Definition: A lead is a marketing classification used to describe an individual or organization who expresses interest in a business's product or service. While "leads" are often used in B2B marketing, online retailers selling high-value items or services to consumers may also have a complex sales funnel to accurately label prospective customers.
"Lead" and "prospect" are often used interchangeably but have distinct meanings in most organizations. While leads provide contact information and actively express interest in a product or service, prospects fit the mold of a potential customer but may not have directly asked for more information.
In reality, every company has their own way of classifying leads and prospects — there is no definitive distinction. The gray area between these terms is lead deemed "sales ready." Sales read leads and lead generation is usually vetted to ensure that enough interest has been expressed to warrant the time of a salesperson.
Online businesses often rely on digital marketing channels such as SEO, PPC, and affiliate to drive leads, but they can come from anywhere. Referrals, lists, and acquiring leads is referred to as lead generation (or demand generation). Lead nurturing is the process of steadily communicating with a prospect. During lead nurture, the lead receives communications from the business in hopes that it will further drive their engagement with the brand and its products/services.
One common form of lead nurture is email marketing. By sending newsletters, content, and promotional materials, leads stay engaged in an attempt to move them down the sales funnel (see great examples of well-executed sales funnels here). Effective lead nurturing requires precise tracking so every person receives the information that is most relevant to them.