Brian Carroll

Universal Lead Definition: Why 61% of B2B marketers are wasting resources and how they can stop

Confession: I wish I could flash this across every marketer’s computer screen the moment it powered up:

A universal lead definition (ULD) clarifies what a lead is to everyone in your organization. It also:

  • Fits the profile of your ideal customer
  • Has been qualified as sales-ready
  • Spells out the responsibilities and accountabilities of Sales and Marketing
  • Makes Marketing and Sales more efficient

Still, most of the companies I meet with do not have a ULD. An astounding 61% of B2B marketers admit to sending “leads” directly to Sales without qualification, according to the MarketingSherpa 2012 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report.

Are these truly leads? Not really. Anyone who expresses interest in what you sell is an inquiry, not a lead. Experience has taught me that only 5% to 15% of inquiries are ready to speak to Sales. However, as many as 80% of inquiries will be ready to speak with Sales in the future. If you send leads too soon, Sales will discard them, so you must nurture them until they fit your ULD.

What does a universal lead definition look like?

A ULD doesn’t need to be complex. Here’s an example from one of our past research partners, an $80 billion IT management organization.

An inquiry becomes a lead when it:

  • Fits the target customer profile (industry, revenue, number of employees, etc.)
  • Has interest from a decision maker
  • Needs what the company sells
  • Plans to evaluate the solution in three months or less
  • Plans to make a purchase decision in six months or less
  • Is ready to speak with a sales rep within two weeks

Setting and using this definition brought a 375% increase in sales-ready leads without an increase in spending. It also helped the sales and marketing teams solve problems such as:

  • Leads not being qualified or prioritized
  • Leads not being nurtured
  • Sales rejecting leads
  • No accountability or handoff

The definition could be applied to every lead regardless of where it came from — whether teleprospecting, inbound marketing, webinars or elsewhere. It set the standard for determining which leads should receive the highest priority and brought efficiency to the sales process.

How to create a universal lead definition

So now that you know what a ULD looks like, here’s how you create one:

  1. Bring Sales and Marketing together for a meeting with a leader/facilitator whom both groups respect. The premise is that you’re in this together.
  2. Asks Sales this key question: “For us to be 100% certain that when we send you a lead, you will act on it and provide feedback 100% of the time, what do you need to know? At what point do you consider a lead qualified?”
  3. Listen to what Sales has to say and don’t interrupt. Every salesperson must participate.
  4. Clarify and continue. Write a summary of your meeting, including your initial definition, and have another one to clarify what was said. Make sure everyone is satisfied — strong consensus is critical.
  5. Publish the ULD everywhere so people who are involved with lead generation are constantly aware of their target.
  6. Close the loop with huddles — face-to-face or voice-to-voice meetings. Don’t count on software to close the loop for you. Sales and Marketing should meet biweekly to ensure the lead definition is still accurate. Ask questions like, “Was X a lead? Did they enter the sales process? Why or why not? What else would you like to have known about this lead? What else can we improve? What should we stop doing? What should we start doing?”

It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to heed my warning, but I promise you, the rewards of doing so — more pipeline, sales, success and better ROI — will make it more than worthwhile.

Related Resources:

Lead Generation Check list – Part 4: Clear and Universal Lead Definition

5 dials to tune in your lead generation process

Why the Term “Marketing-Qualified Lead” Creates Serious Confusion – Part 2

Fostering Sales-Marketing Alignment: A 5-Step Lead Management Process

Webinar Replay: 2012 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report Reveals How Marketers Can Transform Mounting Pressure, Challenges into Revenue

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Lead Qualification



  1. April 17th, 2012 at 13:20 | #1

    Great post, Brian and super tips on creating a Universal Lead Definition. I even printed copies to hand out to one of Find New Customers clients. I suggest a lot of B2B marketers do the same. Print, hand out and discuss.

    Jeff Ogden, President
    Find New Customers
    Host of Mad Marketing TV and Marketing Made Simple TV

    • April 17th, 2012 at 21:59 | #2

      @Jeff Ogden That’s great to hear! I hope other marketing leaders do the same thing and use this as a guide to help their team and get clarity on this vital point and define what exactly the word, “lead” means.

  2. April 18th, 2012 at 07:41 | #3

    I would also say the same thing Brian. Another superb post. And Jeff i would definitely take a print out of this article and then get the xerox of it to distribute among my team members.
    Thanks for defining the term “lead” in its real sense.

  3. April 22nd, 2012 at 15:14 | #4

    Hi Brian! The criteria for the leads that you listed here is very informative and a great reminder for us. It definitely saves a lot of time and money. Involving the sales people is a great strategy for teamwork which will surely lead to better results. http://bit.ly/ayeen8

  4. April 30th, 2012 at 19:37 | #5

    Great post Brian, thank you. I’m curious if you have suggestions on how marketing can effectively find answers to some of the important questions in the example you provided, like:

    - Plans to evaluate the solution in three months or less
    - Plans to make a purchase decision in six months or less
    - Is ready to speak with a sales rep within two weeks

    Do they simply ask? And if so, in what context?

  5. May 15th, 2012 at 04:07 | #6

    Nice post Brian, it’s really very important if the marketing staff is going to qualify their leads first before letting the sales department handle it. Good Lead Qualification saves the compny a lot of time and money, and will help the sales department generate revenue at the soonest time. http://bit.ly/ayeen8

  6. May 30th, 2012 at 13:45 | #7

    Well, if I could tattoo this post on my forehead, I would.

    I love the ‘Warning’ screen and the emphasis on a ULD.

    If everyone followed your practices, every marketing automation solution would be throwing revenue faster than the sales guys could count it.

    Bravo.

  7. September 30th, 2013 at 01:55 | #8

    The ULD is a great concept. I’ll incorporate into my own marketing and recommend it to my clients. I’ve bookmarked this article. Thanks

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