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How to Classify B2B Leads from Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing has been proven as an effective method for lead generation. With a marketing strategy that focuses on a target audience through a combination of content marketing, SEO, social media, and email marketing, inbound is a more cost-effective method of generating b2b leads than traditional outbound marketing.

Implementing an inbound campaign can attract a variety of different visitors to your site with an output of B2B leads -- some may become worthwhile customers, others may not be ready to purchase just yet, and some may have just come across your site out of curiosity with no intention of doing anything other than looking.

How do we differentiate these different kinds of people coming to your website? It’s important to use the same terminology when discussing with your sales team to make sure that you’re all on the same page. Alignment between marketing and sales is, after all, crucial to the success of an inbound marketing campaign

We’ve compiled a quick guide to help you sort out how to classify different types of leads, and how to sort them in your CRM:


There are two types of contacts that can stumble across your page:

  • Visitors: people who visit your website
  • Newsletter subscribers: visitors who have willingly shared some contact information to receive more information about your company

It’s important to remember that visitors are not necessarily leads. While your SEO strategy may bring in people who are searching for what you provide, it’s up to your inbound marketing strategy to convert the right person into a qualified lead.


There are four different types of leads as you go deeper into the inbound sale funnel: 

  • Lead: A visitor becomes a lead when they give you their name, email address, and phone number through inbound conversion techniques. At this point this is when they are entered into your CRM database
  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): After a lead is in your CRM, their actions and behaviors determine what kind of lead they are. From a marketer’s perspective, an MQL will have touched enough of your company’s branded materials to be considered a qualified lead. They’ve shown that they are interested in what you provide, but have not yet shown if they have an immediate need or are qualified to buy.
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): This individual is someone that your company has engaged with in some way and has expressed interest in your product or service over the phone, email, or in-person. This lead is qualified to purchase (can afford and benefit from your product or service and is part of the right audience) and has a need to purchase soon. In other words, they are the perfect lead for your company and has a high potential to buy.
  • Opportunity: This is someone your company has engaged with and is determined to be a good fit for your services and they feel the same about you. A SQL moves into an opportunity when you enter into sales discussions beyond the first qualifying experience.

Once your sales team has successfully sold to an opportunity, this is when people become customers.

Customer Classifications

After a customer purchases a good or service from you, it’s important to get their feedback on how they feel about your company. This is where a net promoter score comes into play. 

A net promoter score is a way to measure customer loyalty and happiness. The easiest way to measure this is to send a quick survey to your customers and ask them a simple question:

On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend our company to friends or family? 

From there, the responses should fit into three different buckets:

  • Detractors: These people picked somewhere in the 0-6 range. These people might speak poorly about your brand or were dissatisfied with your service in some way.
  • Passives: These people have chosen somewhere in the 7-8 range. These people are relatively neutral in terms of your brand or service.
  • Promoters/Evangelists: These customers write glowing reviews, and will most likely choose either 9-10 on the survey. These are people who speak highly of your brand or service and are willing to promote without prompting them to.

None of the Above

If your leads don’t fall into any of these categories or they may have been disqualified during the conversion process, it may be time to separate them from your more active CRM. While there may be some that are worthwhile to save – like a lead who just wasn’t ready to purchase but will be interested in the future – other leads may just have become disinterested in your service or product.

Email lists on average decay about 22.5% every year. Because of this some of the unqualified leads will naturally filter themselves out of your list. There are times when it might be a good idea to reach out to individuals who haven’t contacted your company in a while, but it all depends on the end goal of your inbound marketing campaign.

Clear Communication 

The most important thing about classifying your leads is clearly communicating criteria and establishing a process with both your marketing and sales teams. Unifying both teams under a common language will establish a more streamlined process for your company and a more efficient workflow for them. This will also provide a stronger understanding of the quality of leads marketing is generating and create some accountability for sales. 

Get Your Grade

Understanding the different types of leads at different levels of the sales process is key to organizing your CRM and creating a marketing/sales program that ends in good quality customers.


About the Author: Sarah Laoyan

Sarah Laoyan

Sarah is the Marketing Coordinator at 41 Orange. She recently graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Journalism, with an emphasis in advertising.