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What makes a lead a lead?

What makes a lead a lead?

Everyone wants leads  (duh), but does your organization have a definition of what a lead actually is?

I once read that salespeople consider anyone who’s NOT in jail and has a pulse a lead.

Despite my best Googling efforts, I can’t find a source for it. But you get the point(s):

A. It’s a joke.

B. Salespeople, especially the really convincing ones, can be eager to talk to anyone.

But should they? This totally depends on your business. Let’s say you’re a start-up. You’re trying to get leads and get your name out there (increase brand awareness). That may be a reason to have sales speak with anyone. 

In general, I think we can all agree there are only so many hours in the day, so you want to work smarter, not harder, right?

Enter the importance of knowing what a lead is for your business.

This isn’t about your HubSpot, Pardot, Marketo, or whichever marketing automation platform you use. That’s your system or technology that helps you manage the workflow of your leads from creation to close.

I’d offer this definition: A lead is a buyer with a need. 

(It even rhymes so it’s easy to remember!)

Let’s break it down:

1. Leads are people — yes, even in B2B. They may be tied to a particular business, but those businesses are your target accounts. The people who work there in decision-making roles are the leads.

2. Leads have needs. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon. They are buying something (ideally from you)!

3. Speaking of buying, leads have a budget. You just have to see if that budget aligns with the investment needed for your products or services.

How to get started defining a lead for your business

First, engage in some basic lead scoring. Look at your closed business. Ideally you have a CRM or other means of pulling this type of data together. Which types of buyers have recently closed? And which have been ideal in doing so? Have they netted out profitable deals for your company and closed at a decent pace? 

Even if you’re not ready for a complex lead scoring model, look at their characteristics:

• What are their job titles?

• What types of companies do they work for? 

- By industry? 

- By size? 

- By geography?

• Were they the ultimate decision-maker, or did they have to involve multiple people in the decision?

• How many weeks (or months) did it take to close the deal?

You can go much deeper than this of course. And this is a good base set of questions to inform your personas and customer journey maps. But we’re talking about where to start.

So...what’s a lead again?

As you can see, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. You should continue to evaluate your lead definition (and score, if you’re there) as you examine closed-won and closed-lost deals. 

Both will help you see if you’re truly targeting, attracting, and converting the right types of buyers for your business (and maximizing your marketing dollars).


Find out how our award-winning marketing team can help you define & generate leads. Contact us now.

Heather Vaughn

Heather Vaughn

Marketing Services Director

Heather Vaughn is CI Design's Marketing Services Director. Her marketing career has been split with equal time on the agency and client sides, giving her a 360 perspective on marketing, and a keen understanding of how to use all its glorious data. With a blend of account, project management, and content strategy skills, she loves working with teams to connect the dots and craft marketing solutions that work.

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