This article is part of a larger series on Sales Management.
Companies of all sizes use lead generation to ensure they are regularly attracting new potential buyers into their sales funnel. In this article, you’ll learn more about what lead generation is, proven strategies for small businesses, and which software tools will keep your sales pipeline consistently full of opportunities.
What Is Lead Generation?
Generating leads is the first stage in the sales process where a potential customer (qualified or not) starts their customer journey by being added into the sales funnel. Its success depends on a business employing a number of activities that can create brand or product awareness, such as advertising, marketing, or conducting direct sales activities.
While a business can generate leads through several strategies, the best processes also include steps that gauge the buying interest of a person or organization to ensure that only the best leads move to the next stage in the sales pipeline. This is known as lead qualification, which involves organizing generated leads into one of four categories depending on their interaction, interest level, and where they came from.
The four main types of leads include:
- Unqualified lead (UQL): Any contact who could be a good fit for your business but has not expressed interest or connected with you yet. When you purchase a lead list, those are unqualified leads.
- Marketing qualified lead (MQL): Anyone who has expressed some level of interest in your business by interacting with a marketing campaign. Examples include clicking on an email link, submitting a web form for a special offer, signing up for your newsletter, downloading something, or engaging with a social media campaign.
- Sales qualified lead (SQL): Someone who has expressed a high degree of interest in your business offerings by requesting pricing, signing up for a free trial, agreeing to a presentation, or talking with a sales rep.
- Product qualified lead (PQL): A lead who has used a product through a free trial or free-forever plan and has expressed interest in becoming a paying customer. For example, when someone uses a software free trial and reaches out to a sales rep about a feature or pricing, they have become product-qualified.
Pro tip: When conducting lead qualification, use the budget, authority, need, and timeline (BANT) method to rank your leads and score them. Learn more about how to use this strategy in our article on how to use BANT to find qualified leads.
Strategies for Lead Generation
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to lead generation. In most cases, a combination of strategies are needed to diversify lead sources and maximize opportunities. When determining which strategies to use, those in sales management positions must consider their business’ budget, resources, skill sets, target market, and expertise.
Inbound Lead Generation
A common lead generation approach involves having potential customers come to you, known as the inbound lead generation strategy. Inbound marketing involves a high degree of knowledge and work behind the scenes to create referral pipelines. It also entails using online search-optimized marketing and advertising as a “lead magnet” to attract interested buyers.
Some key specific tactics for inbound lead generation strategy include:
Develop a network and various partnerships with other people, businesses, or your current customers to get them to send you leads. Generating referrals is one of the best ways to generate sales leads because it doesn’t take a lot of additional resources, and each lead is automatically marketing-qualified, if not sales-qualified. Check out our comprehensive guide on how to write referral email templates.
Create articles, graphics, white papers, case studies, videos, or podcasts for your website on topics your target audience finds value in. This tactic works best in conjunction with search engine optimization (SEO) and paid advertising to get traffic to the page where the content is posted. Tailor the types of content you engage various leads with by creating customer profiles, which help you decide what types of messaging appeal to different target audiences.
Though it can be expensive, direct mailers, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and even billboard advertising is another way to get in front of a large audience. Whatever the advertisement is, craft a call to action such as stating, “Call us at this number to learn more.”
Website Form Submissions
This tactic is generally part of another inbound tactic. Through content marketing, advertising, social media campaigns, and even referrals, the call to action directs the individual to a website form. It usually directs to your website, where they can then shop, download something, subscribe, request a quote, or otherwise submit their information to be contacted by you.
Paid Search Advertising
Pay to have your business’ listing pop up in the top section of search engine results. When someone searches for your product, service, or solution on Google or another search engine, your ad will be one of the few at the top of the page. This tactic is merely a catalyst to create awareness—you still need the lead to contact you or submit a website inquiry to actually generate sales leads.
Social Media Campaigns
This strategy includes either organic posts or ads on social media such as Facebook Ads or LinkedIn Ads. This tactic pairs well with content marketing, such as if you want to create a video, podcast, or blog and run a campaign to increase its reach.
Educational Seminars or Webinars
Hosting an educational seminar or webinar is another effective way to generate marketing qualified leads, and can be done in person or online. It works particularly well in business-to-business (B2B) lead generation, such as workshops or webinars that enable business owners to learn more about how to solve common business challenges.
Outbound Lead Generation
Alternatively, or more likely in conjunction with inbound lead generation, your business can actively find and engage potential customers using outbound tactics. This strategy is most effective for sales-centric companies that successfully personalize the buyer’s journey by connecting with them directly.
Here are some common ways to generate outbound leads:
Purchasing leads is more of a precursor to other outbound lead generation examples like cold calling or email introductions. By purchasing leads, you get a list of contacts with their information to start the outbound sales process. While there are many reputable places to buy business leads, these leads will be unqualified to start because they’ve had no prior engagement with your business.
