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Decoding Lead Generation Lingo: A Back-to-Basics Guide

The world of lead generation is full of acronyms and jargon. If you’re struggling to keep up, this back-to-basics guide will set you and your team on the right path.

It’s happened to all of us. You’re having a great conversation in a marketing meeting—and then someone drops a shiny new acronym you’ve never heard before. Your heart sinks. 

“We need to make this content feel less B2B, more B2C”, says Kevin, the Head of Content. 

“I think we’re focusing too much on TOFU this quarter and forgetting about MOFU,” replies Karen, the Senior Content Writer. 

“And what about ads for our ICP?” frets your paid specialist, Janice. 

And now they’re all looking at you, waiting for your take. Which, by this point, is probably “WTF?” 

You’re not alone. There’s nothing marketers like more than a good acronym or a new buzzword, and it can be hard to keep up. 

But there's a reason for all these terms. Marketing changes faster than almost any other department, and new jargon pops up to express these new ways of working.

With a little help from us, you’ll never sit stumped in a meeting again. In this guide, we break down key terminology around lead generation—the words and acronyms you really need to know and why they matter.

The real goal of lead generation

Let’s go back to the basics for a moment here—what do we really mean by lead generation? 

Lead generation is the activity of turning a contact into a sales prospect. They move from having a general interest in your brand to having a specific interest in buying something from you. 

Generating leads isn't the same as increasing the number of eyeballs on your content, for instance. It’s about growing the number of people who are considering giving your company money. 

Need a hand sourcing more leads? You can find an extensive list of free Typeform lead generation templates on our website.

For Jason Widup, the founder of Peak B2B Marketing and former VP of Marketing at Metadata,  too many businesses confuse “contacts” with “leads.” To classify someone as a lead, explains Jason, there needs to be some kind of intent to buy. Even if they don’t have their wallet out right now, there should be the potential for a future purchase. 

“One of my clients has a website accessibility checker on their website, and they thought that when anyone comes to use it, it's a lead for their business. I'm like, ‘No, they're just trying to see if their website sucks or not. They don't even know what you do.’” 

A better example of lead generation is the Fragrance Finder quiz by British fragrance brand Fiole. When someone lands on Fiole’s website, they’re invited to complete the quiz. If they do, Fiole will send them a pack of sample-size fragrances to try.

Those highly-engaged, form-completing folks are genuine leads because they are, at a minimum, marginally interested in purchasing fragrances from Fiole (otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered to complete the quiz or provide their physical address and fragrance preferences). 

Of course, not everyone who completes the quiz converts. However, it works super well as a lead gen tool. Sam Gearing, a co-founder of Fiole, told us that their “conversion rate from sample to full product is about 25%, whereas the industry standard from sampling is between half and 1%.” 

Read the full story of how Fiole designed their lead gen tool in Typeform to get one in four samplers to turn into paying customers.

So, we’ve established what lead generation really is—not just attracting an audience, but growing your number of potential customers. Here are the most common terms you’re bound to hear in your next marketing meeting.

12 lead generation terms you need to know

1. Lead

A lead is anyone who's interested in your product or service. Typically, you’ll know someone is a lead if they either initiate some kind of interaction with your brand or show interest after proactive outreach. 

For instance, a person who clicks on a link, fills out a survey you created, and gives you their email is a lead. A person you cold call isn't a lead, unless the call goes well, and they want more information.

There are two main ways to classify leads: by “temperature” or by level of qualification. The temperature method is based on how close a lead is to making a purchase: 

  • A cold lead is someone who fits the profile of your ideal customer and knows your company exists. However, they likely aren’t aware of the differences between you and your competitors, and they’re certainly not ready to buy anything from you. 

  • A warm lead kind of likes you, but they aren’t ready to commit. Maybe they’re still researching options, and you’re definitely on the list. They might like you but aren’t in the market to buy right now. 

  • A hot lead is ready to buy from you—they might just need that last little push to close. They know they have a problem, they’re convinced you’re the people to solve that problem, and they’re ready to take the final leap. 

The other common way to group leads is based on the interactions they’ve had with your company and what stage of the sales journey they’ve reached:

2. Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

An MQL is a lead that’s engaged with your marketing content but isn’t ready to jump on a sales call just yet. 

Jason Widup cautions that many marketers are using too broad a definition of MQL: “What I'm seeing with a lot of my clients is that all it takes to become an MQL is the contact info and some fit criteria, and that's it.” 

