Many businesses still don’t have a consistent understanding of a lead — what it is, when it is, and what they should do with it. Different departments use different language to refer to the same thing, or refer to different things with the same language. In fact, only half of sales and marketing teams worldwide even agree on what defines a qualified lead.

This pandemonium can cripple your demand generation programs. When either low volume or low-quality leads are passed to sales each month, conversion is low as well. Not only that, but CMOs and CFOs have a hard time establishing common goals and service level agreements (SLAs) when they don’t even share the same definition of a lead. According to MarketingSherpa, as many as 73 percent of all B2B leads are not sales-ready.

So what exactly is a lead?

The specific definition of a lead will depend on your business model, but there are some things that a lead is probably not:

● A site visitor

● An impression

● A click-through

● A purchased contact

All of these things, loosely defined, are prospects (and they might not even be that). A lead, on the other hand, falls along the continuum between prospect and deal. It could be an individual consumer, in the case of B2C marketing, or a business contact, in B2B marketing.

“A lead is simply where someone has raised a hand by completing some level of contact information and submitting that information to a company,” says Michael Ferree, Director of LeadsCouncil. “We can argue that many things are leads, but the question really is, did the person express interest in your product?”

Ferree is right: Leads distinguish themselves by performing a particular action that shows intent or interest in your products or services. You can even take that a step further by saying that leads have initiated communication between themselves and a business. In other words, they’ve given you permission to contact them. This stands in stark contrast to the interruptive tactics associated with batch mailings and purchased lists. It also bodes well for your lead-to-close ratio, since a person who has volunteered their information will be much more receptive to a sales conversation.