their pain points as well as specific ways your products and services can address them.

It’s also important at this stage to demonstrate your expertise, sharing content that shows thought leadership and positions your company as the best choice in your industry.

For prospects, it’s about personalizing specifically to the company and individual decision maker at hand. Today, nearly 70% of B2B professionals say they chose their current vendor over others because the vendor showed the strongest understanding of their company and its unique needs. Take time during the prospect phase to really get to know your potential customer and align your messaging.

68% of B2B professionals chose their current vendor over others because they showed a stronger understanding of their company and its unique needs.

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Aim to identify and discuss challenges, problems, goals, and opportunities as they relate specifically to your prospect’s organization, making your messages and proposed solution strategies as customized as possible. Video prospecting and highly-relevant client success stories are two proven tactics that can help you achieve this.

Personalize, Personalize, Personalize

For leads and prospects alike, personalization matters. Salesforce research reports that 84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business.

Salesforce research reports that 84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business

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Whenever you reach out to leads or prospects, use the data you’ve collected about them to personalize elements of your message, from email greetings to dynamic content shared inside messages to the types of client testimonials you share to the sales reps you assign to their account and more.

The more you can show your dedication to understanding your prospect or lead as an individual, the more likely they are to trust you and ultimately make a purchase.

Timing and Follow-up

Timing is critical at every part of the sales process, and it plays a big role in getting lead vs. prospect communication right. Remember: Leads are at the beginning of their buyer journey, while prospects are moving toward purchase readiness. Time your communications accordingly.

For example: After a lead converts to your pipeline, you might want to trigger a lead nurturing sequence to educate them about your solutions, showcase expertise, and build trust. At the end of the sequence or after the lead takes further action, you might then connect them to sales. 

Prospects, on the other hand, are closer to making a purchase decision. They can engage in more direct interaction with sales, and your reps will want to follow up more immediately and directly with product- and pricing-related information.

Design your marketing and sales processes to account for key differences in prospect vs. lead needs and time your communications according to their current place in your pipeline.

Build Relationships

Building a strong relationship is the foundation of successful B2B marketing and sales. Relationships are the ultimate way to get leads to convert to prospects, and then get prospects to convert to sales.

With leads, establish trust by consistently delivering valuable insights via content and other digital outreach channels. With prospects, invest time in understanding their goals and challenges, positioning yourself as a reliable partner in their journey with more direct communication and dialogue.

At every stage, avoid pushing the hard sell too quickly, and emphasize the authentic value you can provide through your products and services. If you’ve done the work to build a relationship with trust, this value-focused approach should mostly make the sale for you.

Prioritize Marketing and Sales Alignment

Leads and prospects can’t move seamlessly down the pipeline without strong collaboration between your marketing and sales teams. Marketing efforts generate and nurture leads, and effective communication ensures that leads are passed on to sales when they meet prospect criteria. This handoff should be smooth to avoid any gaps or confusion.

Adopt the Right Technology Tools

Today’s digital business landscape requires lead generation and prospect engagement at a faster speed and wider scope than ever before. To do both effectively, embrace marketing automation technology to help you (like email marketing platforms or SEO research tools) and a robust CRM system to optimize pipeline data management.

How RevBoss Can Help

Both leads and prospects require smart targeting, personalized engagement, and high responsiveness in order to convert. RevBoss can help you do it all. 

Our outbound email software and lead generation services are designed to help startups, consultancies, marketing agencies, and other B2B companies identify and engage high-potential buyers from the start. 

Book a quick call with us today to learn more about how we can help your business grow.