Lead generation is a critical step in the marketing process, but more important, it’s fundamental to business growth.
In fact, a study by Marketo showed that companies with sound lead generation practices achieved at least 133 percent more revenue than enterprises that don’t have good techniques in place.
And while business owners from organizations big and small, as well as marketers at all stages in their careers, say they understand the key role lead generation plays in boosting the bottom line, they also say that it’s one of their greatest ongoing challenges.
We’re here to help. In this guide, we’ll cover key considerations to keep in mind when developing a lead generation strategy. We’ll also explore various techniques for generating leads online. And we’ll review business-to-business (B2B) lead generation methods, investigate the concept of lead scoring, and discuss how to measure and optimize lead generation campaigns.
In essence, we’ll prepare you to use lead generation to start achieving the marketing and business results you want to see.
What is lead generation?
There might be thousands of prospects out there who are aware of your brand, but until they engage with you in some way, they remain strangers to your company. How do you draw such targets in and capture their interest so that they’ll make themselves, and ideally their email addresses or phone numbers, known to you? Through lead generation.
Simply put, lead generation is the process of converting strangers — prospects that have indicated an interest in what you’re offering — into leads and starting them on the journey of becoming a customer.
After all, if you haven’t captured a prospect’s interest and figured out how to communicate with and identify them, you have no one to aim your marketing efforts at — no one to nurture toward purchase. That’s why it’s important you manage your lead generation practices well.
Lead generation strategies: Key considerations and effective lead magnets
If lead generation is the process of converting strangers into leads, then a lead generation strategy refers to the approach you use to support and optimize this process. Essentially, it’s a plan of action to attract and capture leads.
Naturally, there are a number of concepts you need to understand and a range of decisions you have to make when building an effective lead generation strategy. In this section, we cover key definitions and outline important factors to consider before you start implementing specific tactics.
How lead generation has evolved with digital transformation
First and foremost, it’s key to understand that the lead generation process today looks nothing like it did 40, 30, and even 20 years ago. With the rise of the internet, the way brands reach potential customers has changed drastically.
Here we outline a few of the digital transformation-related developments that have impacted this aspect of marketing. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with these changes so you can adjust your strategy, if necessary, and capitalize on these opportunities.
Information overload and attention scarcity. With the proliferation of online channels, consumers are now inundated with information. They’ve had to learn how to tune certain messages out, and they’ve become pickier about the content they consume. As a result, brands have to work much harder to cut through the noise and grab attention. A strong lead generation strategy is now essential.
The shift from “finding” to “being found.” Because of the abundance of information out there, buyers today are fairly self-directed. They do their own research and actively seek out brands that appeal to them. While in the past, companies would spend much of their time looking for and “finding” prospective customers, today businesses invest in tactics that position them to “be found” by consumers organically.
The rise of new channels. Companies used to be limited to offline lead generation tactics (more on this later). Today, thanks to digital transformation, businesses can use everything from blogs and Facebook posts to SEO and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to capture attention.
Access to data. Thanks to analytics, we can now closely monitor user behavior and measure the impact of marketing activities. Insights from data provide us with invaluable information about prospects and the types of messages they respond to best. As a result, lead generation strategies can be less generic and more personalized, and less based on intuition and more on hard facts.
A heightened focus on relationships. Lead generation used to be about initiating interest for the purpose of ultimately closing a sale. Now, customers expect engagement with brands. They want two-way communication and meaningful interaction at multiple touch points. Lead generation is now more about initiating long-term relationships with prospects than anything else.
Lead generation approaches: Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing
One of the first decisions you’ll have to make when developing a lead generation strategy is whether you’re going to rely on inbound or outbound marketing tactics, or a mix of both.
Inbound marketing explained
The goal of inbound marketing lead generation is being found. These efforts rely on a strong digital presence.
Inbound marketing is the process of companies pulling in prospects organically by giving them something they’re actively looking for (something useful or educational, for instance). Organizations earn attention this way, and the prospective customer is the one who opens the lines of communication.
Examples: blog posts, organic social media posts, podcasts, opt-in emails, optimized content, YouTube videos
Outbound marketing explained
In contrast to inbound marketing, outbound marketing efforts focus on broadcasting messages to find prospective customers wherever they are. In this case, the organization buys or otherwise gets attention, and it’s the business that initiates communication, not the prospect.
Examples: Cold calling, which entails phoning a prospect you’ve had no prior contact with, is a key example of outbound marketing, and was once a popular tactic. As this methodology relies on making contact with cold leads (more on this below), it’s lost much of its efficacy today. That means that if you’re going to make use of this technique, it’s critical that you’ve mastered the art of cold calling first.
Aside from the above, other examples of outbound marketing include television, radio, and print advertisements; billboards; direct mail; and email blasts to purchased lists.
Outbound vs inbound: A direct comparison
|Outbound marketing||Inbound marketing|
|Direction of focus||Outward||Inward|
|Approach||Push messages to customers||Pull customers to messages|
|Audience (scope)||Large and broad||Smaller and more targeted|
|Messaging specificity||Tends to be quite generic||Tends to be more personalized|
|Conversation dynamics||One-way conversation||Two-way conversation|
|Customer control||Low: Customers see messaging whether they’re looking for it or not||High: Customers seek out contact and messaging|
|Cost per lead generated||Tends to be higher (according to HubSpot, outbound leads cost 61 percent more than inbound leads)||Tends to be lower (as compared to outbound marketing)|
Offline lead generation: Why you shouldn’t neglect it
With all the emphasis on digital, it’s easy to forget that there are ways to generate leads offline, out in the physical world. While many may try to convince you that online is the way to go, there’s still some merit to offline lead generation tactics. Some of the benefits of going this route — to supplement your digital efforts — include
- Tapping into the offline market. Depending on your brand identity and offering, there may be a slice of your target market that isn’t very active online. This audience is, therefore, going to be more receptive to offline tactics than blog posts and PPC ads, which they’ll likely never see.
