The Ultimate Guide to Lead Generation

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Your business stands or falls by your success in bringing in new clients or sales, and that starts with leads.

If you’re making your first steps in the world of online sales and lead generation, this guide will help you make sense of it all.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What lead generation is
  • How lead generation marketing works, and the key channels you need
  • Why lead generation is crucial for your business to make sales
  • How to calculate the cost of lead generation

We’ll also look at some proven lead-generation strategies and talk about the role of content in generating leads for your business.

By the end, you’ll understand the ins and outs of lead generation and be able to generate the leads you need to keep your business healthy and growing.

How to Create Genuine Native Content

What Is Lead Generation?

Lead generation is the process of using online-marketing strategies and tactics to identify and attract the people potentially interested in using your products or services. It is also known as online lead generation, or ‘lead gen.’

Once you have people’s attention, the goal is to convert that interest into action, so that some of these people become customers.

The success of any business depends on getting a steady stream of customers through its virtual or physical doors. It’s essential to learn lead generation to attract these customers and grow your business.

How Does Lead-Generation Marketing Work?

Here’s how a lead-generation workflow operates, in a nutshell. The lead-generation marketing process first attracts leads, then turns those marketing leads into sales leads. This is sales-lead generation. The two processes are interwoven.

So, how do you move someone from being a lead to becoming a customer? To understand this, you need to know where lead generation fits into your sales and marketing funnel; what the key lead generation channels are; and how lead generation compares with other marketing tactics, such as raising brand awareness.

First, let’s talk about what a typical lead-generation workflow looks like. It’s usually portrayed as a funnel, which is a great way to visualize how people move from being unaware of you to eventually becoming customers. When you’re doing a funnel analysis the most important stages of a lead-generation funnel are often divided into:

  • Awareness – when people first become aware of your brand. This stage is called top-of-funnel (TOFU)
  • Consideration – when people look for solutions and evaluate your offering as a possibility. This stage is known as middle-of-funnel (MOFU)
  • Decision – when people choose their solution – hopefully yours. This stage is known as bottom-of-funnel (BOFU)

Here’s an example from DigitalMarketer:

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Think of it this way. Imagine there is a huge pool of people out there and they haven’t heard about you. You use some strategies to bring your business to their attention, such as paid Facebook campaigns, SEO, and content marketing. With these methods, they people to come to you, a form of inbound marketing.These strategies raise brand awareness, but the people looking at your business aren’t leads, yet.

For that to happen, they must engage with your business in some way, by subscribing to your email newsletter, for example, or by signing up for a webinar. Over time, you use other strategies to attract these people’s interest. Eventually, they start asking questions and taking actions that let you know that they’re becoming interested in buying. This is when they move from being marketing leads to sales leads.

This diagram from Lead Generation for Dummies illustrates this process:

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What Is The Importance of Lead Generation for Your Business?

Why are leads important, and why must you use online-lead generation techniques? Let’s answer the last question first. Your customers are online; they’re not waiting around for you to push information to them. They’re actively looking for the information they need.

Research from BazaarVoice shows that 45% of offline shoppers read reviews before buying. That rises to 56% for online shoppers.

This means that rather than just being online, you have to up your online game to get shoppers’ attention. You must:

  • Make it easy for potential customers to find you
  • Earn their trust
  • Help them make buying decisions by providing valuable information so they choose you

The best way to do all of this is with content and paid distribution of that content. Give people something valuable and they’ll trade their email address for it. Once you have that email, you can nurture potential customers by continuing to offer value.

Plus, people only tend to buy after several interactions. Lead generation activities create those interactions that eventually generate sales.

Digital marketing and online-lead generation are continuous processes. They build trust by providing ever-increasing value, helping potential customers feel confident about buying from you.

How Much Does Lead Generation Cost?

Like other marketing, you have to think about numbers with lead-generation marketing, so customer acquisition cost (CAC) is crucial. It’s important to ensure that the amount you’re spending on lead generation brings in more in sales.

