Lead Generation: The Ultimate Guide for 2021

Michael Costin

August 24, 2021

For anyone that runs a business and invests in digital marketing, the prospect of lead generation is a bit intimidating.

For those who don’t have much experience when it comes to digital marketing, lead generation may seem impossible to take on. However, lead generation is extremely important when it comes to getting sales and growing your company. It involves the thorough process of getting consumers to pay attention to your brand and converting them into customers that have a substantial interest in the product or service you offer.

There are endless ways to do this that depend on your business size, niche, target market, industry, product or service, and a number of other factors. Finding or developing the right lead generation strategy can definitely be a challenge.

Unfortunately, many businesses don’t even take the time to try with lead generation, and they are missing out on a very good opportunity to reach out to their target markets and build a bigger customer base.

Lead generation doesn’t have to be so complex, and adding lead generation strategies to your digital marketing plan is actually quite easy. In this in-depth guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about lead generation, from the process of attracting leads to nurturing your leads to securing paying customers for your business. Let’s start by defining what a lead actually is.

What We'll Cover Off

What Is A Lead?

Make a customer, not a sale.

Katherine Barchetti

To put this as simply as possible, a lead is basically a person that indicates that they are interested in a brand’s product or service in any form.

A person becomes a lead when they hear about a brand, receive a cold call, or communicate with the brand in some way. The ultimate goal of generating leads is to convert them into customers, especially customers who continue to purchase products or services from the brand in the long term.

Let’s break this down a bit more with some examples.

In general, a lead will hear from a brand after they have already opened a line of communication with the brand, such as submitting their email for a free trial. In general, potential leads will do their own research for a solution to a problem they may be having and will find your brand through this research. Cold calling is another way to create a lead, but it is often less successful.

For example, let’s say that you decide to take a survey online about how well you take care of your lawn. The next day, you find an email from the lawn care servicing company that made the survey inquiring about how they could help you take better care of your lawn. This process is much less intrusive and stressful for both the company and the potential lead than cold calling, which can be intrusive and poorly times. Once that first line of contact is made, the individual becomes a lead.

From the perspective of a company, the information that the lawn care service collected about you from the responses you gave to the survey can help them tailor-fit their communication strategy when addressing the problems you might have and how they can offer a solution. By taking this approach to finding leads in which you find people where and when they need your product, rather than cold calling anyone who might not even care about lawn care.

Leads are just one part of a very large and broad lifecycle that potential customers follow when they change from stranger to customer. Just as well, not every lead is valuable and some leads will be of higher quality than others. There are also different types of leads as well.

When approaching leads and communicating with them, it’s vital to not just see a potential sale. The goal of most businesses is to build a large customer base of people who will continue to buy their products in an ongoing fashion. Every effort to convert a lead must be done with the intention of turning them into lifelong customers.

What Is Lead Generation?

Making your prospects feel like they have an exclusive membership in a club makes Lead Generation a positive customer experience.

Eric Brower

Lead generation is the marketing practice of sparking interest in your brand, with the goal that your target market will willingly communicate with your brand about a product or service that you sell.

Leads can be created in many different ways for many different purposes through practices like list-building, sales leads, cold calling, online content, etc.

The methods used for generating leads will involve everything from advertising to organic search results and referrals from happy existing customers. In general, every business in every industry could benefit significantly from lead generation strategies.

If you want to understand leads and lead generation, it helps to understand a few of the different types of leads that you will be working with. These include marketing qualified leads (MQL), sales qualified leads (SQL), and product qualified leads (PQL.)

Understanding Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

A marketing qualified lead is a type of contact who has already engaged with your marketing endeavors but isn’t quite at the point where they would become a high-quality lead through a sales call. For example, an MQL could be someone who interacts with your website of fills out a survey from your brand.

Understanding Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

A sales qualified lead is a contact who has already “converted” in some way, meaning they have done things to let your brand know they are interested in becoming a customer. One example of a SQL could be a prospect who has sent your brand an email or responded to an offer for a free trial.

Understanding Product Qualified Lead (PQL)

A product-qualified lead is a person who has already used your product and is now interested in becoming a customer.