Cold calling can be intimidating for those who have never done it before, but is the fastest way to qualify a lead and determine interest. When cold calling, you make an introduction and get an immediate response. Our how-to guide about writing cold calling scripts and our beginner’s guide to cold calling will help you get started with this tactic.
Sending a cold email is another introduction method you can use to create awareness and potentially qualify a lead. Email introductions work better if you use them to send examples of your work, like a project portfolio or case study, and you have a creative way to pique the lead’s interest, such as a free trial or demo, or an industry white paper they can download.
Attending networking events lets you collect business cards of others and personally connect with people in-person or over video conference calls. During these events, you get a chance to give your sales pitch about what you do and learn if your solutions are appealing to the people you meet. Check out our article on business networking statistics to see how this tactic can work for your business.
Pro tip: Customer relationship management (CRM) providers like HubSpot have a built-in business card scanner. This makes it easy for you to store contacts easily in your CRM account after attending networking events.
Setting up a booth at an expo, conference, or trade show puts your business directly in front of hundreds to thousands of attendees. The key to this tactic is finding the right events to attend with your target audience and developing an engaging booth by using raffles and giving away prizes.
Pro tip: Use lead scoring to measure and identify leads with the best chances of becoming paying customers. Factors that go into a high lead score include where they were generated and how much they interact with your marketing content.
Tools for Lead Generation
Generating leads is far easier when you have the right tools at your disposal to organize information, streamline processes, automate tasks, and facilitate strategy execution. Lead generation services and effective software tools put you in the best position to generate leads, keep your sales pipeline full, and move prospects through the stages of your sales funnel.
Lead databases allow you to purchase contact lists to reach out to on your own. UpLead, for instance, is a B2B lead generation website and software. Users can filter leads based on job titles, location, industry, and the technology the organization uses.
Businesses primarily engaged in business-to-consumer (B2C) selling can use Salesfully to generate consumer lead lists. Salesfully pulls data from personal attributes such as location, age, ethnicity, occupation, and income to ensure you find the exact personas you want to target.
Website Landing Pages
Use a website builder to develop a professional website with landing pages for directing leads to a page where they can submit a web form inquiry. Platforms like Squarespace allow you to build lead-generating web pages and forms with hundreds of premade templates depending on your type of business.
This involves acquiring reviews and is an effective online lead generation marketing tactic. This is essential as it lets buyers evaluate your business and its offerings before becoming leads. Podium Starter is reputation management software that helps you get Google and Facebook reviews by sending your current customers texts that lead them to the review page.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software
CRM software offers tools for organizing lead information, tracking lead statuses, and communicating with leads. Salesforce, for example, is a popular CRM system for storing lead data such as their contact information, pipeline status, and activity history with each lead.
CRMs like Freshsales also have lead scoring tools that help you evaluate the quality of your leads generated based on predetermined criteria, such as where they came from and their interactions with you. This way, as leads are generated, you can prioritize your time on the hot leads with the best chance of becoming customers.
As sales qualified leads (SQLs) are generated, treat each new lead as an opportunity. HubSpot CRM, for example, lets you track the status of each lead using deal management features. Deals are shown in a Kanban-style view under the relevant stage that your business is currently at with each lead.
Businesses looking to do high-volume cold calling campaigns may find power dialing tools in CRM systems especially useful. Power dialing lets you preset a list of contacts to call and automatically dials the next one when a call is finished.
This prevents error and saves time you would spend manually dialing calls. It also allows your sales reps to focus exclusively on the conversation. Freshdesk offers this feature and integrates with the Freshsales CRM platform.
Some CRMs have capabilities for managing lead generation campaigns through social media channels. Zoho CRM, for example, lets you configure automation rules for running social media ad campaigns such as a Facebook advertisements. As leads are generated through your campaign, they are then automatically added into your CRM system as a lead.
Email marketing software enables the deployment of mass-volume emails for cold introduction and brand awareness campaigns, both of which can generate leads. Platforms like Mailchimp make it easy to create effective email messages with tools like a subject line helper, predesigned campaign templates, and a drag-and-drop editor.
Use Mailchimp’s form builder to embed forms on your website or Facebook, and set up workflows to automatically start email campaigns to new sign-ups. Plus, Mailchimp supports digital advertising efforts, including Facebook and Instagram ads, as well as remarketing display ads on Facebook, Instagram, and throughout the Google Ad network.
Pro tip: To make your email marketing campaigns more effective, make sure your leads’ email addresses are correct by using these seven methods.
Similar email tools can also be used as built-in tools within CRM systems. HubSpot CRM, for instance, has email marketing tools that include premade templates, email scheduling, email automation, and analysis of email campaigns that show which ones are most effective.
Having a strategy in place for creating awareness and generating interest in your products and services is critical to bringing in revenue for your business. Implementing these tactics, measuring their effectiveness, as well as using the right software tools will help your sales team keep the pipeline full with high-quality sales opportunities.