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The difference between cold, warm, and hot leads in B2B marketing

Dmitry Chervonyi
Dmitry Chervonyi
Reading time:11m

The difference between leads is pretty straightforward. Hot leads are businesses and their decision-makers who are willing to make a purchase right away. Cold leads are people who may know about the product but have no interest in it. And in the middle, between these two opposites, are those who either can’t buy from you right now or have no desire to do so for some reason, hence their name warm leads.

Let’s beef up that skimpy understanding of ours with more information drawn from Belkins’ hands-on experience as a lead management agency. 

Key factors that determine lead types

What does an individual (usually representing a company) need to qualify as a hot prospect? Money to buy your product? Interest in engaging with your salespeople? Yes and no. In B2B marketing, only an ideal customer profile (ICP) resolves the cold leads vs. warm leads struggle.

B2B sales and marketing teams frame their interactions with sales leads through the lens of an ideal customer profile. A lead is hot and willing to buy the product when there’s a clear understanding that addresses their pain points and makes their workflow easier. How can you know it right away? By seeing if the lead aligns with your ICP. 

If a lead hasn’t revealed interest in the product but meets almost all the criteria of your ICP, the odds are higher that you can nurture that lead into sales quicker than those who express interest but are off your profile. However, interest also plays an important role. 

Marketing and sales teams classify leads based on their interest in a product or service, the amount of communication they’ve had with sales representatives, and how lead research data compares against the company’s previous successful deals (essentially an ICP). 

So let’s keep both factors in mind when discussing different types of sales leads: If they are interested in the product and fit an ICP. 

Sales leads types

What’s considered a “cold,” “warm,” and “hot” lead in sales

What are cold leads?

Cold leads are businesses (or individuals) that have very little interest in your product or don’t have it yet. Such leads may not even be aware of your product and its value, so contractors should reach out to them directly or build their lead generation strategy that way to attract them organically.

Here’s a brief example. Suppose your ICP includes small-sized non-profits with workforce training programs, a team size of 10 to 50 people based in Northern Europe, and making $100K to $500K in revenue. Now, a lead falls into your lap — you can get their email address from:

  1. An onsite form
  2. A sign-up for a webinar or newsletter
  3. A comment on one of your recent LinkedIn posts
  4. A comment on a LinkedIn post by an industry leader
  5. A referral from any of your existing customers

Now you see that lead works at a non-profit as a CEO or CIO and matches your ideal customer profile to a tee. Expressing minimal interest in your company or product and matching your ICP qualifies them as a cold lead.

At that point, cold leads enter your company’s sales funnel, and lead nurturing through sales outreach begins.

📚 Relevant reading: How to build a lead generation funnel?

💡 Case in pojnt: Belkins SDR and AM team prove the value of ICP for cold outreach in practice. As a result, the client has got 1,000+ leads added to their pipeline and 120 new appointments. Find out more here:

Appointment Setting Case Study

What are warm leads?

If an individual starts responding to the company’s newsletters or your nurturing emails, it makes them a warm lead. If a company’s decision-maker who fits your ICP reaches out to you to ask questions about the product, it’s also a warm lead. And the lead is most likely warm if you see a certain email address on sign-ups for the company’s live streams, webinars, or trade shows.

At this point, such leads keep moving through the sales funnel, and as a salesperson, you need to nurture them with highly personalized emails and phone calls.

What are hot leads? 

You say a lead is hot when the decision-maker is on the verge of buying the product or service, and they:

  • Discuss the price
  • Agree to book a meeting
  • Request a demo
  • Research the product

At this point, hot leads most likely need salespeople to address their objections or figure out relevant details like payment conditions, terms of use, and compatibility with existing software.

How do you acquire and treat different types of leads?

A relationship can blossom when each party is attracted to the other and shows they are interested in pursuing a connection. A company will ensure leads are interested before initiating any contact, while leads only respond to personalized content highlighting their pain points and offering solutions.

How do I get cold leads?

Considering the cold leads specifics, the right question would be, “How to target them?” Basically, you need to collect a list of leads based on your ICP and current marketing goals and present them with your unique value proposition (UVP). Here are some proven methods.

  1. Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator. This is one of the most popular and easy-to-use tools allowing you to browse LinkedIn users and reach out to those from your target audience. With its advanced research, you can filter leads according to their titles, industries, company size, departments, group membership, and dozens of other features.
  2. Buy leads (but be very cautious). Disclaimer: this method is only effective when you opt for legitimate, transparent, trustworthy resources! Furthermore, you need to be 100% sure of your ICP to avoid buying irrelevant leads. In general, we don’t recommend doing it because hand-picked leads you’ve selected by yourself are more likely to convert. If you’re sure about the quality of the leads-buying platform, you may try it. But the best option will be sticking to the next method.
  3. Opt for a professional lead gen agency. You would want to delegate lead gen to specialized companies for many reasons. First, with agencies like Belkins, you can start the launch process immediately – their team will seamlessly integrate into your in-house department. Second, such companies always know what they’re doing since they possess deep knowledge of many industries. Finally, it’s one of the most ROI-friendly methods – agencies focus on your KPIs, bringing you the highest quality of selected leads.

Do I really need cold leads?

There’s a widespread notion that a cold lead is a dead end, and you shouldn’t waste your time trying to revive their interest in the product. That approach rings common sense, but it’s mainly up to you to decide if you should stop bothering a lead with your highly-personalized emails after 5-8 touches or after several multi-wave campaigns.

However, there are no clear-cut answers to this question. You’ll have to decide on a case-by-case basis.

