The Difference Between Hot, Warm, and Cold Sales Leads

BY Jessica Helinski
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Not every lead you encounter will be quality. While it’s great to attract a variety of leads, it’s important to realize most won’t be a good fit. In fact, “only 25% of marketing-​generated leads are high enough quality to advance to a sale,” according to an article by HubSpot’s Lestraundra Alfred. So, it's up to you, the sales rep, to check the temperature of each and every lead that comes your way. You need to learn the difference between hot, warm, and cold sales leads.

The Difference Between Hot, Warm, and Cold Sales Leads

What makes hot leads in sales?

Hot leads, as compared to cold leads, in sales are the ones most worth pursuing, but how do you gauge the “heat level” of a lead? Alfred shares some great advice, and she starts by defining a hot lead when gauging the difference between hot, warm, and cold sales leads, using the following criteria:

  • Level of interest — How well does the lead know about your product or service? Have they done any research? If they have, this signals that there is at least some underlying interest. 
  • You’re fulfilling a need — If what you’re selling meets a known need of the prospect, then chances are, they are worth pursuing. As Albert points out, “This is an indication that they are in the later stages of the decision-​making process and are inclined to buy sooner rather than later.”
  • Budget and authority — Does the prospect have the money to spend, as well as the authority to spend that money? Don’t waste your time on someone who doesn’t have this combo.
  • A clear timeline — The prospect knows what they want and when they want it. They have a time frame in mind, which gives you at least an idea of when they would by buying.

What is a warm lead?

So, those are the criteria needed for a lead to be hot. But, what is a warm lead? Typically, a warm lead definition means the prospect is missing one of the above components. The prospect may not have any idea of a timeline. Or, they may not feel an immediate need for the product or service. Warm leads can actually be nurtured into hot ones. Here are a couple of Albert’s suggestions:

  • Respond ASAP. Often, a warm lead will be submitted, perhaps by giving their contact information in order to obtain a piece of content. This is a warm lead definition. They placed the ball in your court to respond. The sooner you do, the more likely you can heat up that lead.
  • Do a demo. Get your product or service directly in front of the prospect and put it into action. “Whether you invite them to an already-​scheduled upcoming demo, or personally set up time to show them the features of your offer, allowing a warm lead to see the ins and outs of your product is a great way to keep them engaged and prepare for the sale,” Albert suggests.
  • Share others’ success stores. Show the prospect how happy others have been with your product or service. Testimonials can be a powerful way to show value, especially because the feedback is coming directly from someone else.
  • Consider a short-​term offering. Presenting an on-​the-​fly offer can create a sense of urgency if the lead doesn’t seem ready to buy right away. A small discount or bonus, offered within a short time frame, can help get a warm lead off the fence.

What is a cold lead?

Finally, Albert discusses what qualifies a lead as cold when learning the difference between hot, warm, and cold sales leads. Once you understand warm leads vs cold leads, you'll know how to treat each style. She writes:

A cold lead is a contact who has not shown interest in or an intent to purchase your product or service. This could be an individual who was contacted via cold outreach, or someone who initially expressed interest in your offering but has since become unresponsive and disengaged.”

Though it may seem pointless, you might not want to immediately disregard a cold lead; it can be worth the effort to warm them up for a future sale. Or, maybe a lead has gone cold. If that’s the case, there might be an opportunity to re-​engage the prospect. Below are Albert’s tactics to kick up the heat on cold leads:

  • Focus on the relationship. Work now to build the foundation of a good relationship that can benefit you both later. Establish trust and position yourself as a helpful advisor so that when the prospect does need to buy, you will be top of mind.
  • Get personal. Generic, non-​specific communications aren’t going to woo the prospect. Instead, send out highly customized messages that directly relate to their business. Alberts reports that an Epsilon study found that 80% of consumers are more likely to do business with companies that create personalized experiences.
  • Share valuable content. Make an effort to pass on valuable content that is directly relevant to the prospect. A little bit of research can reveal a lot about the lead, so familiarize yourself with their interests, as well as potential challenges. Then, if you come across something that may be relevant, you can break the ice, and show your interest in their business, by sharing it.
  • Clarify. Most importantly, if you have cold leads, verify that they are the “right” contact. A few simple questions can ensure you are even dealing with someone who can make decisions.

Albert’s extensive advice can help you decide how to proceed with each and every prospect. Even if there isn’t initially hot leads in sales, you can still warm them up by asking the right questions and getting more insight. As she points out, “with strategy and intention, you can nurture a cold lead from any stage.”

How to Get Hot Leads

Know that you know about warm leads vs cold leads, you want to know how to get hot leads. You want to learn how to attract hot leads because those leads lead to quick deals and bring you closer to making your numbers. And you probably don't want to attract hot leads by cold calling. These days, buyers aren't answering their phones. The truth is, leads don't grow on trees. Most leads must be nurtured. Generate leads by producing get content and by showing yourself to be credible. This takes time and requires effort. Once you build your reputation and your network, more warm leads will come your way. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels