A person who expresses some interest in a company’s products and services is considered a lead for that company. Sales lead generation, then, is the process of making people aware about a company and its products and services with the aim of sparking interest in them. And sales lead generators are the tools used to find potential customers.
Leads fall in the early part of a typical purchasing cycle, and they may transition from a visitor to a paying customer. Nurturing leads is important, and while lead generation feels very similar to sales in many ways, it is a distinct function and deserves attention as such.
The best-case scenario for closing a sale is when a lead finds out about your brand on their own and becomes a paying customer without your intervention. The worst-case scenario is when you reach out to a person who has no need or desire to buy your products or services, and who continues to receive your marketing and sales messaging. The best-case scenario is a rare occurrence and the worst-case scenario is highly undesirable. Sales lead generation falls somewhere between the two, helping you find willing customers who are but a nudge away from making a purchase. Lead generation offers the following benefits:
1. Target the correct customers: Sales lead generation is usually carried out to find prospects that have already expressed some interest in the company’s products and services. This allows the company to focus all further marketing and sales efforts on prospects that exhibit a probability over just the chance of actually paying for the product and/or service.
2. Increase brand awareness: Sales lead generation can help increase brand awareness. Leads express interest in your brand, and by engaging this interest of theirs, you help them learn more about your brand, its values, its products and services, and their features and benefits.
3. Data collection: Sales lead generation is also a great opportunity for you to collect data about your prospects. You can collect data about how they became aware of your company and your products and services, what methods of marketing are generating more leads than others, what forms of communication engage the lead the best, what your leads’ needs and wants are, etc. The collection of this treasure trove of data will help you tailor your marketing and communication strategies, as well as your products and/or services to meet your customers’ needs well.
4. Brand loyalty: By generating and nurturing leads, companies can build large communities of like-minded individuals interested in the company’s products and services. The building of this community fosters brand loyalty for years to come.
The terms “lead generation” and “sales prospecting” are often used interchangeably, and while that’s understandable—they both try and change a customer’s ‘maybe’ to a ‘yes’—it’s not exactly accurate. While lead generation and sales prospecting do indeed share the same goal and exhibit some common features, there are some distinct differences between the two:
1. Sales lead generation is usually the responsibility of marketing departments whereas prospecting is commonly handled by sales teams.
2. Leads are people or companies that have expressed some interest in your products and services, so identified by performing a predefined action such as taking your survey, visiting your website, or subscribing to your newsletter. Prospects are people (or leads) that have been qualified by the sales team as having high potential to become customers.
3. Sales lead generation refers to all the activities involved in actually acquiring a lead, whereas prospecting is the action of identifying potential clients and nurturing them towards becoming customers.
4. Sales lead generation is often an automated process whereas prospecting largely tends to be a manual one.
Marketing departments often try and generate as many leads as they can. This focus on lead quantity seems logical in the face of things—the more leads you generate, the more leads you are likely to convert into paying customers. However, sales lead generation is a resource-, time- and money intensive process, which is why sales departments tend to focus more on the quality of leads. A quality lead is a person with a clear need for your product and/or service, the intent to buy it, and the means to pay for it. Different companies might define more parameters to classify a lead as high-quality, but these three parameters are almost universal.
Focusing on quality leads will allow a company to increase its conversion rate of leads to customers dramatically. A higher conversion rate will give your company the confidence to invest more time, money, and resources in lead generation, which in turn will help generate and convert more leads, and so on.
Focusing on quality leads will also help you increase your return on investment in lead generation over the long term and achieve economies of scale faster. Quality leads will convert into customers quicker, helping you build a large customer base in a shorter period. Building a customer base quickly will help you expand and free up resources to target new customers and retarget existing ones.
Investing in quality leads can also have some drawbacks, however. Too much focus on generating quality leads can cause a sales team to neglect other important duties such as following up with existing customers. Moreover, all sales lead generation, whether focused on quantity or quality of leads, is risky to some extent. Even quality leads can back out at the last moment, leading to a loss not only of a potential customer but also all the time, resources, and money that were invested in trying to convert them up until that point in time.
Once a lead has been generated, it needs to be qualified. Whereas a lead is a person or company that has implicitly indicated an interest in your products and services, a qualified lead is one that has expressly shown interest in becoming a paying customer. A lead is usually qualified by collecting more information about them. For instance, a website visitor shares contact information to receive updates about your products and services, thus becoming a qualified lead. As you collect more information about your leads, you can better classify them as qualified or unqualified. Focusing on qualified leads as sales targets will increase your conversion rate and improve your return on investment in sales activities. Here’s how you can qualify your leads:
1. Gauging your leads’ levels of interest: Gauging your leads’ interest levels in your products and services is the first step in qualifying leads. To gauge a lead’s level of interest, you need to collect more information about them. A lead willing to share personal and contact information with you is likely to be interested in your products and services. The amount of information you need to collect to qualify a lead varies from company to company. An educational institution offering degree programs might need to collect much more information about their leads—educational background, financial situation, etc.—than a company selling bags and wallets.