And remember, you can’t easily let go of any high-value lead. The larger the sale, the more persistent you should be in your attempts to engage the prospect. Even when you come across non-responsive candidates who ignore all your personalized emails, give them some time to mature and come back to nurturing them again.

How to nurture warm leads?

As you already know, leads which come to your website to download an eBook or sign up for a webinar are warm enough to start moving along the sales funnel. They are responsive, show a strong interest in your company or product, and easily engage in conversations with your sales team. However, warm leads are not ready to buy from you yet. What can you do to heat them up and close a deal quicker?

1) Create compelling pop-ups.Pop-ups are great for bringing more leads because they can be so targeted and specific — for example, you could show a pop-up only on the pages where people spend most of their time looking at products or reading reviews. This makes them more likely to be engaged than a generic “Subscribe now!” call-to-action (CTA).

But this instrument requires a wise approach to its implementation. To make the best out of pop-ups on your site, follow these 2 rules:

  • Select proper timing. The best way to use pop-ups is when someone has been on your website for a while and isn’t making any progress with their purchase. The longer they stay on your site without buying anything, the less likely they will do it. So if you can get in front of them at the right time (when they’re ready to give up), you’ll have a much higher chance of converting that lead into a sale.
  • Make sure your pop-up is well-designed. The pop-up must catch your viewer’s attention, be something that is hard to refuse. To achieve this, streamline the work of marketers and designers, and don’t forget to launch A/B testing to find the most effective CTA.

📚 Relevant reading: The average conversion rate for popups is 11%. However, this percentage can increase up to 40%, but only if the popups are high-performing. Examples of top popups are here – 38 Best Pop Up Examples For Your Inspiration [Explained].

2) Use content marketing to educate your audience. Suppose you sell B2B products, and pop-ups won’t work for you. Then try improving your content marketing. Educate your target audience about your product and how they can benefit from it.

Focus on posting high-quality content: newsletters, op-eds, infographics, long-form articles, how-to pieces, and case studies. Always providing valuable tidbits will teach your audience to come to you for the right information. Once they associate you with value, they will be more engaged and ready to buy.

How to generate hot leads

If your ideal customer profile is well-defined and accurate, that’s the best recipe for closing deals fast and often. But what else can you do to ensure your lead generation channels run at full speed?

1) Partner with a sales acquisition agency. Hiring a sales acquisition agency is a wise long-term investment for any business. It allows you to focus on the sale and not on sourcing, validating, or nurturing prospects. The best B2B sales services will provide you with the most effective sales tactics and helpful information and will transform warm leads into qualified B2B appointments.

2) Use the correct lead generator tools. If you opt to reach out to your leads via email – which remains one of the most effective B2B strategies – you can’t do without proper sales instruments.

With the help of lead generation software, you can:

  • Optimize your team’s time resources by automating responses;
  • Boost customer retention;
  • Enhance email marketing by improving deliverability rate;
  • Maintain domain reputation by collecting valid email addresses of potential customers.

3) Use paid advertising. Paid advertising campaigns are a great way to make warm leads hotter. You can use search engines and social media ads to ensure your ads are seen specifically by your target audience.

For example, you can narrowly target audiences based on the company’s name, revenue, and shared interests. Besides, placing ads on websites that cater specifically to your audience means that you’ll reach prospects who are actively looking to buy.

How to make your lead generation strategy flawless

Here’s what you can do to ensure the best-quality leads.

1. Adjust the ideal customer profile

Whatever your product is, you can’t sell it to everyone. ICPs are necessary to narrow your search. Each lead should match your ICP, and each piece of content must appeal to a specific buyer persona.

You can attract drones of leads with deals and discounts, but they won’t be interested in your product or service. So if you want top-quality leads, work on attracting those who fit the profile the most.

2. Personalize your outreach campaigns

With an ICP, you can personalize your cold outreach campaigns to the selected best-matching leads. Automation sales tools collect leads’ contact information so that sales development representatives (SDRs) can tweak their messages depending on leads’ job titles, company sizes, and other firmographic data.

But social media feeds and comments can reveal shared interests. For example, you and a lead share a love for a certain opinion leader or media, and you can weave it nicely into your personalized drip campaigns.

3. Launch smart lead nurturing

It is a lead-up to the sale that consists of multiple touches to keep the interest level high. It requires a delicate touch — you can’t be too pushy because it’ll turn them off, but you also can’t let them forget about you.

Marketing and sales want to orchestrate their efforts so that leads view the company’s product mentioned on social media, hear about it from friends, or get a personalized email from someone at the company before they make a purchase.

That’s it!

Now you know how to tell one lead from the other and know that you need to treat them differently. Both hot and warm leads can benefit from nurturing, but the hot ones are those most likely to convert into a sale. 

In the end, your lead qualification process should help you reach more hot prospects and help them convert into customers.

You also must take some time to analyze how well your leads turn out in the long run. You might be surprised with the results and discover a way to improve your lead generation technique and overall sales rates. To do so, check out Belkins’s B2B blog regularly and apply the insights to your lead generation practices.

Have troubles with lead generation? The Belkins team has already generated almost 5,000,000 high-quality leads for their clients. Book a call with our expert and we can help you with that too. 

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Dmitry Chervonyi
Dmitry Chervonyi
Chief Marketing Officer at Belkins
Since starting his career in sales & marketing, Dmitry never stopped searching for new opportunities that can turn the tables on sales development and the ways that shape B2B relationships. He is always eager to share his findings with the audience.