Interestingly, I have never found anyone that would answer that question with a "yes! I am a lead!".
But there are now entire marketing conferences on “lead optimization”. Most of the sales conferences I’ve participated in spend a lot of time and energy complaining about the lack of “quality leads” coming from marketing. As seen from the perspective of the customer, the concept of a lead does not exist because no self-respecting person would ever describe him/herself as a lead, not anywhere in the decision cycle.
A lead is a totally artificial construct that allows an organization to transfer a contact unit from one silo of processes – say, marketing – to another silo of processes – maybe the salesforce. Nowhere in there does the potential customer agree to being a “lead”.
Recently, while I was giving the keynote speech at two different conferences – one for marketers and one for salespeople – I asked the question: “Who here has been involved in a complex buying cycle within the past year?” Almost all hands went up. Then I asked the question: “Who of you has ever identified yourself to a potential provider as a lead?” Of course, you knew it: no hands went up. Same response when I asked, “Who feels comfortable being labeled a lead?” So what’s the real problem here? Information reciprocity. (for more, read Chapter 7 of my book)
Many company-internal definitions of a lead require a name, a stated project, a date of implementation and knowledge of budget availability/authority. That’s an awful lot of fact-based information that most individuals would only want to share if and when they feel ready to – that is, if it provides some gain for themselves and their organization; and when that occurs, it’ll be pretty far along in the decision cycle.
However, if we as customers are personally involved in a complex buying cycle, we’re usually willing to identify where we are in our decision-making: for example, if we’re just gathering information, concepts and background knowledge, we’d probably be willing to share a little bit about ourselves in exchange for quickly finding the information we need.
Later, we might want more information or to start comparing offers, products or services – in which case we’d be willing to share a little bit more information in exchange for what we now need. If we’ve been delighted by the interactions to date, we may then be willing to work with one of the organization’s human touchpoints (i.e. a salesperson) to get even more of it.
But it’s OUR choice, not the choice of the sales and marketing department, as to when and how we share that information. And understanding that can make the tracking of decision cycles much more accurate and helpful, not only for your customers but also for the humans you’re trying to get to interact with them.