The Basics of Lead Generation
What is a Lead?
Ok, let’s start by defining exactly what a lead is.
A lead is someone who has indicated interest in a business’s products or services in some way.
Think of it like this - let’s say you’ve got an inquiry form on your website so potential customers can reach out to you with any questions they might have, or so they can try and book a time with you.
As soon as they complete that form, they become a lead. They’ve expressed interest by taking the desired action that moves them closer to becoming a customer.
What is Lead Generation?
Ok, so now we know what a lead is, how do we get them? That’s where lead generation comes in.
Lead generation is the process of attracting and converting strangers and prospects into someone who has indicated interest in your company's product or service.
Simple enough, right?
Lead generation is a marketing strategy, a deliberate attempt to increase the pool of potential customers for your business.
It’s a way of warming leads up towards becoming a customer, a set of tactics that move them through the customer lifecycle.
Leads and the Customer Lifecycle
Have you heard the term ‘warm lead’ before and wondered what that meant?
Leads are a part of the customer lifecycle that all buyers transition through as they go from stranger to customer.
This journey has the following stages:
- Attract - how a visitor finds your business
- Nurture - how you communicate with them to build trust and prove that you are an optimal choice to solve the consumer’s problem.
- Convert - when they decide to become a customer
- Engage - when they become a loyal customer and help promote your business to their network
In this journey, the closer a lead gets to becoming a customer (the convert stage) the ‘warmer’ they are. A lead generation strategy is all about moving them towards this stage and ‘warming’ them up.
Qualifying Leads and Lead Stages
As leads get warmer they can be assigned into specific lead categories based on how ‘qualified’ they are. When we say a lead is qualified, we are really just saying that they are ready to engage in a new level of activity with our business, such as receiving an email newsletter, a targeted offer based on their areas of interest, or maybe even a call from the sales team.
How you define your lead stages will vary from business to business. For some, you can stick to the common stages below, but other businesses, with more complex buying cycles, may need a more detailed list of stages. Leads can usually be categorised in the following ways:
- Subscriber - this is the entry-level description for most businesses, and is usually when someone fills out a contact form or subscribes to your newsletter. They obviously want something from you but aren’t anywhere near ready to buy from you.
- Lead - a lead is someone who you determine to be a good fit for your product or service. After subscribing to your newsletter they take further action, such as downloading an ebook or other content offer. By showing additional interest outside of just subscribing, they are signaling that they likely have a problem they need solving.
- Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) - an MQL is someone who is further along the customer lifecycle and is ready to receive specific marketing communications from you. They aren’t quite ready to speak with a sales team member, but they are ready to receive specific, targeted emails related to a problem they need solving, or a solution you can provide.
- Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) - an SQL is ready for a phone call, so they should be passed along to your sales team so they can follow up with them. Defining someone as an SQL varies from business to business, but generally, they’ve taken specific action that indicates a readiness to buy, such as looking at a pricing page or contacting you with a product-related question.
To qualify a lead you want to compare the known information you have on them against an internal set of criteria that you can use to assess how ‘warm’ a lead is, and how good a fit they are for your business.
These criteria, like much of the aspects of lead generation, varies depending on your buyer personas and ideal clients, but some common criteria used to qualify include:
- Job information - What is their job title? What industry are they in? How big is their company? Do they sell to consumers or other businesses?
- Behaviour - What pages have they visited on my website? What forms have they completed? How many times have they downloaded something from us? Have they looked at key pages, such as a pricing or product page?
- Engagement with marketing - Are they following our social pages? Have they been consistently opening our emails? Have they forwarded any emails to a colleague?
Whatever criteria you decide to use, the goal is to assess fit - is this lead likely to be a good fit to work with us, based on what we know of our ideal clients and what we know of them? Is there any alignment or overlap between the two?
To help with qualifying leads and take some of the guesswork out of the equation, you can use a strategy called lead scoring.
