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Leads in sales leads are people who have the potential to become paying customers. They might already have a history with you or your company, or they may never have heard of you before.

The job of the sales rep is to gauge their level of interest in your product and determine how likely they are to buy from you. Do they fit your ideal customer profile? If they make it through your lead qualification process and show they have the means and motive to buy your product, it’s up to the reps to develop a deeper relationship and convert them into a paying customer.

The average quota attainment for B2B sales organizations is just 47%. That means you need a high volume of qualified sales leads to reach your revenue goals. Your revenue operations team can help optimize lead generation, tracking, nurturing, and more, so you can boost conversion rates and your bottom line.

Types Of Sales Leads

SaaS loves an acronym (even that term is an acronym— software as a service), and sales leads are no exception. Here’s a quick overview of the sales lead acronyms and terms you may encounter in the world of SaaS, so you can navigate the waters of buyer intent a little more precisely:

monday sales crm lead management software screenshot
How leads are categorized varies greatly from business to business, but most CRMs or lead tracking software (like this example) allow you to customize each lead stage.

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

Simply, an SQL is a lead who is ready to talk to the sales team. They’ve been vetted, are aligned with your ideal customer profile, and have shown an intent to purchase. This last point is the biggest difference between an SQL and an MQL

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

This type of lead has engaged with the efforts of your marketing team, but they haven’t overtly mentioned they’re interested in buying. They might have signed up for offers or trials, but haven’t reached out to your sales team.

Product Qualified Lead (PQL)

People in this category have already used your product (through a free sample or trial) and indicated an interest in buying the paid or premium version. You might identify these leads when they ask about premium features that are unavailable in free versions.

Service Qualified Lead

These leads are contacts who have done more than send out buying signals. They’ve actually communicated to someone in your organization that they want to upgrade a subscription or buy the full version of a free trial.

Expansion Qualified Lead (XQL)

This category of leads defines people who are already paying for your product but may be ready to expand into other features and benefits. You might be seeing higher usage from their accounts or a foray into an adjacent product.

Sales Leads By Level of Awareness

Another way to classify leads is by degrees of awareness, such as warm or cold leads. This simplified way of approaching lead management might fit in better with your sales funnel or management style.

Pipedrive lead management - hot, warm, and cold leads
Pipedrive CRM allows for tags like hot, warm, or cold, so you can easily manage leads by level of awareness.
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Cold Leads

These leads have never communicated with your organization or shown any interest in your product. They may not even know that you exist.

Warm Leads

This type of sales lead already knows about your company and has expressed some interest — whether it’s visiting your website or filling out a contact form.

Hot leads

If you’ve got people who have engaged with you and shown a keen interest in purchasing your product, you have a hot lead that’s ready to buy.

Qualified Leads

Even better than a warm lead is a qualified lead, which is someone aware of your company, familiar with your product, and a good fit for your company.

Referral Leads

These leads are likely to be warm leads, but they usually come your way via an existing happy customer.

Again, this naming of potential customers is just a way that you choose to organize your leads and determine where they are in the sales process to help ensure a more personalized, timely approach to sales and marketing efforts.

Is There A Difference Between Leads & Prospects?

The short answer here is yes. The main difference between sales leads and prospects is how ready they are to buy. While leads are just people in your target audience who may or may not be ready or able to buy, sales prospects are qualified leads (SQLs or MQLs) that you’ve already identified as ideal customers. These people are ready to listen and buy — all you need to do is get them over the finish line.

The Sales Funnel And Its Relation To Leads

Since the sales funnel is designed to help you understand what your leads want on their buyer journey, you can use this information to ensure you’re investing in the right marketing campaigns, outbound messaging, and social media posts — trying to personalize your content and messaging for leads as they move closer to customers.

Agile CRM sales reporting and analytics dashboard
The sales funnel can include several stages depending on your organization or industry, but most include three overarching phases: Awareness, Consideration, and Conversion.

Top of the Funnel: Awareness

Studies show that most website visitors are not yet ready to buy. In fact, Invesp says top-of-funnel leads say “no” four or more times before saying “yes.” So at the top of your sales funnel, where leads are just becoming aware of your organization, they’re not even thinking about purchasing your product.

Since they probably don’t know a ton about your product or service, this is where you should be sending out content and material that promotes brand awareness, shows leads what you have to offer, and educates them on your product.

