As contacts move through your sales funnel, you nurture a relationship with them. The engagement that comes from that relationship elicits more and more information to help you know whether or not this contact is likely to buy from you.
As the relationship builds, the contact moves out of the Audience stage, where they were simply listening to general ideas about the problem or need they have, and they advance to the Lead stage, where they start taking action to pursue a solution.
But what exactly is a Lead? Is it a name? Is it an email address? Is it a telephone number? Is it an affirmation that they are interested in what you have to sell?
I believe that a Lead is a sales funnel contact who has realized just how acute their problem or need is and is starting to search out a solution. They’re willing to exchange a little bit of information about themselves in order to see if you could be one of the potential solution-providers to meet their needs. But what information you collect from them depends on your business.
I recently read an article that was published back in December 2009 (but the good stuff is always timeless!). In the article, Eric Rudolf proposes the difference between “a name”, “a lead”, and “an opportunity”. His article nicely bridges the gap that the marketing department and sales department often try to communicate over.
Summarizing what Rudolf says…
- A name is just a name with no context.
- A Lead is a name and contact information of someone within a target market who has expressed interest in learning more.
- An opportunity is a name and contact information of someone within a target market who has expressed interest in learning more, and has a budget, and is an decision-maker.
Those are pretty good definitions. And if I were to look at those and then compare them to how we understand sales funnels, I would suggest that a name is a contact from your Audience stage, a Lead is a contact from your Leads stage, and an opportunity is a contact from your Prospect stage. And this matches with what Rudolf is saying — an opportunity is the warmest and most likely to buy.
So what should you do? It doesn’t matter whether you work alone or have a big marketing department and sales department. You (and/or your team) need to get names in the Audience stage and then nurture the relationship into a Lead. Then, nurture the relationship into a Prospect. Once you’re there, the contact is ready to be sold.
Read Eric Rudolf’s article Is it a Lead or not? A marketer’s guide to communicating with sales.