What is a lead?

by Marcel Nanning | Last Updated: May 14, 2024

A lead is an organization or individual who is, to some extent, in the process of making a purchase decision and is seen as a potential customer situated in a specific stage of a purchase funnel.

However, this definition of a lead can vary for each organization. What is the definition of a lead for your organization? And has this definition changed with the advent of Content Marketing?

Leads are defined based on qualification criteria. In B2B, a distinction is made between Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQL). Based on certain qualification criteria, a company is either considered a lead or not.

This qualification is crucial for many organizations as it informs a specific contact strategy. Therefore, serious qualification techniques such as BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline) are employed.

These criteria assess the quality of the lead, following the traditional customer pyramid:

Suspect, prospect, cold lead (MQL), hot lead (SQL), customer.

Understanding a lead

A lead can consist of both MQLs and SQLs. Every company has its own system in this regard, and a significant shift has been observed in recent years. Leads are further segmented, and even cold leads are seriously followed up with automated contact strategies. The world of Marketing Automation addresses this phenomenon with the concept of Lead Nurturing.

The definition of a lead is often important for internal organization. However, this should never hinder the (potential) customer experience. In practice, this is not always the case; the degree of orientation/serious interest of the potential customer also determines how they are approached. This can, in certain cases, deviate significantly from a sincere, human approach.

A lead involves an organization or individual where the likelihood of a sale is significant enough to assign value to it. Traditionally, a lead is defined based on a set of criteria and the point at which the case is handed over from Marketing to Sales. However, there has been a significant change in this during the digital transformation.

Tip! Check out our article about Demand generation for insights about modern lead generation!

From MQL to SQL

The moment when a lead transitions to Sales is shifting; Marketing has more tools to provide DMU members with the right information at the right time. There are also instances where Sales no longer plays a role in the purchase process. Developments around e-commerce play a significant role here. By providing the potential customer with all the necessary information online, creating the right experience, and removing obstacles, the entire process can be handled online.

A marketing-sales funnel might look like this:

How to Generate a Lead

In B2B marketing, we often talk about lead generation. A lead is often seen as a prerequisite for closing a final deal. There is a certain favorable position required to eventually sell something. Generating leads can be done in numerous ways. Virtually all below-the-line methods have lead generation as a goal to some extent. Some commonly used methods for lead generation in B2B marketing (individually or in combination) include:

Trade Shows

A still widely used method for generating leads is organizing or participating in trade shows. These are typically events where many people from the target audience gather. They are known to be a good tool to work on awareness goals but they can also be used for lead generation. As an organization, you have the opportunity to make personal contact and make an impact. The final lead can arise from a conversation at the booth, participation in a roundtable discussion at the show, or participation in an activation event.


A popular tool is using webinars to generate leads. Most B2B organizations utilize this method. A webinar is a substantial ‘gift’ to the target audience and thus a valuable tool in multiple ways. Webinars can also be recorded and later used as a lead generation instrument.

Online Marketing (Google Advertising)

Leads are also generated through SEO and SEA. By serving ads based on specific search queries, you can fill your lead generation funnels with leads. This can also be achieved by ensuring visibility for those specific search queries.

Social Media

LinkedIn and other channels are indispensable in the marketer’s toolkit. Platforms like LinkedIn offer increasing opportunities for organizations to achieve lead generation goals through LinkedIn campaigns. Don’t underestimate other channels such as YouTube or Facebook.

Cold Calling

Approaching website visitors (prospects) via chat, following up on information requests, or cold calling databases is still a widely used lead generation method.

Third Party Promotion

Advertising on or collaborating with blogs, online magazines, and other influencers can expand your reach and generate concrete leads. Consider offering a whitepaper on the most visited online trade journal in your niche.


Understanding what constitutes a lead and how to generate them is fundamental for any B2B marketing strategy. Properly defining and qualifying leads through methods like MQLs and SQLs significantly enhances marketing and sales effectiveness. The digital transformation has introduced new dynamics, allowing marketing departments to nurture leads more effectively and sometimes even complete sales processes entirely online.

Various methods, including trade shows, webinars, online marketing, social media, cold calling, and third-party promotions, play crucial roles in generating leads. Each method offers unique advantages and can be combined to maximize reach and impact.

The emphasis on providing valuable, accessible information to potential customers enhances the customer experience and builds stronger, more qualified leads, leading to increased sales and sustained business growth. By embracing these strategies and tools, businesses can stay ahead in the competitive B2B landscape and achieve long-term success.

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