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B2B Marketing

Create quality leads and sales opportunities

Most B2B marketers declare that their most important job is to generate leads. However, we use many definitions of a lead and this can create serious problems in communicating with sales departments and make it difficult to evaluate marketers' work.

That's why today in the ABCs of B2B Marketing about what a lead is, how it differs from a prospect and a sales opportunity. You'll also learn why it's so important to have a single, consistent definition of a lead.

Lead - the bone of contention

Most of the disagreements I encountered at the interface between marketing and sales departments stemmed from different understandings of the two teams' tasks.

Salespeople, knowing that the company maintains a marketing department to generate leads, expect to get customers on a platter who are just waiting to receive an offer.

On the other hand, marketers are tempted to give salespeople every piece of information about a potential customer even if it doesn't contain relevant data to decide whether to engage the salesperson.

Usually, the reason for this situation is the lack of definition of the lead and a clear specification of the tasks of marketers and salespeople in the sales process.

How to define a lead?

So let's move on to what a lead really is.

Just looking at the dictionary definition, can make your head spin. According to Webster's dictionary lead has four meanings as a noun and five as a verb. We already know where the confusion comes from in understanding the definition of a lead.

A lead in the sales sense is defined in Webster's dictionary as information that can lead us to something. So a lead would be any business information that gives you a chance to start the sales process.

Still too general?

Create your own definition of a lead

Let me worry you dear reader. It turns out that there is no one-size-fits-all definition of a lead for every situation and company. That's why it's a good idea to clearly define it in your organization and then follow it with ironclad consistency.

We know that a lead can be a very general piece of information, with one condition - it must give the prospect further work.

Therefore, I believe that a lead can be called the transfer of any data that we can use in the process of communication with a potential customer.

This is what differentiates a lead from a prospect - a marketing prospect (not to be confused with a sales prospect) is a piece of information that does not yet contain the data to make contact. Prospects will be anonymous visitors to our website, or conference attendees. In both cases, we need to find a way to start communication.

A lead contains data that allows further communication.

If you have a newsletter sign-up form on your site with only one field - an email address - you can treat the filling of such a form as the creation of a very early lead. If someone has given the company their e-mail address and agreed to receive newsletters, there is an opportunity for further communication that may result in a sale - that is a lead.

A similar example would be obtaining a business card at a trade show or conference. Here, it is additionally worth taking care to obtain formal consent to receive offers.

Of course, such a lead is not suitable for transfer to the sales department. For this reason also, such an early lead should not be attacked with sales offers. I started the sentence with "of course" but such practices unfortunately take place. What happens then? Very quickly we end up on blacklists of potential customers and lose the chance to move to the next stage of working on the lead.

Difficult lead qualification

An early lead needs to be developed, i.e. additional information needs to be acquired that will enable us to prepare personalized marketing activities and, consequently, open the way for salespeople to start the sales process. This stage is called lead qualification. Its purpose is to gather basic information that will allow us to decide whether or not to engage a salesperson in the process.

The most well-known set of criteria for lead qualification is the so-called BANT developed decades ago at MIT for IBM, now used in most corporations. It consists of the following criteria:

B – Budget
A – Authority – the decision-making power of the lead
N – Need – the need for our product
T – Timeline – the time perspective of the purchase decision

This is the most well-known set of qualification criteria, but because it was created at a time when no one had heard of digital marketing, its application causes a lot of trouble. I see several challenges here:

Determining the budget at the marketing stage can be very difficult. Few customers at the early stage of contacting a company will share this information. Also, determining the decision-making power of our contact can be confusing, because in most organizations, purchasing decisions are made by a group of people who form a formal or informal purchasing committee.

For this reason, the BANT criteria worked well for companies that hired telesalespeople whose first job was to conduct lead profiling calls and make appointments with salespeople.

Scoring better than BANT digital marketing

If you have digital marketing tools that allow you to analyze a potential customer's interactions with the content and resources you provide to them, using appropriate criteria to assess such behavior will be a more effective lead qualification tool.

In a nutshell, the process is to engage the customer in a set of interactions - reading an email, picking up an e-book, attending a webinar or conference while simultaneously soliciting information about, for example, the size of the company, job title or tasks of our contact. This is often done with valuable content that can be downloaded after leaving a small amount of information.

This collects information about who our contact is and how they behave on our site - what content they read, what messages they open, etc.

Systems such as Oracle Marketing Cloud allow us to define scoring criteria very precisely, so that our understanding of a lead's "maturation" will be based on data rather than conjecture. It is important that the sales team be involved in the process of determining the scoring criteria - that is, assessing the value of the lead. First, their insights will be crucial to selecting the right criteria - the behaviors that really matter. Second, it's a great opportunity to explain to salespeople the logic behind the marketing automation system, so they will have realistic expectations of its results.

Usually, scoring criteria require further tuning based on practical conclusions. This is the normal course of things. Initially, many criteria are introduced based on our best knowledge not backed up by practice, however.

Sophisticated marketing automation systems - such as Oracle Marketing Cloud (Eloqua), for example - allow the creation of several scoring matrices. This is very useful when our group of customers is highly diverse as is the set of activities targeted to them.

A simple example would be segmenting the base based on customer size. For large clients, we organize business breakfasts, classroom training sessions and study visits. The fact of appearing at such a meeting will be noted in the system and will positively affect the scoring. For smaller clients, we do not offer such activities, and therefore they will not have a chance to earn these points. With such diverse groups, it is advisable to create separate scoring criteria.

Marketing Qualified Lead

Having marketing automation tools at our disposal, we collect this information and score it according to the criteria set together with the sales department.

This way we know, for example, that our contact is the head of IT in a medium-sized organization and is very interested in the issue of securing smartphones from unauthorized access. We also know that he has visited our site 5 times in the past month and downloaded 2 e-books. However, we have agreed with the sales department that we only give them the contacts of the people who participated in the webinar. If he spent an hour participating in the webinar, there seems to be a good chance of starting a successful sales process.

Of course, these are just example criteria. The important thing is that they are defined with the sales department by making the work on the lead a joint responsibility of marketers and salespeople.

We can call such a lead a Marketing Qualified Lead - a lead qualified by the marketing department to be passed on to the salesperson.

Sales Qualified Lead

The next step is to qualify the lead for sales action, i.e. Sales Qualified Lead.

This is where I think the BANT criteria described above can come in handy. During a meeting or phone call, the salesperson can elaborate on the issues of decisiveness, budget, needs or prospects to make a buying decision.

Typically, a lead so qualified, salespeople call a Sales Opportunity, from Business Opportunity, in salespeople's jargon OPP, or BO. At this point, the lead turns into a sales opportunity and lands in the CRM.


As you can see, in order for a prospect to become a lead and that prospect to become a sales opportunity, it requires a lot of work. You need to gather additional information while skillfully sharing the knowledge with the potential customer. Fortunately, digital marketing tools make this process easier to manage. However, it's important that salespeople and marketers in your company have a similar understanding of what a lead is and what actions need to be taken once you have it. A best practice is to involve salespeople in the creation of lead qualification criteria and to evaluate together periodically whether these criteria are still appropriate.

Such a process makes it very easy for marketers and salespeople to understand and work together, and makes both parties feel responsible for the entire process of generating leads and turning them into sales.