One of the primary goals in marketing to electronics engineers is lead generation: feeding the sales pipeline with new contacts and future customers. But are you generating true leads, or are you really just generating contacts?

Generating leads means that you are passing real business opportunities to your sales team. But generating contacts means you are not, and only taking up your team’s time – which they should be spending on live opportunities. Learning to differentiate the two is incredibly beneficial.

This question of leads versus contacts is more than a philosophical debate; it directly impacts the topline revenue figure at the end of the year, because in electronics engineering (like many B2B industries) the sales cycle can easily be 12 to 24 months or longer. It’s simple: if your team is wasting its time trying to figure out which contacts are in buying mode, then they are spending less time closing deals.

But let’s be philosophical for a moment – what is the real difference between a lead and a contact? The simple answer is “time!” Let’s say you identify the contact information of 10 prospective customers. You may have recorded their job title, or background info, etc. and found that these individuals buy your specific component, material, equipment, etc. But suppose 7 of the 10 prospects have no plans at all to buy anything in the next 12 months – are they a lead? Where they may certainly be a valuable contact, in the context of your sales target this year, they are not a lead. By comparison, let’s suppose you know that the other 3 have clear buying intentions, defined programs, or live RFQs during your sales period (typically this calendar year). These are the real sales leads.

Time, specifically buying intent during that period of time, is the differentiating factor between a lead and a contact, and pretty vital to how and where you direct your sales effort.

So, on to the next obvious question: This year, how do you figure out which contacts are just contacts and which are in buying mode?

Hopefully you are not relying exclusively on your sales team to make phone calls, send e-mails, and schedule visits to figure this out as this can be a very time-sensitive and inefficient way of identifying live buyers. Sales teams should be A-B-C: “Always Be Closing”. Essentially, identifying live buyers is a market research function.

For some sales and marketing organizations, this may mean making some changes against “the way we have always done it”; some sales people may even define their job as “uncovering the live leads.” To this, I say: no. Sales teams should be closing deals. Marketing teams should be developing live leads.

Now if the sales team is not identifying the real buyers, then how should the marketing team be doing this work? The answer is, with two things: Data and Content.

A lead conversion funnel and how to develop one will be covered in the next post, but in the meantime, here is a simplified outline of the steps to take:

  1. Unify all of your data: contacts, prospects, customers etc. into a single database
  2. Via email, offer content which first qualifies / requalifies these contacts as true prospects (and conversely helps you to remove the irrelevant contacts and bad data)
  3. From the qualified contacts, develop a campaign of customized content, which requires these contacts to share their buying intentions
    Connect the sales team with the live buyers

Final thought: A real lead has 3 essential components: Contact Info + Product Interest + Buying Intent (within your specified timeframe). Everything else is just a contact, at least for now…

ITEM Media provides lead conversion services to clients in the EMC, thermal management, and electronics reliability markets. For more info contact Graham Kilshaw at