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 it relates to other marketing tactics
- The link between lead generation and sales and marketing
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.
What Is Lead Generation?
Let’s begin by defining what lead generation is.
Online-lead generation is where you use online marketing strategies and tactics to identify and attract the people potentially interested in using your products or services.
Once you have their 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 having a steady stream of customers coming through its virtual or physical doors. Lead generation is how you attract those customers and grow your business.
Why Online-Lead Generation Is Important
So, why is it so important to use online-lead generation techniques? That’s where your customers are, and they’re not waiting around for you to push information to them, either. Instead, they’re actively looking for the information they need.
Research from BazaarVoice shows that 45% of offline shoppers read reviews before buying. That increases to 56% for online shoppers.
That means, rather than just being online, you have to up your online game to get the attention of those shoppers. That means you must:
- Make it easy for potential customers to find you
- Earn their trust
- Help them make buying decisions with valuable information so they choose you
The best way to do that is with content. Give people something valuable enough, and they’ll trade their email address for it. Once you have that email, you can nurture potential customers by continuing to offer value.
Digital marketing and online-lead generation are continuous processes that build trust by providing ever-increasing value. This helps potential customers feel confident about buying from you.
Lead Generation: The Link Between Sales and Marketing
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, and how lead generation compares with other marketing tactics, such as raising brand awareness.
Before we get into that, let’s talk about what a lead generation funnel actually is. A funnel is a way of visualizing the way people move from being unaware of you to eventually becoming customers. Its stages are often divided into:
- Awareness, which is when people first become aware of your brand. This stage is also called top of funnel (TOFU)
- Consideration, when people are looking for solutions and evaluating your offering as a possibility. This stage is known as middle of funnel (MOFU)
- Decision, which is when people choose their solution – hopefully yours. This stage is known as bottom of funnel (BOFU)
Here’s an example from DigitalMarketer:
Think about it this way. Imagine you have a huge pool of people out there who haven’t heard of you. You use some strategies to bring your business to their attention such as paid Facebook campaigns, SEO, and content 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:
Creating the Buyer Personas For Lead-Generation Strategy
As with all marketing, before you start your next lead generation campaign, you need to know who your customers are. The more specific you are, the more you can target your lead-generation tactics, and the more successful they will be.
Your first step is to put together a buyer persona for your target customer. It’s OK to have more than one. 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
- 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 collect all the 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. And knowing your customers also helps when using Taboola or Facebook to target that audience.
Once you know who your target customers are, it’s time to work out how you’re going to attract them via lead-generation strategies. This will include 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.
Using Your Website as a Lead-Capture Tool
Your website is at the heart of your lead-generation strategy. In fact, one key purpose of some 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’ll want to learn more about your business and to find information on your products and services.
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.
Using Content Marketing For Lead Generation
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 you’re 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, and 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 can also share blogs. Blog posts can also be turned into other TOFU content forms such as:
- 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 both 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 you customer service portal. Use this information to create content that answers their questions.
The Importance of SEO
It’s not enough to create content. You also need to optimize that content so that people find it via search engines. After all, to turn traffic into leads, you first have to GET that traffic.
You can’t skimp on optimizing content if you want it to generate leads. That means:
- Writing for humans
- Including target keywords in headings and subheadings
- 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.
Using Search Engine Marketing For Lead Generation
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.
Using Email Marketing For Lead Generation
Email marketing is one of the most important online-lead generation tactics you can use. According to DMA Insight, 99% of people check email daily, some as many as twenty times a day.
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 the email address)
- Email prospects regularly with information to help them learn more about you and help them solve their problems
- Personalize your emails
Using Lead Magnets in Email Marketing
One excellent lead-generation tool is a lead magnet. That’s 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.
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. That lets you target your lead generation efforts more effectively. Here are some more tactics for growing your email list.
Using Social Media For Lead Generation
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 13% in the last year to 3.2 billion. That’s 42% of the global population.
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 the Success of Lead Generation
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. Now, it’s over to you to put these tactics to work, and get more leads for your business.