Lead vs. Prospect vs. Opportunity. What’s the Difference?

Dmitry Chervonyi
AuthorDmitry Chervonyi
Reading time:7m

The business universe is the hardest sphere to penetrate. Gaining the first 1000 customers is complicated, but it does not get easier if you do not have the necessary knowledge. On the contrary, it gets harder. 

There is a need to gain a certain number of leads for the sales process. Every sales rep will agree with us on this. It is why companies need all the information they can get in terms of a target market, sales, and marketing. It brings us to one of the most confusing concepts when it comes to marketing campaigns and business as a whole: the lead vs. prospect concept.

If you have been in the business circle long enough, you have probably heard about leads and prospects. Are they the same? Are leads and prospects different? If so, how different are they? Well, we will be going in-depth with this in our article. 

If you plan to make money in the business niche, or if you want to be the best sales rep out there, these are some elements that you need to add to your skillset. We will help you with everything that concerns qualified prospects and leads in this article.

What Is a Sales Lead?

The first thing every marketing team needs to know is lead identification. The best way to easily identify and differentiate leads and prospects is to ensure that you know the individual definitions of the two. 

We will start by looking at the definition of a lead. Sales leads are described as an entity that has registered interest in a specific product or service that you offer. Certain traits are used to identify sales leads. These are some of the sales data that can be used to determine lead qualification:

  • Individuals who ask questions about products or services.
  • Individuals who visit your business websites.
  • Individuals who call and  book appointments.

Various businesses have different lead qualification criteria since a lead may differ from one business to another. Sales lead identification criteria should be created based on the business model and recurring customer behavior. There isn’t a single sales lead identification criterion that would fit all businesses. 

Indeed, companies need to have lead generation activities. The starting point is to spot your particular buyer persona. Once you have identified sales leads, you can go a mile further and classify unqualified contacts into the three lead categories that are TOFU (Top of the Funnel), MOFU (Middle of the Funnel), and BOFU (Bottom of the Funnel).

Who Is a Sales Prospect?

Sales prospects are in a way a more advanced form of a lead. To define a sales prospect in a rather specific manner, we can tell that sales prospects are sales qualified leads. A marketing qualified lead is simply a person who’s proved that they deserve a personal sales outreach. 

One thing that is essential to understand about sales prospects is that there has to be a qualification process that is used to determine whether a lead is good enough to become a prospect. Sales managers and sales reps usually come up with the strategy rather than the entire marketing department. It is because they are best positioned to create the best-fit criteria. A sales rep interacts with the leads, and they understand leads better than anyone else in the sales team. 

The qualifying criteria are different from one business to another. The reason for this is because the consumers of every single company aren’t the same. With every business, customers’ behavior differs.

As a result, there is a need for companies to craft comprehensive and well-fitting criteria, which can be used to qualify leads and convert them into prospects.

A sales pipeline can help in coming up with a strategy to determine whether a lead is a prospect or not. A sales pipeline is a general guideline when it comes to sales prospecting. It is essential to look at it before coming with qualifying criteria. It is an important element in the entire sales process.

Now it is essential to look into sales opportunities to ensure that the lines that separate the three kinds of potential clients are outlined really well in the sales process. The terms lead vs. opportunity vs. prospect is an ever-running contest. That’s why it is essential to understand how they work individually and with one another. 

We have highlighted that a lead is a potential customer and indicated that a prospect is a potential customer that has shown intense interest and qualifies for further sales outreach. The question that comes next is what an opportunity is then.

What Is a Sales Opportunity?

A sales opportunity is essentially a qualified prospect that has responded to your sales outreach and is just on the verge of purchasing your product or service. The opportunity stage is the last before a lead becomes a customer. So it is essential to understand how to handle sales opportunities as losing them will mean that all the hard work is wasted.

Before we get to dealing with sales opportunities, you should know how to spot and identify a sales opportunity.

Identifying a Sales Opportunity

Sales opportunities are essential, and businesses can’t do without them. It means that there is a need to treat them with the respect they deserve. You cannot do this, though, if you do not know how to identify one. 

A sales opportunity does not need to essentially meet all the standards, but a combination of most characteristics is important. The last thing you would want to do is to invest funds in pursuing a perceived opportunity and, in the end, waste time and money.


Leads that engage more with your marketing campaigns are most likely to be sales opportunities. Depending on your marketing strategy, engagement can come in different forms. If you are mainly using social media within your marketing efforts, the best way to measure engagement is through analyzing the use of views, comments, shares, and likes. Leads that engage with your content exhibit a sales opportunity for your business, and there is a need to offer them sales outreach as they are most likely going to become opportunities and, eventually, customers.


