What is a lead, what types are there and what are they for?

Generating leads is one of the objectives most pursued by marketing professionals who try to achieve conversions and increase their profits. For starters, do you know what a lead is or what exactly it means within the field of marketing? You may know it, and yet those leads don’t end up being customers.

In this article you will learn in detail what leads are, why they are so important to achieve more sales and what is the way to generate qualified leads in digital marketing. Shall we start?

What is an online marketing lead?

There are different ways of understanding what a lead, contact or registration is, depending on the moment of the marketing campaign in which we find ourselves, the purchase process of the user or the level of involvement that this has shown with the brand. That is why even within the field of online marketing itself, a certain ambiguity is usually created when talking about leads. 

Well, we will start with the most basic concept for you to understand.

A lead is a  user who has given their data to a company  and, as a consequence,  becomes a record of their database with which the organization can interact.   This registration can be done physically, with paper and pen, or online, through a form.

In this step there is a key transaction in which the user transfers his personal data to the company in exchange for getting something, such as access to specialized content, a data sheet, a product catalog for other companies, etc. 

For its part, the company can reach the user almost as if it were a two-way communication, only in a non-intrusive way and in a way that the user practically does not perceive it. For what? Well, for the company to have “the permission” to interact with this user: send them communications, share content that may be interesting for them during the phase of the purchase cycle they are in, and even make commercial offers, but that’s already we will arrive. This process will be done using automated marketing techniques.

The fundamental idea is that, thanks to the conversion to lead, we can contact this person, who is no longer a mere unknown and nameless visit, to offer him content related to our product or service.

To treat a user as a lead, it is essential that this person has accepted the company’s privacy policy. This authorization is even more important since the new European RGPD legislation came out to regulate the processing of personal data and the correct use of cookies.

This is the definition with which we feel identified in digitechwebservises. But we reiterate, it is not an exact science: according to the sector and the objectives of each company, and also depending on the point of the marketing funnel in which it is captured,  a lead will be defined in one way or another . 

How to generate a lead?

A lead can be generated by any offline channel through physical forms, in an event, in a professional fair, to access a draw or a discount in the store, by phone, etc.

In a typical inbound project, most leads tend to be online. That is why in this article we will focus on the leads that come through the online channel, which, in turn, can be obtained through multiple channels (by organic search, social networks, direct traffic, etc.) and in a thousand ways different, depending on the actions we take and the strategy to be developed in each case.

How does this happen in inbound marketing?

Typically, users see attractive content, want to download it, and fill out a form with their details. But it could really be by any means. The important thing is that you offer valuable content through a form that will be specially designed to encourage conversion. This will be embedded in a  landing page , website, blog article, Facebook Lead Ads campaign, etc.

Therefore, to start generating leads for your company, it is necessary to create interesting and quality content for your target audience and enable their download through different forms. Take a look at the following example!

If you already know what a lead is, what types of leads exist and what can be done with them, you can download the free guide 

Why are leads important to a company?

As you may well know by now, a lead is the person who is interested in your company and who could become a customer, even though they may not be at the point where they are interested in our products or services. This is why leads are the basis of an inbound marketing strategy. A strategy in which, little by little, we have to convince them that our products or services interest them and are effective in solving their concerns or needs. Don’t worry, that moment will come. Almost all of these strategies aim to get customers, but for that you have to go a more or less long way.

How do we do it?

To achieve this, we attract traffic to our content and then use content offers, or what we call lead magnets, to capture these leads or registrations . ‘Magnet’ in English means ‘magnet’, and that magnet will be our amazing offer! An incentive that we will use as bait so that users obtain a downloadable pdf, access to a course, etc. If they “bite”, those will be qualified leads.

Now, if they do not, we will have failed, since we will have reached users who are not really interested. Maybe because they have considered us spam.

It is for all this that in inbound marketing we implement the lead nurturing & lead scoring techniques to accompany these prospective users throughout this educational process so that they end up buying. This process is key for the user to receive that star-magnet offer that we are talking about when they are ready for it and accept it.

Below are a couple of videos in which we explain better everything you need to know about lead scoring and lead nurturing :

In short: most of the people who will come to us are in the initial stages of the buying process, so we are not interested in attracting only those who are about to buy. Our mission is to reach these people in the initial phase and accompany them throughout the process.

As we like to say, we do it by delivering the right content at the right time.

But if we only attract traffic, the person consumes the content and leaves the web, we are not having an impact that can last over time. So we must convert these anonymous visitors into leads (not all convert, only a% that can be around 1-5% approximately).

