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Cold, warm & hot leads: what is the difference for b2b sales

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If you communicate with all potential clients in the same way, you probably prevent your company from increasing sales. 

The main classification of leads is how close they are to buying your product. You may either get them as warm/hot right away or nurture them forward to that stage from the cold. 

By distinguishing the cold, warm, and hot leads in your sales process, you can allocate efforts properly. If you are pursuing low-qualified leads, the hot ones may just move to your competitor. We recommend dedicating most of the working time to hot leads.

Moreover, sometimes you will need to break down your leads into narrower types of leads too. It depends on your sales cycle and how personalized and targeted your approach should be. 

For preliminary learning of sales lead types, study this chart. It contains characteristics of each type.

Cold, warm, hot leads and relevant qualifying criteria

Below is a detailed explanation of how to qualify the main types of leads and the approaches to deal with them.

What is a cold lead?

Cold leads are companies with no clue about your brand, though they generally need your service and have similar characteristics to your customers, i.e. match your ICP. Typically you find the organizations in B2B databases or just on the web. 

What is a warm lead?

Warm leads are companies with a need and interest in your products, though the purchase isn’t a top priority right now. They take their time considering alternatives. Such leads probably found you on Google and signed up for your service or requested a demo. 

Note: distinguish warm leads that just leave their email to get the e-book or subscribe to your newsletter. They know your brand though they show interest in the content rather than a product. They still may ignore your messages and calls as cold leads do. Such prospects need a different approach from those we mentioned above. 

What is a hot lead?

Hot leads meaning is motivated and time-sensitive B2B buyers. They are specific about the time, budget, and decision-making power.  Hot leads may find you via word of mouth or, most likely, be nurtured from warm or cold leads.

Cold lead vs. warm lead: create demand

Cold lead might need a solution for their problem, though they don’t have a need for your product. In comparison, warm lead knows about your product and its advantages though isn’t sure about buying it right now. The cold lead vs. warm lead communication differs correspondingly. 

With cold leads, your goal is to create demand for your product. Sometimes you first need to explain the problem they have, though didn’t identify it. You send case studies, ask questions about their specific challenges, share educational materials (blogs, e-books, guides) and product-related visualized stats.

How cold leads turn warm

  • You describe the problem

  • They agree they have it

  • You explain why they should solve the problem in the way your product do

  • They find it reasonable

  • You explain why your product is the best fit

  • They are interested in your solution

The difference is that with warm leads, you turn your focus to talking about the product, explaining the benefits with videos, product how-to guides, reviews, etc. You now can Agree on a date when you can discuss their further steps with your solution — will they buy or not. With warm leads, you can create an urgency for the purchase, for instance, using time-limited special offers. 

How to warm up cold leads 

  • Idea 1. Find buyer intent triggers
  • Idea 2. Mention someone they know
  • Idea 3. Generate demand with Reddit
  • Idea 4. Grab prospect’s attention using Twitter

Look at the LI message below. It looks like a perfect situation, though, as author and Co-Founder of Atrium Peter Kazanjy says — it is a rare case. Most likely, you will need to nurture a lead from cold to warm vs. hot.

Getting only warm and hot leads is great, though it isn’t a typical situation. Rather than waiting for a surge of hot leads, nurture your cold leads in sales.

Find buyer intent triggers

Track what happens at companies from your list and contact those most likely to buy right now. This practice enhances your odds of getting warm and hot sales lead types faster. Your outreach will be to the point and well-timed.

What’s more, you can scale the method. Let’s take a new round of funding trigger. It means the startup is developing new initiatives in areas where your company can potentially contribute. You can check the list of companies in Crunchbase’s «Funding Rounds this Week» and set Google alerts for target prospects. 

Mention someone they know

Preparing your cold message, allude to the person familiar to your lead. For example, you send 2 similar emails to decision-makers mentioning their names in the subject line: «would you and Naomy be interested». As another example — you contact a decision-maker and ask about the employee who will use your solution: «will Kate benefit from this». 

