Lead generation versus sales prospecting – what’s the difference?

Mark Davis, Tuesday 12 December 2017

prospecting leads.jpgEvery business needs a steady supply of sales if it is to survive. How each business goes about generating those sales will vary widely, but there will always be certain key strategies at play. 

It all starts with defining who the ideal customer is, then finding and reaching out to them. The aim being to get in front of people who have both a need and the budget required for the product or service on offer.

Fully optimizing this sales process takes both an effective lead generation strategy, but also a sales prospecting strategy. At first glance, there may seem to be little difference, but it’s important to be able to distinguish between the two.

In the early days, when a business is just starting out and looking to establish its sales pipeline (basically, when it needs to get sales coming in and fast) the two functions will usually be rolled into one. It’s unlikely that a start-up will have either the budget or resources needed to set up different teams to focus on each of the specific activities.

However, for larger, more established firms who are keen to maximize their sales and marketing impact, these are crucial areas to concentrate on.

So, what is lead generation and sales prospecting?

The easiest way to think about it is that lead generation is generally about one-way communication and taking a one-to-many approach. It is activity that will naturally be handled by marketing.

In contrast, sales prospecting is about two-way communication and taking a one-on-one approach. It will be handled by the sales team.

While lead generation activity tends to be conducted over a longer period of time and aims to drive engagement and create a steady stream of leads, prospecting is often more aggressive and looks for an immediate result.

Lead generation

Lead generation is a way for B2B organizations to drive awareness and start relationships. To be effective in today’s market place, any strategies must recognize the way modern B2B buyers go about finding and choosing the suppliers they will work with.

Buyers do their research. They will head online and look at a range of potential solutions, long before ever contacting any suppliers. Lead generation strategies must, therefore, aim to get the company in front of a buyer early on in this process, when they are starting to explore solutions. By the time they are looking at suppliers, it will be too late.

For this reason, inbound marketing lead generation tactics continue to grow in popularity. These are strategies that aim to help the company be ‘found’ by a potential lead, rather than pushing to get in front of them, as traditional techniques would have done.

Two of the most common lead generation tactics being used by B2B marketers are:

Qualifying the leads that are being generated is another important link in the chain. It is basically the process by which the hottest – i.e. most promising leads – are uncovered. For example, they may have met set criteria or exhibited certain behaviors that signal they have the potential to be turned into a paying customer.

The ideal lead generation process will generate the right type of leads to begin with, then nurture the relationship along until they have been qualified and deemed ready to be handed over to sales. At this point, the sales prospecting will kick in.


Guide to turbo charged lead generation

Sales prospecting

Sales prospecting is managed by the sales team and is the part in the process that comes after lead generation and before a pitch.

It can involve cold-calling or cold-emailing (especially in the case of start-ups who need to speedily build a pipeline from scratch), but is most successful when actioned on engaged leads - those that have already been nurtured and qualified by marketing. As when sales reps are left to focus on only the hottest leads, the results can be very valuable for the business, with more sales achieved in a shorter space of time.

Sales prospecting will often involve a combination of phone calls, emails and potentially social selling, with sales reps aiming to cement a relationship with an individual lead and close the deal.

There are many techniques that sales reps can use and ways that the process can be streamlined. For some top tips on outstanding prospecting, check out:

Account based marketing (ABM)

One of the most successful approaches that sales reps can take when prospecting, is account based marketing. In simple terms, this is when reps do their homework and fully tailor and personalize the way they go about prospecting each individual lead.

For more ideas on this, see: Top tips for using account based marketing to drive B2B sales

How do the two fit together?

The easiest way to understand how lead generation and sales prospecting fit together, is to look at how leads are generated, moved along the sales pipeline and finally converted.

An example of the journey a lead may take:

1. Marketing runs a blog on LinkedIn (lead generation, aiming at the many)

2. A contact sees an interesting blog post and clicks through to the website

3. They read a couple more posts

4. They notice a CTA offering a whitepaper on a related topic

5. They hand over their email address in exchange for downloading it

6. They are then added to the company’s contacts database

7. They enter a lead nurturing workflow – i.e. receive a chain of emails over time that are designed to move them along the sales pipeline and to qualify them

8. The lead goes on to meet certain criteria that signals them as a ‘marketing qualified lead’ (MQL)

9. The lead is now handed over to the sales team who begin working on them (sales prospecting, one-on-one approach)

10. A sales rep calls the lead and arranges a free demo

11. The sales rep goes on to further qualify the lead, marking them as a ‘sales qualified lead’ (SQL)

12. The sales rep meets with the lead face to face

13. The deal is done!

The importance of team alignment

One important point to mention here is that a smooth process and handover between sales and marketing, relies on the two teams working from the same page.

Team alignment is crucial and the best way to do it is to sit down together and map out the sales process and what each team will be doing. If everyone understands what they are aiming to achieve and how it will be done, then the process will be strengthened.

Outlining who the ideal customer is and what type of content they will want and respond to, will also be far stronger and more accurate if insights and learning are collated from both teams. For more advice on this, see: Smarketing: how to align your sales and marketing teams

How can Lead Forensics help

Lead Forensics software can help with both lead generation and sales prospecting. One of the key benefits of the software is that is allows you to see who has been looking at your website, even if they never convert on an offer (such as handing over their email address to download something), or fill in a contact form. It does this using IP tracking.

Thanks to our extensive database, you will be able to access information about each lead, the company they are from and the key decision makers therein. You will also be able to see the journey they have taken on the website. All of which can be used to better qualify leads, but also to strengthen and tailor your prospecting.

You can learn more here - 11 Benefits of Lead Forensics' IP Tracking Software


find out more about Lead Forensics software


Topics: Lead generation, Drive Traffic

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