What is a lead in sales and marketing


Capturing leads or prospects is becoming increasingly essential to reach the commercial goals of our businesses.

What is a lead?

Simply put, a lead or potential customer is an individual or organization interested in your offerings. This interest is shown when they share contact information such as an email address, phone number, or less commonly, social media usernames.

Given this definition, it might seem straightforward to identify what a lead means for the marketing and sales teams, but this subject is more complex than it first appears.

Lead acquisition and classification

Generating potential customers is critical to your business processes, contributing to sustained growth and success. Typically, lead generation is the first step in the sales process, involving attracting, nurturing, and convincing potential customers to make a purchase.

On the other hand, a sales prospect is a potential customer who has interacted with you, for example, through a two-way conversation showing real potential.

To achieve lead generation, various methods can be employed, including content marketing and email marketing.

Content marketing includes blog posts, case studies, infographics, eBooks, videos, and social media. Email marketing types involve newsletters, lead nurturing emails, and brand story emails. Other methods include direct interaction with potential customers, contests, giveaways, paid advertising, and referrals. Remember, SEO is crucial too.

With more markets moving online and tighter competition, these strategies have become more critical. For instance, 70% of marketers are actively investing in content marketing.

To aid marketers in visualizing and influencing the customer journey, the lead generation funnel was introduced.

1. Top of the Funnel (TOFU)

This stage is all about creating awareness. It’s the first interaction with the potential customer, aiming to establish trust and educate.

2. Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)

Here, the potential customer realizes a specific problem and explores options. You can assist them by offering an appropriate solution or something valuable to move them toward conversion.

3. Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)

When a potential customer reaches this point, they can be considered a prospect, contemplating a purchase. Your focus should be on selling, facilitated by demos, case studies, and price comparisons. The goal is to assure them that you are the right choice.

Lead acquisition can be further segmented into inbound and outbound lead generation.

Understanding Lead Nurturing

Lead nurturing involves developing and reinforcing relationships with buyers at every stage of the sales funnel. An effective lead nurturing strategy focuses on marketing and communication efforts on listening to the needs of prospects, and providing the information and answers they need.

  • Communication at Different Funnel Stages: For leads in the awareness stage, educational content like blogs and eBooks is effective. In the consideration stage, more detailed content such as webinars or case studies can be utilized. For decision-stage leads, free trials, demos, or consultations can be offered.
  • Personalization: Personalizing communication based on the lead’s previous interactions with your content increases the likelihood of conversion. This can involve targeted emails, personalized content offers, and tailored follow-ups.

The controversy over leads

Marketing teams often accuse sales teams of failing to close deals, while sales teams argue that deals aren’t closed because marketing attracts the wrong profiles.

These conflicts between the teams can be overcome, and there are various strategies to bridge the gap between marketing and sales.

What is a lead for marketing

For marketing, a lead is a sales prospect or potential customer, someone they can follow up with since they have their contact information. This enables them to conduct lead nurturing campaigns, eventually engaging them in a sales conversation…

For marketing, this is already an advantage. It could be seen as someone who, apart from wanting a product or service, has the purchasing power and intent.

Capturing leads can be challenging for both marketing and sales teams, as not all leads are maintained or truly qualified prospects.

This is precisely why the marketing and sales teams often misunderstand each other.

What is a lead for sales

Building on the previous points, for sales teams, a lead defined by marketing isn’t always high quality, meaning such a customer isn’t necessarily a commercial advantage. This makes sense since not every lead captured from the first phase of the conversion funnel can be effectively followed up.

For sales, a more valuable prospect is someone already ready to make a purchase or a high-quality lead, preferably in the retention and monetization stages.

Role of Analytics in Lead Generation

Data analytics provides valuable insights into lead behavior and campaign performance, enabling businesses to make data-driven decisions.

  • Tracking Lead Interactions: Analytics tools can track how leads interact with your website and content, providing insights into their interests and engagement levels.
  • Refining Lead Generation Strategies: By analyzing which types of content and channels generate the most leads, businesses can optimize their strategies for better results.

Finding common ground between teams

If an individual interacts with your company’s website or social media and matches your defined ideal customer persona, they qualify as an ideal sales lead. Their importance increases when they take definitive actions post-initial consultation, such as requesting a free trial or a product demonstration. These leads are more likely to be ready for sales.

At least, they have a higher purchase potential than those who just register their details to receive a newsletter.

However, the ultimate definition of a lead is someone who can be converted into a customer for a company, regardless of the business’s nature, be it online, e-commerce, or a physical store with digital marketing strategies.

Despite this controversy, we believe that both perspectives are valid.

Aligning the lead definition in your company

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, here are two special strategies to consider for aligning both teams towards shared objectives:

1. Define an ideal lead:

To improve lead attraction, factors like buyer personas and brand archetypes are crucial. Along with digital marketing strategic goals and web analytics data, these help understand user behavior and potential improvements in the attraction process. This knowledge assists in identifying leads that are more likely and quicker to close deals with your company.

2. Design an appropriate lead scoring system

Prospects should only progress to sales when they match the customer archetype (buyer persona) and take a specific sales action. If you don’t already have a lead scoring system, we recommend exploring this practical guide. Such a system is highly effective, especially when developed jointly by marketing and sales teams, aligning their objectives and interests.

Challenges and Solutions in Lead Generation

Lead generation faces several challenges, but there are strategies to overcome them.

  • Generating High-Quality Leads: The focus should be on attracting the right audience. This can be achieved through targeted content and well-defined buyer personas.
  • Maintaining Consistent Lead Flow: Regularly creating and promoting engaging content can help in maintaining a consistent flow of leads.
  • Balancing Quantity and Quality of Leads: Implementing lead scoring can help in prioritizing leads based on their likelihood to convert.


Regardless of the debate between marketing and sales, agreeing on which leads are ideal for the organization is crucial for meeting commercial goals and improving company performance. This alignment also enhances the workplace environment, making it a win-win situation.

Some details might seem minor, but differences in lead definition can lead to the sales team investing time in low-quality prospects, resulting in financial losses. Don’t hesitate to start implementing these two internal work strategies, as they are likely to bring positive results to your digital marketing plan.

Juan Esteban Yepes

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