Lead vs. Prospect: Key Differences Explained

Understanding The Difference Between a Lead and a Prospect

By Bulk Mail Verifier | 11/3/2023, 8:46:22 PM

Sales teams can be considered the lifeblood of any organization. Whether it’s large or small, all businesses rely on sales. It seems like a rather obvious thing to say, but closing sales is one of the hardest things to do. We could talk all day about MQLs (marketing-qualified leads), or SQLs (sales-qualified leads). However, the primary goal must be to get leads into the sales funnel.

But what exactly is a lead, and what is a prospect? This blog distinguishes between the two terms so you can focus on creating marketing campaigns that actually attract leads, and then convert them into prospects.

Leads and prospects are broad universal terms used in marketing. Nevertheless, when it comes to defining them, most of us get it entirely wrong. More often than not, the two words are used interchangeably, which is wrong and should not be the case. If you perform a quick Google on the definitions, you will be surprised how many resources fail to provide clarity. Hence, first, we should distinguish between the two terms, so you can approach demand generation from marketing campaigns correctly to create various marketing campaigns to attract leads and nudge them through your sales funnel. 


Lead generation is essential to the need for more sustainable success and growth of the business. Typically, generating leads is the very first step in the sales process. The easiest way to understand the term is that a lead is at the start of the sales journey. A lead is a person who may be interested in a service or product that you provide, but you have no context as to that is what or why. And you do not know when a sale is likely to be made.

Indeeyour sales team has profiled only and has no information beyond perhaps the name and e-mail address. But you could be lucky and have sex, location, age, and job information! This is a very basic lead, but they are also known as sales qualified leads—leads that have been profiled by your sales team —an SQL.

These leads have often been checked, rechecked, and verified by one of your sales team. They find out if they need your product or service and then determine whether they are ready to be contacted by a sales representative to, finally, close the deal.

The most common lead that all businesses acquire is someone who has clicked through your site and entered their details into a data capture form such as a contact us page.

Typically, leads have been communicated to en-masse. Campaigns are explicitly directed to their target audiences through different social media, e-mail marketing, integrated campaigns, and much more. From that campaign, an individual has very likely clicked through a website and provided some contact details.

To sum it all up, A sales lead is a person who has provided at least some requisite information that suggests a potential interest in purchasing from you.

The main objective, however, once you have a lead, is to focus on learning more about their behaviour. This could be possible by enticing them into some form of engagement (a two-way communication) and converting them eventually into a prospect.


The main difference between a prospect and a lead is that your lead has moved beyond one-way communication and has now engaged with you. Such two-way communication suggests that the lead has real potential to purchase from your business. This is when the lead becomes your sales prospect.

But let’s take a step back here. A prospect, by the very nature of the term, is someone who has the potential to develop into a customer. This is signalled by two-way communication: they respond to something you send them, such as an e-mail, a phone call, or a good old-fashioned mail delivery!

A prospect is a potential client who has shown an interest in your goods or services. Ideally, they have some challenges that you can leverage to create value, or, on the contrary, disqualify them if they fail to recognize the value you intend to create.

The typical journey a buyer goes on to transition from being a lead to a prospect is that a lead is nurtured down the sale funnel through two-way communication back from the businesses to entice them to respond further to you. Should the lead select to respond to this additional contact—such as e-mail—then the lead becomes a prospect as they have responded to the two-way communication.

The main difference in communication is that while a lead is a one-to-many communication, a prospect involves one-on-one, two-way communication.


Now, having defined a lead and a prospect, it should be clear that there’s a difference between a lead and a prospect. Hence, logically, your marketing approach for the two can not be the same.

As a digital marketer, you must understand that a lead has not yet attained the status of a prospect. So, you have to skew your marketing to suit them. There is no blanket and ideal marketing approach for sales leads and prospects. All in all, the goal should be to progress a sales lead through the funnel to become a sales prospect—it’s about sales and marketing converging and working together. Nonetheless, generating leads in the first place is often the hardest part of the process, no matter what lead management process you intend to follow!

To find out if a lead is a prospect, you have to qualify before making contact. Do they really fit specific criteria that you have predetermined to ensure that they are right for your business? For instance, you may require individuals to be from a particular niche, or be at a company of a specific size with a minimum annual revenues before reaching out to them. Falling below these particular thresholds could make an effort you put in to convert them entirely pointless, as they will never be interested in purchasing from you.

Typically, this may involve targeted and personalized e-mails (perhaps through an e-mail marketing campaign), a meeting, and phone calls. For prospects, you have already realized their challenges and determined that they are ready for sales.

But, for the lead, you ought to determine their challenge to make them interested in purchasing from you. For the prospects, the goal is to close the sales deal.


While your need for persistence with prospects and leads is understandable, you must know there is a fine line between being persistent and annoying when communicating with them. Hence, it would be best if you determined that the person you are dealing with is the right contact—a decision maker—and then you can decide which levels of persistence are required.

Persistence, when used in just the right amount, can transition a lead to a prospect. Likewise, persistence can also help convert a prospect to a sale.

On the other hand, persistence can be an obstacle for both the leads and the prospects as well. If you are acting too desperate or chasing them around to the extent of annoyance, that can be a turnoff for your lead or prospects. Lead management is critical to fill your sales funnel and generate sales.

As a marketer, you should understand the peculiar needs of all leads and prospects. When dealing with a prospect, you must emphasize the benefits of your service or product. Getting this wrong can cause severe friction between sales and marketing, while you should be looking to align sales and marketing!


Remember, you have already identified the requirements of the prospect. So, you must demonstrate what tangible value you can offer them.

For leads, you should ensure only some people you are dealing with just the right person. Remember that only some people in your mailing database will automatically become a prospect. A lead has identified themselves as wanting more information about your product or service. This is where you have to make sure that your database is up-to-date. Your CRM allows you to segment your audience and identify those leads that need more research.

Nonetheless, when handling a prospect, the essential criteria is to ascertain the particular stage of the buying process of the prospect:

  • How much do they know about your offerings?
  • What do you know about their business, niche, and specific challenges?
  • How often have they visited your website?
  • How do they really understand how your product or services could help them?
  • Do they have a budget?
  • Would they appreciate a proposal from you?

Understanding these vital questions will help you determine the amount of followups and persistence required.


Numerous articles have been written on sales prospects and sales leads, but the most important thing a marketer should remember is that the two individuals are at different stages of the sales process. Therefore, the marketing strategy should be tweaked to favour the stage they are in. Otherwise, you will lose a sale. Often, one leads to the other, and your marketing campaigns should seek to nurture and convert a lead into a prospect.