Understanding Different Types of Sales Leads

A marketer brainstorms lead types on a whiteboard

Understanding Different Types of Sales Leads

Sales is about having the right conversations with the right people at the right time. Fundamentally, you want to understand what your potential customers need, as well as what they don’t like and find objectionable, and then use all that information to present the best solution in the most positive light. That’s great for one-on-one sales talks, but what about a larger scale?
The broader, strategic approach to large-scale sales pretty much follows the same philosophy, but with a foundational structure. It’s called the customer journey — or buyer journey or cycle. Depending on who you ask, it consists of three to five phases:

  • Need recognition: Your potential customers recognize the need for the solution you provide
  • Information research: They’re now researching additional information to learn more relevant data for their purposes
  • Competitor research: They’re shortlisting potential providers of the solution
  • Purchase decision: They’ve chosen to purchase but need to find out the most efficient way to do so

By and large, this typifies your customer’s buyer journey. The way you approach potential customers — your leads — depends on where they are in their cycle. For example: Hard pitching a direct sale to a lead who doesn’t even recognize the need for your solution is likely to backfire while explaining features to a lead who’s already decided to purchase only wastes their time.
This is why there are types of sales leads and applicable tactics to efficiently convert them into paying customers.

What Are Sales Leads?

A sales lead is a potential customer: someone who fits your target profile and has expressed interest in doing business with you. Sales leads may also include people who have not definitively talked to you about doing business but are likely to do so in the future.
Online, sales leads express interest by getting in touch to get more info, filling out forms, or downloading collateral. Leads are nurtured or nudged into the next stage of their customer journey, usually through conversations such as email exchanges or phone calls where sales reps determine if they properly qualify as prospective customers.

Different Types of Leads in Sales

Different companies will have unique classification rules for sales leads. However, there are general categorization guidelines. You can customize these definitions based on internal policy or campaign objectives.

Cold Leads

People who fit your ideal customer profile but have not expressed interest in your solution. These people might not even be at the need recognition stage of their journey.
This might not make practical sense at first because that means, by default, you have as many cold leads as there are people on the planet — but it helps when contextualizing leads.
Visitors to your website, for example, may be classified into cold leads or something “hotter,” depending on where they land. For instance: If every new visitor to an introductory blog post is a cold lead, you can help them progress in their journey by offering further reading, and if they click through to a recommended webpage or blog post they may consider reaching out and thereby classify as a type of sales lead closer to conversion.

Generated Leads

Many businesses classify between cold and warm leads, but you might find a use for a category called “generated leads.” Not entirely cold and just a push away from becoming warm, these leads are people who make contact with at least one of your key touch points and in doing so you’ve captured a bit of their data to follow up.
They downloaded a free asset or followed your company on Twitter or LinkedIn. Regardless, they’re no longer completely cold and may constitute a pool you can nurture into warm leads.

Warm Leads

As opposed to cold leads, warm ones are familiar and interact with your brand, so there’s an existing relationship that makes it easier to convert them. These people are somewhere in the need recognition or information research stage of their cycle.

Hot Leads

Hot leads progress from the warm categorization by directly expressing interest that they might be ready to buy. The temperature connotation reflects the urgency with which you should converse with these leads to show them that you’re the best source of the solution they want. They are typically in the information research or even the competitor analysis stage of their buyer journey.

Information Qualified Leads (IQL)

“Information qualified” refers to the fact that these leads are beginning to research the solution they want to purchase. Indicators like joining newsletters reflect their motivation to learn more about their needs and closely investigate the best way to meet them. These leads are firmly in the information research or competitor analysis stage.

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL)

Once they are actively researching solutions and shortlisting potential providers, they become marketing qualified — ready to be engaged in more direct sales campaigns. Firmly in the competitor analysis phase of their cycle, these leads conscientiously pursue actions that show how invested they are in finding the right solution, such as participating in company-sponsored offerings or attending events.

Sales Ready Leads (SRL)

Leads in the purchase decision stage of their journey, they have completed all preliminary research and are resolved to buy. These people actively download buying guides and look at reviews for your solution specifically.

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

The final categorization of leads that only need a company representative to walk them through completing a purchase.

How To Turn Leads Into Prospects

So how do you turn leads into actual prospects, or rather, from cold to warm to hot and beyond? The simple answer is through active and passive means.


You can actively reach out to a particular sales lead and pull them further into their customer journey. Typically you offer promotions or discounts or provide perfectly timed collateral — i.e., they need the information you provide to get closer to conversion.


You can develop a more passive nurturing campaign that makes it easier for leads to progress from one category to the next. Some examples would be:

  • Offering further reading within your domain
  • Placing more proactive signup popups for specific web pages targeting hot leads or beyond to ensure they’re more invested and likelier to take action
  • Using various formats of content and collateral to present information on your solution, as different types are better suited for specific phases of the customer journey — for example, simple infographic blog posts are better for need recognition, while bullet point pricing guides should be reserved for competitor analysis

Usually, outreach and nurturing are intertwined into a cohesive approach automated by software or digital platforms to make the work easier. Aktify, for example, creates thoughtful conversations at the right time by leveraging data science and machine learning.

BANT: Budget Authority, Need, and Timing

You can use well-structured frameworks to better qualify sales leads, such as the BANT qualifying process. The BANT framework combines the yes/no criteria of Budget and Need with the relative criteria of Authority and Timing that requires more detail to more accurately classify leads:

  • Budget: Does this lead have the budget to purchase your solution?
  • Authority: Does this lead influence the final purchase decision for your solution? In what way?
  • Need: Does this lead have an existing or future need for your solution?
  • Timing: Does this lead constitute the ideal contact point for when the purchase decision will be made? If not, who’s the best alternative?

Used extensively in B2B sales, the BANT framework takes into account that customer journeys span specific time frames, and while your sales leads are your contact points, it’s ultimately the companies they work for who purchase your solution. From there, it helps you identify if your sales leads are the ideal ones with which to engage.

Convert Different Types of Leads in Sales with Aktify

At Aktify, our integrated solutions render 10x ROI for clients through authentic, meaningful connections empowered by conversational AI technology and a science-first approach.
If you’re keen on a reliable, scalable revenue channel that’s essentially invisible with no new software to install, we can activate your sales prospects and deliver them as inbound phone calls to your sales teams. Get in touch now.

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