For Jason, to become an MQL, he says contacts shouldn't only be in your target market and give you their contact information; they should also have expressed at least a general intent to purchase, by engaging with content that suggests a strong level of interest, such as a webinar on how to implement your software. 

3. Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) 

An SQL is a lead who's moved from showing a general interest in maaaaaybe buying from you one day to showing a definite interest in buying from you soon. Some companies use the term “opportunity” here instead.  

An example of an SQL would be a lead who completed the registration form to watch your webinar (making them an MQL) and then went on to complete the demo request form at the end of the webinar to see your product in action. At this point, they’re no longer an MQL, but an SQL.

4. Product Qualified Lead (PQL) 

The term PQL tends to come up when your lead gen strategy is based on product-led growth (or PLG, if you want an extra acronym for bonus points). This is the typical approach for companies who offer a freemium product—where you get the initial product for free, and then can pay to upgrade for more features. 

A PQL is a person who uses your free product but shows potential interest in the paid version. For example, they might request features that are only available with an upgrade.

5. Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

A lot of marketers confuse the term ICP with their target customer, but they aren’t the same thing. Your target customer is anyone who might buy from you. 

Your ICP is a detailed profile of the customer who is both most likely to buy from you and most valuable when they do buy. 

For instance, imagine you’re selling employee onboarding software. Your target customer could be anyone from the founder of a startup to the head of HR at an enterprise organization. 

However, your ICP would be someone who a) hires a lot of people and needs to onboard them quickly, b) understands the value of employee onboarding to their business, and c) has the budget to invest in onboarding software. 

Yes, that startup founder might still buy from you, but a Head of Recruiting from a large retail firm would make more sense as your ICP. 

Figuring out your ICP is a major decision, cautions Gartner: “The ICP is a foundational, organization-wide decision impacting downstream sales and marketing efforts. It aligns marketing, sales, service, and executive teams to the highest-value accounts…In high-growth companies, the ICP is integral to marketing and sales strategy and execution.”  

If you want to help your organization establish an ICP, here’s some recommended steps from Gartner.

By asking the right questions, you can use your lead-generation activities to segment your leads. For example, if you know that your ICP is a company with 50-100 employees, then you’d want to ask a question about company size. 

You can then direct those most likely to fit your ICP toward setting up an appointment to talk to sales.  You’ll send those that don’t seem like a fit toward lower-touch next actions, such as downloading further content.

6. Pipeline

The sales pipeline is the journey that a person goes through as they become first a lead, then an opportunity, and hopefully a customer. However, when we talk about pipeline in lead gen terms, we’re usually referring to the moment when we assign a monetary amount to a potential deal. This varies widely from company to company, says Jason, but “usually the pipeline amount comes after the demo, once there are some BANT criteria.”  

And what’s BANT, you ask? It’s a way of qualifying sales prospects. It stands for: 

  • Budget: How much does the prospect have available to spend? 

  • Authority: Do they have the authority to make a purchase decision? 

  • Needs: What are their needs? 

  • Timeline: When would they be ready to buy? 

In sum, while you can say any lead is in your pipeline, usually lead gen marketers use the term “pipeline” to describe the monetary value of a sales opportunity currently registered in your CRM — once you know enough about them to predict how much they’d spend if they buy from you.

7. Lead scoring

Lead scoring is the process of assigning a numerical value of intent to your leads. For instance, you could separate your leads into “high priority”, “qualified”, and “unqualified.” 

You can do this easily with a typeform. You can assign points to each answer on a form, and then use those points to trigger different form responses. 

In the example below, people who gave the answer “less than 50” are then classified as a high-priority lead:

You could then use Logic in Typeform to redirect those high-priority leads to a Calendly block so they can book time with your sales team instantly. You could even set it up to ping salespeople via Slack if a high-priority lead comes in.

Here’s an article with a lot of other ideas about how to use lead scoring in Typeform.  

8. Lead magnet

A lead magnet is a piece of valuable content that you give away to your target customers in exchange for their contact information. 

A good lead magnet won’t just attract a lot of people—it will attract the right people, those most likely to fit into your ICP. 

For example, here’s a beautiful lead magnet from the skincare brand Typology, built with Typeform:

This form isn’t for everyone. It’s for people who are interested in understanding their skin and how they should look after it. It will be more appealing to those who think of skincare as complex and who would love to get some expert advice. In other words, exactly the kind of people who would consider purchasing products from Typology.