A simple formula for working out the CAC for your online-lead generation efforts is to divide your lead generation marketing spend by the number of new customers you acquire. If you spend $5,000 on a campaign and get 1,000 new customers, your CAC is $5.

How to Get Started with Lead Generation

Developing a lead generation strategy isn’t easy — it requires knowing exactly how you’ll want to generate leads, strategies for doing so, lead generation tools to get the job done, and building campaigns to do so (examples for inspiration here).

But if you’re just diving in, we’re here to take you through exactly how to begin, step-by-step.

Buyer Personas

As with all marketing, before starting your next lead-generation campaign, you need to know who your customers are. The more specific you are, the more targeted you can be with your lead-generation tactics, and the more successful they will be.

The first step is to put together a buyer persona for your target customer. It’s OK to have more than one buyer persona. After all, someone buying men’s clothes is unlikely to have as great an interest in women’s clothes. Typically, buyer personas include:

  • The age, gender and education level of your target customer
  • Other demographic information, such as income level
  • Interests
  • Problems that you can solve with your product or service
  • Anything that might stop them from wanting to buy
  • And much more

You can find some of this information in Google Analytics and social media analytics. You’ll also find out a lot by looking at who your competitors focus on.

When you have all this information, give your target persona a name. It’s helpful to say ‘I’m writing a post for Fred,’ rather than focusing on a bunch of stats. Knowing your customers also helps when using Taboola or Facebook to target them.

Once you know who your target customers are, it’s time to work out how you’re going to attract them with lead-generation strategies. This includes using digital-marketing tools and techniques, such as content marketing, search-engine marketing, email marketing, and social-media marketing.

Before we get to that, let’s talk about your website, one of your most important lead-generation channels.


Your website is at the heart of your lead-generation strategy. In fact, one key purpose of your online-lead generation efforts is to grab people’s attention so they visit your website or landing page and become part of your lead-generation funnel. When they arrive, they want to learn more about your business and to find information on your products and services.

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Your website must, therefore, include multiple ways to capture leads, including:

  • Landing pages targeted to particular offers
  • On-page email marketing sign-up forms
  • Pop-up or slide-in offers related to the content people are looking at
  • A lead magnet, which we’ll discuss more when we talk about email marketing

Your website is also the home for your content, a major asset in online-lead generation.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is the basis of many lead generation efforts. Content marketing uses different types of online content to raise awareness of your business, nurture leads and encourage sales. It’s used at every stage of the sales and marketing funnel.

Content marketing is a key part of inbound marketing, which aims to help people find your business, choose your brand, and eventually become customers. With inbound marketing, your customers want to read, watch or listen to your content, or use the tools you provide. It contrasts with outbound marketing, such as print and TV ads and billboards.

When planning your lead-generation strategy, start by choosing the types of content you’ll use at every stage of your potential customers’ interaction with you. This is the buyer journey. It often matches the funnel we described earlier. You’ll use different content at every stage, but some content types may run across more than one stage.

Content for the awareness stage includes blog posts. These help you to educate potential and existing customers. Other digital-lead generation strategies involve sharing blogs. Blog posts can also be turned into other TOFU content forms such as:

  • Infographics
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Checklists
  • Worksheets
  • Social media updates

Using these content types, at this point in the marketing funnel, helps increase website traffic, build awareness and engagement.

Learn more about top-of-funnel lead generation content here.

Blog content also forms the basis for educational resources that nurture prospects and turns them into leads. These are often used in the middle of the funnel. In the middle and the bottom of the funnel, you can use blog content for webinars that give potential customers even more information.

It’s important that all lead-generation marketing targets content to your potential customers’ needs. Find out what these needs are via customer or subscriber surveys, and by monitoring the questions they ask via social media, email, or on your customer service portal. Use this information to create content that answers their questions.


It’s not enough to create content. You need to optimize that content so that people find it via search engines. To turn traffic into leads, you first have to GET that traffic.

Here’s the thing: 95% of all web traffic goes to sites that appear on the first page of search results. And most clicks go to the top three results on those pages.