- Building relationships the old-school way. As mentioned previously, today’s customers want relationships with brands, and there’s no more powerful way to engender trust and strengthen connections than to engage in face-to-face interactions. That’s likely why 51 percent of B2B professionals name trade shows and industry events a top source of leads.
- Playing where there’s less clutter. With most marketers moving online, it’s become less common to encounter offline lead generation techniques. If consumers aren’t as flooded with content in this area, attention scarcity becomes less of an issue, and they might be more receptive to messaging.
Examples of offline lead generation
Consider some of the following non-digital lead generation activities:
- Setting up a booth at a trade show
- Presenting at a seminar or conference
- Sponsoring an event
- Sending direct mail
- Publishing entertaining or educational content in print mediums (offline content marketing)
Lead generation, lead management, and the sales funnel
Lead generation is just one part of the broader process of individuals and businesses progressing from strangers to committed customers. The marketing-sales funnel, or the lead funnel, is a visualization of this process, and it indicates the various stages that consumers move through on their journey toward purchase. It’s meant to help marketing and sales professionals better understand where prospects are in this process and what information they might need to become customers.
To develop a sound lead generation strategy, you need to understand where this particular part of the process fits into the broader sales picture. It’s also vital to remember that marketing doesn’t stop at lead generation. Once you’ve captured a lead, you still need to nurture this prospect down the funnel toward a sale.
Let’s take a look at the traditional lead funnel and its various components.
Top of funnel (ToFu)
Prospects at this stage are aware of your business (perhaps they’ve seen your social ads or heard about you from a friend), but they haven’t yet engaged with your brand in any way.
Prospects have engaged in an activity that indicates interest in your product or service. They’ve exchanged some of their own information for an offer of some sort and are in the early stages of research.
Lead generation is a top-of-funnel (ToFu) acquisition tool. It takes place throughout the awareness stage and at the intersection of the awareness and interest phases. Essentially, it’s the process of taking mere awareness and converting it into active interest, which you capture in some way so you can enter the prospect into your lead management system. What does this look like in practice? Often, it’s a website visitor who fills in a form on a landing page, giving you their information in exchange for an offer.
Middle of funnel (MoFu)
As its name suggests, this funnel stage sees targets start to more seriously consider your product or service. They engage in more targeted information-gathering attempts but haven’t yet made any kind of buying decision.
At this stage, the lead has taken an action that indicates they intend to make a purchase. That is, they’ve demonstrated interest not just in your offering but in the act of making it their own (they’ve placed an item in their online shopping cart, for instance).
Bottom of funnel (BoFu)
Prospects are very close to purchase but are making final comparisons with similar products or services and are evaluating all of the fine details to make a buying decision.
The prospect makes a purchase and turns into a customer.
The importance of developing buyer personas for effective lead generation
Before you can pull in the kind of leads that are most likely to convert, you need to have a clear understanding of who you’re trying to attract in the first place. In other words, you need to grasp who your ideal customer is and what motivates them to buy. For this reason, creating buyer personas — research-based representations of customer types — is a critical early-stage step when developing a lead generation strategy.
Developing a sound understanding of your target audience will help you to
- Select the most appropriate lead generation channels
- Develop content that addresses targeted concerns and, therefore, is likely to be valued
- Personalize messaging for different audience segments
- Select appropriate lead magnets (see description further down)
- Determine which leads are more likely to convert — based on their similarity to the target audience — and, therefore, which prospects are worth nurturing (see more on qualifying leads below)
Questions to ask yourself when building buyer personas
- What’s our target customer’s income and education level?
- What are their key interests?
- Which social media platforms do they frequent?
- What compels them to buy?
- What are their biggest pain points?
- What’s their role in their company?
- Where do they look for information?
- How do they prefer to communicate?
- How much power do they have to make decisions (for B2B)?
- What are some of the key challenges in their industry (for B2B)?
Answer the above questions by conducting market research, surveying your existing customer base, conducting focus groups, and using analytics.
What’s the difference between cold leads, warm leads, marketing-qualified leads, and sales-qualified leads?
Up until now, we’ve talked about leads as if every one of them is equal. But that’s simply not the case. Some leads are warmer than others. Some are more qualified than others. It’s important to understand the difference and have the tools to make the distinction, so you don’t waste time on leads that aren’t worth pursuing or miss out on the opportunity to convert a promising lead.
Cold leads. A cold lead is a prospect you’re aware of (perhaps you’ve purchased their contact details, for instance), but who isn’t necessarily aware of you and hasn’t yet expressed interest in your solutions.
Warm leads. A warm lead, in contrast, is aware of your company and has taken some kind of high-level action to express interest in your offering. They haven’t seriously considered a purchase yet, though, and haven’t ironed out the details of what they’re looking for.
Qualified leads. This type of lead meets key criteria that suggest they’re worth pursuing. They’re closer to the buying stage than a warm lead, they likely fit your buyer persona, and they’ve engaged in a telling action, like downloading your company brochure. Qualified leads fall into two different categories:
Marketing-qualified leads (MQL). An MQL is a lead that’s more likely to become a customer than others but is still not quite ready to make a purchase. They’ve shown that they’re receptive to your marketing efforts and are engaging with your content (perhaps they’ve visited your website multiple times or have downloaded an e-book), but they haven’t made a buying decision yet. These leads warrant further nurturing; a sales call might be too much, however.