Generate demand with Reddit

Redditors discussing problems your product can resolve are cold leads. You can follow the tactic below to generate more warm leads and sales. 

Naturally, mention in the discussion that you know the tool to solve the problem. Avoid selling, naming your service or linking your website. Here are some examples

Grab prospect’s attention using Twitter

Compared to a prospect's inbox or LinkedIn profile, Twitter is less overwhelming. It is easier to catch leads’ attention and initiate communication. 

Sending your perfect cold email to the prospect, use Twitter as an additional touchpoint:

  • Tip 1. Engage with their content.
  • Tip 2. Mention them under interesting posts by their industry. 
  • Tip 3. Record a video introducing yourself and tweet it to the cold leads in sales. 
  • Tip 4. Watch their posts to be on time when they talk about topics related to your product.

How to use LinkedIn to generate warm leads

LinkedIn is one of the popular platforms to warm up cold leads and generate warm leads. Here are 5 working tactics to use it.

  • Tactic 1. Leverage thought leadership
  • Tactic 2. Engage with prospects’ content
  • Tactic 3. Join LinkedIn communities
  • Tactic 4. Attend LinkedIn events 
  • Tactic 5. Get referrals from your network

Tactic 1. Grow your LinkedIn account and create relevant content

You can have a relevant following of potential clients yourself or leverage accounts of your Chief executives. For the tactic, you create posts about your audience's pain points and motivate engagement. Social selling and thought leadership are topics for stand-alone articles. In the material, we provide a possible 10-step strategy to generate more warm leads in sales with your posts:

  • 1 STEP - share content.
  • 2 STEP - check who from commenters falls into your ICP.
  • 3 STEP - reply to the comment.
  • 4 STEP - connect with them.
  • 5 STEP - take conversations to the DM.
  • 6 STEP - over time, share content in DM that might interest them.
  • 7 STEP - check the warm leads’ activity section on LI.
  • 8 STEP - if you find their posts related to your product or problem you help with, continue your conversation in DM.
  • 9 STEP - ask qualifying questions. 
  • 10 STEP - show how you can help.

Tactic 2. Engage with warm leads’ content

You have a list of prospects matching your ICP. Scan their profile and add a little personalized note with your connection request. Whether they are accepted or ignored it, follow them and set notifications about their posts (if possible). Then go ahead and engage with their posts — react and add valuable comments.

Tactic 3. Join LinkedIn communities of your prospects’ interest

Avoid the groups which don’t ban promotions and ads because people usually don’t read such groups in detail. Also, remove from your list those groups which have few discussions and likes. 

Warm and hot types of leads in sales look for solutions to their daily challenges in such communities. Those who mentioned the problem you can help with can be contacted via comment or direct message. 

Additionally, you can share useful content in the groups to show you can be helpful.

Tactic 4. Attend LinkedIn events and contact attendees

LinkedIn events are a simple way to warm leads. People are inclined to connect with whom they have something in common. Here is an instruction to generate warm leads this way.

  • 1 STEP - Type *relevant topic to your prospects* in the LinkedIn search bar.
  • 2 STEP - Filter by «Events».
  • 3 STEP - Pick out the event that seems most to the point.
  • 4 STEP - Click on «Attend event», which gives you access to the attendee list.
  • 5 STEP - Open the list of attendees of the LinkedIn event with the installed chrome extension.
  • 6 STEP - Click to GetProspect circle.
  • 7 STEP - Choose the appropriate list where to save the leads or build a new one.
  • 8 STEP - Choose the number of pages and click «Save all» to get contacts and basic data of the hot leads in sales.
  • 9 STEP - Ta-da! You have a ready-to-send list of valid emails. 

Tactic 5. Easy referral leads

Referrals are warm leads since a referred customer is already pre-sold on the credibility of the salesperson and the product. Here is one of the strategies.

