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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistFri, May 27, 2016 7 min read

How Many Different Kinds Of Inbound Marketing Leads Are There?

Inbound Marketing Leads Come In All Shapes And Sizes; Does It Matter?

Different types of inbound marketing leadsIt used to be a lead was a lead. But today there are all different types of leads. Does it matter? Should we care? Should a salesperson ignore certain types of leads to focus on other types of leads? Are some more valuable than others? Who knows?

Good news, we know. Since it’s the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and at least most of you are looking past today’s work and toward either the beach, BBQ or backyard beer, let’s keep today’s article short and on the light side.

Inbound leads come in a variety of flavors. Here are a few of the most popular types of leads and what you should consider doing with each type. First, let’s remember that all of these labels below are applied to people, not companies. People do business with people, so a lead is a person, not a company.

Suspects – Typically we refer to suspects as people who are interested in your company but you have no idea if you’re interested in them as a potential customer or client. They’ve downloaded something but you have little or no data on them, so there’s no way to know if they’re a potential opportunity or not.

Prospects – A prospect would be a suspect who has shared enough demographic or psychographic information for you to be comfortable that this person is a potential opportunity for your company. In essence, the suspect graduated to prospect because we know enough about them to consider them an opportunity.

Leads – A lead is a generic descriptor for any person who has connected with your company in any way. They’ve gone out of their way to identify themselves to you and express some level of interest in what you do. A lead would NOT be someone who gives you their business card at a trade show because you’re offering the chance to win an iPad, but a lead would be a person who gives you their business card at a trade show because you’re giving them an educational whitepaper in exchange for that contact info.

Marketing-Qualified Leads – This type of lead is simply a fancier way to describe what we called a lead above. Simply, it's marketing qualified because the marketing triggered them to become a lead. They attended a webinar, downloaded an e-book, subscribed to your blog or watched one of your videos. No matter what the activity, marketing got them to take action, making them a marketing-qualified lead.

Sales-Ready Leads – Any bottom of the funnel leads or any people who request to speak with you, your sales team or a representative of your company (it could be a dealer or value-added reseller) is considered a sales-qualified lead. This means the prospect has requested a conversation with a person who can help them continue their buyer journey.

This might be an often misinterpreted label as sales hasn’t qualified anything yet, but the prospect is ready for sales, and sales gets a chance to weigh in on the actual quality of the lead in the next step.

Sales-Qualified Leads – Now sales comes into the picture. If a lead is sales qualified, a salesperson has had an initial conversation with this person. The conversation was deep enough to have identified that this is an actual opportunity. It might not be an immediate opportunity (the next step) but there is potential — enough potential to consider them qualified. This usually means you’ll have access to power, they have a real pain and the fit for what you do is what they need. This makes them qualified.

Sales Opportunities – These are people who are ready to buy. They might not be ready to buy today, but they’re ready to make a purchase decision within the next 30 to 60 days. The opportunity is imminent. These garner resources. It might mean you need additional people to talk to the prospect. It might mean you need a proposal, agreement or set of recommendations created. It might mean you need to do some analysis on the prospect's current state to provide insights. 

Regardless, the opportunity is real and the allocation of resources is aligned with the potential revenue.

Sales Agreements – You can call them proposals, contracts, agreements or recommendations. This stage is when your prospect has all the paperwork and details needed to make a purchase decision. This includes anything they need to sign. Anyone getting to this stage should be converting into a new customer or client at an extremely high rate — I mean 98% or higher.

Closed Sales Or New Customers – Clearly these are people who’ve signed your paperwork and have selected you as their new partner. Congratulations! This is the final pay stage. Once you get your prospects to say “yes” your initial job is done. You still have to delight your customers for them to deliver the ultimate prize — the referral or the reference — but that’s a post for another day.

Hopefully the alphabet soup that includes MQL, SQL, SRL and other fancy labels for your leads is a little clearer than it was when you sat down to read this article.

Start Today Tip – You don’t need to use this exact vocabulary to describe your marketing and sales funnel, but you do need something. Decide which approach makes sense for your company. Share the common vocabulary with your marketing and sales folks, and then stick to it so over time, everyone is speaking the same language. More significantly, create the metrics that illustrate the conversion rates across all the funnel stages and work each month to improve those. That’s how you improve marketing’s performance over time.

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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.