2. Lead scoring: Lead scoring involves assigning numerical values (or weights) to leads, based on several factors, in order to classify them on a scale ranging from “interested” to “ready to buy”. The factors and weights will, once again, vary from company to company, but it’s important that they stay the same across sales and marketing teams within the organisation.
Some factors companies can use to assign leads scores are the amount of information they’ve given, the actions they’ve taken, how much they’ve engaged with your brand or anything else that your sales teams deem of relevance to closing a sale. The higher a lead scores, the closer they are to becoming a paying customer. There is no golden formula to lead scoring; sales teams need to try various permutations and combinations, tweaking them along the way until they arrive at a system that works for them.
Not all leads are the same, and neither are all qualified leads. Leads can be qualified based on how much interest they’ve expressed in your products and services, or what stage of the customer lifecycle they are in:
1. Marketing qualified lead (MQL): A marketing qualified lead is a person or organisation that has engaged with your marketing team’s outreach efforts but are not necessarily ready for interaction from the sales teams. They are people that have indicated some interest in your products and/or services, but more information needs to be gathered about them before they can be taken seriously.
2. Sales qualified lead (SQL): A sales qualified lead is a person or organisation that has explicitly expressed interest in becoming a paying customer of yours. Usually, a sales qualified lead is so qualified because they have willingly given you information that highlights their interest to purchase your products and/or services.
3. Product qualified lead (PQL): A product qualified lead is a person or organisation that has already used your product and/or service and has then expressed interest in becoming a paying customer. Product qualified leads usually exist for companies that offer a free trial or samples of their products or services. Product qualified leads are valuable because they have already used your product/service and thus have a high potential for conversion.
4. Service qualified leads (SQL): A service qualified lead is a person or organisation that indicates to your customer service or sales team that they would like to buy your product and/or service. This is the most qualified type of lead because they are quite literally walking up to you and offering to buy whatever it is that you are selling. A service qualified lead might also be an existing customer looking to upgrade to a premium version of your product and/or service.
Potential leads interact with your company and brand through various platforms, both online and offline. Tracking all these interactions to use them for lead generation is a big task, which is why automating it via lead generation software is the way to go.
Lead generation software tracks the various touchpoints potential leads can use to interact with your company and brand and collects and collates information about them. Some of these touchpoints are:
1. Your website
2. Pop-ups forms
3. Live chats
5. Comments and direct messages on social media
6. Entries in contests
7. Marketing emails
8. Physical interactions at conventions and expos
The primary tools you can use for online lead generation are:
1. Lead generation software: Lead generation software helps you monitor interactions, track them, and collect data related to them. Different lead generation software offers different capabilities, but what you need is the ability to gather information from any form on your website, social media, or chatbots; consolidate this data on one platform; and create points of engagement such as pop-ups and hello bars that help turn website visitors into leads.
2. Visitor analytics: Visitors to your website navigate it in ways you might not be aware of. As such, it is difficult for you to understand which parts of your website are encouraging the most engagement and which ones the least. Some available website visitor analytics tools create a colour-coded map or heat map of your website that highlights how users navigate and engage with your website. These tools also help you understand the flow of traffic to your website in terms of quantity and time and monitor which calls-to-action are eliciting the most responses.
3. Form-scraping tools: A form-scraping tool collects data from all the various forms on your website and concentrates it in a central lead generation database. Using a form-scraping tool allows you to automate the collection of lead data from various touchpoints on your website in one place. Apart from helping you scale data collection easily, a form-scraping tool also ensures that no lead falls through the cracks.
Marketers and salespeople always want more leads and want them fast. The temptation to fill one’s sales funnel quickly is real, which is why the practice of buying leads came about. Buying leads is faster and requires far lesser effort. It might be more expensive than generating leads organically, but if your organisation already has an advertising budget, buying leads can just come out of that, right?
A purchased lead does not know you. They, in all probability, consented to give their information to another website or organisation. They probably don’t know who you are, and even if they do, they have not explicitly consented to receive any communication from you. As such, the messages you sent them can be unwanted and even intrusive. This can have multiple adverse outcomes for your company or brand.
