What is Lead Generation? A Beginner's Guide to Generating and Nurturing Leads
Lead generation is the process of gaining the interest of potential customers to increase future sales. It is a critical part of the sales process of many companies.
Lead generation explained:
- Why is lead generation important?
- Lead generation in the digital age
- What is a lead?
- What is a qualified lead?
- Sales lead generation versus sales prospecting
- Strategies for lead generation
- Best practices for sales lead generation
- Lead generators and lead nurturing
- Lead nurturing tactics for improved engagement
- Understanding the sales pipeline and lead routing
Why is lead generation important?
Gone are the days of purchasing cold call lists. Modern lead generation has enabled companies to collect information about potential buyers and tailor marketing strategies and sales pitches to match prospect needs. Lead generation offers the following benefits:
1. Targets the correct customers: Sales lead generation is used to find prospects who have already expressed interest in the company’s products and services and access audience potential. This allows the company to focus all further marketing and sales efforts on prospects that exhibit a higher probability of sales conversion.
2. Increases 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, products and services, and its features and benefits.
3. Allows data collection: Sales lead generation offers an excellent opportunity to collect data about your prospects. You can collect data about how they became aware of your company and your products and services, what marketing methods are generating more leads than others, what forms of communication engage the lead the best, what your leads’ needs and wants are, etc. Collecting this treasure trove of data will help you tailor your marketing and communication strategies and your products and/or services to meet your customers’ needs well.
4. Increases 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.
This is largely done via digital channels that use effective inbound, outbound and sales marketing alignment techniques.
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is a key lead-generation strategy. It can be described as a process of generating interest in your company through content creation and promotion.
- Content Creation is a marketing strategy that involves creating relevant content to draw in leads looking to address a specific issue. This can be achieved with blogs, videos, eBooks, infographics and other publications.
- Content Promotion is how that content is made visible to potential customers using search engine optimisation (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and social media, among other techniques.
What is outbound marketing?
Outbound marketing can be a helpful tool when combined with inbound marketing to target specific opportunities and reach out to leads. Some examples of outbound marketing include emails, events, and advertisements.
- Email Marketing can be used to distribute new content, send out event invitations, share news, and stay in touch with customers.
- Event Marketing creates an opportunity to share your brand, build personal relationships with customers, and engage with attendees.
- Display Ads can be targeted to specific prospects with certain habits or demographic traits.
- Content Syndication is the practice of sharing your content on third-party websites to draw additional attention to your brand.
Sales and marketing alignment
Sales alignment is key to any successful lead generation strategy. Using techniques like social selling, outbound emailing, and networking, the sales team, can take lead generation into their own hands.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software can be used to track and evaluate leads before distributing them to sales.
Lead generation in the digital age
The buying journey has changed dramatically with the growth of the internet. Now customers can access abundant information from search engines, social media, blogs, and other online channels to help research products before communicating with a sales representative.
While it is good that prospects are informed about the products and services they seek, it creates brand awareness challenges for businesses. To combat this, companies must create a strong online presence using inbound marketing methods that employ search engine optimisation and content marketing.
The digital age has made it easier for companies to research and understand their prospective leads. By identifying the wants and needs of their target customers, companies can tailor information to draw them in and qualify potential leads based on factors such as engagement and demographic information. It is increasingly important for companies to develop and nurture relationships with them. So, what is a lead, and how do you nurture them?
What is a lead?
A lead, also known as a prospect, is anyone who expresses interest in your business's products or services but has yet to become a customer. Leads can be classified under two commercial categories 1) business-to-business (B2B) and 2) business-to-consumer (B2C). B2B sales leads consist of transactions between commercial businesses, whereas B2C sales leads involve individual transactions. B2B and B2C lead generation each represent unique needs, challenges and opportunities.
What is a “qualified” lead?
Types of qualified leads
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 is not necessarily ready for interaction from the sales teams. They have indicated some interest in your products and/or services, so they could respond well to lead nurturing, though they may not yet be ready to buy. As the lead moves further along the sales cycle, often as a product of nurturing, it can be passed on to sales. Customer relationship management (CRM) software can be used to track and evaluate leads before distributing them to sales.