Lead scoring takes the criteria you identified previously as important and assigns a numerical value to each. As a lead meets each criteria, their lead score is calculated by adding (or subtracting) the numerical value of that criteria to their total. Once they pass a certain threshold, you update their lead stage.
To explain lead scoring, here’s an example.
A new lead has just come to your website via a social media ad you were running and download an ebook. Historical data shows that leads who come via paid ads tend to convert at a decent rate, so you’ll assign them a score of 10 based on lead source.
The ebook they downloaded is a top-of-the-funnel offer, meaning it helps answer a problem but is not specific to your business. You decide this ebook is worth 5 points.
When they completed the form to get the ebook, they entered in plenty of information about themselves, including their job information. You award another 5 points simply because you’ve got a base level of information available.
After a week, you send an email with a middle-of-the-funnel offer that compares your product to a competitor, and the lead downloads it. This is a good sign so you award them 15 points.
So far we’ve got:
- Social media lead source = 10 points
- Download ebook = 5 points
- Completed all form fields = 5 points
- Downloaded middle of the funnel offer = 15 points
- Total = 35 points
Depending on your lead scoring threshold, 35 points may be enough to qualify them as an SQL and hand them over to sales for follow-up.
With lead scoring, you apply a systematic approach to qualifying leads, which can help make the task easier. When you use a tool like HubSpot, which can automate the lead scoring process, you can continue to run your business knowing that you’ll be notified when a new lead is qualified.
Why Use Lead Generation? What are the Benefits?
Simply put, you should use lead generation because it is a proven method for getting customers. Your future customers are online, actively seeking information, and a lead generation strategy can get you in front of them at the right time.
Not only this but outbound lead generation tactics, such as social media ads, reach your audience where they spend their time online, meaning you can also reach them as they go about their day.
1. A deliberate framework
One of the best reasons I can give you for why you need to use lead generation is that it’s a deliberate attempt at achieving business goals. It’s a framework that is used to attract strangers and turn them into customers. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of marketing and sales.
2. Helps your sales team
It’s also useful for helping your sales team find prospects to speak to. Sales is, by its nature, time and labour intensive. Marketing can be done at scale and reach huge numbers of people.
Lead generation is a way to combine the scale of marketing with the personal touch of sales. As you qualify leads, specifically when they become SQLs, you can hand them over to your sales team for follow-up. This helps them as it provides them with a warm lead to speak to, someone who already knows your business and has an established relationship that makes the sales process much easier.
3. Gather information and intelligence
Finally, it’s also a good way to gather intelligence on your leads and customers. The longer you use a lead generation strategy the more you’ll see trends emerge about who your perfect customers are, where they spend their time online, how long it takes them to make a purchase decision, and much more valuable information that can be implemented by both marketing and sales.
Who Should Use a Lead Generation Strategy?
Lead generation is not suitable for all businesses, and by now you can probably understand why. In my experience, the following businesses will achieve the best results:
- B2B companies
- Coaches and consultants
- High-ticket products and services such as builders, real estate agents, luxury car brands, etc
- Businesses with a long buying cycle
Lead generation works for these businesses because they can easily define the different stages someone goes through before making a purchase and that each of these stages has different needs.
For example, if you sell software to ASX200 companies and charge over $1m a year, that sales process is going to be long, complex, and involve many different stakeholders. Lead generation works because it sets out each lead stage and how you need to communicate with them.
On the other hand, if you are an online retailer with an average order of <$100 you may end up spending more on generating leads than you will get back in revenue.
The Lead Generation Process
Now that we understand the basics of lead generation, let’s cover how the process works and how you’ll turn strangers into leads:
- First, your audience will find you online via the channels they spend most of their time on. This might be on social media, or perhaps through your blog, or maybe when they do a Google search.
- Next, once they are on your website, they’ll click a call-to-action (CTA) - which is an image, button or text that encourages them to take a certain action, such as downloading a resource or subscribing for your newsletter.
- After clicking the CTA they’ll end up on your landing page. This is a specific type of webpage designed to promote the offer you are enticing them with, and contains enough information to grab their attention, but not so much that they can leave without downloading the rest of the content.
