A sales lead is the identification of a person or entity that has the interest and authority to purchase a product or service. This step represents the first stage of a sales process. The lead may have a corporation or business associated (a B2B lead) with the person(s). Sales leads are generic leads - i.e. a person signs up for a type of offer, instead of a particular company or brand. Sales leads come from either lead generation companies processes such as trade shows, direct marketing, advertising, Internet marketing, spam, gimmicks, or from sales person prospecting activities such as cold calling or making a connection through a social network. For a sales lead to qualify as a sales prospect, or equivalently to move a lead from the process step sales lead to the process sales prospect, qualification must be performed and evaluated. Typically this involves identifying by direct interrogation the lead's product applicability, availability of funding and time frame for purchase. This is also the entry point of a sales tunnel, sales funnel or sales pipeline.
Some companies providing sales leads become the business's one source of leads by integrating outbound calling with email and postal campaigns to create a multi-touch lead. Related to the idea of multi-touch leads is the "Seven Contact to Sale Theory," which delivers leads that start with an outbound call, followed by an email and sometimes postal piece. By the time the lead purchaser gets the lead, the customer is familiar with their brand and has an opportunity to request additional information.
When buying internet leads from a marketing company there are a wide range of different products depending on how the leads are sold and the lead companies polices. Exclusive internet leads are sold to one company, but depending on the company may be sold again the next day as a shared lead or put into a cherry picking system. Shared leads are sold to multiple companies, each lead company has a different policy on the number of times sold as the more a lead is sold the less value/quality it becomes. Many leads are sold as aged, this means the lead is anywhere from 1day to over a year old although they are usually sold based on different such as 1-7, 30-60, 60–90 days old.
Once a qualified lead exists, additional operations may be performed such as background research on the lead's employer, general market of the lead, contact information beyond that provided initially or other information useful for contacting and evaluating a lead for elevation to prospect, the next sales step.
In recent years, the industry has moved away from the "shared" sales leads system, where one lead is resold to different companies. Instead advertisers are increasingly deploying marketing lead programs. As opposed to sales leads, marketing leads are not generic and are generated for a particular brand (e.g. a mom signing up for a specific brand such as HUGGIES as opposed to "diapers").
Sales leads are typically generated for closing a sale. As a result, they are information heavy - a sales lead would contain not only the basic information of a person (such as First Name, Last Name, Email, etc.), but also more detailed information such as FICO Score, Household Income, etc. In complete contrast, marketing leads contain only the basic contact information of a person, such as Name, Email and Social Networking handle. Advertisers use the information contained in a marketing lead to build a long-term relationship with the consumer via email, Facebook, Twitter or a brand community site.
If a sales lead eventually makes a purchase, this is called conversion and a closed sale. The ratio of sales leads that convert is often referred to as the conversion rate, a way to measure the effectiveness of a sales process, sales team, or sales person.
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