Sales-qualified leads (SQL). Sales leads are further down the funnel than MQLs. They are prospects that have indicated they intend to make a purchase and are, therefore, ready to be handed over to the sales team for conversion.
An overview of lead scoring: How to rank and qualify leads
How do you go about labeling a prospect as an MQL or SQL so you can target outreach accordingly? You use lead scoring to qualify leads.
In lead scoring, you assign points for different attributes and actions to determine a final score that indicates buying stage and purchasing intent. The higher the score, the closer to conversion the lead is.
You have to decide what weight (or point value) to give different qualities and behaviors, and you have to identify a score threshold for the promotion of a lead to MQL or SQL status. In bigger companies, this requires collaboration between marketing and sales teams. Once definitions are in place, many businesses then program lead scoring software to assign points and measure leads against benchmarks.
For the most part, businesses determine points based on
- Demographic information. How closely does the lead match your target B2C customer profile?
- Company information (in the case of B2B selling). How closely does the lead match your target B2B customer profile?
- Behavior on your website. Has the lead visited high-value pages? How many pages have they viewed?
- Email engagement. Does the lead frequently open your emails? Do they often click through from newsletters to your website?
- Social engagement. Does the lead regularly like, share, or comment on your social media posts?
What’s a lead magnet? 22 effective examples
Prospective customers aren’t just going to hand over their personal information. You need to offer them something of value (beyond your product or service offering) in order to make this exchange fair. This “thing of value” is your lead magnet, so called because it attracts leads by giving them something they want or need.
Generally speaking, good lead magnets are specific, accessible, and easy to consume, and solve a defined problem or address a particular need, while positioning you as a thought leader in your field.
Just as your ability to capture leads depends on the strength of your lead magnet, it’s essential that you identify appropriate options early on while developing your lead generation strategy. What works will depend on the buyer personas you’ve developed and the type of offers that prospects are likely to find most valuable.
We cover 22 examples below.
22 examples of awesome lead magnets
- Starter kit
- Downloadable recipe
- Resource guide
- Case study
- Desktop wallpaper
- Free trial
- Special offer
- Free consultation
Useful lead magnets
Educational lead magnets
Entertaining lead magnets
Product-focused lead magnets
How to generate leads online
Once you’ve sussed out the nuts and bolts that underpin your lead generation strategy, you’re ready to power up your lead generation process.
In a recent study, the Kellogg School of Management found that focusing on the digital side — rather than on an in-person, offline approach — tends to drive more leads and ultimately more sales. While various tactics could prove successful when it comes to really getting your lead generation engine cranking, digital may be your best option.
This may differ for different businesses and verticals, but if you decide to prioritize generating leads online, you need to first create something that provides value for prospects — beyond just your product offering. (Revisit the lead magnet section above for some ideas.)
Once you’ve identified your lead magnets, use these four simple techniques to start driving, capturing, and nurturing your could-be customers to conversion.
Build a great lead generation website
- Popup with lead form
- Hero image with lead form
- Hello bar with lead form
- Sidebar with lead form
- Blog post with lead form
- Gated content with lead form
- Traditional landing page with lead form
Your website is ground zero in the lead generation process, with 63 percent of consumers reporting that it’s their preferred port of call when searching for and engaging with a brand.
Beyond just providing information about who you are and what you offer, this all-important marketing channel is where you capture your leads via a lead capture form.
This form can come in all shapes and sizes, but its primary purpose is to collect potential customer contact information in exchange for your lead magnet so that you can continue to market to — and ideally convert — leads into buyers.
For example, you may use a lead capture form to collect an email address in exchange for updates about special offers, or perhaps you have a useful downloadable tutorial that users can access after filling out a form that asks for their job title, company name, company email address, and phone number.
However you decide to capture leads — and regardless of what information you deem most important to collect, it’s essential to make sure the lead generation forms on your website are optimized and fully functional.
7 brilliant ways to capture and generate leads with your website
How to optimize a lead generation form
There was a time that creating and embedding lead capture forms on your site required the know-how of a development team, but these days, services like JotForm have revolutionized the process, making it easy for anyone to create and publish forms on their website in only a matter of minutes.
With technical difficulties removed, you can really focus on optimizing your lead generation form to get the best possible results. Here are six best practices that can help you put together a lead capture form that converts:
- Forms should be one column, with one question per row (according to a Google eye-tracking study).
- Embed your form above the fold, so users don’t have to scroll down a page to view or complete it.
- Create a headline that encourages readers to take action.
- Don’t include too many fields in your form — and don’t ask for too much personal information. A study by HubSpot found that the conversion rate increases by 50 percent when the number of form fields decreases from four to three.
- Choose the color of your call-to-action button carefully. Research generally reports that red is best.
- Think twice about asking prospects for a phone number; asking for this information leads to the highest form abandonment rates. Consider making this an optional requirement if you must collect this information.
5 lead generation form templates for your website that really convert
- Opt-in Form for Free Email Updates
- White Paper Download Form
- Webinar Signup Form
- General Inquiry Contact Form
- Referral Program Form
Dial in your email marketing and think carefully about cold email from purchased or rented lists
Year after year, email earns the blue ribbon as the channel that’s both the best source of leads and the avenue responsible for the most valuable leads.
It’s also generally a low-cost tactic that won’t exhaust your precious marketing budget — if you do it right.
And by right, we mean first and foremost starting with a strategy that can help build your opt-in list of contacts. The days of buying or renting email lists from third-party providers and sending a cold email have gone the way of the dinosaur. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the promise of a 10,000-person instant pool of prospects for a good price is going to be some sort of lead generation silver bullet.
