Sales Lead

What is a Sales Lead?

A sales lead is a potential customer who has shown interest in your company’s product or service. They are an individual or someone part of a business who has interacted with your brand through your website, social media, email marketing, trade shows, or a sales rep conducting cold outreach.

The sales process starts when a sales development representative (SDR) pulls information for a potential lead, screens it, and enters their contact/research/identifying information in CRM (i.e., the company’s sales pipeline). Then, they’ll use that information to send sales emails, outbound calls, and direct marketing collateral in an attempt to garner interest, further qualify them, and book an in-depth sales call.

Whether the sales lead is high-quality is determined by a few factors:

  • Willingness to respond and continue
  • Decision-making capacity and authority
  • Relevance to your brand’s target market
  • Budget and time constraints
  • Pain points your product can solve

Sales leads are typical in industries where longer sales cycles are the norm. Most of the time, this is B2B industries. But it also includes B2C companies that sell high-ticket items or have complex products and services, like solar panels.


  • Sales prospect
  • Potential customer
  • Qualified lead (QL)
  • Sales qualified lead (SQL)
  • Marketing qualified lead (MQL)

Why Sales Leads are the Lifeblood of B2B

Companies that sell direct-to-consumer don’t need much sales infrastructure (aside from, maybe, sales associates in a brick-and-mortar store). The end customer typically converts as soon as they browse the website, see an ad, or read a few product reviews. If they don’t nurturing still primarily takes place on social media, review sites, and email because purchases are comparatively small and low-stakes.

In the B2B world, things are completely different. Since B2B sales are business transactions (many of which are worth 5-7 figures per year and impact entire organizations), they require more thought, negotiation, and time to complete. There are more stakeholders involved, so the sales cycle is longer.

A large corporation doesn’t just buy a product or service from another company. They first need to evaluate their needs, budget, timeline and how your offering fits into that mix. Then, they often bring in multiple decision-makers to assess the feasibility of the solution before making a purchase.

The same applies to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) too. Although the sales cycle might be shorter, they still require nurturing, education on your product or service, negotiation, and more time than B2C customers to convert.

Without a way to generate, qualify, nurther, and eventually convert sales leads, B2B comapnies’ sales operations are dead. There’s no such thing as direct response B2B marketing. You have a complex sale, so you need to build pipeline, nurture outreach, and develop relationships in order to turn a lead into a paying customer.

Types of Sales Leads

There are six different types of sales leads. Each represents a progression through the sales pipeline and an increased likelihood of turning into a customer. As such, later-stage types also require more personalization and attention.

1. Cold Sales Leads

Cold leads are at the top of the sales funnel. They have shown interest in your product or service, but they are not yet familiar with your company.

Cold leads can come from various sources, such as:

  • Website visitors who filled out a form to download a resource
  • Social media followers who liked or commented on your post
  • Attendees at trade shows where your company had a booth
  • Cold calls from a sales rep’s contact list
  • Cold emails sent to a purchased list of contacts
  • LinkedIn DMs

Cold leads aren’t actively looking to buy. They may have stumbled upon your brand or received outreach from your company, but they are still in the early stages of the buying process. In some cases, they haven’t started it at all.

Cold leads may or may not be qualified to buy your product. SDRs usually reach out to these individuals before knowing much about their situation.

They typically look for inducators that this lead has a need for your product or service and can make a purchase, such as:

  • Industry
  • Company size
  • MRR
  • Headcount
  • Areas of operation (nationally/internationally)
  • Tech stack

Once they get them talking on the phone or in their inbox, they can ask questions to qualify them further.

2. Warm Sales Leads

A warm sales lead is a prospect who has shown active interest in your product or service. They may have reached out to you, been referred by another customer, or filled out a form on your website.

This type of lead is typically much easier to start a conversation with than a cold one because they are already familiar with your brand and offering (albeit, not very familiar). In general, reaching out to a business about their product is also a solid indicator they’re ready to start the buying process. In some cases, they also meet the qualifications that make them a good fit for your company.

That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily qualified to buy. It’s unlikely a warm lead knows everything about their situation when they initially reach out. It’s equally unlikely they know much about what your company can do to help them.