2. Sales-qualified lead (SQL): A sales-qualified lead is a person or organisation explicitly expressing interest in becoming your paying customer. At this stage, sales staff continue nurturing the relationship that marketing initiated. Because these leads have already been qualified, they are more likely to turn into sales, and the latter part of the sales cycle tends to move more quickly. Strong marketing-sales alignment can result in more effective lead generation and higher conversion rates.
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 offering free trials 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 walk up to you and offer to buy whatever 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.
Once a lead has been generated, it needs to be qualified. A lead is usually qualified by collecting information about them. A website visitor shares contact information to receive updates about your products and services, thus becoming a qualified lead.Focusing on qualified leads will increase sales conversion rate and improve your return on investment.
Here’s how you can qualify your leads:
1. Gauge your leads’ level of interest: A lead is generally willing to share personal and contact information with you and will likely be interested in your products and services. The amount of information you need to collect to qualify a lead varies from company to company and service or product complexity.
2. Lead scoring: Lead scoring is a methodology of ranking and prioritising leads based on their value so sales and marketing teams can focus on leads with the most potential to convert. Lead scoring involves assigning numerical values (or weights) to leads, based on several factors to classify them on a scale ranging from “interested” to “ready to buy”. The characteristics and weights will vary from company to company, but they must stay the same across sales and marketing teams within the organisation.
A company can conduct a meaningful evaluation of a potential customer using a combination of explicit and implicit lead scoring.
- Explicit lead scoring considers how closely a lead’s profile matches the buyer persona of an ideal customer. This is demographic data and information about a customer, such as the job title, industry, or location. It shows how relevant a potential lead is to your company.
- Implicit lead scoring considers how often and in what ways a potential lead interacts with your business. This is measured through indicators, such as visits to the company website, the lead’s actions, or email marketing responses. Implicit lead scoring shows how much interest a potential lead has in your company.
The higher a lead scores, the closer they are to becoming a paying customer. Whether you’re dealing with consumer or business leads, successful lead scoring depends on a number of factors, such as high-quality content, well-defined buyer personas, relevant interactions, and involvement of the sales team. Lead generation software can be a useful tool here, as it often includes automated lead scoring. Learn more about how to generate leads on the blog.
Sales lead generation versus sales prospecting
The terms “lead generation” and “sales prospecting” are often used interchangeably. 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:
- Sales lead generation is usually the responsibility of marketing departments, whereas sales teams commonly handle prospecting.
- Sales lead generation refers to all the activities involved in acquiring a lead, whereas prospecting is the action of identifying potential clients and nurturing them towards becoming customers.
- Sales lead generation is often automated, whereas prospecting primarily tends to be manual.
Strategies for lead generation
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.
1. Strategies for online lead generation
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 valuable 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 the “Submit” button. For your part, you need to create compelling Twitter content that engages visitors and pushes them to interact with you actively.
b) Facebook lead generation: Lead generation tools are a part of Facebook’s product offerings. You can use paid advertising to draw leads from your website or Facebook profile. You can also include clickable links on your Facebook page that redirect users to your website. Engaging content is key to getting visitors to click.
c) LinkedIn lead generation: LinkedIn makes capturing information about a lead very easy. Their Lead Gen Forms auto-populate users’ profile data when they click on a call-to-action button put in place by you. LinkedIn profile data includes helpful 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 will likely redirect many online visitors to your website. For the best discoverability, you can start a pay-per-click campaign buttressed by solid website fundamentals like search-engine-optimised content, effective targeted keywords, etc.
2. Strategies for offline lead generation
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 in your work. Sharing information is an excellent way of engaging your audience, many of whom are presumably interested in your product and/or service if they stick 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 to 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 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.
Best practices for sales lead generation
Quality lead generation is incredibly significant for any sales team. Follow these best practices to ensure your sales team’s time and energy go 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 suitable 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 propositions 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 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 ensure that you generate the correct quantity and quality of leads. Important metrics to monitor are cost per lead, lead conversion rate, and lead conversion time.
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Lead generators and lead nurturing
Now you understand what leads are and how they differ, the next step is to nurture them through the lead-generation process. So what is lead nurturing?
Leading nurturing ensures those “not-ready-to-buy” leads are engaging with your brand. Successful lead nurturing takes understanding the buyer based on factors such as their business profile, industries they serve, products/services they engage with and where they are within the sales funnel. Providing content that promotes lead engagement will inform prospective buyers' information gathering and evaluation stages and thus support sales conversion.