- On the landing page, they’ll complete a form that captures their information.
- Once they complete the form, they’ll enter your CRM where you’ll be able to access and build upon the information you captured.
Getting started with lead generation can feel like a daunting, overwhelming task. But with a framework to build from and a process that works, any business can create a lead generation strategy that will work for them. Here’s how:
1. Outline basic business information
You want to start by getting very clear on your business goals so that the goals of your lead generation strategy align with them.
You also need to have a picture of your buying process. What steps does a customer need to take in order to buy from you? Define the steps so your lead generation funnel moves through the same ones.
2. Identify your buyer personas and buyer profiles
A Buyer Profile is the type of company that is a perfect fit for your business. They have certain characteristics that align with what you need to make a partnership work or for them to be able to use your products or services. This usually includes:
- Revenue, size, location, industry, and other relevant information about the company.
A Buyer Persona is a fictional representation of the types of people who buy from you or use your product/service. Each persona is based around a single attribute, such as job title if you're a B2B company, and includes the following:
- Job title and role
- Common problems they face
- The benefit they would get from your product/service
- How they get their information
- What questions they need to be answered during their buying process
By identifying these two things you get unbelievable clarity on the types of information your audience is after, what questions you need to cover in your content, and where to find them (social media networks, online directories, physical events, etc.)
3. Determine how you’ll connect with your audience
You need to understand how your buyer personas find and consume information online so that your efforts reach them where they ‘hang out'.
Do they spend time on Facebook during their commute to work? Do they read the latest news headlines while laying in bed in the morning? Do they check their emails while watching TV on the couch after work?
Get clarity on the best format and channel for your content, as this will have a big impact on your lead generation efforts.
4. Plan out your content strategy
A good lead generation strategy relies on great, targeted content. It doesn’t matter how you plan on reaching your audience, these days it’s vitally important to give before you ask.
This means, as consumers we want value before we pay. In this case, we pay by handing over our contact information. Before we do this we want to know that the business we are giving our info to is worthy of our attention.
Creating great, valuable content is one of the best ways to prove you are worthy of your audience’s attention.
If you haven’t already got a plan in place that outlines the topics you’ll cover, now is a perfect time. Think about the topics related to your business that you can write about and create blog content around these.
5. Build your landing page, form, and CTA
Once you’ve figured out your content strategy, it’s time to start building the assets you’ll need to capture leads - your call-to-action, your landing page, and your form.
Your CTA needs to be visually appealing and eye-catching, and use the right copy that drives your audience to take action.
Your landing page needs to be structured so that the messaging is consistent from the first interaction (call-to-action, ad, blog page) to your landing page. This is a key component of a great landing page - take the audience on a journey by flowing seamlessly from one interaction to the next.
6. Create your marketing campaign
Now that you’ve laid the foundation for your lead generation strategy, it’s time to create a campaign that will reach your audience in their preferred channels, entice them back to your website, and convert them to leads.
To do this, you’ll need two things:
- Create engaging, informative, top-of-funnel content such as blogs, social media posts. and other multimedia content.
- A way to get this content in front of your audiences such as paid advertising, sponsored posts, or guest blogging.
7. Plan next steps
It’s vitally important that your lead generation strategy also includes some sort of guidelines around how you’ll nurture leads towards becoming customers. Otherwise, you’ll capture leads and they’ll just sit in your CRM.
Will you hand leads straight over to sales? Will you nurture them with an email sequence? Will you retarget them with paid ads?
If you are unsure of how you can nurture leads towards becoming a customer, I recommend you read The Small Business Guide to Customer Acquisition
So, now you know all the pieces of a lead generation strategy, let’s look at a few examples.
Social Media Ads
Social media is one of the more common forms of lead generation. It allows you to reach a huge audience at a relatively low cost, and the variety of platforms makes it easier to find the right audience.
Facebook and Instagram
Facebook and Instagram and great for finding and connecting with potential leads through paid advertising.