These individuals have taken advantage of a free trial, a free version of your product, or used your product through a friend. After actually experiencing your product or service’s value, they are now in a position in which they want to continue using your product or service by making another or ongoing purchase.

An example would be a person who signed up for your free trial but has now engaged with your brand in some way to learn about the features that come with the paid version of your product.

Is Lead Generation That Important for Marketing?

Getting leads is the first step but converting those leads into satisfied customers is one of the most important and most challenging tasks of a business.

Pooka Agnihotri

The simple answer to this question would be “yes.” Lead generation bridges the gap between your website visitors and your paid customers. It also has a number of additional benefits for businesses as well.

8 Reasons Why Lead Generation is Important for Your Company

  1. You need customers and want to find as many people in your target market as possible, as easily as possible, on a consistent basis.
  2. When a potential lead conducts their online research, they tend to automatically cut about 50% of vendors who offer the product or service they are looking for. If you aren’t putting yourself in front of prospective customers very early in the customer journey, your chances of making their “maybe” list are slim. Even if a prospective lead visits your company’s website, they are quite likely to forget about you unless you take the effort to make a memorable customer experience or offer your leads something after they have clicked away from your site.
  3. Lead generation is quite cost-effective, though it can be costly at times. The process of focusing on converting high-quality leads can cost a bit of
    money, but they can absolutely create more value for your business as it
    grows.
  4. Most of your sales funnel can be effectively automated and analyzed to allow you to track how well your lead generation strategy is going, so you can get tangible results. Lead generation is far from just a conceptual strategy – it can be weighed and measured for success, as it directly results in the growth of sales.
  5. You need sales not just today, but next week, next month and next year. Lead generation is all about feeding the top of your funnel so that you have a steady and sufficient pool of leads warmed up and ready to buy from you in the future. It’s great if you are meeting your sales goals today. Lead generation programs help ensure consistent sales in the future.
  6. You’ll definitely want your salesforce to spend more time actively selling and offering value and a lot less time cold calling. Cold calling can be
    helpful for some industries, but for the most part, it’s an intrusive and
    ineffective method for connecting with leads. The quickest way to close a
    sale is through lead research and giving your salesforce the qualified
    leads who are the most interested in buying from your brand. In businesses where lead generation is not well-respected as it should be, sales representatives spend the majority of their day doing tedious tasks rather than selling.
  7. When someone takes it upon themselves to form a relationship with your brand, their attention is organic, meaning the timeline from uncontacted prospect to paying customer is very natural instead of forced and messy. This can be the result of great lead generation efforts that will benefit your
    business significantly.
  8. Content marketing that is used for lead generation can create just as many if not more sales opportunities as traditional marketing. There are a number of ways to do lead generation as well. Content marketing is an extremely effective method for lead generation that provides a longer lifespan than traditional marketing approaches. It will attract the right prospective customer better than many other forms of marketing.

The Process of Lead Generation

Content is the fuel for your lead generation efforts.

Dayna Rothman

In a perfect world, the process of lead generation would simply involve the creation of a few key pieces of gated content, resulting in leads pilling up. This, unfortunately, isn’t really the case. In fact, lead generation begins way before you’ll even begin writing content of high value.

In general, the lead generation process can be summed up like this: An individual finds your brand’s website via lead generation strategies you’ve implemented, such as digital advertising or SEO. Once on your website, they browse a bit and like what they see. In fact, they are so into what they’ve found that they interact with one of your website’s CTAs. You have a pretty well-rounded idea of what your leads are looking for, so you’ve been proactive and created an excellent offer or resource (which could be that gated content we mentioned earlier) that your lead would be interested in and tell them about it. After they decide to click on your CTA, they are taken to a landing page that has been specially optimized to convert your lead. On this page, they can add their personal information to the form that pops up on the landing page and get added into your lead database, where the quality of the lead will be analyzed for the benefit of the sales team. From there, if they are considered a qualified lead, your sales team will contact them directly.

Let’s break this down a bit more and look at some of the things your team can do before even establishing brand awareness with your leads.

