A quick guide to lead generation

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

A practical step-by-step article to learning everything you need to know about lead generation, and how to start generating leads for your own business.

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You've probably heard the cliché, "Build it, and they will come." But you shouldn't assume that to be true when running a business. You can't just sit back and think that customers will find you. With an effective lead generation process, you can build awareness, attract potential customers, draw traffic to your website, and show people why they should buy from you.


Unless you have strong marketing know-how, lead generation can seem challenging to understand and implement at first. Fortunately, you can follow proven best practices to grow your customer base and increase sales.


In truth, learning the fundamentals of an effective lead generation process is one of the most critical things you can do as a business professional. A healthy pipeline and continuous influx of leads is a necessity for every company. You can't leave lead generation to chance.


Within this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about lead generation. From starting to understanding what is lead generation, how exactly a lead generation funnel works, how a lead generation process looks like, till how to qualify a lead.


Lead generation: what, why, and how to start generating leads for your own business

  1. What is a lead?

  2. What is lead generation?

  3. Lead generation funnel

  4. Lead generation process

  5. What is lead qualification?


1. What is a lead?


A lead — also known as a prospect — is a potential customer in your target audience. Some companies may consider leads to be prospects identified as having a higher likelihood of converting, while others treat any sales contact as a lead. You should decide on an accepted definition of the term "lead" for your company. That way, you'll avoid confusion among stakeholders and be able to measure your success in acquiring new potential


The four types of leads:


#1. Marketing qualified lead (MQL): This type of lead has come in through your inbound marketing activities, such as paid or organic search, content marketing, or social advertising. They have expressed interest in your business by signing up for an email list, completing a survey, or taking another action. However, these contacts have not yet interacted with your sales team.


#2. Sales qualified lead (SQL): This category includes leads that have been vetted by a sales professional. Often, SQLs include prospects that meet specific minimum criteria that make them more likely to become clients of your business. You may also hear this type of prospect referred to as a "sales accepted lead."


#3. Product qualified lead (PQL): This type of lead includes prospects who might have tried a product's free version (i.e such a software) and now they are expressing their desire to turn into paying customers.


#4. Service qualified lead (SQL): Here we find leads that have expressed interest in a service, they are now ready to talk to the sales team and turn into paying customers.


2. What is lead generation?


Lead generation is the process you use to draw people to your business and help them know why they should buy from you. You generate leads when a prospective customer takes an interest in or inquires about your products and services.


Most often, you acquire your first contact with prospects through your marketing outreach — such as digital advertising or social media. At times, you may get leads through traditional methods like cold calling, attending in-person events, or networking.


Lead generation vs. customer acquisition


At this point, you may be wondering: "What's the difference between lead generation and customer acquisition?" That's a great question to ask, as the two terms are connected.


Customer acquisition is the process of understanding the needs and interests of your leads to help to acquire them as customers. As part of a customer acquisition strategy, you should know customer pain points and have a sense of their budget. With those insights, you can craft targeted outreach that speaks directly to customer needs and lets them know how you can solve their problems at a price they can afford.


Lead generation is the first step in attracting prospects — building awareness, generating site traffic, and converting anonymous web visitors into known leads. Under this model, customer acquisition is the process of motivating identified leads to becoming customers.


You don't need to think of lead generation and customer acquisition as separate processes. But you can if that delineation makes the best sense for your business. Defining terminology is crucial, however, so that everyone on your team understands your approaches and can rally around them.


Why do you need lead generation for your own business?


Lead generation is important because If you don't acquire new prospects regularly, you may find it difficult to expand your business, but that's not all. Lead generation is important for any business, because:

  • It helps make people aware of your business

  • It builds a healthy new business pipeline

  • It increases sales and profit ratios

  • It targets desirable and likely-to-buy customers

  • It collects information and insights on prospects

  • It helps potential customers research before they buy

  • It empowers you to identify prospects that aren't a good fit for your business

  • Lets you focus your marketing budget on high-yield acquisition tactics

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3. Lead generation funnel


Now that you understand how lead generation fits into your business, let's walk through the three stages of the lead generation funnel, and let's see the type of content you can create all along the buyer's journey to guide prospects towards a purchase and become a lead.


