All Leads Are Not Created Equal

Leads can come into your customer relationship management (CRM) software a variety of ways — inbound marketing, social media, organic search, networking events, cold calling, advertising, etc. Oftentimes, when it comes to who owns lead generation, it’s marketing vs. sales. The reality is that both parties play a role, and both are responsible and integral to the demand generation and lead generation processes.

In its simplest form, a lead is contact information, and in some cases, demographic information of an interested party.

To some businesses, a lead might simply be the contact information of an individual who visited their website. To other businesses, a lead is a complete history of an individual’s conversion points, webpages visited, and marketing emails opened. Additionally, these leads might also include information gathered during the qualifying stage of the sales process like budget, capacity, time-frame and authority to purchase.

Typically, you see the former approach in businesses that rely on high-volume cold-calling to generate new business. Conversely, over time inbound marketing has proven to be a great and cost-effective method of building brand awareness, generating leads, and nurturing prospective customers through the buyer’s journey. This data-driven approach attracts prospective customers by leveraging content that provides value and helps to solve their problems.

Just as sales deals have various stages, contacts and prospects move through different stages in their lifecycle as they work through marketing and sales processes. Through brand storytelling, a variety of techniques and strategies are utilized at different stages to move contacts and prospects further down the funnel.

In a perfect world, contacts and prospects would flow through all the lifecycle stages: subscriber to lead, lead to marketing qualified lead, marketing qualified lead to sales qualified lead, sales qualified lead to opportunity, opportunity to customer, and finally customer to evangelist.

However, we don’t live in a perfect world — not all contacts enter the funnel in the first lifecycle stage, let alone progress through equally — some stages may be bypassed altogether.

The lifecycle stages of subscriber, opportunity, customer and evangelist are all fairly self-explanatory, but leads are a different beast — not all leads are created equal. A well thought out marketing and sales approach further develops leads into marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads — this is an important distinction that will allow your sales team to use their time wisely and pass on low quality leads.

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) 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.

These leads need to be nurtured through additional content workflows and email campaigns to further qualify them before handing them off to the sales team.

Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) are screened by salespeople, oftentimes Sales Development Representatives (SDRs), for appropriate qualifying criteria to be followed-up with. Qualifying criteria can include need, budget, capacity, time-frame, interest, or authority to purchase.

Contacts and prospects can transition through the lifecycle pipeline to this stage from the MQL stage or could enter directly into the pipeline at this SQL stage. Entering the pipeline at this stage could be the result of sales outreach, cold-calling, event networking, tradeshows, etc. The bottom line is that a sales qualified lead — however they enter the system — is more qualified and deeper into the buyer’s journey.

Lead identifying, scoring and nurturing are all part of the demand generation process, which identifies potential prospects based on their initial actions and takes them through an oftentimes lengthy nurturing process. When contacts and prospects are nurtured, it results in better conversations between the sales team and leads.

We can look at a real-world example of how this process might work on your website.

Let’s say a stranger to your brand finds one of your blog posts on LinkedIn or is delivered an add on Google or Facebook. Now, these individuals land on your website and have an opportunity to convert into a lead by providing you with their contact information in exchange for your content.


This individual might subscribe to your blog from a pop-up ad on your website. Or this individual might click a call-to-action at the bottom of your blog post. Once on the landing page, this individual may provide you their name, phone number or email address in exchange for content they find valuable, think market research or an industry report.

What form they filled out, what page they were on when they converted, what information they provided to you, and how many other webpages they might have visited are all important pieces of the puzzle. This type of information helps define whether the contact should be considered a lead, a marketing qualified lead or a sales qualified lead, and most importantly, what the next step(s) should be.


A blog subscriber or content downloader would most likely enter the pipeline as a subscriber or marketing qualified lead. These leads need to be nurtured before transitioning to a sales qualified lead. In reality, you only have limited information on these contacts, such as an email address.

Conversely, a submission on your “Contact Us” page that says “We’re undergoing a data center migration and are interested in how you can help, can you please have someone reach out to me?” might go directly into the pipeline as a sales qualified lead and turned over to the sales team for immediate outreach. Nurturing from marketing doesn’t really need to take place here.

These are two very different types of leads that through inbound marketing became aware of your brand and converted to leads through a similar conversion process. In exchange for your content, they provided their contact information. The difference is that the former needs nurturing and the latter needs immediate outreach.

In the end, your marketing and sales process will define how contacts and prospects are interacted with and what lifecycle stages you need to utilize. Through every stage of the buyer’s journey and the contact lifecycle pipeline, brand storytelling is vital.

Gary Vaynerchuk is an entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author, speaker, and Internet personality. He is best known for his work in digital marketing and social media as the chairman of New York-based communications company, VaynerX, and as CEO of VaynerX subsidiary, VaynerMedia.

Vaynerchuk says, “Brand storytelling is not about pushing advertising, it’s about bringing value.”


Chris Skaggs is the co-founder of BODDHI Branding, a creative agency with a vision to authentically and creatively construct stories to help your brand grow. Digital and social media, branding, recruitment and content strategy are all functions Chris has developed building teams, processes and strategies from the ground-up. Dedicated to giving back Chris also co-founded Leighton’s Gift, a non-profit with a mission of turning a tragedy into something positive. He also serves on the boards of a variety of different organizations. A natural storyteller, Chris’ work and experiences have been featured on CNN, Marketing Sherpa, Thrive Global, CBS Radio, and Glassdoor. Get connected online, @chrislskaggs.

Dad • Storyteller • Brand Builder ∙ Nonprofit Leader • Co-founder of #BODDHIbranding and #LeightonsGift • Head of Brand #TSProckstars