An Inquiry vs. a Lead: What’s the Difference?

lead vs inquiry

Many marketers and sales people assume that inquiries and leads are one and the same, but in fact, they are very different animals. Before we define what an inquiry is, let’s first clearly describe what it is not:

An inquiry is NOT:

  • An individual who fits your target market
  • A user who signs up for your webcast or podcast
  • A user who downloads a whitepaper from your website
  • A regular website visitor
  • A hyperactive follower on social media who likes, re-tweets and shares every post

 So, What’s an Inquiry?

lead vs inquiry

An inquiry is an individual who has shown interest in a solution. Simply put, an inquiry is someone who makes, well, an inquiry. They are also called ‘raw responders’.

The solution for an inquiry does not always relate to the product or service you are selling. Your job is to find out if the inquiry is significant and whether or not they are worth the chase.

An inquiry is a name with an email address that you get from surveys and studies. If you are lucky enough, these names can come with company positions and even direct phone numbers.

In essence, an inquiry is the step a customer takes just before they become a true lead. The tricky part comes when it’s your job to analyze if an inquiry is actually qualified to become a lead that could potentially result in a sale.

So, What’s a Lead?

business inquiry

We’re so glad you asked! Leads are qualified business prospects. Now you might ask, salespeople follow up on inquiries, right? They do, but not all salespeople can make the math work. Yes, there’s a formula.

The first thing you do is to determine if an inquiry is a potential lead. How do you do this? Simple, you ask.

If you are lucky to have a phone number available, you reach out via phone and make the BANT system work.

The BANT system was created by IBM years ago, and to date, it stands out as one of the best descriptions of what business leads must have to be considered qualifying. BANT stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Time Frame (Timeline).

In your follow-up calls, you inquire if the inquiry possesses these four qualifications. Once you’ve established their bona fides, then and only then, can an inquiry become a qualified business prospect.

The BANT system has seen some additions and modifications from various companies in recent years, but the rule remains: the sales team should not pursue “leads” that have yet to be analyzed based on the BANT criteria. This process saves time and resources and ensures that there truly is a potential business opportunity to pursue.

Which is More Important, Then? An Inquiry or a Lead?

In generating business leads, inquiries are necessary. Inquiries can be found at the top of the business sales funnel. The goal is to guide them from the top all the way down to the bottom of the sales funnel.

While an inquiry comes first, leads are more valuable to sales and marketing people. Picking leads from inquiries can feel like finding needles in a haystack, but once you do find them, you know what do to do next.

Next Step: Score the Lead. Here’s How:

Lead Scoring

A standardized point system allows you to see which leads you need to focus on. Allot a maximum number of points for each criterion in the BANT system and score your inquiries for each before tallying the grand total.

For instance, an inquiry from a higher company officer can trump a mid-level inquisitor, but what if the latter has a bigger budget and a more time-sensitive timeline? A point system can help you decide which potential lead can eventually turn into a sale faster. It will also bring to light which areas you need to focus on for maximum effect.

Final Thoughts

If all your inquiries are top-ranking company officials, then you’ve got yourself a gold mine of potential leads who are most likely decision makers. Then again, if most of your inquiries are entry-level employees, you might have to work a quite a bit harder to convert them into leads.

Separating the wheat from the chaff can be a frustrating and time-consuming process, but with the help of a proven system, you can take some of the guesswork out of the process.

Having difficulties closing your sales leads? Check out our Guide to Closing Sales Leads Like a Boss.