Nowadays, people are not only more discerning and interested in hearing only from brands they’ve formed a relationship with — inboxes are also more selective, often filtering out unsolicited emails from brands as well as blatantly promotional offerings.
And when you buy or rent a list, you forfeit control over the quality of the contacts in that list. That means you have little to no knowledge of whether the email addresses you’re purchasing are active, attached to the correct information, or even legal (in which case you could be violating the CAN-SPAM act and at risk of incurring thousands of dollars in fines).
Instead, take the time to brainstorm some lead magnets that can provide prospects with serious value, encourage them to sign up for a newsletter, subscribe to receive exclusive promotional offers, or exchange their contact information for a valuable piece of content (e.g., a how-to guide, a webinar that features a thought leader in the industry, or a white paper that carefully compares service offerings).
Once you’ve identified the appropriate lead magnet and captured key details, the magic of email marketing can move your new lead further down the sales funnel and, ultimately, to conversion.
To do this well, create custom marketing pathways for future customers based on the information you’ve gathered about them. This could include demographic data (e.g., their job title, geographical area, or income), or it could be based on a behavior or action they’ve taken (e.g., clicked on a certain pay-per-click ad or viewed your demo).
Each successful email marketing campaign should include emails that are as personalized to your prospect as possible, both in terms of the substance of what they’re offering and the messaging (think subject line, email copy, and the language of the call to action).
What’s more, you’ll want to come up with a sequence and a time line that make sense for each of your segments. This may take some experimentation, but by continuously testing everything from email text to the nature of what you’re offering to when you’re sending out your email, you’ll be able to optimize this lead generation effort and get the return on investment you want.
Finally, if you really want to scale and operationalize your efforts, you may want to use customer relationship management (CRM) software to facilitate lead tracking, lead scoring, and lead nurturing.
These tools automate data collection and the lead generation process, making it easier to glean key information about your leads and serve them the right messaging at the right time.
Leverage the power of social media
Social media — like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter — is another great lead generation tactic. Over 66 percent of marketers agree that as little as six hours a week spent on social media campaigns can have huge lead generation benefits.
What’s more, 76 percent of people are prepared to have a conversation via social media; whereas only a mere 10 percent of decision-makers would be receptive to cold calls.
When it comes to lead capture via social media, there are three primary ways to collect information from users:
- Creating posts that send users to a landing page with a lead capture form and lead magnet
- Embedding lead capture forms in an actual social post, company page, or ad
- Encouraging prospects to follow your social account
Some platforms, like Instagram, don’t yet have the functionality to embed lead capture forms, but others, like Facebook and LinkedIn, have a few different embedding options. We’ll explore these in more depth below.
Facebook lead ads
Back in 2015, Facebook made it faster and easier for companies to market to their more than 1 billion users with the advent of lead ads.
These souped-up, mobile-friendly advertisements essentially allow Facebook users to click on an ad, triggering a lead capture form popup. Facebook automatically prepopulates the form with information based on a user’s Facebook profile. It even has the capability to sync with your CRM so that you can start selling to your new prospects instantly.
Some of the most popular uses of Facebook lead ads include newsletter signups, quote requests, and even an event registration. Improvements in customization now allow businesses to give new leads the option to click to call, indicate appointment preferences, and even find out the location of your closest brick-and-mortar location.
Finally, if you’re a small business that doesn’t have a CRM, you can download your leads from the Facebook ad manager.
LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms
For B2B marketers in particular, LinkedIn is an invaluable lead generation source. Thanks to LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms, companies can capture high-quality leads at scale without having to divert users from the social media platform to their website.
Like Facebook’s Lead Ads, this business-centric platform gives brands the opportunity to capture contact information with just a few clicks on some carefully created ads (for example, something that promotes a webinar or an e-book download). LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms also integrate with CRMs and give marketing professionals the opportunity to download leads from the tool’s Campaign Manager.
Last, thanks to in-platform analytics, it’s easy to measure the efficacy of your campaigns by examining cost-per-lead metrics and form fill rate metrics.
Use the best lead generation software and tools out there
Online lead generation efforts have changed over the last decade, and the tech stack that supports this critical marketing activity has followed suit.
Today, there are countless free tools and robust software options that can make the process of managing leads, identifying hot leads from a massive contact list, and automating marketing to leads quicker and easier. Here are a few of the best (we’ve tried to provide different options for different levels of business maturity).
This powerful and affordable online application makes it lightning fast and super easy to create custom lead capture forms and embed them on your website — no coding experience required.
While JotForm is ideal for any size business (it has special options for enterprise-level organizations), it’s especially useful for startups, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs who need a simple way to collect client or customer contact information.
JotForm has a number of pricing options, including a free starter plan, and each of the fee structures gives you access to all of the application’s features.
According to the Harvard Business Review, sales teams that reach out to leads within the first hour are seven times as likely to have a meaningful conversation with prospects and decision makers.
Callingly is a lead generation tool that facilitates this process, automatically triggering connections between sales reps and hot could-be customers as soon as a lead comes in.
The service syncs with any CRM as well as applications like JotForm, and it collects important analytics so you can track and improve call performance.
Callingly is ideal for small and growing businesses, but it does have an enterprise-level pricing option (as well as a free trial).
Now a household name in the inbound game, HubSpot is perhaps the most widely known marketing software in the business. The company’s all-in-one tool is committed to helping organizations big and small grow their traffic, convert leads, and track prospects through the sales funnel.