3. Information Qualified Sales Leads

An information qualified lead is someone who voluntarily provides their contact information in return for something useful.

Examples include:

  • Webinar registration
  • Ebook download
  • Newsletter signup
  • Access to a report or study
  • Demo request

The average B2B buyer is between 57% and 70% through the buying decision process by the time they talk to sales. When they’re actively researching information about your product, this means they’re still in those initial stages but moving gradually through. This doesn’t mean they’re entirely interested in your product, but it signals they’re probably doing research and in an organization that would potentially use it.

Depending on the type of information and their level of engagement, an information qualified lead can be a lot further down the sales funnel than a regular warm lead. They’re often knowledgeable about their situation, and they’re now using your content to get antiquated with your product.

4. Marketing Qualified Leads

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is an information qualified lead who’s shown interest in your product or service. They’ve engaged with your content, but also requested a demo or otherwise taken action to learn more.

They’re warm leads generated from your digital marketing efforts. Sometimes, marketing has vetted them preemptively, but they usually go straight to lower- to mid-level sales reps who discuss your product and educate them more on its features, benefits, pricing model and how it can help.

An MQL is an excellent lead for marketing to pass to the sales team. They’re further down the pipeline than most leads marketing passes along, as they’ve shown interest in buying rather than just learning about your brand.

However, MQLs aren’t necessarily good leads, either. If the marketing messaging is off, it could bring in heaps of unqualified leads who would never buy your product. So, while a high number of MQLs is good, the real indicator of marketing’s success is the volume and percentage of those leads that are passed to sales and become sales-qualified.

5. Sales Accepted Lead

Once an MQL is passed to the sales team, a sales rep will screen them for sales readiness. This is generally a 15-30-minute call a newer or less experienced rep handles as part of their training.

The call aims to:

  • Understand what they’re looking for in a product
  • Learn more about their organization and how it works
  • Share an overview of your offering
  • Qualify or disqualify them as a good fit for your product, based on if you accurately meet their need(s)

This process often results in the sales rep learning more about the lead’s budget and timeline, too. If they meet both these criteria, the lead becomes a sales accepted lead (SAL).

A SAL is doesn’t necessarily have to be in the market to buy your product yet. However, they’re in consideration mode and certainly could purchase it when the time comes.

6. Sales Qualified Leads

A sales qualified lead (SQL) is someone who has moved past the initial qualification call and is officially qualified to buy the product.

During the initial qualification, a sales rep will go through a checklist that includes:

  • Firmographic information
  • Pain points
  • Budget
  • Decision-making capacity
  • Other decision-makers and influencers
  • Purchase timeline
  • Expectations from using the product

They’ll also start building rapport with the prospect (generally, using a solution selling approach like the SPICED framework).

At this point, there is still a lot of back-and-forth required. Maybe there are additional stakeholders who need to weigh in or hear the sales rep’s angle. Or maybe the prospect needs more information before they can make a decision.

Between the time a lead becomes a SQL and the time they move through the opportunity stage to eventually convert, there could be weeks or months of research, demos, calls, emails, and other forms of communication. There are generally several rounds of qualification and nurturing before a SQL becomes a sales opportunity.

Lead Generation Strategies to Fill Your Pipeline

Companies generate leads in all kinds of ways. 89% of B2B buyers use the internet during the research and buying stages. So, most of them are online.

Content Marketing 

Content marketing is designed to attract potential leads who are actively seeking solutions like yours by providing valuable content in exchange for their information. It’s one of the best ways to generate leads because it’s also useful in:

Content marketing is publishing content that people are actively seeking, rather than an advertisement. While it’s often written for the purposes of SEO and inbound marketing, it can take any form…

  • webinars and other online events
  • ebooks and whitepapers
  • blog posts/articles
  • video tutorials
  • infographics
  • product and pricing pages
  • product documentation

…are all examples of content marketing.

The idea behind content marketing is that most customers aren’t ready to talk to sales yet. They don’t have time for a 30-minute call. But they do have time to browse your website or search Google in their free time. So, content should aim to educate and guide them through the purchase funnel.