Lead nurturing tactics for improved engagement
Potential leads interact with your company and brand through various online and offline platforms. 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.
Converting anonymous visitors to your website or social media channels into leads is an exercise in data collection. The type and amount of data a company needs to collect to convert an anonymous visitor depends on the nature of the product and service the company is trying to sell.
Step 1 - Identify your audience
The first place to start is to develop a buyer persona. Using both market research and real data from existing customers, you can create a fictional representation of your ideal customer.
Where to research the data:
- Spending behaviours
- Buyer motivations and intents
- Common roadblocks to converting a sale
- Buyer goals
Step 2 - The buyer’s journey
The awareness stage
At this initial stage, the buyer tries to understand a problem or investigate a need to be met. They seek answers to questions by researching top-level informational content found within blog content and e-books and creating a survey or quiz. During this stage potential for conversion is low, but the potential for data collection is possible. Below are some ways in which you can encourage visitors to give you information that allows you to convert them to leads in the future.
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 an ebook, or exit intent pop-ups can be triggered when visitors show signs of leaving your website.
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 that could help convert them to a lead.
3. Contests: They are an easy way to convert visitors to leads. Contests not only encourage visitors to volunteer their information, but they also create engagement. Visitors who participate in a contest have a vested interest in your company or brand.
4. Social listening: Social presence is mandatory for companies and brands today, but presence might not be enough for strong lead generation. Companies and brands need to practise social listening, monitoring their social profiles and understanding followers' and visitors' reactions to their posts. Social listening sends a positive message to prospects—telling them that the company or brand is listening and cares.
5. Events and conferences: 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.
The consideration stage
The consideration stage of the buyer's journey finds potential leads actively trying to solve a problem. Solutions will be considered across a variety of selected sources that provide the most relevant and best answers to the problem. At this stage, it is vital to nurture the prospect with content you can use to then collect information about them and reach out. Below are some ways in which you can encourage visitors to give you information that allows you to convert them to leads:
Online sales lead generators include product comparison guides, ebooks, whitepapers, webinars, videos, and live chats are an effective and convenient way to generate leads.
The decision stage
The buyer’s journey’s decision stage sees a person ready to make a purchase. Knowledge acquired during the buyer’s journey will be passed on to the sales team, where first contact will be made using strategies designed to convert. Content to keep in mind includes product/services demonstrations, online courses and a well positioned pricing page, and free trials.
Once sales opportunities convert to customers, develop loyalty and adoption programs that drive continued conversion. These include:
- Onboarding programs
- Product adoption programs
- Contract renewal programs
- Re-engage lost deals
Lead generation tools
The primary software you can use to evaluate your product and services lead generation efforts includes:
1. Lead generation software: It helps you monitor interactions, track them, and collect related data. 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 know. As such, it is difficult for you to understand which parts of your website are encouraging the most engagement and 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 traffic flow 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 multiple touchpoints on your website in one place. Apart from helping you scale data collection easily, a form-scraping tool ensures that no lead falls through the cracks.
Lead generation metrics
Successful lead generation is no longer measured simply based on the quantity of leads a company acquires. Leads can now be tracked, monitored, and ranked using lead generation metrics and lead scoring.
Some examples of commonly used lead generation metrics:
- Click Through Rate (CTR) is a percentage made up of the total number of clicks divided by the number of page views. It determines the success of a call to action.
- Time to Conversion is how long it takes to turn a lead into a paying customer.
- Return on Investment (ROI) is the financial gains calculated against the total cost of a campaign.
- Number of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) is the number of leads that the marketing team has deemed ready to pass on to the sales team. Leads are often qualified using lead scoring.
- Cost per MQL is how much money is spent on each lead before they become customers with the goal of maximising results while minimising costs.
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Understanding the sales pipeline and lead routing
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
A focus on lead quantity seems logical—the more leads you generate, the higher the potential to convert leads 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.
Focusing on quality leads will allow a company to dramatically increase its lead to customer conversion rate, helping your business expand its customer base in a shorter period. Building a customer base will quickly help you expand and free up resources to target new customers as well as retarget existing ones.
Investing in quality leads can also have its drawbacks. Too much focus on generating quality leads can cause a sales team to overlook other essential duties, such as following up on existing customers. Even quality leads can back out at the last moment, leading to a loss not only of a potential customer but also of all the time, resources, and money that were invested in trying to convert them up until that point in time.