Pick Apart and Define Your Unique Leads

A successful lead generation strategy begins very early. Before one should even be thinking about building a funnel or creating a lead magnet, they will need to define the leads they already have.

Every business has sales data. Take a look at yours and see what it can tell you about your past customers. What were their demographics? How did they interact or behave with your brand and its products? This can help you paint a picture of your target market and “perfect” lead, and it can also help you form a better understanding of your leads’ problems and how your brand can provide a solution. Once you really understand your past customers’ problems, you can create targeted content and implement other forms of lead generation to appeal to them in an organic way.

Remember not to jump the gun with this step in the process. During this step you are mainly building and bringing to life the persona of your perfect lead. This should be done for the purpose of defining your buyer persona to appeal to, as well as form personas of your MQLs, SQLs, and PQLs.

Create a Lead Generation Timeline or Roadmap

Planning is key when it comes to lead generation. This about your sales funnel on a large scale– not just an individual or small scale. Plan the entire journey your website viewers will take from the moment they find your brand to when they take a look at your brand’s websites. Use this timeline to understand how to best snatch them up in your sales funnel at various points.

Struggling to create an effective timeline or roadmap? Consider the following:

  • How can users actually find your website? What are your plans or current endeavors with SEO, PPC ads, or social media marketing?
  • Once a potential lead arrives at your website, what problems are you addressing from the get-go with each piece of content (landing pages, lead magnetics, blog posts, etc.) and how have you discovered those common problems?
  • Is there an effective CTA on the content your visitor is currently reading? Have you made it clear, easy, actionable, and sensible to take action from the perspective of the lead? Is your CTA clear about the information you want, such as their email address or phone number?
  • Do you still need to create new landing pages and lead magnets?

As you begin to flesh out your answers to these questions, you’ll be able to build your timeline or roadmap more effectively.

Rank and Nurture Your Valuable Leads

You should begin this step by scoring your leads in order to discover their overall quality. After scoring, you will need to nurture the leads that are of the highest value in order to prepare them for a sale.

What is Lead Scoring?

Lead scoring is a sales and marketing method of ranking one’s leads for the purpose of discovering how sales-ready they are. For example: One lead might have casually browsed your eCommerce platform, but bounced before they could add anything to their cart. Another lead has browsed your eCommerce platform for some time and has added a number of products to their cart, but has not yet checked out. The second lead would rank as “more valuable” during lead scoring because they are closer to making an actual sale.

It’s worth noting that this strategy won’t involve manually scoring each and every lead. Rather, you will need to use a very high-quality and automation-focused CRM or another type of marketing automation platform in order to rank and organize your leads, specifically when it comes to ranking them based on their behavior or customer characteristics. By doing this, your sales team will be able to properly identify which leads are worth pursuing immediately. We bet you already have a ton of data available to your about your customers and leads– take advantage of it!

What is Lead Nurturing?

Lead nurturing takes place after lead scoring is completed. It is basically the process of creating and building up brand-buyer relationships throughout every part of your sales funnel. For a majority of the leads you monitor, it’s not very likely that they will throw themselves at your brand and immediately begin giving you their cash. This is the case for even the most sales-ready lead. Rather, they will need to be nurtured and encouraged to buy by your sales team. Essentially, nurturing leads is the process of building a relationship with a potential customer.

You might implement lead nurturing through a discovery call or email message to connect with the lead. You could easily automate this contact as part of your workflow. These points of contact should just be gentle nudges– don’t bombard your leads with emails or calls. By utilizing little pushes, you’re giving your leads more information and thus more confidence in your brand. This, with some luck, will bring them closer to making a purchase.

Measure Your Data and Refine Your Strategy

In reality, digital marketing isn’t a one-and-done process. Your initial strategy may be good, but nothing in your strategy should remain the same forever. It should change as your company and the world of digital marketing grows and evolves. It’s a process that you can revisit over and over to add something new or take something away. Lead generation is all about offering value to potential customers, and the strategy used for excellent lead generation will continue to change.

When it comes down to it, you don’t need to focus heavily on marketing opinions. Your data exists to inform any decision you make for your lead generation strategy. You also don’t have to wait weeks or even months to see a difference. You can easily refine your sales funnel and strategy whenever you please.

