How Do You Define a Lead?

Most successful marketing campaigns are defined by how many leads they generate.

But what defines a lead?

Oftentimes, when you ask someone about lead generation, you’ll get as many different answers as the people you ask. So how are you supposed to know if your campaign has been successful?

After 20 plus years of marketing and sales, I’ve seen a lot of campaigns – both successful and unsuccessful. One of the biggest points of confusion that I’ve seen over the success or failure of marketing campaigns is that most people don’t actually know what the real goal is.

The goals need to be defined more effectively than simply “I need leads” because leads can be considered to be different things.

Rather than debating who’s right and who’s wrong, let’s talk about how you can define what a lead is for your business, and how you can clearly convey that to your team.

What Is a Lead?

“What is a lead?” This is a complicated question. Many people in sales or lead gen are quick to say, “everyone is a lead.” And while this is true, it’s not accurate. A lead is someone we know something about. And how much we know about them is how we categorize leads.

Before we get too deep into types of leads, let’s make sure we all understand what a “lead” means. And we can talk about what it is NOT, also.

In the most basic terms, a lead is someone you’ve identified that you know you want to do business with, someone you’d like to have as a client.

A lead is also someone who has engaged with your brand in some way to indicate that they might want to do business with you also.

A lead is not necessarily your list of connections. Some of them may turn into leads, yes, but let’s make the distinction about your contacts. These relationships are less transactional than a lead, and frankly, far more valuable than a single lead.

A word of warning, the best way to lose connections is to treat them like they are leads. Your network and your contacts are much different than a lead, and those relationships require an extra level of care.

A lead is also NOT someone you just met at a networking event. That person could turn into a lead, but that will take a little work.

We need to know more about people and their business before we can define them as a lead.

The best thing that you can do for any lead is homework. Learn about your leads, so you know how to answer questions and turn them into a client with efficiency and tact.

I would recommend taking some time to identify some attributes of your ideal lead or client. Knowing whom you are looking for is the cornerstone of successful lead generation. If you’re going hunting – and we are going hunting – you need the correct bait.

Some things I would want to know before I can consider someone a lead include:

  • What industry are they in? Any industry might need your product are service, but some might be a better fit for you.
  • What are they looking for? What do they need? And are they in the market for what I can provide?
  • Do they have the means to buy what I’m selling? And most of all, what is the timeline for their purchase?

Just as you define your Ideal Client Avatar, you should have the attributes of your ideal lead defined before you begin.

Next, we’ll talk about different types of leads and how we can best turn them into robust clients.

Marketing Qualified Leads

The first type of lead I want to talk about is the Marketing Qualified Lead. This lead is anyone who has engaged with your brand. I know this is a broad spectrum but think of it as a first step. An MQL has intentionally interacted with your company, signaling interest. This could be someone who gives you their email address, signs up for a demo, asking for more information, etc. This person is someone who engaged with you or your company on social media or responded to any of your marketing efforts.

Obviously, someone who has ‘unsubscribed’ from your mailing list is NOT a lead. So, when I say “someone who has engaged with your marketing,” I’m speaking, of course, of someone who has responded positively.

It is called a “marketing qualified” lead because you likely haven’t spent time learning about their needs and building trust while they are a warm lead. As I said, this is really “step one” on the buyer’s journey.

Yes, this is a warm lead – warmer than a cold call, for example, but your work is just beginning. Understand that at this stage, your MQL is not quite ready for your sales pitch. When you sign up for a newsletter, do you feel like you’re prepared to buy at that moment? Probably not. You’re still sussing things out, comparing brands, gather information and stuff.

Now that this lead is squarely in your sales funnel, you should have something special for them – some free information, a soft offer, or something that will serve a couple of purposes. You want to gauge their level of interest and still keep them engaged with your company. And, as this is a new lead, don’t feel the need to push too firmly. We’ll work on the best way to get them to the next stage in this video shortly.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to MQL – some say if you can’t qualify them, get them out of your funnel and move on. Others say, keep them around as you might be able to benefit each other in other ways.

Your MQL engaged with your brand for a reason. Find out more about that and go from there. There is a chance they want to buy and will eventually move to another spot in your funnel. Make sure you’re asking the right questions until you can make another determination about their intentions.

Sales Qualified Leads

Okay, moving on. Let’s talk about a more qualified lead. A Sales Qualified Lead or “SQL” is a lead that has moved a little deeper in your funnel.

I promise, we will talk about how an MQL might become an SQL later in this video.

Now, a lead becomes an SQL after you’ve spent some time qualifying them. This is still a ‘warm’ lead, and they need some special attention.

