Lead Generation vs. Sales Prospecting and How Are They Different

Updated on February 23, 2022

Chances are you’ve probably heard the terms lead generation and sales prospecting being used interchangeably by marketers and salespeople. Even though lead generation and sales prospecting are parts of the same sales funnel, they represent two different processes in the way they convert potentials into sales opportunities and ultimately new customers.


So let’s clear the air and explain what is the difference between a lead and a prospect, how lead generation and sales prospecting work and why they should be used together for the benefit of your business.



Lead generation vs prospecting

Think of lead generation and sales prospecting as two different sides of the same coin. While marketing teams focus on filling up the sales funnel with new leads, sales teams are in the process of finding customers by qualifying potential prospects. Both, marketing and sales are committed to promoting business growth in different stages of the sales funnel.


An important differentiating factor between lead generation and sales prospecting is the way they are implemented. Marketers rely heavily on automation tools to streamline the lead generation process, find new leads and attract potential clients. On the other hand, sales prospecting heavily relies on manual effort from salespeople when reaching out and engaging with prospects.


Another key point is the use of inbound and outbound methods of outreach. Although there isn’t a clear divide between the two, lead generation for the most part implements inbound methods of attracting and engaging with leads. In contrast, sales prospecting employs outbound methods of outreach for engaging prospects.


Before we dive deeper into the topic at hand and what exactly does lead generation and sales prospecting mean, let’s find out how a lead and a prospect differ.


What is a lead?

A marketing lead is a top-of-the-funnel person who has shown interest in your product or service and has the potential to become a customer for your business. In other words, this person has engaged with your company’s brand and content with an indicated interest in your offering.


There are different types of leads based on the level of interest they have expressed in their interaction with your brand.


Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

A marketing qualified lead is a lead that has the potential to become a customer compared to other leads, based on a set of criteria determined by the marketing team. For example, if a lead has visited your website and downloaded a piece of content, that represents a clear intent that they are interested in your offering.


Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

Sales qualified leads have shown a higher level of interest in comparison to marketing qualified leads and are ready to begin the next stage in the sales process earlier. They can come both from the sales and the marketing teams. If they come through marketing, they are validated and handed over to the sales team to begin the next stage of the sales process.


Product Qualified Lead (PQL)

Product qualified leads or service qualified leads (SQLs) are specific for the B2B SaaS market. Leads that are product qualified have indicated a strong interest in your product or service by signing up for a freemium subscription account or starting a free trial. Furthermore, they have also shown signs of becoming a potential paying customer further down the road.

What is lead generation?

Lead generation is a marketing data-driven process characterized as a long-term method for building brand awareness and attracting leads. It is a one-to-many approach as it aims to bring in a large number of leads and promote engagement from a wider market range.


An important inbound marketing tactic, lead generation is a vital step for building up your sales pipeline, nurturing a relationship with your leads and gaining their contact information. Key elements of the lead generation process are having a landing page with a strong lead magnet to convert incoming visitor traffic to valuable leads. These elements are designed to work together and attract leads, thus acting as a starting point for a relationship between you and your leads. The type of content used for lead generation can range from a blog post with a CTA button, or a dedicated landing page urging visitors to sign up for a webinar.


A popular lead generation tactic is combining a strong lead magnet like an e-book with a lead capture form that requires leads to leaving their name and email address along with a few pieces of information in exchange for the content. Usually, lead forms also require the lead’s last name, phone number, job title and the company they work for.


Initiating lead interest in your lead magnet helps you to get important lead details which in turn allows you to reach out to potential leads with more marketing details.


Lead generation examples

The process of lead generation is tightly connected with content marketing. Marketing teams need to create content that targets your desired leads and focus on the issues they might be facing that your product can solve. Marketing content has to engage your desired leads in the form of blog posts, e-books, webinars and any other type of content that represents value to them.


Create value-packed gated content

Lead capture provides you with lead information by filling out a form in exchange for access to gated content. You can “lock” different types of content behind a lead form, which a potential lead must fill out if they wish to access it. The main thing is offering something that represents high value to your leads, for free. This can be an e-book, a specific guide, or even a free version of your tool.


Send out an email newsletter

A lead magnet on your blog to attract leads interested in your content gives you an opportunity to stay in touch and send them additional content to keep them engaged with your brand. This also gives you a way in their inbox to promote your product or service. You can send them blog posts, product updates and special offers.