Beyond just lead tracking, scoring, and management functionality, HubSpot gives companies the ability to build landing pages, lead forms, lead generation content, and full-fledged email marketing campaigns.
There is both a free option and a considerably more robust professional version that comes with over 30 additional features.
Far and away one of the most trusted and formidable marketing automation solutions out there, Marketo is an invaluable lead management and tracking tool for more established businesses.
The software makes it especially simple to nurture leads to conversion via functionality that allows you to create landing pages, email marketing campaigns, and social marketing campaigns.
Marketo does come with a hefty price tag, however, which is why the software is useful primarily for larger companies that are well resourced and regularly work with thousands of prospects.
Pipedrive bills itself as the “first sales CRM designed by salespeople for salespeople,” and true to form, it boosts sales efficiency by identifying the most qualified leads and making it easy for salespeople to reach out to, connect with, and continue to communicate with promising prospects.
Pipedrive comes with extensive reporting and forecasting features, and their mobile functionality allows users to access the information they need from anywhere and at anytime.
Pipedrive has a number of different pricing options, which makes it ideal for both growing businesses as well as heavyweights in any industry.
Methods for B2B lead generation
B2B and B2C marketers face the same central challenge — finding high-quality leads likely to convert to customers at the lowest possible cost.
At the same time, B2B marketing has some unique characteristics that differentiate its lead generation and subsequent lead nurturing process from lead generation for consumer-based businesses.
The most obvious difference is that the process, from initial contact to sale, can take much longer, with the majority of B2B marketers spending at least one month, and as long as one year, engaging leads prior to a sales commitment, according to one recent survey.
Similarly, B2B sales typically involve multiple decision makers, sometimes as many as seven, which means that your lead generation efforts will have a wider scope, targeting a more extensive collection of buyer personas.
Capturing more information at the point of lead generation is pivotal because the marketing process that follows should be nuanced, with different materials and tactics prepared for each particular persona as they move through the lengthy lead nurturing process.
Consider collecting the size and type of business that leads represent, the price points they seem most interested in, and their title or job function.
Since B2B leads are other businesses, the avenues for finding prospects and converting them to leads differ from B2C lead generation. For example, a company looking to capture and convert B2B leads into sales would likely find more success focusing on venues like trade shows and industry conferences, rather than direct mail or consumer advertising, methods that may be on the decline but still have their place in B2C brand marketing.
Finally, B2C lead generation differs from its counterpart in the way that it often focuses on creating added value or enhanced experiences with a brand, for example, providing a quiz focused on your product via a popular consumer website. In contrast, B2B lead generation is likely to be less entertainment-focused and emotional in its appeals, and more information-heavy and devoted to proving return on investment.
Best B2B lead generation channels
According to data from researchers at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the Spiegel Research Center, B2B marketing professionals report that they have more success with blog posts and articles, webinars, white papers, branded digital content, video, and images.
Conversely, in-person seminars and workshops, once regarded as highly effective, seem to be less popular and less effective among today’s busy decision makers and purchasers.
B2B marketers also report that the most common channels for finding leads are email, search, and digital content. More than 50 percent of B2B marketers cite email as the most prevalent source of leads as well as the channel with the most effective and efficient return on investment, the most reliable source of lead generation and nurturing, and the most effective method of conversion from lead to sale.
Demand generation versus lead generation for B2B
Another vital component of a successful B2B lead generation strategy is a strong demand generation approach.
Demand generation is the process of building awareness and creating long-term engagement between prospects/customers and your brand. Though marketers may mistakenly use this term interchangeably with lead generation, lead generation is one of the many activities that falls under the demand generation umbrella.
Other marketing elements that are part of demand generation include demand capture, the process of driving existing demand within your sector to your brand, and pipeline acceleration.
Think of it as the way your marketing team — or you — will guide your potential customer through their journey with your brand, from target audience to lead to customer and beyond.
Demand generation is marketing that focuses on forming a meaningful interaction for potential customers. It communicates your brand’s utility and value, fosters increased levels of trust and confidence from the top of the funnel through the transition to sales, and even leads to future engagement with customers, allowing them to become champions of your brand through social media shares, product reviews, endorsements, and more.
Lead generation is one aspect of demand generation, typically focused near the top of the funnel at the critical point where a targeted audience member begins sharing information that marketing, and later sales, can follow up on to strengthen the interaction between the potential lead and your brand.
SEO-friendly lead generation
There’s no doubt that paid advertising works when it comes to lead generation, but when it comes to online search, the majority of people simply don’t click on formal advertisements (only 2.8 percent according to one study by Moz.com).
In fact, an investigation by GlobalWebIndex reported that nearly 50 percent of internet users employ ad blockers.
Most searchers prefer to click on organic results, unpaid listings that a search engine deems most relevant to a user’s search query and thus prioritizes.
Accordingly, to capture searchers’ attention and drive traffic to your website so that you can generate leads, you need to understand how to get the search engines to prioritize your website.
What is SEO?
Understanding what people are searching for and how to create a website that increases the quantity and quality of your traffic is known as search engine optimization (SEO).
The ability to leverage SEO best practices can be the difference between an optimized website with a steadily increasing flow of traffic — and by extension leads and new business — and a website that no one ever finds and merely acts as a catch-all for your paid marketing efforts.
Optimizing your website is one of the most cost-effective lead generation approaches, as it doesn’t demand continuous funding, like advertising.
As JotForm’s Chad Reid points out, “If you’re solely relying on paid search rather instead of SEO for lead generation, you might miss out on valuable sales.”
How to optimize your website with 5 SEO best practices
Effectively optimizing your website according to SEO best practices can be a complicated and ever-evolving endeavor.