By reading your content, they’ll learn more about their situation, specific pain points, and how they can solve them. They’ll also find out more about your product and how it fits into their situation. This will help them make a decision to do something (e.g., book a demo).

Paid Advertising

Most companies use some form of paid advertising to generate leads. It could be:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC) ads on Google, Bing, or social media platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook
  • Sponsorships and display ads on industry websites (e.g., AdSense
  • Hosted webinars and other online events
  • Retargeting or display ads (e.g., banner ads)

Paid advertising allows you to reach a specific audience with little effort. You can reach people based on:

  • Demographic information like location, age, job title or industry
  • Behavior, such as past interactions with your website or content marketing
  • Specific search terms or keywords on Google and other search engines

When done correctly, paid advertising can be an excellent way to find leads with intent. For example, if you sell marketing automation software, you can target people searching for “marketing automation” on Google. Or if you’re selling CRM software to CFOs at manufacturing companies in the Midwest, LinkedIn ads and sponsored webinars could help you find them.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO includes content marketing (such as the page you’re currently reading). But it also includes technical optimizations that make it easier for search engines to crawl, understand and rank your website. It’s essential for driving organic traffic to your site as part of a long-term lead generation strategy.

SEO can help you generate leads through:

  • ranking on the first page of Google or other search engines
  • increasing blog readership
  • social shares (because people share content they find helpful)
  • backlinks (because people link to content they find valuable and trust)

The key is publishing high-quality content that matches what your target customers are searching for online.

SEO is a long-term strategy that generally takes years of investment. You’ll have to grow your business through sales development and product validation alongside it if you want to build real authority.

But, by publishing authoritative content and ranking higher on search engines for your target keywords, you’ll garner tons of organic traffic. This means you won’t have to spend money on leads from paid ads. You’ll get them for free.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing doesn’t work for every B2B niche, but every SaaS company should have an affiliate program.

Affiliates are often bloggers or influencers in your niche. They’ll promote your product by recommending it, ranking it, or naturally mentioning it in their content.

When you set one up, your affiliates get:

  • a custom affiliate link that uses a cookie to track potential customers
  • access to different marketing assets they can use to promote your product (e.g., templates, banners, email copy)
  • a % or flat-rate commission from each sales lead or conversion they’re responsible for
  • in some cases, revenue share (e.g., for a contract’s first year)

So, if someone buys your $500/month product after clicking on an affiliate link and promo code, the affiliate may receive a 25% commission. In this case, they’d get $125.

Affiliate marketing is success-based, meaning you’ll never lose more than you earn (so long as your margins on affiliate commission are profitable). You don’t need to build any infrastructure or hire additional employees to manage it, either. So, it’s very scalable.

Social Media

Social media is a helpful tool for lead generation because it allows you to reach a large audience quickly and interact with potential customers directly.

LinkedIn and Twitter (X) are the classic lead generation social media platforms. But TikTok is also an effective channel for certain niches (like AI).

You can use social media to increase brand awareness, share content, and engage with potential leads. You can also use it for paid advertising (like LinkedIn ads) or organic tactics like prospecting.

A good baseline strategy is to repurpose your content across platforms, then promote your most successful content so it reaches a larger audience.


As a seller or founder, networking is a continuous process. There are several ways it happens:

  • Social media
  • Industry events and conferences
  • Webinars, workshops, and seminars
  • Podcasts, interviews, and guest posts

You can use networking to reach a larger audience (e.g., through social media), build relationships with potential leads, and find people who might be interested in your product or service. Networking is also a great way to learn from others in your industry and stay ahead of the curve when it comes to industry trends and changes.


Webinars are a popular lead generation tool that allows you to showcase your product or service and provide valuable information to potential leads. You can use webinars as part of a larger marketing campaign, or as a standalone event to attract new leads.

20% to 40% of webinar attendees end up becoming qualified leads because they offer an interactive and engaging way to connect with potential leads and answer any questions they may have about your product or service. They also allow you to showcase your expertise and establish trust with your audience.

To successfully generate leads through webinars, create a lead magnet for the event. Be careful to clearly indicate who the webinar is for and what attendees can expect to learn. That way, you’ll attract the right audience and provide them with valuable information that can ultimately lead to conversions.