Host a webinar

Webinars have been steadily growing in popularity in recent years. That’s because they are a great way to engage your target audience. Hosting a webinar can be done in-house using the skills and experience of your employees to reach out to your potential leads and help them with the challenges they are facing.


Another option is to partner up with industry “heavy hitters” to attract leads from among their followers and create a shared “lead pool”. This is a common tactic where the focus is not on your product itself but on sharing valuable industry insights with attending viewers. Share a landing page with a lead capture form to gather lead information and later use that information together with any hot topics and questions that might pop up to understand your leads better.


Lead generation tips

When it comes to your lead generation process, there is always room for improvement. Here are some lead generation tips to keep in mind on how to increase the number and value of your leads.


Lead qualification

Naturally, it’s always good to have a steady influx of leads coming into your sales funnel. However, a lead must represent potential value for your business. Let’s say a lead is interested but they are working for a company that doesn’t match your preferred ideal customer profile. This means there is no benefit for you in investing time and effort as they are not your target audience. Even though keeping the lead flow should be a priority for you and your marketing team, remember the golden rule, focus on lead quality instead of quantity.

Lead scoring

Not every lead is the same. Leads interact and engage with your brand in different ways and represent different values for your business. Someone landing on your homepage is a strong indicator that they are interested in your product. Afterward, they then check out the pricing page which is a clear sign they are ready to talk business. This tells your marketing team which leads are ready for the next stage in the sales funnel.


Lead scoring helps you assign each action a lead can make when engaging with your brand. Assign a specific value based on actions a lead can make. Then track their level of engagement and when they reach a value threshold transfer them to the sales team. By scoring your leads you can see which of them are a good fit for you and your business.


Lead nurture

The process of lead nurture is focused on developing and reinforcing the relationship between your brand with your leads. Just like any good relationship, you need to keep in touch and show them they are on your mind but don’t overdo it otherwise you might come off as needy. So to translate this bad analogy into something cohesive, the point is that you have to maintain lead interaction and keep them engaged.


Nurture your leads at every stage of the funnel with personalized emails and content tailored to their interests. Since they’ve already engaged with your brand and marketing content you have a good idea of what they prefer and what type of information they might be looking for.


Creating tailored content

Content marketing can be utilized in different ways during the lead generation process. The content is typically focused on the different stages of the sales funnel addressing key points of information your leads may be looking for.


For example, a blog post addressing a challenge a lead may be facing by using your product is a nice way to introduce them to your funnel. Next, they may follow a link to a landing page with an e-book guide offering to help them solve their challenge which is often a gated type of content. Here they can leave their contact information in exchange for a download.


As you can see, valuable content plays a large role in lead generation. Create content that addresses challenges your target audience is probably facing and draw the right leads. Optimize your landing page with a strong lead magnet to funnel the right leads and ultimately convert them to customers.


Lead generation automation tools

Setting up and maintaining the lead generation process is a long-term goal. The effort and resources you invest can have a high return of investment but only if they’re used correctly. Marketing automation tools can be of great use here as they can be used to automate menial tasks that require minimal input from the marketing team. This way marketers can focus on the content more instead of tinkering with the process.


CRMs, lead tracking and email drip campaigns services are the foundation every marketing team needs to start with their lead generation efforts. There are also services for lead data enrichment that provide additional information about your leads and the company they work for.


Lead generation automation tools should be used to help your marketing team manage the flow of leads and allow them to better spend their time elsewhere in the process. You shouldn’t try to automate parts of the process that your marketing team believes are better handled manually. More tools don’t mean better lead generation if their only purpose is to just give them another headache. Remember to only automate those parts of the process when and where necessary. Here’s more on LinkedIn lead generation.

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What is a prospect?

A sales prospect is a middle or bottom of the funnel potential customer that is a contact person or a business matching a set of criteria defined by your company. Sales prospects have a business challenge they need to solve which gives you leverage to promote your product or service as an effective solution.


Another way to look at it, think of a prospect as a lead further down the sales funnel that has met a set of predetermined characteristics. A prospect may not have necessarily expressed an interest in your product before but does face the challenge your offering can solve.


What is sales prospecting?