That’s because major search engines, like Google, constantly adjust how they prioritize and rank websites, which means you’ll need to keep up to date with critical changes and make sure your website puts these new developments into play as they roll out.
The structures search engines already have in place to evaluate websites function according to a robust mix of technical, editorial, and outreach fundamentals. To leverage the power of search and ensure this marketing channel is operating at its best, it’s key to understand how all of these components work together and what you need to do to check all the right boxes.
That said, there are a few tried-and-tested practices that you can apply to your website to generate traffic and leads relatively quickly.
1. Make sure your website can be crawled and indexed
First and foremost, make sure that your website is discoverable to search engines. In SEO speak, that means that your website should be crawlable and indexable.
Crawlable: a website that’s created in a way that allows search engine bots to identify and download all of the data on the pages and move through each section of the site with ease
Indexable: a website that’s created to appear in the search engine results pages
The most important steps you can take to ensure a crawlable and indexable website are making your site’s navigation clear and easy to follow and not having robots directing search engine crawlers to ignore certain pages.
2. Identify keywords and generate relevant and compelling content
Keywords, or search queries, are the terms that internet users type into a search engine to find relevant pages. To drive the right kind of traffic to your website, determine which keywords best align with your business and your audience’s interests.
To generate this list, start by brainstorming the kinds of topics people would search for when looking for information about your product or service offering. You may also want to examine the kind of information competitors have in order to refine this list.
Next, use a keyword research tool, like Ahrefs or Moz Keyword Explorer, to get a better idea which topics have the highest search volumes.
Once you’ve identified a list of roughly 20 to 40 keywords that are most relevant to your website, create content pages that address these topics and provide users with the information they’re most interested in.
3. Understand key places of prominence and tailor content accordingly
When search engine bots crawl your site, they investigate the data to get a clear idea of what your pages are about and how relevant they are to particular keywords.
One way they do this is by examining key places of prominence on a page, like a title tag, header tags, and the first 100 words of content, to see if your keyword — and other related topics — are included.
Make sure you have a clear idea of the key places of prominence and have written keyword-rich content to insert into these areas.
Key places of prominence for website optimization
- Title tag
- Meta description tag
- H1 tag
- H2 and H3 tags
- First 100 words of content
- Image alt text
4. Create a great user experience
Recently, search engines have started to find ways to measure and evaluate websites based on their user experience, which is, in a nutshell, how easy it is to use your site.
One of the top ways they evaluate user experience is page speed, which is how fast your website loads and appears for users — both from a desktop and mobile perspective.
While there are a number of other factors that affect this best practice, working with a developer to make sure your load speed is in the green zone in Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool is an absolute must.
5. Build links, build links, build links
One of the most important parts of optimizing your website is making sure that other websites link back to your content pages. That’s because Google and other search engines use the number of links that lead back to your site (and the quality of the domains from which these links originate) as a critical measure of how reputable and relevant your website is.
Think of it as a voting system, where the number of links pointing to your website is similar to the number of votes you’d get in an election.
It’s essential to make it easy for other high-quality sites to embed links back to your site. Here are three ways to make this a reality:
- Create compelling content that people naturally want to link to.
- Create content partnerships where you provide other websites with great content that includes links back to your own.
- Ask your partners or customers to link back to you from their publications.
How to measure the results from SEO
As the old saying goes, if you can’t track it, you can’t improve it — and just like your lead generation efforts, you should have a solid approach to measuring both how well you’re performing from an SEO perspective and how this ties into your lead generation approach.
The metrics attached to these elements can be broadly separated into search-related tracking and engagement tracking. Search-related tracking directly relates to how much traffic you’re bringing to your site, whereas engagement tracking deals with how people behave once they arrive at your site.
In both cases, the most critical tool for keeping tabs on your numbers is Google Analytics, which can be easily set up with or without the help of a developer. Google Search Console is another free tool that can also prove useful.
Search Related Metrics
Total organic users
The number of visitors to your site from unpaid search over a set period of time
Tracking tool: Google Analytics
Where in the search engine results pages your keywords rank over a particular period of time
Tracking tool: Google Search Console
The rate at which people click through to your website as compared to how many times it appears in the search engine results pages
Tracking tool: Google Search Console
Engagement Related Metrics
Time on page
The rate at which users complete a task on your website as compared to the number of visits to your website or page
Tracking tool: Google Analytics
The amount of time a user spends on your website or on a particular page
Tracking tool: Google Analytics
The rate at which a visitor leaves your website without visiting another page as compared to those who visit more than one page
Tracking tool: Google Analytics
When it comes to lead generation, the most important factor to monitor is conversion rate, which gives you an indication of the rate at which people are completing a task on your website (e.g., completing a lead form).
This will give you some insight into which of your pages is the most successful in generating leads and which needs improvement. Once you understand the numbers, you can make strong data-driven decisions — for example, creating more pages like those are that successful or applying the same techniques that were successful on effective pages to poorly performing pages.
As with all marketing efforts, measuring your efforts and constantly refining them is key to success.
The rise of relationship marketing: Maintaining good communication with leads after purchase
Engaged customers become repeat customers. They sing companies’ praises and bring in new leads via word-of-mouth promotion. For this reason, it’s vital that you don’t invest your time in lead generation and conversion efforts just to forget about buyers once they’ve made a purchase. You need to put practices in place to boost lifetime value for consumers and maintain good communication with existing customers.
Recognizing the importance of long-term engagement with leads has led to the rise of relationship marketing, which focuses on customer satisfaction and retention. It has also inspired an extension of the original marketing-sales funnel to include four new post-purchase stages, as described below.
