Inquiries versus leads, what is the difference

Many in the field of marketing and sales are in the mode of thinking inquiries and actual leads are the same thing, in fact, they are very different. So before looking at what an inquiry actually is let’s look at what it is not:
The following are NOT inquiries:

  • A person who fits the profile of your target market
  • A person who signs up for your podcast or webcast
  • A user who downloads a whitepaper from your website
  • A regular website visitor
  • A keen follower via social media who “likes” or “re-tweets” or “shares” many of your posts

This brings us to, what ACTUALLY are inquiries?

An inquiry comes from a person who shows real interest in a solution. Put simply, an inquiry comes from someone who takes the time to make an actual inquiry. They are otherwise known as “raw responders,” These are represented by actual names and email addresses you receive from, for example, a survey and, if you strike it lucky, company tiles and even phone numbers.
The solution to an inquiry may not always bear any relation to what you are selling or offering. Your task is to understand if the inquiry is significant enough to follow-up on.
Breaking it down to pure nuts and bolts, an inquiry represents the step taken by a customer before they become an actual lead.

To continue, what ACTUALLY is a lead?

That’s a good question. To clarify, a leads is a business prospect that fulfills your needs. Therefore, salespeople should follow-up on these inquiries but not all recognize the signs.
The first thing they need to do is work out is an inquiry is a potential lead. So, how?
Well, if a phone number is available, they should reach out and actually make that phone call.
Let’s take the BANT system as the “go to” example of what a lead is.
Created years ago by technology giant IBM as a lead scoring methodology, BANT is an acronym for Budget, Authority, Need, and Time frame or Timeline.

In following-up a potential lead you need to understand if the inquiry fits these four criteria. Only once you have ticked each criteria off the list can an inquiry be considered a genuine business prospect.
Like all formulas, the BANT system has been refined and modified by various companies but the basic building blocks remain the same – salespeople should hold back on pursuing “leads” that have yet to be run against the BANT criteria. Doing this saves time and resources by ensuring only promising potential business opportunities are pursued.

Inquiry or lead? Which is more important?

Inquiries and necessary for the generation of business leads. Inquiries sit at the top of the business sales funnel. The end goal is to make them flow from the top to the bottom of the sales funnel without losing them on the way.
While the inquiry is a necessary first step, leads are of more value to sales and marketing staff. Sorting a lead out from an inquiry can be likened to finding a needle in a haystack, but once find one, you then know what step to take next.

The next step is to score the lead and here is how to do it

A point system that is standardized allows you to target the leads you need to. Set a threshold for the number of points for each BANT system criteria and score inquiries for each of them to reach a grand total.
For example, an inquiry from a person in a higher position in a company can beat out one from a person in a mid-level position, however you cannot assume the latter doesn’t have a larger budget and a timeline that is more time sensitive. Putting a point system in place can assist you in deciding which potential lead will result in a sale more efficiently. It will also shed light on which areas you need to place more focus on for the best results.

If all inquiries are coming from people in high positions within companies, then you have a potentially lucrative source of potential leads with people who are most likely decision makers. However, if the majority of your inquiries are coming from low-level employees, you may have to work a lot harder to get them to convert into leads.
Separating the tire-kickers from those with a genuine interest can be time-consuming and frustrating but by putting a proven system into place you can eliminate some of the guesswork from the process.