9. Lead nurturing

Lead nurturing is the process of deepening your relationship with your leads, to make them more likely to turn into paying customers. It’s not about badgering people about why they should buy your stuff; it should be a two-way conversation, where you learn more about the lead and their needs and priorities, and they learn how you can help them. In lead nurturing, you share your expertise and educate them about your products or services on their terms. 

Email can be a great way to nurture your leads. If you’ve caught their interest (and their contact details) with your lead magnet, you can follow up with conversational emails that help you get to know each other better. 

For example, with Typeform, you can follow up with a lead that didn’t convert, and ask them a quick question:

Depending on their answer, you could automatically segment them and send a follow-up email to help them find what they’re looking for. You could also try embedding a product recommendation quiz or giving them a personalized discount code to incentivize a purchase.

10. Gated content

Gated content is content that requires people to share some personal information (usually their email addresses at a minimum) if they want to access it. 

Common examples include webinars, downloadable e-books, and quizzes that ask for your email before you can see your results. 

As well as fully gated content, there is also “soft gated” content. With a soft gate, you don’t have to provide your email address to access the content, but you’re gently encouraged to share it. 

For instance, instead of requiring an email address before your lead can read the ebook, with a soft gate approach you’d simply add an email address form at the end of the book with a prompt like: “Found this useful and want to save it for later? Add your email address here, and we’ll send you a copy.”

11. Lead capture form or survey

A lead capture form is a form that collects contact and basic information from someone so you can follow up with them via email or text. Turning leads into buyers takes trust and often, tons of time—time to build a relationship, time to showcase the value of your product or service, time to get to know each other. 

Lead capture forms help buy you that time by bringing prospective customers into your sales funnel so you can nurture the relationship. 

This is our bread and butter at Typeform. We recently took a deep dive into our own data to see what the best lead capture forms get right. After studying 10,000 typeforms, we can tell you that the best lead capture forms have: 

  • A beautiful welcome screen with a clear explanation of what the form is for (and no questions) 👇

  • A suggestion of exclusivity (a special deal or piece of information that they’ll only get if they fill out your form) 👇

  • Personalization (such as using their name as soon as you’ve learned it) 👇

  • A request for their email address right up top (it should be one of the first questions you ask) 👇

  • Six questions or less 👇

We go into a lot more detail on this research over here: The 2023 lead capture form report  

12. Lead attribution

Lead attribution is the process of giving credit to whichever marketing channel helped a lead find your business—whether it was organic traffic to your website, paid ads, social media,  or outreach by your Sales team. 

It sounds pretty straightforward, but attribution is actually super complicated. For instance, imagine that a lead landed on your website because a friend sent them your blog via LinkedIn. Should you attribute that lead to your blog, to your LinkedIn feed, or to word of mouth?   

Because of this complexity, many marketers use convoluted attribution models, assigning a percentage of the credit to each of the channels involved (known as “multi-touch models”). The problem with that, says Jason Widup, is that this turns attribution into “this black box that I'm hoping I can believe, but then I kind of don't.” 

Instead of building an overly complex attribution model, Jason recommends companies lean on attribution data as a guide, alongside other key metrics. “We use it as a complement to what we know. We look at things that are very easy to measure, like first touch and last touch.” 

“First touch” means the first interaction the lead had with your company. It’s the answer to the question, “How did you hear about us?” 

While there are many digital tools available to help you figure it out, at Typeform we’re big fans of just asking people. That’ll get you zero-party data (data that people give you knowingly and willingly), which comes with some major advantages for marketers. 

We share more on that in this article: How to build a competitive edge with zero-party data.

“Last touch” is the last interaction a prospect had with your business before they bought something. For instance, if they attended a webinar, and then purchased your software, then the webinar is the “last touch.” 

Don’t overcomplicate it 

So, there you have it—12 lead generation terms (and a few bonus ones) that you should know if you want to effectively attract new leads for your company. 

If you ask Jason Widup why marketers have so many crazy terms, models, and acronyms, his answer is simple (if perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek): “We overcomplicate it so that we make our jobs look harder.” At the end of the day, lead generation is just about attracting the right people, building relationships, and providing opportunities for them to make purchases.

So treat your leads like people. Use terms that make sense to your team. Jason even says you shouldn’t call someone an SQL when you could just call them “someone who had a demo from our team.” 

Typeform humanizes lead generation. You can use our conversational, beautiful forms to attract new leads, qualify them using lead scoring, and get to know them better with product recommender quizzes and interactive emails.

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