The post-purchase marketing funnel
Customers have just made a purchase and are starting to put it to use. At this stage, it’s essential that you, as a brand, support their adoption of your product or service, and optimize their first experience with it.
At this stage, a brand ideally cements a good relationship with the customer. To encourage leads to stick around, you’ll need to offer them ongoing assistance and provide them with tools and content of value to help them get the most out of their purchase and association with you.
If you’ve successfully retained a customer, you’ll reach this stage, when they’re open to buying add-ons, upgrades, or additional products, and you can successfully cross- or upsell them.
At this point, customers become loyal brand ambassadors. They promote your brand via word of mouth, and in so doing, pull in new prospective customers for you. Cultivating brand advocacy is, therefore, in itself, a lead generation tactic.
8 ways to maintain communication with leads and transform customers from adopters to advocates
- Provide onboarding tools, resources, and guides to help customers get maximum value out of your offering.
- Offer superior customer service and reliable support, especially during the adoption phase.
- Show that you genuinely care about your relationship with customers by requesting feedback. Adopt a “help” mind-set, listen to consumers’ needs, and offer solutions.
- Use segmented email marketing to consistently deliver valuable content targeted at post-purchase needs and concerns. Personalize outreach by researching buyer behavior and demographics.
- Talk with customers, not at them. Encourage two-way communication, and aim to help, not to sell.
- Make use of live chats and messaging apps to engage customers in real time.
- Set up a loyalty program to reward existing customers for ongoing interaction with your business.
Reward customers for referrals and invite, or otherwise encourage them, to post user-generated content and reviews on trusted platforms.
Why bother with lead generation? Tracking-led conversion
Once you start generating leads, you should begin analyzing them at various steps in the marketing-to-sales lead nurturing process in order to prioritize them, more effectively evaluate the success of your lead generation efforts, and ultimately optimize your campaigns to perform better and more efficiently.
There are two main ways to think about lead tracking: volume and quality.
The first approach is to measure the volume of leads you acquire at each phase of your marketing strategy. This will tell you where you are experiencing drop-off, where you may need to improve engagement, or if you need to think about expanding your efforts to draw in more leads at the earliest stages of the funnel. You can also measure the total number of leads and number of leads per channel, as well as conversion rates (successful lead captures) per channel.
Each channel will have different metrics you’ll want to drill down into: For example, to hone your email marketing lead generation efforts, you’ll want to measure delivery rates, open rates (those who opened your email), unsubscribe rates, and click-through rates for the links contained in your email. Optimizing for these elements can ultimately help you capture more leads.
Similarly, for content marketing, you might measure the number of visitors to a particular page, the number of clicks on a call-to-action on that page, click-through rates, and conversion rates. Another way to measure the effectiveness of your content marketing is to measure the amount of time visitors spend on your site and calculate time-to-conversion rates.
The quantity of leads can be very important for high-volume B2C sales models, but a high number of leads does not necessarily equate to efficient ROI for many B2B products or low-volume, high-ticket B2Cs. For these businesses, lower volume but high-quality leads are crucial, and it’s equally crucial to develop effective metrics to analyze the quality of leads.
To measure lead quality, which more aptly translates to how likely it is that a lead will become a customer, select a variety of key performance indicators (KPIs). Assessing the quality of leads allows you to prioritize marketing and sales efforts based on the leads who are most likely to become customers.
Lead quality metrics include:
- Demographic information. You can ask for this at various stages of your marketing strategy in exchange for further information of value, such as webinars. Once you have this information, you can look for demographic information that your converted leads tend to have in common, such as location, and assign values accordingly.
- Social engagement. You measure this according to what leads say about your brand on social media or whether they share your content.
- Fitness. Assign points based on how closely the lead fits the profile of your target customer: for example, whether the lead lives or is located in a given geographic area, if a business is large enough to benefit from your product or service, or if it has a high enough sales volume to afford your product.
- Interest. Measure interest by download tracking, willingness to provide more information in return for further engagement with content, or submission of product queries.
When it comes to tracking lead quality, lead scoring (see below), is the first order of business. By assigning categories and values to leads at the beginning of the lead generation process, and continuing to refine that data as those leads make their way through the funnel toward final sale, you can refine your lead nurturing processes.
Adopting a sophisticated approach to analyzing leads will help you discover the cost of conversion in terms of resources and investment, as well as how much time employees spend per lead. For this reason, some companies measure lead-to-conversion costs by tracking leads from first click to last click, either by the time between each click, or the number of clicks or steps between each stage.
The following tools can aid in lead generation analysis:
|Leadfeeder||Integrates with Google Analytics to display visitor details|
|Lead Forensics||Identifies anonymous web traffic|
|Salesforce Sales Cloud||Includes forecasting tools and sales cycle analysis|
|Pipedrive||A sales CRM designed for mid-sized and small businesses|
|Zoho||Assigns positive and negative scoring to prioritize marketing and sales efforts|
Lead scoring and audience segmentation
Lead scoring is the practice of assigning numerical values to leads using a scale from “merely interested” to “ready to make a purchase,” with the goal of determining a target score that will indicate when a lead needs to transition from marketing to the sales team.
It’s important that sales and marketing use the same metrics for lead scoring. Sales and marketing also need to agree on when and how to measure in order to assign point values. You can also track costs per lead and other aspects of lead generation to more efficiently allocate resources and make necessary adjustments and improvements.
Lead-scoring software can automate lead analysis. These tools can be categorized in a few ways:
- Rules-based lead-scoring automation systems assign numerical scores to leads based on certain agreed-upon behaviors, like how many high-value content pages a lead visits.