Once you have identified a potential lead, the next step is often cold outreach. At this stage, it’s better to entrust the task to an email marketing agency. Experts know how to handle email marketing and how to avoid getting into the spam folder. If a lead responds positively to cold emails and calls from sales reps, they are most probably a good fit to be a sales opportunity.

Cold email marketing campaigns work, but, over the years, with ESPs trying to consistently spoof spamming, we recommend that you use phone calls. The best part about phone calls is that you can read customer emotions and, essentially, identify the best way to boost your customers’ interest.

Creating a Sales Opportunity 

Identifying a sales opportunity is essential, and, in some instances, there is a need to create an opportunity. There are several steps you can take to turn every potential customer into a sales opportunity. These steps include the following ones.

Identifying the Need 

It is the first and foremost characteristic you need to identify and cement in leads that could be sales opportunities. Potential customers have to "need" your product. That is what kick-starts the entire sales process. 

It means that your product or service should be able to fulfill a need in their business or life. How do you identify if there is a "need"? Well, it is quite easy. The first thing you should do is to get to know the problem that the potential customer needs to fix. 

Once you have an idea of the problem at hand, all you have to do is explain to the customer how your product can alleviate the problem. Identifying a need is not enough — you need to also relate the problem with the service or product you are selling to get the customer on board.

Once you have identified the needs, the next step in the sales process is to boost interest.

Boosting Interest 

We have highlighted that it is essential to understand the customer's needs. Once it is done, the next thing is to raise interest. How do you do this? Well, the simplest way of boosting your customer’s interest is to explain in detail how your product will help them to satisfy their "needs" or solve their problem. This part is essential, and it is important to avoid generic pitches. Making sure that the pitch is directed to the particular buyer persona always works wonders in marketing.

Allow Potential Clients to Decide

This part of the sales process is equally essential. Once you have evoked interest, there is a need to allow the potential customer to decide. If you have done the first two steps right, it should be easy. There is no need to be pushy and overcompensating. You would not want to mess up a sales opportunity. Make sure you exercise patience and courtesy, and you can easily close your sale.

Sales Funnel 

The sales funnel is generally one of the most important concepts in sales. The sales funnel defines the step-by-step process, which guides clients from the moment they hear about your product until they make a purchase. The sales funnel is a visual illustration of the entire sales process, and people need to understand it and use it accordingly. The sales funnel has 4 main stages. 

Sales Funnel Stage 1: Awareness

It is the stage at which potential clients become aware of the existence of your product. Awareness is built mostly through advertising, be it digital or physical. Another useful means of awareness is by word of mouth, when people that have previously purchased your product recommend it to other individuals. Social media has, over the years, been one of the leading tools in terms of awareness.

Sales Funnel Stage 2: Interest 

Once potential customers are aware of your product, they search and try to find some information about your business. If the information they get is satisfactory, they are bound to get interested.

 Sales Funnel Stage 3: Decision 

With an interesting base built on the customer, the next stage involves making a decision. In most instances, customers have two or more alternatives to your service or product. The interest stage helps them in making a decision to pick either your product or its alternative. This is why it is essential to create an attractive marketing campaign.

Sale Funnel Stage 4: Action 

The final stage of the sales funnel is the action stage. Once a decision is made, a sales prospect should act on it. Once a purchase has been made, there is a need to continue nurturing the lead. That is how you retain customers and make money.

We have looked at the three essential terms in the sales industry and how important they are. We’ve also prepared a summary for you to understand them more easily.

Opportunity Identification in the Sales Process

By now, we have fully explained what a lead, prospect, and opportunity are. It is essential to put the three in a hierarchy. 

Lead Prospect Opportunity Hierarchy

Potential lead

Someone who is aware of your product's existence but has not shown interest in the product.


Someone who knows about your product's existence and has expressed interest in your product.


A lead that has been qualified for further sales outreach based on the business's custom qualifying criteria.


A prospect that has shown willingness to buy a product through responsive and positive feedback to sales outreach.

Customer/ Client

Someone who has bought the product or service sold by the company.


These are generally the stages that marketing and sales teams have to undertake from identifying a lead until they close a sale. It is essential to make sure that all due diligence is taken to avoid wasting funds on sales pursuits that may not yield results. Also, don’t forget to keep customer value in mind throughout the entire process.

Of course, leads for sale are always an option, but if you want to boost sales without putting your money at risk, you need an experienced marketing and sales team that has already proven its efficiency and brought more profit to other businesses similar to yours.

Belkins is one of those companies that can boast a perfect reputation and impeccable results. So if you need good results, just give us a call.

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.
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