So we can continue with the interaction and maintain contact with them.

Getting a lead is the key moment in which the person goes from being anonymous on our website to knowing a little more about who they are, where to contact them, what needs they may have and how we can best help them with content, products, services, formations, etc.

Building a database made up of these leads is crucial in inbound marketing.
It is one of the assets that we generate and necessary to carry out the most complex phases of the strategy: lead nurturing and lead scoring.

Marketing and sales issues about lead quality

The biggest dilemma between the marketing and sales departments arises when there are continuous complaints or “disagreements” about the quality of leads that have come from the database to make commercial offers. While online marketers are proud of the large number of leads they have generated, the sales department is frustrated at the continued rejection of those potential customers who ultimately were not interested.

This is how those who looked like potential clients end up becoming low-quality leads; therefore, the blame falls on the marketing department.

What types of leads are there?

To begin, we must know the following differentiation:

Cold Leads vs. hot leads

What we have seen is the definition of lead from a marketing point of view , a person potentially interested in the company. So much so that when a user is considered a lead, they can be included in different categories based on:

  • Similarity to  buyer persona .
  • Phase of  the purchase process  you are in.
  • Engagement you have with the brand.

So the lead is interested in your sector, it could be a client, perhaps it is not yet prepared, perhaps it will not be. But if you ask a sales department, they will tell you that a lead is a potential customer, a person directly interested in what we sell.

At digitechwebservises, when we talk about leads we mean marketing leads , sometimes we call them ‘records’.

The theory is that someone who downloads content is a cold lead , not ready for purchase. It is a person who is starting a research or learning process to know how to solve a need or a problem (a pain point).

Actually (this is not reported by many sources of information), perhaps you are prepared to speak to sales, but we have not detected it.

After a cold lead we have warm leads , that is, those people who cannot fully consider a cold lead (they have already done a little research and are more clear about some options to solve their need), but it is not hot either. Perhaps you’re evaluating different possible solutions, with their pros and cons, budgeting, reading forums, or researching how it has worked for other people.

Finally, what we call ‘hot lead’ is what sales typically refers to when talking about leads: prepared and willing people to talk to a salesperson.

Considering this, there is a lot of confusion: is a lead always a sales opportunity?

No, far from it. In some companies, a lead is a person who requests commercial information, but the definition that we understand concludes that he is a person who has left the data, since he has shown interest in something. You may be interested in our content but not what we sell. Nothing happens and it is completely normal.

Phases that we distinguish in the purchase process

Continuing with the types of leads and taking into account the graph that we have just represented, we find different leads depending on the phase they are in and their maturity level, distinguishing the following terms:

  • Lead: is the user who has filled out a form to download content, register for a webinar, etc. In this form you have provided your basic information (at least email) and have accepted the legal notice. It is still far from the final transaction, so it would be equivalent to a cold lead.
  • A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is generated by Marketing, usually automatically through lead nurturing and lead scoring. He has already shown, repeatedly, interest in the contents of the company, so he is in a more advanced phase of the purchase cycle and fits in with the buyer persona.

You are usually uncovered asking for more information on the forms. This information is used to discover if it really is a valuable business opportunity or not. If yes, you are considered a qualified marketing lead. 

  • An SQL, or Sales Qualified Lead, is a lead that is in the most advanced phase of the purchasing process and is therefore ready for purchase. They are people who, generally, have been advancing in the marketing funnel and respond to an offer much closer to the product or service that the company offers (for example, a demonstration, a trial, a commercial phone call …). They are also usually the leads that have downloaded more content or more advanced content and, as a consequence, the organization has more information about them.

So how is MQL different from SQL?

To understand what is the step of a qualified lead for marketing and a qualified lead for sale, it is necessary to know that between the two there can be different levels. Not everything will depend on our sector, but also on the type of user, since a lead that we think is not ready for sale may be (and the seller will not be able to lose interest). This is why you have to analyze which category you are in using the lead scoring technique that you will find below.

According to HubSpot, we could analyze the following categories to know if we could classify a possible client as MQL or SQL:

  • Lead uninterested and unsuitable for your company: this is the case of people who are investigating their own competition or, for other reasons, offer false information and have no interest in what you offer.
  • Lead very interested, but inappropriate: although he has shown interest in your content, he does not meet the characteristics of your buyer person. For example, we know that you are a minor, do not have sufficient purchasing power, or are not the person in charge of making decisions. Still, we’d like to keep engagement.
  • Lead suitable for your company, but less interested: it needs to mature and we have to continue to nurture it.
  • Lead suitable for your company and very interested: it is ready to be SQL!