  1. Go through your CRM and list customers. Start with those who bought directly from you.

  2. Connect with them on LinkedIn.

  3. When they’ve approved you, open Sales Navigator and start a new search.

  4. Under the «Connections of» filter, insert the name of one of those people (you must be connected with them to do this).

  5. Filter by your ICP criteria (Company size, industry, location, persona…)

  6. Pick two or three cold leads in sales that look good.

  7. Message your customer if you can refer to them when reaching the prospects you found in their connections.

  8. Make the prospect source a part of your process.

After you've compiled a list of warm leads from LinkedIn, you'll probably need their email addresses for further multi-channel outreach. You can use the email extractor from LinkedIn

Warm leads vs. hot leads: nurturing

While warm leads just consider your product, hot leads have external pressures to buy (such as investor requirements, market changes) and choose your product as fitting their needs. Comparing warm leads vs. hot leads, hot leads require from you a more active approach. The problem you solve is a high priority for them now. If you slow down, they might opt for a competitor. 

If hot leads in sales don’t buy immediately, it is crucial to keep them interested till the sale. They still can easily turn to cold leads. A hot lead can forget your benefits in a week and start doubting the need for your product.

Ideally, give them a test period and softly follow up by offering tips and help. 

Hot lead vs. cold lead

Hot leads are those who are ready to buy your product. Sometimes hot leads may turn cold. They didn’t get the budget, rethought their strategy, were convinced by a competitor, etc. So some cold leads are aware of your business and product, though they lost their intent to buy.

There are also cases when the lead turns from cold to hot, skipping being warm. Your work is to notice the reaction and adapt the hot lead vs. cold lead approach. 

The jump from cold to hot could be just an accident. You called a cold lead, and it turned out that she had been thinking about the kind of services you offer for a long time. Or… It could be deep research and relevant tools uncovering buyer intent. 

You increase your chance of getting hot leads in sales from cold ones if you learn facts that indicate the problem you solve is a high priority. For example, you discovered from their employees on social media that they aren’t satisfied with their CRM. 

Scale for the hot lead vs. cold lead

If you fine-tune the strict qualification process, you won’t need to scale cold leads to scale hot leads. By this, you move forward with those leads with higher odds of closing. The advice related to both outbound and inbound lead gen channels. 


  • To have sales your communication with cold, warm, hot leads should differ

  • Warm leads ≠ inbound leads. They may leave their email to attend your webinar, though have zero interest in your products

  • You can speed up the transition from cold to warm and hot leads in sales by looking for buyer intent triggers, grabbing their attention on less popular platforms, mentioning someone they know, engaging with their social content, asking for referrals, etc.

Get emails for extra touchpoints with your cold and warm leads

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The difference between cold warm and hot leads


Cold leads

Warm leads

Hot leads

Relation to the product

Don’t know about the product and your brand

Know about your product and its advantages, don’t sure about a purchase, considering alternatives too

Plan to buy your product, tested it, and sure that it fits their needs


Match your ideal customer profile, probably have an urgent need for products like yours

Interested in your product

Has a budget and decision-making power


B2B databases, social media, a considerable part of inbound leads, lost opportunities, etc.

Nurtured from cold leads, inbound leads that signed up for your service or requested a demo, contacted you by email or social media, etc.

Most likely, they are nurtured from warm or cold leads

Communication content

Сreate demand with cold leads, talking about the problem and asking questions

Explain to warm leads why your product is a better solution

Keep their intent to buy till purchase


More frequent in the beginning to qualify the prospect and slowing down at 5-7 follow-up.

Regular weekly or monthly follow-ups, so they don’t forget you and your benefits.

Active communication and deadlines. If you slow down, they might opt for a competitor

About author

Maksim Grigoryev

15+ years experience in sales and marketing for engineering solutions, IT products, e-commerce. Focused on building sustainable processes with predictable results. Currently, I’m growing GetProspect as a Product Marketing Lead. So I’ll share the insights, cases, and best practices we got about sales, prospecting, targeting the right people, and reaching them with clear messages.