If the recipients of your message have no interest in your products and services and have not consented to any outreach from you, there is a high chance they will flag your messages as spam, which can be dangerous for you. Having your messages flagged as spam not only trains the recipient’s email service to filter them out, but it also signals that email provider to filter out emails like yours on a larger scale. If enough people flag your messages as spam, the email provider will put you on a blacklist that is shared with other email providers. Senders on this blacklist typically see all their emails automatically redirected to the spam folder, adversely impacting their IP reputation and email deliverability.
Moreover, being viewed as intrusive can only harm your brand image in the long run, thus hampering your capability to generate leads in the future.
Anonymous visitors to your website are not yet leads, but they can be. The whole point of lead generation is to convert anonymous visitors to your website or social media channels into leads that can then be nurtured to become paying customers. Converting anonymous visitors to leads is an exercise in data collection. The type and amount of data a company needs to collect to convert an anonymous visitor to a lead depends on the nature of the product and service the company is trying to sell. Below are some ways in which you can encourage visitors to your website and social media channels to give you information that allows you to convert them to leads:
1. Pop-up forms: Cleverly placed pop-up forms can help encourage visitors to your website to provide their contact information. A welcome pop-up on your landing page can encourage them to sign-up for your newsletter, or exit intent pop-ups can be triggered when visitors show signs of leaving your website. Pop-up forms can also entice users to give their email IDs in exchange for a discount coupon or free e-book.
2. Offers: You can use pop-ups, banners, and other types of ad placement to barter offers for visitors’ contact information. This creates a win-win situation where the customer gets an offer, and you get information on them that could help convert them to lead.
3. Contests: Contests are an easy way to convert visitors to leads. Contests not only encourage visitors to volunteer their information, but they also cause engagement. When visitors participate in a contest, they have a vested interest in your company or brand.
4. Social listening: Social presence is mandatory for companies and brands in today’s day and age, but merely presence might not be enough for strong lead generation. Companies and brands need to practice social listening, that is, monitoring their social profiles and understanding the reactions followers and visitors are having to their posts. Social listening sends a positive message to prospects—it tells them that the company or brand is listening and it cares.
5. Events and conferences: Online sales lead generators might be an effective and convenient way of going about things, but certain offline methods of generating leads are still relevant. Presence at events, conferences, and expos gives your company or brand visibility and allows you to put your best foot forward. Interact actively, capture leads by collecting contact information, and diligently follow up.
When you put together individual sales funnels, you get your sales pipeline. A sales pipeline can be that of individual sales reps or for the entire company.
A sales pipeline is a visual representation of where all your current leads, prospects, and customers are in their journeys through your sales processes. Understanding who and how many leads are where in your sales pipeline can help you communicate with them in a timely, relevant, and compelling manner to push them along their journey. Having a clear view of your sales pipeline is also a good starting point for improving your company’s revenue forecasting.
You can check the health of your pipeline by looking at metrics such as:
- Number of deals
- Average deal size
- Your closing rate
- Average duration to close a deal
Sales pipelines also give you a clear picture of stagnant or slow-moving leads and deals. Looking at a sales pipeline can give you insights into things like stages most deals get stuck at, possible factors that could be affecting the rate at which you close deals, and where you need to divert more of your time and efforts to close deals easily, etc.
Sales lead generators are important for keeping pipelines full and flowing. A continuous and consistent inflow of quality leads helps salespeople generate revenue from new sources while also focusing on growing sales from existing customers in new ways.
Ideally, as and when new leads are generated, these should be assigned to specific sales reps to avoid duplication of efforts. Through the process of lead routing, leads are distributed among the sales team members for qualification and nurturing.
Consider using a sales CRM solution that can help you automate the lead routing process to save time and ensure no important leads are missed. This can be done at random, simply assigning one to the next rep in line as leads are generated. Or you can use a lead routing tool to assign leads to the right reps based on different criteria like the lead’s geographical location, each sales rep’s bandwidth, area of expertise, time of availability, etc.
We have already spoken about strategies to convert an anonymous visitor to a lead, but how do you land the anonymous visitor in the first place? Lead generation can happen at various online and offline customer touchpoints. Below, we discuss some strategies for several of them
There exist a wide variety of tactics and strategies for online lead generation, depending on the particular platform you are using to capture leads:
a) Twitter lead generation: Twitter offers a useful feature—Twitter Lead Gen Cards—that allows you to gather lead information directly within a tweet. All potential leads need to do is input their name, email address, and Twitter handles into the card and click on the “Submit” button. For your part, you need to create compelling content on Twitter that not only engages visitors but also pushes them to actively interact with you.