The most successful lead generation strategies will use A/B testing to get the best results. One can easily test different call-to-actions against each other, move around images and videos, or rearrange elements of a landing page to see where engagement is improved. The important aspect about this to remember is to only test one individual element at a time.

Another thing to remember is that lead generation is not synonymous with direct customer acquisition. Only some of the leads that dip into your funnel will actually become paying customers. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s simply why one needs to implement a scoring and nurturing element to their lead generation strategy to properly direct focus to where it needs to go.

What is Lead Qualification?

Smart marketers know to build qualifying questions into lead forms to form a clearer picture of what people need from you.

Axonn

Lead qualification is the process of identifying which leads are most likely to make a purchase. Lead scoring is often associated with lead qualification. However, scoring is just one element of lead qualification, which can become quite the complex process.

Lead qualification is very important when it comes to making sure your sales and marketing resources are organized and divided with as much efficiency as possible. If you pour your resources equally into all of your leads without first qualifying them, you will waste those resources on low-qualifying leads that are not likely to convert. This can happen no matter how much or how effectively you engage with such leads– they’re simply not buying it, and you shouldn’t be investing money into converting them. Rather, you should be investing your money into your highest qualified leads who are very likely to convert.

Lead qualification has a number of steps in the process. Your marketing team should begin by collecting the lead’s contact information during the inbound marketing phase. From there, the lead should be studied closely to determine if they fit your buyer persona. From there, if the lead is considered to be valuable, they will become a prospect. Depending on how valuable they are and how accurately your team can predict their behavior, your sales team will come in and schedule a call with them or email them directly. If this line of communication is successful, your sales team can then make a decision about whether or not the lead is worth pursuing.

How to Qualify Leads

We’ve established that a lead is simply an individual who has made it known to a brand that they are interested in their product or service. There are a few ways that a lead can show that they are interested.

In general, a sales lead can be generation through the collection of data or information. This can happen when someone shares their contact information in order to get a free shipping code from an eCommerce store, when someone fills out a form in order to access gated content from a brand, etc.

Remember that lead generation and qualification isn’t about directly acquiring customers. Some leads, no matter what, simply won’t convert. That’s why defining and having a better understanding of your leads from the get-go is so important. You can really understand who your target market and ideal buyer personas are when you know their behavior, location, demographics, and other things about them.

To qualify leads, always start with lead scoring through the use of an excellent CRM platform. Leads will be scored in different ways depending on the individual business. Expensive or luxury products will have more diverse lead scoring processes to consider than, say, consumer-grade products. B2B businesses will have their own unique scoring practices since they are dealing with businesses rather than individual consumers. Regardless of your niche or scoring practices, always ensure that you are constantly tracking the behavior of your leads.

Methods for Lead Qualification

There are a number of popular methods for lead qualification used by businesses around the world. These include the following:

  • BANT – Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline. Is your product designed to fit your leads’ budget? Are they in a position to make a purchase decision, or would someone else be making the decision? Does the prospective lead actually need your product? Is the lead ready to purchase now?
  • CHAMP – Challenges, Authority, Money, and Prioritization. This method is similar to BANT, but adds the additional prioritization of how solvable the lead’s problem is with the product in question. There is also no fixed timeline with CHAMP, but rather a focus on prioritization.
  • MEDDIC – Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identification, and Champion. What does the lead want to get out of your product’s solution? Who is the person making the buying decision? Does the buyer have criteria in place for choosing if they should make a purchase? Does the buyer follow a specific process when they are considering a purchase? What are the problems your lead wants to fix? Is there someone close to your lead or within their company (for B2B companies) that is already a brand ambassador and can convince the lead to buy?
  • Authority, Need, Urgency, and Money. This is another methodology that uses similar factors to BANT, but rearranges the order a bit. Through ANUM, the ability to make decisions about a purchase is made the main priority, while budgeting is the least important factor to consider.
  • Funds, Authoring, Interest, Need, and Timing. Another variation of BANT, this model prioritizes the lead’s budget and their authority to buy, as well as the factor of interest.

