Leads: The Good, The Bad, and The Convertible
Lead generation is the lifeblood of every growing business. It’s what keeps pipelines full and sales teams actively growing revenue for their companies. Most companies know this — 79% of marketers recently reported that generating quality leads is their primary focus.
Still, not all of them feel they’re doing it successfully. Separate research found that only 16% of B2B marketers consider their lead gen efforts to be very or extremely effective.
What gives? If so many companies are prioritizing lead generation, why can’t they get it right?
Part of the problem is treating all types of leads the same. In every pipeline there are many types of leads — they vary by purchase readiness, familiarity with your brand, lead source, and more.
In this article, we’ll explore the many different types of leads living in your pipeline and how to treat them to maximize conversion and sales potential.
- The two primary types of leads are inbound (initiate contact first after interacting with brand content) and outbound (are contacted first by your sales team).
- Lead temperature (cold, warm, hot) indicates level of interest in your brand and degree of purchase readiness.
- Lead qualification is an important process for prioritizing leads across the pipeline and ensuring they’re passed successfully from marketing to sales.
- Knowing the source of your lead helps to determine the most appropriate follow up response.
Inbound vs. Outbound: The Two Main Lead Categories
Every lead falls into one of two primary umbrella categories: inbound or outbound.
Inbound leads are those that initiate first contact after interacting with brand content like blogs, social media posts, and SEO web pages. Outbound leads are those approached directly by your marketing or sales teams through channels like direct email marketing, cold video prospecting, or social selling.
Outbound lead generation is often thought of as push marketing — companies do what they can to push their message and brand to earn new leads. Inbound, on the other hand, is considered pull marketing, drawing leads in with strong content and brand representation.
Today, because of the largely digital nature of buyer/brand interactions and the inundation of communications people receive online, inbound marketing has become thought of by many as the gold standard, while outbound is thought of as disruptive and outdated.
This outlook is a miss, however. The truth is that outbound lead generation is still extremely effective — but it now requires brands to get smarter about how they reach their customers and communicate their message.
Both B2B and B2C consumers are informed about their options. They can quickly do their own research, proactively follow relevant brands on social media, and access the resources they need to make a purchase decision. Brands that send blanket outbound communications with no thought to targeting are indeed likely to lose.
The best lead generation strategies include an intentional mix of inbound and outbound efforts. Inbound tactics like blogs and social media content establish brand visibility and help consumers who fall into your target audience easily find your brand.
Outbound tactics like video prospecting or email marketing allow brands to target high-potential accounts and win important customers over their competitors.
Types of Leads by Temperature
Leads are often referred to by their temperature — cold, warm, or hot — which describes their level of interest in your brand and readiness to buy.
Cold leads typically have not yet shown any interest in your brand, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a need for your solutions. Cold calling may be dead, but lead generation tactics like cold email outreach or video prospecting are still quite effective.
The key to cold outreach is to ensure the potential lead fits your ICP and buyer personas, and that they have a real need for what you offer. Second to that, it’s critical to engage cold leads by addressing their pain points rather than jumping right to products and solutions.
Warm leads are those that have already shown some level of interest but need some nurturing before they’ll be ready to buy. These leads may have come in through a referral program or one of your inbound lead-gen forms.
Warm leads already know they have a need for your solutions, so it’s all about keeping them moving down the pipeline and establishing why your brand is the best choice.
Hot leads are those that have already shown significant interest in your brand and have high levels of purchase intent — they’re ready to buy at any time. These leads should be handled with direct and personalized outreach from your sales team that drives quick conversion.
Types of Leads by Qualification Status
Like lead temperature, lead qualification status is an indicator of purchase intent and likelihood to convert. Lead qualification is also a critical process for prioritizing leads so that marketing and sales teams can allocate the right level of effort and resources to converting them.
Marketing Qualified Lead
Marketing qualified lead (MQL) is the first step in the lead qualification process. It means a lead has been determined by the marketing team to meet the right criteria for being passed through to the sales team.
At this stage, it typically means that a potential buyer fits your ICP and buyer persona and has shown a baseline level of interest and intent — i.e. they’ve subscribed to emails or downloaded a piece of marketing content.
Sales Accepted Lead
Sales accepted leads (SALs) have been reviewed by the sales team and accepted for potential further qualification. This step is left out by many organizations, but it’s critical for bridging the gap between marketing and sales.
A defined process for sales acceptance ensures that no leads fall through the cracks and that both marketing and sales remain accountable for where leads live at any given time.
By accepting a lead, the sales team is saying “We’ll take it from here” and acknowledging that the lead is now their responsibility. On the other hand, rejecting a lead tells the marketing team “This one is still yours” and requires them to nurture the lead further or disqualify it.
Sales Qualified Lead
Sales qualified leads are those that have successfully met criteria for MQL and SAL and are ready to be converted by the sales team. They fit your ICP and buyer persona, have shown high purchase intent, and responded to initial lead nurturing efforts.
Types of Leads by Source
A lead source is the channel through which a lead is generated. Common lead sources today include website forms, referral programs, social media, email marketing campaigns, or cold outreach. It’s important to know where each lead is sourced because it helps determine the right next steps for nurturing the lead.
A warm referral from a happy client, for example, may warrant a direct phone call from your sales team. Leads generated through a website form may automatically receive a lead nurturing drip campaign.
How do you convert different types of leads?
As you’ve probably gathered, an important key to successful lead conversion is knowing the types of leads in your pipeline and the kind of engagement they require. Treating all leads the same leads to missed opportunities and potentially even sending buyers to competitors.
Ensure your lead management system accounts for the many different types of leads outlined in the sections above and has defined steps for nurturing each. Doing so ensures you can meet buyers where they are on their purchase journeys, providing the right content, communication, and resources to build their trust and earn their business.
Revboss’s outbound email software and lead generation services are custom-built for startups, consultancies, marketing agencies, and other B2B organizations. Schedule a quick call with us and find out how we can help you win more clients.