You can choose to use their Lead Ads, which is a way to capture leads without them having to leave Facebook, or you can direct viewers to your website.
Personally, I prefer the latter as doing so allows much more control over the message, allows me to use a variety of media on the landing page, and I’ve found that leads who come through a landing page are usually more interested than those who complete a pre-filled form on Facebook.
LinkedIn is a great channel to connect with business buyers. That’s not to say you can’t reach this group of people on Facebook, but LinkedIn’s targeting is better suited to business audiences, and the information it has on it’s users means you can filter by criteria much better.
You can run advertising on LinkedIn, or you can connect with prospects and engage with them via LinkedIn messages.
When it comes to generating the lowest cost leads, blogging and content marketing has to be amongst the best.
A great content strategy aims to educate your audience around topics that they care about, just like this blog is designed to help our clients and target audience understand lead generation.
Blogs can be low cost lead generation tactics because, if done well, you don’t need to pay to get your message in front of an audience.
Another great thing about blogs is you can share them across social media for free. Once your followers visit your blog, you should definitely have a call-to-action to grab their attention and capture them as a lead.
The downside to this, though, is that a content strategy can take months (usually at least 6) before you start to see consistent results. So if you need leads quick blogging might not be the best use of your time.
PPC Advertising is simply industry talk for Google Ads. Essentially it’s about showing your ad at the moment your audience is searching for something related to your business.
These ads can be great for generating leads as you show up at the moment of intent - if someone is actively searching then it can be a good assumption that you’ll want to capture them as a lead.
Not a lot of business owners think to use partnerships when it comes to growing their business and generating leads, but it’s actually an incredibly powerful tool once you get the hang of it.
The basic premise is this: find someone within your industry (or a complimentary industry) who has a significant following and look to partner with them to provide their followers with value. In exchange, you get exposure to an audience of potential buyers.
A great example is teaming up with a podcast producer. By offering to speak on their show about a topic that is of interest to their audience you can help them provide value to their followers. In return you get exposure as an expert and can tell people about your business and where they can learn more about you.
When it comes to running successful lead generation campaigns, the list of tips will never be exhaustive - you’ll always find a new way of doing things that improve your performance. However, there are some standard tips that every campaign must follow.
Use the Right Tools
Lead generation is all about being deliberate. It’s not an ad hoc approach to marketing, and as such needs to be supported by appropriate systems and tools. You’ll need a great CRM that connects with all your marketing tools and provides your sales team with all the information they need to reach out to prospects.
You also want a form tool so you can collect leads, as well as well-designed call-to-action images to place around your website.
Finally, you need to be able to build dedicated landing pages to support your campaigns.
Create Multiple Pieces of Content
When it comes to lead generation, more is better. You are going to capture more leads if you have more content offers (ebooks, how-to guides, courses etc). Here’s some of the content you should be creating to support a lead generation strategy:
- How-to guides
- Case studies
Also be sure to create content that appeals to the different audiences you have. What worlds for an enterprise level customer might not be attractive to a small business owner, so create different versions of each offer.
Create Content for Each Buying Stage
It’s also important to understand that every visitor to your website is in a different stage of the buying journey. Some may just be starting out, and want foundational information that explains the problem your business solves.
Others may be further along and starting to evaluate alternatives. In this instance, a case study can be a good way to show how you can help them solve their problems.
Be Consistent with Your Messaging
The best campaigns provide a seamless transition across channels.
If you are running a Facebook Ad campaign, make sure that the landing page is aligned with the copy from the ad. If you’ve just come off a podcast, the landing page you directed listeners to should be relevant to what you talked about on the show.
Be Flexible and Prioritise Testing
Rarely do we get things perfect on the first try. Your lead generation campaign is no different, so you should plan ahead and be ready to test out different versions of all aspects of the campaign to see what works best for you and your audience.
Test your ad copy, your imagery, AB test your landing page copy, test having long vs short forms, even test out the colour of your form submit button - you never know what aspect will bring success.