Some activities that may help move your leads into the next stage of the funnel include:

  • Creating a landing page that introduces your product to new visitors
  • Sharing an infographic on your social media platform that discusses your product
  • Highlighting your unique selling propositions on various channels
  • Using paid ads in locations where your target audience will see or hear them

Middle of the Funnel: Consideration

Prospective customers will enter the middle of the sales funnel once they’ve engaged with your brand in a more meaningful way, like subscribing to your email list, following you on social media, or attending a webinar. This is the time to earn their trust and set your brand apart. Some content marketing ideas that may guide your way include:

  • Posting a white paper or article that answers a question or solves a problem for prospective customers
  • Sharing case studies and product comparisons that highlight the unique features and assets of your product.
  • Creating even more targeted landing pages that are designed for individual customer segments.
  • Inviting web visitors or social media followers to participate in a survey that will provide you with more information about their hooks, drivers, and barriers.

Crunchbase research shows that over 90% of potential leads are more likely to buy from a vendor who provides informative, relevant, and helpful content.

Bottom of the Funnel: Conversion

This is the last stop before potential buyers convert. You’ve already built awareness of your brand, fostered trust, and nurtured your relationship, so now is the time to give them specific reasons why they should choose you over your competitors. Actions to take here include:

  • Offering a trial or demo
  • Sharing customer reviews and testimonials
  • Providing feature and price comparison charts

Research from Forrester shows that over 60% of the buyer journey is now a digital experience. Don’t gatekeep your product or create friction in your sales funnel by forcing face-to-face meetings or Zoom calls. Make it easy for your customers to buy from you.

Tip:  If you’re not sure where leads are getting stuck in your funnel, that is the time to throw up the bat signal for RevOps. Either your internal RevOps team or fractional support can help you analyze the data in your tools and come up with solutions. 

Identifying High-Quality Leads

Identifying high-quality leads comes down to specific criteria that determine where they fall on the scale of buyer intent. Are they simply interested or are they ready for a sale? How you score your leads is up to you, as long as you have uniform criteria across the board.

Lead scoring tool by HubSpot
Lead scoring helps your team focus resources on the leads most likely to convert to paying customers.

Lead Scoring Criteria

If you’re not sure where to start benchmarking your criteria, you can take a page out of the expert’s playbook using methodologies like BANT or MEDDIC to score sales leads.

BANT is an acronym for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing, while MEDDIC stands for Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, and Champion. Here’s a quick breakdown of how they help you score leads.

  • BANT
    • Budget helps you determine whether a lead has the means to purchase your product.
    • Authority is whether your lead is the decision-maker in an organization. Do they have the power to approve a purchase?
    • Need tells you whether your lead has a specific pain point or problem that your product can address.
    • Timing is about urgency. It gives you a timeframe for how quickly your salespeople need to move.
    • Metrics: What are the numbers showing? Does your product have an economic impact on the lead? Can you show how it saves them money?
    • Economic Buyer: Who is the person you need to contact that has the power to make a decision? This criteria is similar to the Authority section from BANT.
    • Decision Criteria: What are the criteria on the lead’s end for whether or not they will buy your product? Is it in their budget? Do they have an urgent need?
    • Decision Process: Knowing the buying process on the lead’s end can help you personalize your pitch and streamline the process at each stage.
    • Identify Pain: Know and refer to the pain points in your lead’s organization. Demonstrate your understanding of their concerns and pinpoint features in your product that can help.
    • Champion: This is the person on the lead’s side that is most interested in buying the product. Work with them to sell your product to the rest of the organization.

With this qualification framework, you have powerful tools for standardizing lead scoring across your sales team. You can also use a lead management system to keep your leads organized and ensure all information is as up-to-date as possible.

Lead Generation Strategies

Since you’re constantly on the hunt for more leads, lead generation becomes an important task for your entire sales team with support from RevOps. You need to make sure your strategies align with your target audience and business objectives, using data-driven decision-making to prioritize those strategies that make the most sense. Depending on your ideal customer and industry data, you can leverage inbound or outbound lead gen.

Here are a few lead generation strategies to get you started:

  • Content Marketing: Create relevant, high-quality content to attract and engage your target audience, including webinars, blog posts, ebooks, and white pages.
  • Lead Generation Software: These tools range from an existing database of leads to getting contact information on new leads from website visits.
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization: Write website content that utilizes the most searched key terms from your target audience.
  • Social Media Marketing: Your social platforms are powerful tools that help you run targeted campaigns and engage with your audience.
  • Inbound Marketing: Create educational content that pulls in potential leads based on their pain points.