- Predictive lead-scoring systems use predictive modeling and complex algorithms to predict lead behavior and assign scores accordingly.
Either scoring system can be used to create priorities for sales contact. Many comprehensive customer relationship management systems have highly regarded lead scoring applications built in. Another option is to use a separate lead-scoring solution.
Lead or audience segmentation is another way of categorizing and evaluating leads. Rather than assigning a numerical value to leads based on their behavior metrics, segmentation categorizes leads based on demographic information such as job title, geographic location, and industry.
A/B testing and other forms of lead analysis
Testing is another way of applying an analytical framework to adjust and improve your lead generation and nurturing processes. A/B testing involves changing one aspect of a lead magnet, for example, a headline on a landing page, sending one version at random to one half of your audience and the other version to the other half, and then analyzing conversion to lead rates to determine which version is most effective.
Buying and selling leads
Like anything of value, leads can be bought and sold. However, just because you can purchase leads doesn’t mean you should.
The pros and cons of buying leads
It’s true that buying leads might save time and money at the top of the funnel. But how do you know these leads will have any interest in the product you’re selling? Even if the lead may need the services you provide, you’ll still have to invest in the rest of the marketing-to-sales cycle. In other words, you may save yourself some of the cost of lead conversion investment, but a large proportion will still remain.
Nevertheless, buying leads may make sense if
- You’re a startup and haven’t had time to hire and train a robust marketing and sales team
- You’re an organization of one or just a few
- The vendor you work with scales their pricing to the size of your business and works closely with you to understand your brand and target audience
- You’re having trouble driving traffic to your digital marketing platform, or your traffic has stalled
However, for most mid-sized or larger organizations, purchased leads are generally not recommended for the following reasons:
- Purchased leads come from a place that isn’t organic to your content; therefore, when you contact those leads, you’re interrupting them rather than following up on an interest they’ve expressed.
- When you contact purchased leads, they may feel tricked or even betrayed by the organization that transferred their data to you.
- You may need to work harder to transform a negative impression into goodwill.
- Purchased leads might label you as spam, and then all of your communications will be filtered out.
- If enough users flag your marketing efforts as “spam,” you may risk being “backlisted” by email providers, and your IP reputation may suffer.
- You’ll end up paying more than you would for in-house generated leads.
Knowing the risks involved, if you decide that you need to buy leads, look for lead providers that are well-reviewed by trusted sources, such as the U.S. government’s Small Business Administration’s Resource Guide, Chronicle of Small Business, TechCrunch, Home Business, or Small Business Trends. Below are several reputable sources of leads.
|UpLead||Focused on B2B, allows lead information integration with most CRM systems|
|FineEmails||Verified email lists at an affordable price|
|D&B Hoovers||Sales leads generated through Dun & Bradstreet’s robust database|
|Salesfully||Simple, affordable, regularly verified lead list|
|LinkedIn Sales Navigator||Provides contact information for decision makers|
There are a number of reasons you might want to sell leads. Leads are a quantifiable commodity, an asset at any company, and one worth leveraging in certain situations. If you have the time and resources to devote to selling leads, and you’re in a position where you can’t convert them yourself, then there’s no reason to leave money on the table.
Below are a few of the scenarios when it might make sense to invest time into researching how to sell leads:
- You’ve accumulated a number of leads that don’t make sense for your business model but that are nonetheless verified, qualified leads that might be of value to someone in a different sector with a different product.
- You’re planning to close your business, but you still have a large number of marketing- or sales-qualified leads in the pipeline.
- You’re interested in starting a business but have no real interest in creating a product or providing a service. In this case, you might consider going into the business of locating and verifying leads, a business model that doesn’t require large startup investments and involves no manufacturing, packaging, or shipping costs.
On the negative side of the ledger, selling leads takes time, resources, and attention away from selling your core product or service. Here are some reasons to think twice before you decide to sell leads:
- You may be selling leads you’ve deemed too difficult to convert before you’ve realized their value to your business.
- You may not have much control over what entity you’re selling your leads to, and the product or service may not be of any interest to the lead you’ve garnered, thus damaging your reputation.
If you’re starting a business that focuses solely on lead generation, it may take some time to gain traction, and you may not earn enough money to make up for the time — in the form of the lost income that time represents — you’re putting into your new endeavor.
How to sell leads
Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided you want to try to sell leads, it’s time to create a process for gathering, categorizing, and pricing your leads. As you price leads, be aware that leads that have voluntarily opted into your content streams and provided contact information along the way are worth more than leads you’ve purchased or collected from lists.
Next, you’ll need to create a buyer network. If you’re shutting down a business, you may want to contact competitors directly. Or you can sell leads to lead brokers. You can contact the Association of National Advertisers for a list of reputable lead brokers.
GDPR compliance and customer consent forms
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) took effect in 2018. Designed to guard consumer privacy, it applies to any organization that markets or sells products or services to citizens of EU countries, as well as those that possess data about those citizens.
GDPR requires companies to obtain frequent and clear consent before gathering personal data on potential customers. In addition, if customers or leads ask to have their data expunged from lead lists and databases, companies must comply under GDPR’s “right to be forgotten” provisions.
If your company violates GDPR, you could be fined up to 4 percent of total revenue, or 20 million euros, whichever is greater (if the maximum fine is applied). If you plan to buy leads from companies that do business in the EU, make sure they’re in compliance with GDPR.
Conversely, if you’re considering selling leads, make that possibility clear as you gather information from leads, and if you haven’t done so, you should be aware that GDPR may affect your ability to sell leads; you may need to contact users who provided information knowingly or passively through data capture and alert them that you may be sharing their data with outside entities in the future.