What is a Lead? The Beginner’s Guide to Lead Generation

Leads, leads, leads. It seems like everyone is generating, acquiring, qualifying, nurturing, and talking about leads these days.

If you’ve been in any way involved in online business and marketing these past few years, there’s no way you haven’t taken part in a conversation that involved leads. But what is a lead exactly?

What is a Lead?

In the simplest of terms, a lead is an individual or organization that has expressed interest in your product or service. Such interest generally manifests itself in the form of leaving contact information such as an email address, a phone number, a social media profile, and so on.

What is a lead

What does being a lead mean… from the perspective of a lead? Well, let’s assume for a moment you’re someone’s lead.

It means that you’re likely to be contacted by a business with which you already had some previous interaction (maybe you registered on their website, signed up for a newsletter, filled out a survey, and so on) rather than receiving a cold call from a random organization that obtained your contact information without you being aware of it.

Even though the definition above might seem simple and straightforward, the question “what is a lead” still leaves some additional issues to be addressed. One of those issues is the common misuse of the terms “lead” and “prospect”.

Lead vs. Prospect

Even though a lot of people (even some marketers and entrepreneurs) use the terms “lead” and “prospect” interchangeably, there’s still a significant distinction in meaning between the two. As I already answered the “what is a lead” question above, we’ll now examine in what way leads actually differ from prospects.

As already mentioned, leads are those individuals or organizations that provide their contact information and express an active interest in what you’re offering. Prospects, on the other hand, are potential customers, who are potentially on the verge of making a purchase but maybe didn’t make a concrete step into buying from you yet.

Even though different businesses define leads and prospects differently (hence the confusion), there should be absolutely no doubt that prospects are further along in the sales funnel than even the most qualified of leads. Basically, a prospect is created when a sales-ready lead gets contacted by a sales representative.

lead vs prospect funnel

3 Different Types of Leads

There are several different classifications of leads. According to some, leads are classified in terms of extremes on a temperature scale into hot and cold leads. Another, more descriptive classification of leads is based on different steps in the process of lead qualification into IQLs, MQLs, and SQLs.

1. Information-Qualified Leads (IQLs)

At the initial stage of lead qualification, the lead is qualified as an information-qualified lead. At this stage, they don’t know much about the company and its actions and they need to be pointed in that direction by being given access to free information, samples, webinars, newsletters, and so on.

At this point, the lead is considered a cold lead.

2. Marketing-Qualified Leads (MQLs)

After you’ve provided the IQL with the necessary information on your company and products, if they show interest in buying your product or service, they’ve become a marketing-qualified lead. An MQL is interested in your product but is not ready to buy yet. In most cases, they still need additional information or assistance from the marketing team in order to make a decision to buy.

At this point, the lead is considered a warm lead.

3. Sales-Qualified Leads (SQLs)

Unlike an MQL, a sales-qualified lead shows an immediate interest in buying. At this stage, the lead might be considered a prospect and is on the verge of becoming a paying customer. Turning a marketing-qualified lead into an SQL is achieved by offering them free trials, demos, consultations, and so on.

At this point, the lead is considered a hot lead.

This is where the marketing team loses its jurisdiction as the SQL is now distributed to the sales team where it’s treated as a prospect.

7 Lead Generation Methods to Increase Your Leads

Above, I tried to answer some basic questions about leads, such as “what is a lead”, what types of leads there are, and the difference between a lead and a prospect. Another important point to discuss in this beginner’s guide is lead generation. After all, leads are there to be generated. At least that’s the first step.

But what exactly does lead generation mean?

In the simplest of terms, lead generation refers to all the means you use to attract people and get them to share their contact information with you. It represents a set of methods you employ to collect leads and get people to pay for your products and services. That being said, lead generation is essential to your marketing and sales efforts.

In fact, 85% of marketing experts pinpoint lead generation marketing as the most important tool in their marketing arsenal. Still, only 42% of entrepreneurs and business owners have an action plan put in place.

There are numerous more or less effective ways to generate leads. Here, I’m going to share 7 content-based lead generation methods that should help you significantly increase your lead capture.

1. Online Quizzes

One of the highest-converting ways of generating leads is using online quizzes. Not only do quizzes let you get hold of the individual struggles and pain points of your audience, but they are also proven to boost sales significantly.

LeadQuizzes Quiz

If you’re looking to learn more, here’s how to create a quiz and use it to generate leads. Quizzes have a proven track record as a highly effective lead generation method in almost any niche, from real estate to healthcare and beyond.

2. White Papers

A white paper is an authoritative report that addresses certain business issues, educates the readers, and offers solutions to those issues.

If you’ve ever tried to download a white paper, you were probably required to type in at least your email address. This gives white papers lead generation potential. If you’d like to learn more, check out this guide on how to create a white paper and use it to generate leads (including templates).

3. Popups

Even though many people find popups annoying, marketers see them as an effective method of lead generation. In fact, LeadQuizzes used popups to generate $52,223 in revenue and increase lead capture by 37.96%.

LeadQuizzes Popup

Here’s how you can use popups to generate leads and increase conversions too.

4. Social Media

Social networks are an extremely popular leads source among marketers. For all the good reasons too – social networks are visual and engaging and abound with ad placement and branding opportunities.

Whether you decide to use Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn, the possibilities for lead generation on social media are limitless.

5. Quora and Reddit

Reddit and Quora are community-driven aggregators of content. There you can post or answer questions, share and discuss viral links and interesting news, make your own social commentary, and so on.

What you probably didn’t know is that they can be used as powerful lead generators. Learn more about how to use Reddit to drive traffic to your website or use Quora to generate leads.

6. Ebooks

A Pew Research Center study has shown that 24% of US adults haven’t read a book (in any format) the entire previous year. Nevertheless, as a marketer trying to generate leads using ebooks, you don’t actually care if they’re reading it or not – you only have to make sure they download it (while leaving their contact info in exchange).

Here’s how you can use ebooks to generate leads (including templates).

7. Infographics

An infographic is a graphic representation of information designed to present it quickly and clearly. Not only that, but infographics are also an outstanding way of ensuring that your marketing message captures attention… and leads too.


Hopefully, this beginner’s guide has laid down some groundwork for your future lead generation efforts. You’ve learned some of the basics, such as what is a lead, what types of leads there are, and how to generate more leads with 7 different methods.

One final piece of advice – beware of marketing myopia as leads can be one of the common causes of this phenomenon. Marketers often tend to revel in the number of leads they managed to generate, thus neglecting the quality of leads that are being forwarded to the sales team.

That being said, in order to ensure quality leads only, you need to be using a highly targeted means of lead generation – and that’s an aspect where it’s almost impossible to beat online quizzes. Click on the image below to create your own now!

Increase Your Sales Using Quizzes

Annmarie used LeadQuizzes to generate $200,000 of new sales and increase their leads by 20,258 people in only 2 months.

Try It Free

Increase Your Sales Using Quizzes

Annmarie used LeadQuizzes to generate $200,000 of new sales and increase their leads by 20,258 people in only 2 months.

Try It Free