Sales prospecting is a short-term approach meant to generate interest and find new prospective customers. The process of prospecting focuses on a one-to-one engagement with prospects and nurturing them with the end goal of converting them to customers. As potential prospects may not know your product or service before your sales team reaches out to them, prospecting also serves to identify and qualify prospects from a list of qualified leads.


Sales reps heavily rely on a number of outbound sales methods during the prospecting stage. Email outreach, cold calling and LinkedIn messaging are some of the activities that sales teams employ during the prospecting stage of the sales process. It is common to use multiple methods of outreach in combination during prospecting, a process known as a multichannel outreach strategy.


Most sales reps begin the prospecting process by sending a cold email to prompt and start the conversation. After a short period of time, roughly a day or two, they connect with the prospect on LinkedIn. So they can follow up with the prospect and engage in a conversation. Finally, after an additional period of several days, they can schedule a call to begin the final stage. Keep in mind this is a simple representation of the process to give you a rough idea. The prospecting process varies from company to company and also depends on the average conversion time in a specific industry.


Sales prospecting techniques

How effective your sales prospecting strategy is, depends on which sales techniques your sales team is using and how effectively they apply them. There is a large variety of sales prospecting techniques sales teams can implement in their sales process based on prospect preference and sales tools available. Here are some of the most used prospecting techniques by sales reps:


Email outreach

Email outreach or cold emailing is the best sales prospecting technique sales reps can use to engage prospects. By automating the email outreach, sales reps can set up a sequence and send personalized emails to prospects based on their response. Email personalization is key for a successful prospecting outreach because it allows you to customize your emails based on different pieces of data. Create an email based on the data you have from their ideal customer profile and buyer persona with a unique value proposition addressing their unique pain points.


Social selling

Social media prospecting has proven to be a valuable part of a sales rep’s outreach. They can connect with potential prospects and engage them but also it enables them to go a step further. Sales reps can use business social platforms like LinkedIn to share content, position themselves as your brand advocates and interact with prospects to start a two-way conversation much earlier in the prospecting stage. This way the roles are reversed prospects actively looking for a solution to their challenges and the right product or service for their business.



Admittedly not a very popular sales prospecting technique when compared to sending an email to a prospect or connecting with them on social, it is still a potent sales method for converting potential prospects. Getting on a call with a prospect is a good way to qualify them. Meaning, to see if they are in need of your product and if they also have the power to close the deal.


There are two ways to use calling in your prospecting process. Cold calling is done at the beginning of the prospecting cycle with little to no contact with the prospect beforehand. Warm calling, in contrast, is done near the end of the prospecting cycle and is meant to close the deal and convert the prospect to a paying customer.


Sales prospecting tips

Sales prospecting is one of the most challenging parts of the sales process that sales reps struggle with regularly. These sales prospecting tips will guide your sales reps in the right direction.


Sell by not selling

It may sound counterintuitive to tell sales reps not to sell, but hear me out first. Often sales reps focus on selling the product or service to prospects by hyping up what it can do, without regard to the prospect’s perspective. This in turn leads to a number of potentially good deals falling through the cracks. Sell your prospects the value they can get from your product. Focus on the challenge they face and how your product can help them overcome them.


Use multichannel prospecting

Each prospecting channel has its own benefits, however, when you combine them you can effectively improve their potential. In addition, each prospecting channel has its strengths and weaknesses, but by using a multichannel approach, sales reps don’t have to rely on only one channel and its limitations. With multichannel prospecting, sales reps can connect with prospects on their preferred channel and at the same time engage them through multiple touchpoints.


Align sales and marketing goals

Sales and marketing teams should work closely together to support each other in reaching their end goals. For instance, marketing can help the sales team with the content they require based on their input with prospects. Moreover, sales and marketing teams should work to align their goals more closely to determine and target their potential customers better. Marketing qualified leads based on criteria set by the sales team will have a higher chance of converting to prospects and finally customers.


Lead generation and prospecting

Hopefully, by now you better understand the difference between lead generation and sales prospecting. As you can see while marketing works on bringing in new leads, the sales team focuses on turning them into prospects that represent new business opportunities.


When it comes to lead generation and sales prospecting, it’s not a matter of one vs the other but more in the line of how can lead generation and sales prospecting work together as a part of a unified sales process.

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Author avatar
Content Writer and Growth Marketer at Sales.Rocks