#1. The awareness stage. Many people call this stage the "top of the funnel". This is where a visitor first discovers your business via one of your digital marketing channels, whether it's your company blog, social media channel, or website.


At this stage of the sales funnel, your goal should be to educate your audience on their needs without emphasizing your solution, therefore focus on creating content such as:

  1. ebooks

  2. educational webinars

  3. tip sheets

  4. checklists

  5. how-to guides

#2. The evaluation stage. During the evaluation or "middle of the funnel" stage, people have identified that they have a need and are looking for ways to fulfill it. They are assessing your offerings and those of your competitors to determine the best fit for their needs.


Now it's the perfect time to provide more detailed information about your products and services to your leads. Content that works well during the evaluation phase includes:

  1. product webinars

  2. explainer videos

  3. demos

  4. samples

  5. case studies

#3. The purchase stage. Leads that have progressed to the "bottom of the funnel" purchase stage are prepared to buy.


Within the purchase stage, the content you create here aims to give them a compelling reason to buy from you, consider here:


How to optimize your lead generation funnel


#1. Clearly understand what are your target audience's pain points. To generate the best quality leads for your business, you want to understand everything you can about the people who choose to buy from you. You need to know your audience's pain points — what concerns them, what needs they are trying to fulfill, and what motivates them to make a purchase.


Start by looking at your website analytics. You'll gain access to demographic information, along with the sources and search terms that draw people to your site. Also, you can derive insights from current or past customers. Review any survey data, examine their comments on social media, or reach out to customers to gain their perspectives. Or ask your customer service or sales teams about feedback trends they've observed.


If you're just starting out, you may not have much web or customer data on hand. In those instances, look at the types of customers your competitors generate to understand buying motivations.


#2. Nurture existing and new leads. After you've gained basic details about your prospects, nurture them down the funnel. Make ongoing outreach to keep contacts engaged and share more details about your offerings. Email marketing is an excellent option for lead nurturing. You can send out regular emails such as newsletters and targeted promotions to stay top-of-mind with your prospects. Invite them to fill out preference forms or complete surveys to tell you more about their interests and needs and support your qualification process.


#3. Pass along leads to your sales team to close the sale. When you identify leads with a higher lead score, hand them off to your sales team who can use approaches, such as demos, free trials, in-person meetings, or discounts to close the deal. This is a critical step — and you must ensure that you don't hand leads off too early. Also, make sure your sales team has all the content and resources they need to be successful.


#4. Constantly re-evaluate your sales funnel. It's always wise to re-evaluate your lead generation funnel regularly. As your audiences or offerings shift, you may need to fine-tune your approaches to attract, nurture, score, and close leads. You'll also need to determine if you need new messaging or content types to drive more sales. Think of lead generation as a continuous learning process and make adjustments over time.


4. Lead generation process


Now that you understand how the lead generation funnel works, let's see in a practical way how the lead generation process looks like so you have a good understanding of how to convert visitors into leads.


#1. First, you have to generate traffic to your website. Businesses may use various inbound marketing strategies such as search engine optimization (SEO), social media advertising, paid advertising, or forum marketing just to name a few.


#2. Once visitors land on your website's home page, you must encourage them to take some kind of action by having a well-placed banner or image including a call-to-action (CTA) button that redirects them to a dedicated landing page.


#3. Arrived on the landing page prospects must find something of value whether a free ebook, guide or video, that inspires them to register and leave you their e-mail address via an opt-in form. That way, you can start sharing your message with them proactively. At that point, a visitor officially becomes a lead.


#4. Now you can convert leads into customers. Perhaps you'll use content marketing to educate them on why they should choose to do business with you. Or you may offer discounts and promotions via email to spark a sale.


This was a quick overview of how a typical lead generation process looks like, but how can you drive traffic to your landing page? This is what we are going to discover next.


Lead generation marketing strategies


So, how can you drive traffic to your landing page? Here are some common digital marketing strategies that can help you drive considerable traffic to your website.


#1. Make sure your website is fully SEO optimized: If you want your website to appear high within search engines' SERPs, all your website pages (landing page included) must be SEO optimized with elements like title tags, meta descriptions, and headline tags. If you don't have any experience in search engine optimization, it's advisable that you hire an SEO expert to help you with this task as SEO goes well behind than just optimizing your page meta tags.


