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A lead, in a marketing context, is a potential sales contact: an individual or organization that expresses an interest in your goods or services. Leads are typically obtained through the referral of an existing customer, or through a direct response to advertising/publicity. A company's marketing department is typically responsible for lead generation.
Pursuing and closing leads normally falls to the company's sales department. For example, a vendor will display their wares at an industry trade show, hoping to attract the attention of qualified buyers attending the exhibit. Each inquiry for more vendor information would be a "lead," which might subsequently be developed into a sale.
A company's lead generation efforts and its approach to dealing with leads can significantly impact its success in the marketplace. To that end, most organizations try to establish effective practices involving:
lead generators: any marketing-related activity intended to publicize the availability of a vendor's product or service.
lead nurturing: the practices that a company establishes for dealing with potential leads.
lead scoring: processes or software designed to rank the importance of leads to the company.