We recommend experimenting with all of these models to see which one results in better lead categorization and ultimately, the most sales.

Channels to Use for Lead Generation

The lead generation process starts by finding out where your target market ‘lives’ on the web.

Wayne Davis

Advertising follows us everywhere we go. Think about how many ads you’ve seen so far today alone. When you consider all of the banner ads, social media ads, and video ads that pop up when you’re watching your favorite show, it wouldn’t be too far out there to assume we’re looking at over a hundred ads a day. However, most consumers are getting better at ignoring the cacophony of ads that are constantly in their faces.

So what does that mean for marketers? Rather than focusing most of one’s attention and resources into ads, more effort needs to be put into lead generation. Ads are necessary for generating leads that are successful, but a variety of channels and strategies should be used to get prospective leads’ attention. And it’s especially important to find your potential leads when and where they are mostly likely to want your product or service.

Is an Omnichannel Approach to Lead Generation Necessary?

The short answer would be “yes!” Using a diverse variety of channels for lead generation allows you to get a solid idea of who your best leads are and where they are coming from. Let’s explore a few of the best channels to use for lead generation.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO is very much worth investing in for lead generation. Think of it this way: Most lead generation channels rely on leads finding your website or social media profiles on their own. How do they get there in the first place? When a majority of consumers have a problem, they take to Google. Search engine optimization ensures that when your target market is searching for answers to a problem you product can solve, your brand’s name will be on the first page of results. So much goes into SEO, such as website format, keywords in content, website quality, mobile-friendliness, etc. Ensure that you have an excellent SEO strategy in place and do regular research on how Google is updating its algorithms, as this will affect how SEO-friendly your website is. Not only can SEO practices pull in leads, but it can also improve overall brand awareness.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is one of the most useful channels for lead generation, closely following email marketing. Unfortunately, this channel is one of the most difficult to implement. Not only does your content have to be well-made, but it also needs to be marketable and offer value to your leads. It can be hard to even reach your audience through content marketing as well. To use this channel to generate leads successfully, you’re going to need to create content that is completely based on your target market’s interest. The key here is to make content that can be found organically via a search engine or while browsing social media. To put it simply, your content has to be as sharable as possible with the most eye-catching header image and title. Don’t be afraid to get diverse with your content marketing as well. You can create blog posts, whitepapers, videos, and even podcasts.

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

PPC ads are banner, video, sidebar, or native ads that a business can purchase. These ads are places on blogs, websites, social media networks, and other places where someone might browse. The business purchasing the PPC ads only have to pay for them when someone clicks on them. As a result, these ads can be quite budget-friendly. However, ensure that you are placing your ads on websites that are extremely relevant to your product, your target audience, their problem, and their need for a solution.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is likely the most effective channel for lead generation. To really get the most out of lead generation through email marketing, ensure that your company is using marketing automation software. These tools can be implemented into your existing CRM database and allow you to send extremely targeted and customized emails to your best leads through automation. This customization can be involved adding the lead’s name to the subject line of the email, implementing copy that was used to target the lead in the first place, and much more.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing for lead generation can be tricky. Some businesses swear by it as the most successful way to generate leads, while others will simply fail at garnering any success with it. This comes down to many factors, including your age demographics, the type of products or services you sell, and many other things.  Having very successful social media marketing strategies can make a huge difference in how you can project your brand and build brand awareness. In order to generate leads via social media, ensure that your marketing team has an excellent strategy in place to get as many leads as possible.

Effective Strategies for Lead Generation

Without a strategy, your social media channels just become a source of entertainment rather than lead-generation tools.

Pooja Agnihotri

There are many different effective strategies for lead generation. We’ll be covering a number of them in this section, but keep this in mind: Not every strategy will suit your niche, industry, business size, or business model. You’ll absolutely have to experiment with different lead generation strategies, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just make sure you are prepared for failure before success.