88% of B2B buyers look for word-of-mouth assurance before making a purchase decision. In the case of warm leads generated from referrals, they’re 3-5x more likely to convert.

You can generate referrals for your business in a number of ways:

  • Ask satisfied customers for referrals directly
  • Offer incentives (such as a discount or added service) for successful referrals
  • Create an affiliate program where affiliates can refer new leads to your business in exchange for a commission
  • Use social media and email marketing to encourage organic referrals from happy customers.
  • Create a channel sales partnership program

Referrals are an effective way to generate qualified leads, as they come from trusted sources and have a higher likelihood of converting into customers. They can also increase brand awareness and expand your network to reach new potential leads.

The Lead Qualification Process

Sales leads follow the sales qualification process. As they move through the pipeline, they become more qualified and progress from one type of lead to the next. This change is reflected in CRM, where the status of a lead is updated as they complete certain activities or meet specific criteria.

Briefly, here are the typical steps involved in this process:

  1. Lead capture
  2. Lead segmentation
  3. Lead scoring
  4. Lead nurturing
  5. Sales readiness assessment
  6. Lead handoff
  7. Sales follow-up
  8. Lead conversion

Best Practices for Effective Sales Lead Management

Determine Your Ideal Customer Profile

The first step in any lead generation strategy is to determine your ideal customer profile (ICP). This includes identifying the characteristics of your target audience (e.g., their industry, job title, company size, and pain points). Having a clear understanding of your ICP will help you tailor your lead generation efforts towards reaching the right audience and converting them into customers.

Identify Lead Channels

There’s a 100% chance you’ll need to take a multichannel selling approach. Which sales channels you use specifically is entirely dependent on your target audience.

Common channels include:

  • social media
  • your website
  • email marketing
  • events and conferences
  • webinars

You’ll have to test different channels to see which ones work best for your business and target audience. Keep in mind that what works for one business may not necessarily work for another, so it’s important to track and analyze the success of each channel.

Capture Leads

To capture leads, you need an efficient process for processing your warm leads and MQLs. This typically involves landing pages, forms on your website, and tracking contact information for potential leads who have shown interest in your product or service through other channels.

You’ll also need efficient internal processes for handling leads, including assigning leads to the appropriate sales reps, tracking lead interactions and progress, and following up in as quickly as possible.

Implement a Lead Scoring System

Lead scoring is the process of assigning points to leads based on their interactions with your brand and their characteristics (e.g., job title, company size). This helps prioritize leads and determine their level of interest in your product or service. Higher-scoring leads are more likely to convert into customers, so sales team members can use the lead score to prioritize certain deals over others.

Nurture Leads

Not all leads will be ready to make a purchase immediately. That’s where lead nurturing comes in. This involves regularly engaging with leads through targeted email campaigns, webinars, and other content that provides value and helps move them along the sales funnel.

Automate the Process

To effectively manage sales leads, you’ll need to leverage technology. A customer relationship management (CRM) system and automated lead management tool should be the first investments. CPQ software and sales enablement tools also streamline the process by making it easier to generate quotes and share important sales content with leads.

People Also Ask

What is a sales lead example?

An example of a sales lead could be John Doe, the operations manager at a mid-sized manufacturing company. John stumbled upon your company’s website while searching for supply chain management solutions online. He filled out a contact form on your website expressing interest in your services, gave his job title and company information, and also downloaded a whitepaper you offer about optimizing supply chain operations. Given his job role, industry, and interaction with your website, he is considered a promising sales lead.

How do you convert sales leads?

Lead conversion is all about accuracy and efficiency in the sales process. To convert sales leads, you need to clearly understand your target audience and their needs. Use lead scoring to prioritize leads, engage in effective lead nurturing strategies, and leverage technology to manage the process from start to finish efficiently.

What’s the difference between a sales lead and a prospect?

Prospects are like leads — individuals or companies interested in your product or service. However, prospects are typically further along the sales funnel and more likely to convert into customers. A lead is more of a general term for any potential customer, while a prospect is specifically someone who has shown intent to purchase.