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What Is Lead Generation?

Learn about this important process for growing your business, to acquire leads and create loyal customers.

Illustration with three parts (not numbered): person sees an ad online, person visits the website, person happy making a purchase
March 28, 2023
Kathleen Crampton
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Reading time about 8 min

Gone are the days of cold-calling potential customers. While contacting people out of the blue to promote your business isn’t necessarily ineffective, it isn’t always well received (we’re looking at you, 6 PM phone calls from an auto insurance rep). Say hello to the modern method of lead generation. Now, with tried-and-true digital marketing strategies, getting new customers is seamless and can be a delightful interaction for everyone involved.

To define lead generation, we first need to talk about leads (they are the star of the show, after all). A lead is anyone who shows interest in or has interacted with a company and has the potential to become a customer. This person doesn’t need to have interacted solely online — they can be someone who has connected with a company even the old-fashioned way. Maybe they walked into your store and wrote their email address on a keep-in-touch list, or perhaps they entered a raffle at a work conference and had to provide their phone number.

Digital leads are defined much the same way, except that they show interest online by opting in to email, filling out a survey, entering their information for an offer — you get the idea.

So, what is lead generation? Suppose a lead is someone that expresses interest in a brand. In that case, lead generation is identifying and helping that person become a customer or client by nurturing them after their initial attraction to your company.

Here is a super simple way to remember what lead generation is:

  • Part one: Attract the lead.
  • Part two: Identify the lead.
  • Part three: Nurture the lead.

The goal of generating leads is all about facilitating the customer journey — from initial attraction to the purchase of a product or service.

Illustration of a person filling out a contact or discount form online

 

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How to Generate Leads

To generate leads, you have to know who your leads are. Okay, this might seem counterintuitive, especially because data from leads can also help to develop your customer persona. So, it’s a bit of a which-came-first situation. But to have an effective marketing strategy, you need to have a solid idea of your brand’s customer persona — whether that comes from pre-launch competitor research or post-launch lead generation data.

Your customer persona should include the following:

  • Demographics
  • Pain Points
  • Motivations

While the topic of creating a customer persona can be its article, we mention it here because it’s crucial to generating quality leads. It helps you more effectively target your audience through the following methods of lead generation marketing.

#1

Content Marketing

Creating valuable, informative, and relevant content (think blog posts, e-books, white papers, videos, and more) is a great way to attract potential customers to your website and generate leads.

But don’t just slap a few words on a page. Your content should be tailored to the needs and interests of your target audience, and it should be written and created for humans, not a search engine.

#2

SEO

How do you help someone find your content, website, product, or service? By optimizing for search engines. Use relevant keywords, answer user questions in your content, and ensure your website is set up for success by doing the same. Additionally, part of SEO marketing is improving the user experience for your website (things like headings, page load time, and easy, intuitive navigation). This will get more people to your content and your site and help to generate more leads.

#3

Social Media Marketing

Showcase your company on social media platforms, like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok — all great tools for lead generation. Share content, engage with your audience, and promote your products and services. Set up a social calendar to keep people engaged and ensure that your brand stays top of mind.

#4

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Ads

PPC advertising allows you to target potential customers through paid ads on top search engines and other sites like Facebook. When someone clicks the ad, they’re taken to your offer or landing page, ideally set up for generating leads.

#5

Email Marketing

Email marketing is an effective way to reach potential customers and build relationships with them. But the clincher here is that you already have the lead’s information, whereas, with other methods on this list, you don’t need to already have their contact info.

Email marketing is part of lead generation because you’re still nurturing them. Maybe they’ve never heard of your brand and opted into your email list through a giveaway. You can use email to share exclusive offers, news, and updates with your subscribers and encourage them to visit your website or purchase.

#6

Text Marketing

Text marketing is a great option when it comes to developing leads. You can use QR codes, text-to-join keywords, and sign-up forms that then move to your SMS marketing campaign. Like email marketing, text marketing requires someone to opt-in to SMS messages from your company, so you already have their information — you need to continue the relationship.

#7

Referrals

Use your customers to your advantage with referral marketing. With this tactic, customers can receive a discount, promotion, or free item if they refer your product or service to a friend (who becomes a new lead).

Regardless of your chosen lead generation channels, the most important thing to remember is that the end goal is conversion. So make sure that all your channels and touchpoints lead back to your website or the page setup to capture lead information (like name, phone number, and email address).

You can even use lead generation services to help your company develop quality leads. Learn more tips for business lead generation.

Different Types of Leads

When we talk about identifying leads, we’re referring to the types of leads. Understanding the different types will help you know how to manage and nurture them (more on that next).

Illustration of a funnel (marketing funnel) labeled “New” at the top, “Potential” at the middle, and “Ready to buy” at the bottom

There are three different types of leads that conveniently match up with the customer journey, or marketing funnel. Note how each type of lead might interact differently with lead generation marketing.

  • New: This type of lead is at the top of the funnel. They’ve just learned about your brand and show awareness and interest by clicking ads or interacting with social posts. They might not fit your customer persona.
  • Potential: This type of lead is in the middle of the funnel. Prospects heard of your brand and showed interest by filling out an online form to learn more or registering for events like webinars. They most likely fit your customer persona and are a good candidate to nurture with the intent of moving to the next stage, “ready to buy.”
  • Ready to buy: This type of lead is at the bottom of the funnel, meaning they are ready to purchase. They may have filled out a form to receive a discount, added a product to their online cart, or even participated in a free trial.

How to Manage Leads

Not having proper lead management is like planning a family reunion trip without a calendar: It can potentially work, but it’s not very effective. After lead generation comes lead management, an important tool for compiling lead data, sharing that information across departments, and using it to create effective marketing strategies.

First, you’ll need to store your lead information somewhere. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems can do the trick. Then, you can segment your leads into their appropriate categories and share this information with other departments so that each lead is attended to by the right team, like marketing for new and potential customers and sales for those ready to buy.

Having all this data in one place makes it easier to identify the type of lead it is (new, potential, or ready to buy) and nurture the lead through its customer journey. At each stage of their journey, the appropriate department can update the lead in the CRM system with new information to inform the strategy.

How to Nurture Leads

As with any relationship, you must nurture it to help it thrive. Customer relationships are the same. While leads might not be considered customers yet, they are new potential relationships that your company should cultivate for conversion. Here are effective strategies for nurturing your leads:

  • Leverage multiple touchpoints. Remember the types of content marketing we mentioned? A good lead generation strategy will use several channels to garner more leads and boost engagement. So, for example, don’t just send a weekly email; combine that with social posts and paid ads to expand your reach and keep leads engaged.
  • Follow up quickly. Don’t let too much time pass between a lead’s interaction and your communication. A CRM system can help automate email and SMS text follow-ups — the sooner you engage with the lead, the more top of mind your brand will be.
  • Personalize communication. Don’t just follow up with a generic email blast. Make it personal by using the lead’s name or referring to a product or service they clicked on or interacted with. This helps to develop trust with potential customers and makes the process feel like more of a relationship than a transaction.
  • Use lead identification to target your content. After identifying the lead type, use that information to appropriately target your content and marketing strategy. A new lead requires different messaging than someone who knows your company and is ready to purchase.
  • Understand your industry. While these nurturing strategies can mainly be applied across sectors, customers and clients interacting with different sectors might need different forms of nurturing. For example, law firm lead generation tactics can differ from lead generation for real estate and even B2B lead generation.

To recap: What is lead generation? It’s an important step in growing your business and fostering relationships to have customers for life. Learn more with our lead generation guide, and acquire quality leads today!

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