#2. Start a blog: Create a blog and publish regular blog posts around your offer. If your offer includes a free explainer video about what is digital marketing, you can then write a series of blog posts around the various online marketing strategies available.


#3. Run social media campaigns: Choose the social channels that make the best sense for your business and start to run some highly-targeted social media advertising campaigns around your offer.


#4. Use email marketing: Email marketing is another lead generation tactic that can be extremely affordable and have a high impact. Create eye-catching emails around your offer including a CTA and a direct link to your landing page.


Lead generation marketing trends in 2021


There's no one-size-fits-all answer on which types of lead gen approaches you should try, but specific tactics are proving to be very useful for today's audiences.


Here are seven of the top lead generation trends to know for 2021:


Influencer marketing: Many brands are turning to social media influencers to reach audiences in their niche. The best influencers have earned the trust of loyal followers, ranging from one thousand to millions of people. When influencers highlight your products and services, they can make a positive impression on followers and spark sales.


Video marketing: People enjoy watching videos online, including quick clips on social media and longer YouTube content. You can tap into trends by creating videos for your social pages, emails, or channels.


Email marketing: Email remains one of the most popular and cost-effective channels for marketing outreach. With email newsletters and promotions, you can educate your audiences and keep your brand top-of-mind.


Interactive content: Any type of content that asks people to take action can generate a lot of attention. Often, interactive content can offer fun and entertainment that will help people cultivate positive feelings about your business. Create tools such as surveys, calculators, quizzes, and interactive infographics, emails, and videos to inspire people to engage with you.


Voice search: People often turn to voice assistants like Siri to quickly find information online. Smart brands are taking note of this trend and making their content easy to find through voice search.


Content marketing: As discussed previously, creating content is an excellent way to build awareness, capture lead data, and guide prospects down the sales funnel. Every company can use a mix of content tools, such as blog posts, ebooks, podcasts, and webinars, and use SEO practices to help audiences find content online.


Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI solutions can help streamline critical tasks and make your lead generation more efficient. For example, you can use AI tools to help define targets, search for prospects, and create straightforward content like social posts to keep you in touch with your audiences.


5. What is lead qualification?


Lead qualification is the process through which you assess whether a lead is likely to become a customer soon.


How do you know if a lead is nearing a sale? You can use lead scoring models to evaluate their readiness to buy, or you can make direct contact with your prospect and assess whether their lead meets your minimum qualification criteria. There are several ways to accomplish this step, such as emails, phone calls, lead capture forms, and surveys.


You can streamline your lead qualification process with a checklist. Be sure to get insights from each prospect to answer five questions. Each of these questions ties to widely-used lead qualification criteria. In many businesses, sales teams use the following five elements to determine if a lead is qualified:

  1. Interest: Are they sincerely interested in what I am selling?

  2. Need: Do they have a need for one of my products?

  3. Budget: Do they have the budget to buy from us?

  4. Timing: Are they ready to buy now or will they be soon?

  5. Decision-making authority: Are they the person who is going to make the buying decision?

You can fine-tune the questions you use to make sense for your business but always cover these five areas when assessing leads. A qualified prospect is further along in the sales process and you can focus more intently on helping them become a customer.


Lead qualification is an essential step in the sales cycle, but it can be extremely time-intensive. Outsourcing lead qualification to an experienced professional can help you assess leads more efficiently to ensure your pipeline is primed with high-potential prospects.


Conclusion


No matter what type of business you run, you must consistently develop strategies to bring in new business. You need to know the fundamentals of lead generation to build a healthy pipeline full of potential new customers. If you don't focus on lead acquisition, your revenues could stagnate, and that can impede your innovation and forward momentum.


Most likely, you'll find that digital marketing is going to play a substantial role in your lead generation efforts. Today's digital approaches are simple to administer, highly measurable, and can be extremely budget-friendly.


Lead generation can be time and labor-intensive, but it's an essential function that you can't ignore. While you can take on lead gen yourself, you can also gain benefits from outsourcing this critical task to a consultant. Without question, professionalizing your approach to lead generation can help your business grow and prosper in the years to come.

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