You can also use email marketing, paid advertising, referral marketing, event marketing, and many other strategies to get more leads. Where you spend your resources is dependent on your industry, target audience, and specific business objectives.

Strategies For Nurturing And Converting Leads

Once you have a lead, it’s not enough to hit them with a cold call and a pitch before calling it a day! There’s a lot more to building a meaningful relationship, including lead nurturing and conversion strategies.

Effective Lead Nurturing

There are internal and external lead nurturing techniques that can result in a conversion. For lead-facing strategies, customize your communications, make it easy to get in touch, and follow up with leads regularly. Internally, you should focus on lead scoring, pulling reports that can help you optimize marketing efforts, and tracking leads in a centralized place that your entire team can access.

Conversion Techniques

There’s a lot of overlap between conversion strategies and all your marketing efforts. In addition to what you’re already doing, you can also:

  • Leverage video marketing (According to Wyzowl, people are 52% more likely to share videos)
  • Compare email open rates to find which headlines are most appealing
  • Create a sense of urgency in your content
  • Optimize your website speed and relevance

Find the best tool for every part of your nurturing process with the recommendations from The RevOps Team.

Tracking And Organizing Sales Leads

Tracking and managing your leads is essential to a streamlined workflow that doesn’t let a single lead fall through the cracks. Guarantee your organization with lead management software or sales lead software.

Sales Lead Software

Personally, I vote for using sales lead software because it can help you scale lead management through automation, data analytics, and sales strategy recommendations.

The Role of AI and Automation

How annoying would it be if you had to manually send an email to every website visitor that filled out a contact form on your site? Or how about if you had to manually crawl LinkedIn to find a lead’s contact information. With AI and automation, your sales lead software can take the lead and do most of the work for you. 

Sales lead software even offers automation for customer relationship management, lead generation, and lead scoring.

The Importance of Data Analytics

Robust reporting and analytics provide more visibility into which strategies are working and which aren’t worth your time. Pulling regular reports, ensures you can pivot as quickly as possible to reduce resource spend in the wrong places.

Again, this is an area to lean on RevOps or sales ops. Revenue operators can help build dashboards with the most relevant data and interpret it, so your sales team knows exactly how many leads are in the pipeline and which ones are the most likely to convert. 

Zoho CRM pipeline KPI tracking dashboard
Analytics dashboards, like this one from Zoho CRM, give a quick overview of the effectiveness of sales efforts. Revenue operations teams can help build these dashboards and analyze the data to identify areas of friction or inefficiency.

Evolving Sales Strategies

As the modern buyer evolves, so must you with new sales strategies and tools that appeal to new and existing customers. B2B buyers want to know that you understand their unique business needs and can make their jobs easier. They don’t want to be sold to. 

These buyers are also shopping in a saturated market with plenty of options, which makes comparison shopping confusing and time-consuming. You may want to focus your efforts on digital marketing that’s simple, easy to understand, and relatable to ensure you’re providing the right information without overwhelming potential customers. It’s all about being a trusted advisor who can provide a solution. 

From Sales Leads To Customers

So there might be a lot more involved in sales leads than you originally thought, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create an efficient, optimized lead generation and management strategy. Leveraging revenue operations, you can build a powerful tech stack that leads the way for your sales and marketing strategy — and helps you stay organized. The role of RevOps is centered on operational efficiency, and giving them a seat at the sales table will only improve your lead generation efforts, optimize tracking, and boost conversion rates, ultimately helping sales teams meet quotas and drive revenue for the organization. 

Want more insights into the role of RevOps in leading SaaS organizations? Sign up for our newsletter for guides, product reviews, tool recommendations, and more.

By Phil Gray

Philip Gray is the COO of Black and White Zebra and Founding Editor of The RevOps Team. A business renaissance man with his hands in many departmental pies, he is an advocate of centralized data management, holistic planning, and process automation. It's this love for data and all things revenue operations landed him the role as resident big brain for The RevOps Team.

With 10+ years of experience in leadership and operations in industries that include biotechnology, healthcare, logistics, and SaaS, he applies a considerable broad scope of experience in business that lets him see the big picture. An unapologetic buzzword apologist, you can often find him double clicking, drilling down, and unpacking all the things.