On the other hand, it is also necessary to take into account an earlier phase, the subscribers.

Is a lead the same as a subscriber?

We should not confuse leads with subscribers or, to be more exact, we should not confuse lead nurturing with sending the newsletter, in which we include our weekly offer.

A user who is in an initial phase of the purchase cycle is usually considered lead, but there is still a previous phase that should not be underestimated:  subscribers .

Subscribers are those users who have shown interest in our company and ask us to keep in touch with us, have signed up for a newsletter or subscribed to a blog. Although for this they only provide us with their email (or other contact information), they can also be offered indirectly downloadable content to transform into leads.

Is a subscriber less ready for sale or less interested?

According to the HubSpot theory and what is normally explained, the answer is yes, but most of the leads are going to be people who find one of our content on the internet, download it and never hear from them again. Instead, a subscriber wants to receive information from us on a recurring basis, which is what he has subscribed to, so we should not underestimate it.

You may think that, in an ideal strategy, all the leads we get should be qualified. But it is inevitable that people will come to us who do not fit in with our buyer persona and who will not buy. We do not have to try to avoid getting unskilled leads, it is impossible.

Capturing leads that are not our buyer persona is going well for us, we can have a community of people who follow us and read everything we publish. They help us to spread the content, share it, leave us likes on social networks, read our emails, etc.

Lead capture techniques: how are they achieved?

To generate quality leads what we do in inbound is to create valuable content, which we offer on a landing page. On landing, the user has to fill out a form to access them, leaving their data and becoming a lead. This is the classic way, but we also explore different ways to get leads, for example, through chatbots, with social login, content upgrades, etc.

The consumer is in a process of research and discovery , so the content we offer has to be very valuable and aligned with the buying process. And it must be valuable enough to “pay the price” of leaving your data to the company.

The promise of value must be fulfilled with the quality of the content, otherwise, we will be capturing the data but we will generate mistrust, and this person will not want to continue to know about us.

In order to get people to these contents, it is necessary to carry out traffic attraction actions.

Users reach the landing page through a CTA , which we place in areas of the web with high traffic and visibility. In an inbound marketing strategy it is usually the blog (by creating a lot of content, we can get a lot of traffic), but it can also be in sections of the web, in emails, through social networks, online advertising, etc.

What can be done with leads?

We accompany the consumer throughout the purchase process. As you could see at the beginning, through lead nurturing and lead scoring.

There are two possible ways to implement both techniques, it is the same but in a different order:

  • Option 1: first, implement a lead nurturing strategy to mature leads, then scoring to value them.
  • Option 2: start a lead scoring technique to value all leads, then mature them differentially with lead nurturing.

You can see it in more detail below:

  • Lead nurturing:  as you have seen throughout the article, it aims to “mature” the leads , that is, to advance them throughout their purchase process until the final transaction. We usually do this through automated contacts with the person, for example, through automatic email chains. But you can also maintain that contact with personalized content on the web, retargeting campaigns, etc. The objective is to deliver that appropriate content at the appropriate time to “educate” the person or teach them how to resolve their pain point, while positioning ourselves as benchmarks and experts in the sector.
  • Lead scoring:  this technique allows you to classify leads according to the buyer person they fit in with, their needs, behavior and the moment of the purchase process they are in. In other words, through a series of pre-established rules, this technique  automatically grants a numerical score to each of the leads in a database  according to the characteristics and actions that they carry out in relation to the company and its contents. . Obviously, it is impossible to know all this information with 100% certainty, but we can make a good approximation. The more similar you are to the buyer person and the more you interact with the page and the more advanced content (more oriented to the purchase), the higher the score. It could be considered as a ranking of business opportunities.

With leads ranked by score, a company can more easily launch custom actions for each of the groups. It is also very useful to detect business opportunities and to know which leads can already be passed to the sales department and which ones cannot. 

Concluding …

An digitechwebservises strategy requires capturing leads to be able to give your results. If we don’t, we will be creating content and attracting people to it, but it will consume them and they will leave. We are interested in being able to maintain contact with these people, since it is what will allow us to continue nurturing these leads and identify sales opportunities . Therefore, we will use high-value content to get your contact details and make them part of our database. In this way, through lead nurturing and lead scoring we will “heat” these leads until some are ready to buy.

Read More:  Sales KPIs: know the top 7 and how to use them

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