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In marketing, lead generation (//) is the initiation of consumer interest or enquiry into products or services of a business. A lead is the contact information and in some cases, demographic information of a customer who is interested in a specific product or service.
Leads may come from various sources or activities, for example, digitally via the Internet, through personal referrals, through telephone calls either by the company or telemarketers, through advertisements, and events.
- In 2014, a study found that direct traffic, search engines, and web referrals were the three most popular online channels for lead generation, accounting for 93% of leads.
- In 2018, Chief Marketer found that B2B marketers favored email, live events, and content marketing as their top three.
- After the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Gartner identified increases in social and search engine optimization for B2B marketers, while B2C marketers favored digital advertising.
Lead generation is often paired with lead management to move leads through the purchase funnel. This combination of activities is referred to as pipeline marketing, which is often broken into a marketing and a sales pipeline.
Lead scoring is "an effective model that helps sales and marketing departments identify which prospects are potentially most valuable to the company and its current sales funnel." It involves a quantitative method of assigning a "score" to a lead to determine whether a lead is valid for a company's pipeline. When a lead reaches a certain score threshold, it is then sent from marketing to the sales team for examination.
- Demographic criteria: Based on data points such as age, job title, and/or company information such as company size, revenue, etc.
- Behavioral criteria: Based on actions a lead has taken, such as clicking on a link in an email, watching a video, or visiting pages on a website.
Lead qualification statuses
In a database, typically a customer relationship management tool, leads are assigned a status. These statuses may vary by company, but some common terms are:
- Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are leads that have typically come through Inbound channels, such as Web Search or content marketing, and have expressed interest in a company's product or service. These leads have yet to interact with sales teams but have met certain lead scoring criteria.
- Sales accepted leads (SALs) are MQLs that have been examined by a salesperson and deemed acceptable by sales for follow-up.
- Sales qualified leads (SQLs) are leads salespeople have interacted with and have identified as having an opportunity for a deal to be made. Qualifying criteria include need, budget, capacity, time-frame, interest, or authority to purchase, often referred to as BANT criteria.
- Direct marketing
- Direct selling
- Lead management
- Personal selling
- Customer experience
- Outbound marketing
- B2B marketing
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