The expectation has been set, and now the bar is being raised. All of us – whether it’s B2B or B2C – expect marketers to already know if we’re interested in their product or service.

Pitches for things people don’t want are doubly dangerous for you as a marketer. Annoyed prospects turn to social media and spread the word about your unsophisticated sales tactics. Knowing whether a person is interested in your product has become so important that this part of the customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the end of this year. More than anything, your customers want you to offer them a personalized experience because you’re listening to them, not trying to sell them.

It’s never been more important to get inbound lead generation right, and it starts with understanding the different types of leads that can be uncovered this way.

What’s a lead, anyway?

One thing it’s not is a perfect stranger. A lead is any person who registers interest in your product or service. You interact with them only afterthey indicate interest. Websites, social media, and even smart speakers arm potential leads with ways to sniff you out. And not all leads are as qualified as others – especially if you gauge them by level of interest. Not all leads are ready to be contacted by your sales team

Marketing Qualified Lead

Meet Gerald. He’s not at the very beginning of the buyer’s journey. In fact, he’s provided you with his email address in order to get access to an eBook that helps him understand the problem he’s having and which your product can solve. Gene is definitely qualified to be a lead, but he hasn’t sent out any buying signals yet. Being contacted by your sales team could sour this developing relationship.

Sales Qualified Lead

Then there’s Stanley. He’s a bit further along the buyer’s journey than Gerald. Stanley has given you his contact information and downloaded the same eBook as Gerald. Now, Stanley has reached out via an online form to ask for specific information about your product that he can’t seem to find. It’s likely that Stanley’s question has to do with price, making sure your product really does solve his need, or a logistical question such as whether you can deliver it today.

Product Qualified Lead

Meet Sarah. She’s not a perfect stranger, either. In fact, she’s been using a limited trial version of your product. Sarah just sent an email asking about a feature that can only be accessed if she purchases your product. Sara is definitely ready to be contacted by your sales team.

Service Qualified Lead

Michael is similar to Sarah. You know who he is because he’s actually a customer. Michael might be the best of all leads because he’s engaged with your marketing and is looking to get more information about a new product you offer. Your sales team should reach out right away for cross-sell and upsell opportunities.

Lead generation: from strangers to advocates

Cold calling no longer works the way it used to. Talking to people who aren’t interested in your product is like lighting your money on fire and throwing it in the trash. It’s why lead generation is crucial to getting in front of only the people who are interested in buying your product right now.

The problem with most marketing for lead generation is that it produces only fractional results. By the time you figure out who Gerald or Stanley are, they’ve done their research and made their buying decision. You need to learn their identity sooner than when organic search, social media, or programmatic advertising platforms can reveal this information. Lead nurturing is one way to accomplish this. Learn how we use Artificial Intelligence to speed up the process of Identity Resolution.