Over the past five years at HubSpot, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a spectrum of different leads: warm, cold, qualified, unqualified.  And at the end of the day, the common conclusion among many sales reps is that they need more sales-ready leads. Sales teams want leads who have showed extensive interest in their product (what I call marketing qualified leads) –prospects who know exactly what they want and simply need a helping hand to bring them to final purchase.

But I think that all the other leads (what I call top-of-the-funnel leads) are equally, if not more, important for your business. But before I explain why, let’s review the difference between these two types of leads.

The Difference Between Top-of-the-Funnel & Marketing Qualified Leads

Top-of-the-Funnel (ToFu) Lead: A ToFu lead is a lead that resulted from an ebook download, webinar registration, or any other form of content received after filling out a form. These leads have a vested interest in the offer being received for free by filling out the form – not necessarily the brand that is offering it. These leads are currently in the research process. 

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): An MQL is someone who has shown a clear desire to learn about your product by filling out a Contact Sales form, signing up for a trial of your product/service, or intentionally engaging with your company’s sales team. These leads have a faster speed of converting into customers due to their expressed awareness of your product or service.

It’s lucidly apparent that MQLs are “stronger” leads. But to only focus on these leads does a great injustice to the power of ToFu Leads for your business. In the marketing industry, for instance, ToFu leads typically convert at a rate of 1%, while MQL leads have a higher conversion rate in the 5% range. What sales reps fail to understand when looking at such percentages, however, is that the number of ToFu leads given to a business is much larger than the number of MQLs. This naturally inflates the conversion rate for the more “qualified” leads, making it ever more important to never lose sight of what are typically seen as “less qualified” leads.

The Importance of ToFu Leads for Sales Reps

One of the most important strengths of a ToFu Lead is that you can start a conversation with that lead while he/she is still in research mode. When sales reps are cold calling, they have to look for the right people at the right company with the right problem they hope to fix. But with inbound marketing, it starts with that problem.

When your marketing team is creating valuable content for your target audience to access through a form, your sales team is given insight into what that leads pain points are. Are they downloading a tutorial on how to fix a popped tire? Are they accessing a whitepaper showcasing how to properly optimize their homepage? Regardless of the information the lead is seeking, they are in fact seeking. The lead has unknowingly provided you with key insights into what their pain points are, allowing you to casually call and ask how you can help. Imagine this conversation:


Lead: Hello?
Sales: Hi Jim, my name is Mark Roberge and I work over at HubSpot. I noticed you downloaded one of our ebooks on B2B marketing through Facebook. Are there any questions you had that I could help you with?
Lead: Oh I’m just researching, not really interested in purchasing anything.
Sales: Well I reviewed your Facebook company page and actually had a few quick tips to help you receive even stronger results.

Notice how there’s no forced push on getting to the product, there’s no elevator pitch. While this ToFu Lead may not be ready to purchase, they now have HubSpot in their consideration set as a place to go for answers to their marketing questions. By starting a conversation with a ToFu lead about their pain points, showing sincere appreciation for what they want (not what you want), and not giving up right away, you have now become a resource for that a lead.  I learned in my early years of sales that’s it worth waiting to bring up the product in order to spark a personalized conversation with your leads. If you can bridge the gap between the leads’ current state of mind with the offering your business has to assist that state of mind, you’ll close deals. Easily.

In addition, ToFu leads give your sales reps the ability to qualify leads on their own. While many ToFu leads turn into MQLs through lead nurturing and other marketing tactics, my sales reps have shared their desire to nurture leads on their own. This allows the sales reps to analyze the specific needs of a lead and address them and lets your sales reps personalize the lead nurturing process based of specific requests. Ultimately, this process of showcasing your businesses ability to assist the lead will help convert more of those leads into customers.

What’s important to grasp during this process, however, is selecting which ToFu leads should be sales-nurtured and which leads should be marketing-nurtured. If a certain lead converts on a ToFu offer that fits your exact target customers—the right company, the right person—that lead should definitely be called by a sales rep. Take HubSpot for example: If we generate an ebook lead from someone who is the VP of Marketing at a B2B business consisting of an 80-person team, I am going to call that lead as soon as possible. However, if I get a lead that doesn’t perfectly fit my “perfect” customer, perhaps a real estate agent from a 5-person team, I’m going to let marketing undergo their well-setup process of nurturing that lead until he/she has shown an actual interest in the product. 

It’s important to illustrate that differentiation, because not all leads should be called. You need to look at the background information for every lead. And if they don’t fit your exact target, let them engage with your brand further and turn to them after they’ve received more exposure.

So while MQLs are quicker to purchase your product, don’t let them diminish the value of your ToFu Leads. The way consumers innately think about a product is focused around their own research and seeking of information. By integrating your business into that research process, you’re becoming a much more natural choice for that lead. You’re not cold calling or forcing people to want your product—you’re simply standing by as someone who is there when they need it. Take it from a team who is conversing with ToFu Leads as you read this post—this process will help your sales team convert customers. HubSpot is proof of that.

Want to learn how your marketing team can generate ToFu leads for your sales team? Want to hear more about how your sales team can drive sales through the roof with social media? Be sure to register for a free webinar we’re co-hosting with HubSpot on How to Grow Your Business with Social and Inbound Marketing!

Sales process map