b) Facebook lead generation: Lead generation tools have always been a part of Facebook’s product offering for businesses. With Facebook, you can use paid advertising to draw leads either to your website or Facebook profile. You can also include clickable links on the top of your Facebook page that redirect users to your website. Once again, compelling, engaging content is key to getting visitors to click on your call-to-action buttons.
c) LinkedIn lead generation: LinkedIn makes it very easy to capture information about a lead. Their Lead Gen Forms auto-populate users’ profile data when they click on a call-to-action button put in place by you. Considering LinkedIn profile data includes useful information such as the user’s employer and designation, using LinkedIn for tool generation is very effective, especially in the case of B2B sales.
d) Search engine lead generation: Popular search engines like Google get daily traffic in the range of billions. A strong presence on search engines is likely to redirect a lot of online visitors to your website. For the best discoverability, you can start a pay-per-click campaign, buttressed by strong website fundamentals like search-engine-optimised content, effective targeted keywords, etc.
Lead generation can also happen offline. In many cases, offline sales lead generators might even be more effective than their online counterparts because the ability to interact with a lead in person can have powerful implications for qualifying them.
a) Guest-speaking at conferences and events: Guest speaking at conferences and events is a great way to project your expertise at what you do. Sharing information is a great way of engaging your audience, many of whom are presumably interested in your product and/or service if they are sticking around to listen to you. Ensure that your speech is useful for the audience, not simply a sales pitch for your company, products, and services.
b) Presence at expos and trade shows: Presence at key expos and trade shows is a great way to generate leads. Ensure you have active demos of all your products and services and sufficient trained staff that can interact with visitors and answer any questions they may have. Your team needs to be diligent about capturing lead contact information and more importantly, following up with them after the expo or trade show.
c) Referrals: Referrals are a powerful sales lead generators, especially in the case of B2B sales. To encourage referrals, you could offer a referral bonus of sorts. If not, at least make sure that you thank the individual who gave your reference for doing so.
d) Loyalty programs: Loyalty programs are a great way to draw in leads, especially for businesses with a brick-and-mortar presence. Loyalty programs encourage potential leads to volunteer their information for signing up and as a bonus, encourage them to keep coming back.
Quality lead generation is extremely important for any sales team. Follow these best practices to ensure your sales team’s time and energy goes into chasing leads that are likely to convert.
1. Consider your end goal: Effective lead generation begins with clearly defining your end goal. A well-defined goal helps you target and identify the right type of leads, thus increasing the likelihood of converting them into paying customers.
2. Define your target audience: Defining your target audience helps direct your lead generation efforts towards the right campaigns, channels, and audience personas. If you know your target audiences, you can focus your time and resources on communicating the right solutions and value proposition with specific audience segments based on their needs and aspirations.
3. Create engaging content: Converting a lead into a customer requires making them aware of relevant products and services and keeping them engaged in meaningful ways. Add value to your leads’, prospects’, and customers’ lives by giving them new information or perspectives.
4. Offer clear paths of direct communication: Make sure your contact details are prominently displayed and easy for your leads to find. Leads might have questions or doubts about your offerings or might want to reach out to you to make a purchase. The easier it is for them to reach you, the higher the likelihood of them becoming customers.
5. Offer incentives: Offers, coupon codes, and other incentives can be immensely helpful in lead generation and conversion. From a lead generation perspective, incentives can help convince prospects to volunteer contact information, thus making them leads. From a conversion perspective, incentives can help nudge leads into making purchases and thus becoming customers.
6. Monitor and tweak: It’s important to constantly monitor and tweak your lead generation strategy to make sure that you are generating the right quantity and quality of leads. Important metrics to monitor here are cost per lead, lead conversion rate, and lead conversion time.
Sales are the goal of any business organisation, and lead generation marks the beginning of the sales process. Generating and nurturing leads requires constant effort, but the rewards are well worth it. The key tenets of successful sales lead generation are an effective lead generation tool, amazing offers offered at all stages of the purchasing cycle, consistent messaging, delivering on your promises, the presence of calls-to-action at strategic places like your landing page or in your email newsletters, and strategic social media use. Sales lead generation is a matter of effective data collection and persistent communication.
And finally, make sure you keep your sales team involved, handing them a constant stream of high-quality leads that they can then qualify and work on converting. Improving your inbound lead generation efforts is a constant process, one you will continuously have to tweak along the way, but remember: the better your lead generation, the higher will be your sales.
Lead generation can be a complex process, with multiple sources of incoming leads, data collection and collation, lead routing, and follow-ups. Sales Cloud is a comprehensive tool that can help businesses streamline all aspects of lead generation. With functions such as contact management, opportunity management, and process automation, Sales Cloud enables you to bring your biggest and most important lead generation strategies to life.