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You can’t skimp on optimizing content if you want it to generate leads. This means:

  • Writing for humans
  • Including target keywords in headings and sub-headings
  • Using target keywords and semantic keywords in the content
  • Linking to internal content and authoritative external sources

Check out this guide to current SEO ranking factors to help with this.

Search-Engine Marketing

When you’ve created a great piece of content you can also drive traffic to it through search-engine marketing (SEM). This means promoting your content via the ads that show up in search results. These ads appear for searches relevant to the keywords you choose, so as with content marketing and SEO, optimizing ads for the right keywords is an essential component of this lead-generation strategy.

You can also generate leads via display ads on other sites, either through the Google Ads program, via a content discovery network, or a paid placement of your own.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the most important online-lead generation tactics you can use. According to DMA Insight, 99% of people check their email in-boxes daily, some twenty times a day.

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Adestra says people like getting high value emails from businesses: more than 50% of people sign up to get coupons.

Email is a great way to build a personal connection with potential customers. To use email marketing effectively, you must:

  • Have a place where people can sign up for emails, such as your header or sidebar
  • Offer an incentive to sweeten the deal – a coupon or a lead magnet (a digital resource you offer in exchange for an email address)
  • Email prospects regularly with information to help them learn more about you and help them solve their problems
  • Personalize your emails

Lead Magnets

One excellent lead-generation tool is a lead magnet, a resource you offer in exchange for an email. Ideally, this resource is useful and actionable for your audience. It’s not about the hard sell; it’s about tempting your audience to engage more.

As well as ebooks, you can use checklists and worksheets as lead magnets. You can also use webinars, free trials, and gated content. This is where you hide part of a high-value piece of content and reveal it in exchange for an email address.

HubSpot is one of our favorite lead generation examples. It incorporates much of the advice we’re sharing in this guide. The company has grown its business by giving away a lot of content for free. The company:

  • Collects information by offering free tools
  • Uses email marketing to send out information
  • Collects more information in exchange for lead magnet ebooks
  • Tweaks offers based on what visitors have already seen, interacted with or downloaded

The company’s top lead magnet of 2017 was a video that was shared more than 12,000 times.

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You can also segment your email list by doing in-email quick surveys, or by getting people to go to a page and indicate their interests. This lets you target your lead generation efforts more effectively. Here are some more tactics for growing your email list.

Social Media

The content you create can also help you generate leads via social media. Social media is a lead-generation strategy you can’t ignore.

According to We are Social, the number of active social media users has risen 8.6% in the last year to 4.43 billion.

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To use your content for social media lead generation, you first have to figure out where your audience is hanging out and what they’re doing. Use the analytics built into social media platforms to figure out what’s popular or trending in your niche, and then see where there’s a match between your audience’s needs and the content you have to share.

Once you have this information, you can generate leads via:

  • Sharing content as you publish it
  • Extracting pieces of content to create graphics
  • Running contests or quizzes
  • Publishing teasers for lead magnets
  • Responding quickly to questions and comments
  • Paying to promote popular social content for more reach

Learn more about social media lead generation in this Hubspot guide.

Measuring Success

How do you know if your lead generation strategies are working? It’s essential to track metrics, and not all of these are about bottom line sales. Remember, your lead generation process starts with raising awareness. Look at metrics, such as increased traffic to your site or social profiles, and growth in engaged followers.

Next, check out how many people are signing up for your email list, grabbing your lead magnet, or clicking a link in an email to take the next step.

Finally, see how many people sign up for one of your pre-sales webinars or visit a page you know leads to sales. All of this will tell you if your lead generation efforts are working.

That’s it! In this guide, we’ve explained how lead generation links marketing and sales. We’ve explored key lead-generation tactics, such as content marketing, email marketing and social media marketing, and we’ve looked at how to improve lead generation with SEO, SEM and lead magnets. It’s over to you to put these tactics to work, and get more leads for your business.

Learn More

To learn more about lead generation, read our guides to:

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