The more homework you’ve done, the better. You can start to categorize your SQL based on what you have learned about them. When the lead was an MQL, they engaged with your brand, so we know they are interested. If you are moving this lead to SQL, that means they have checked some boxes in your ideal client profile and in addition to their means and needs, you should have learned a little more about them.

When I say ‘means,’ I am speaking of their budget. If the whole point is to make the sale and close the deal, you have to make sure they have the budget to buy from you. Otherwise, this lead is pretty cold. And, you likely have better things to do with your time.
By now, you should have also determined their timeline. WHEN will this person be ready to buy from me? And, depending on your typical sales cycle, this tiny bit of information is super important. Knowing the timing is the key to mapping out the rest of their journey.

If your lead is looking to buy in the next 12 months, your journey is obviously a lot longer, and your strategy to keep them engaged will be different than someone who is ready today. And, of course, if they are prepared to buy, you need to act fast. As each buyer’s journey is different, you’ll have to adapt quickly to keep this lead warm.

You now have only one goal for your SQL, and that is BUY. And they should be ready to buy. They have spent time getting to know your company, and by this point, you’ve spent enough time with them to understand that this is a client in the making. Even in the highest sales volume situations, you should be confident that this lead is ready to be handled by sales. If you’re not sure, you might want to go back to your checklist and make sure you can check all the boxes.

And, last but not least, none of this happens overnight. The journey from MQL to SQL is a process, and we’ll get into that next. Each lead, client, buyer, whatever has their journey. Our job is to shepherd each lead to that next phase as best we can.

How to Move a Marketing Qualified Lead to a Sales Qualified Lead

And now, finally, how can we best move our MQL into an SQL?

As you already know, each buyer’s journey is different, and this stage is no exception. There is no magic formula or wand we can wave that will magically turn a lead into a paying client.

What I can tell you is that if you do the work, you’ll find success. Do your homework, ask the right questions, build your rapport, and you’ll be effective.

This move from MQL to SQL is based on information and relationship. So, let’s start with information.
In a perfect world, you can ask, “are you ready to buy from me right now?” and “Do you have the budget to buy from me?” but these questions might be a little jarring, and they do nothing for the relationship you’re trying to build. So, we have to find more neutral ways to glean the information we need.

Start with some homework: what do you need from this lead? And what do they need from you? Before you spend time working on this lead, make sure they hit important marks on your ideal client checklist. Think about this lead, not just any lead.
In my years of experience, I’ve found that people don’t enjoy being sold to as much as they like doing business with people they trust. Spend your time here not just digging for information but building trust and fortifying your relationship.

Shift your thinking from “salesperson” to “resource.” The very first step in sales is education. Don’t JUST think about how or what you can sell, but think about educating, solving problems, and offering solutions. This is how you can gain trust. Down the road, you can shift back to thinking, What can my product or service do that can make their job easier? What can I offer that they can’t get anywhere else?

This is where your homework is going to start paying off. The more you know about your lead, the better you can ask the right questions, assess their needs, and provide the best solutions for them.

Once you’ve built the relationship a bit, you should have a frank conversation about your new (potential) client’s needs, timeline, and budget.

How to Set the Right Expectations for Your Leads

Now, if you’ve done all the right things up until now, the sales will be flowing, and you’ll be able to retire in a day or two, right?
Probably not. But you are on the right path.

Now is the time to put your most extraordinary sales skills – patience and flexibility – to work.

Be patient. It just doesn’t always come easy right out of the gate. Your persistence and endurance are an absolute must when it comes to lead generation and sales. And there will be days when you have doubts, but if you’re doing the work, it will pay off. Give it some time. And if you still don’t see results, it could be time to change your approach, do some research or get some advice.
Be flexible. And be ready to try, fail, try again, adjust, and keep trying. This process is not an exact science; you’ll need to be prepared to experiment, refine, and rework. As I said a few times today, everyone’s journey to the finish line is different, and your being able to be adaptable could make the difference in the long run. Not all sales leads are the same, and they might need a little massaging.

I have also found that keeping some notes as you go is an excellent tool for me. This practice has helped me define and refine the process. One thing remains consistent – it’s never the same game twice, right? What worked perfectly for one person will not resonate with the next person. Let some of the small details go and focus on how the overall process is working. Keep good notes, and be prepared to erase and start over if you must.

I can’t stress this enough; there is no magic wand for lead generation and sales. You have to do the work. And you have to arm yourself with the right tools.

I hope you got something out of this video.

And if you did, go ahead and give it a thumbs up and maybe a share so that others can see it too. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our channel and ring the bell so that you’re notified whenever we post new videos and while you’re at it, check out these videos too!

We’ll see you next time around!

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