Always Deploy Lead Generation Campaigns at the Right Time

Every brand should have some form of lead generation as part of its overall digital marketing plan. However, it’s important to deploy your lead generation campaign at the right time. Consider using your unique lead generation strategy for your upcoming marketing endeavors when you:

  • Need to create brand awareness and get prospects to offer some kind of interest before you contact them through other means.
  • Have enough time to deploy a series of lead generation strategies to build brand awareness and interest in your consumer market.
  • Don’t really need leads at the moment, but will in the future.
  • Have a long list of prospect contacts that you’d like to nurture until they have an appropriate need for your brand.
  • Prefer to use a mix of personal, digital, and interactive lead generation strategies for finding prospects.
  • Have very high value and downloadable content on your website that potential customers must provide their email to receive, and you need to nurture those particular prospects after they’ve downloaded the gated content.
  • Need qualified leads to find you via a Google search, even if they have no clue who you are.
  • Desire the ability to develop a strategy for building a predictable and constant flow of leads.
  • Want to attract qualified leads that are more qualified.
  • Need to warm up leads until they’re at the right place to engage with your sales team.

Employing lead generation at the right time is really all about understanding your market’s current needs and having the right materials in place.

Invest in Creating Valuable Product Media

Video is a very helpful tool in marketing. Depending on the product and content of your videos, you could easily experience a hefty boost in click-through rates and web conversion rates. By implementing video onto your website and its landing pages, you could also increase conversions substantially. It certainly makes sense why this works– most consumers are visual people. A wall of text is not going to be as compelling as a well-made, entertaining video.

The problem many businesses run into with video marketing is that they just don’t make valuable videos. They can be visually stunning, well-made videos, but they don’t offer any value to the consumer. To use video specifically for the purpose of generating leads, make videos that some the problems of viewers. Your media should be useful, as that is where the conversions come in. This doesn’t even have to be a pricey endeavor, either. Many businesses can film beautiful and value-added videos through an iPhone or rented equipment with ease.

Create Valuable, Enticing Gated Content

Gate content is content that a lead can access only after they “unlock” it, either through providing contact information or by filling out a survey. Gated content has an element of exclusivity to it that leads are attracted to. However, make sure that your content offers significant value to your leads. If this mysterious, enticing content ends up falling flat, your leads could lose interest in your brand’s offer. Use only the best videos, eBooks, articles, whitepapers, and other content that targets a common problem your leads might have.

Optimize Your Call-to-Action Statements

Your CTAs are extremely important to your lead generation strategy. You can make amazing content and eye-catching landing pages, but if your CTA doesn’t meet the mark, you’ll lose leads. The most reliable way to know if your CTAs are working is via A/B testing. Though tedious, as each individual CTA needs to be tested one at a time, A/B testing is an excellent and simple way to see how your CTAs are working. You won’t just be testing the copy of your CTAs, either. Run additional tests to see which designs, formats, colors, etc. work well at catching the attention of leads. You might be surprised by how much a subtle hue change can increase your conversion rate.

Another strategy to implement is to limit your landing pages to one single CTA per landing page. If you overwhelm your users with too many options, they might just bail on the page altogether. The key to an effective CTA is to keep the messaging short and simple, only have one CTA per page, and make the action you want your leads to take extremely clear. Take the time to remove CTAs and navigation buttons that are distracting.

Wrapping Things Up

Lead generation is complex, but it’s not impossible.

When it comes down to it, there are only a handful of things that you’ll need to do to build the best possible lead generation strategy:

Identify your best buyer persona.

Understand and categorize your MQLs, SQLs, and PQLs.

Qualify your best leads and create a roadmap for the ideal customer journey.

Nurture your most valuable leads and don’t be afraid to switch up different areas of your sales strategy.

Use a variety of lead generation channels to reach your ideal buyers.

Invest in making excellent content and media that has value for your most qualified leads.

Always ensure your CTAs are direct and optimized for success.

Good luck on your lead generation journey! Remember, it’s perfectly normal to change your strategy as your business grows and scales, and also as digital marketing evolves with new trends and tools. Your lead generation strategy should be something you continuously return to.

About Michael Costin

Michael is the co-founder at Local Digital. He has a decade of experience in the digital marketing space, and is a big enough nerd that he's well practised in all the common digital marketing channels, from SEO to copywriting, paid social to analytics and tracking.