Any company's primary goal is to expand, and doing so is only possible if it can sell its goods or services for a profit. The ability to sell is what allows a company to survive. Many companies with good, even exceptional, ideas need help to market their products. And since lead generation is the initial step of the sales cycle, it is the primary focus of all businesses, be it of any size or industry.
So without further ado, let's explore lead generation to understand how we can generate leads faster and profitably. In this article, we will cover below:
1. What is a lead and its type
2. What is lead generation and its importance
3. A brief history of lead generation
4. Different channels for lead generation
5. Effective strategies to generate quality leads faster and profitably
6. Final word
What is a lead and its types
A lead is a person who has expressed some interest in your product or service and shared their contact details for further communications. In simple words, leads are the potential customers for your business.
Types of leads
Understanding leads and categorizing them helps streamline interactions and close them faster. Different businesses use different mechanisms to categorize leads based on criteria suited to their business model. For example, an ecommerce brand like Flipkart categorizes its leads based on the activities taken by visitors on its platform, and we (Corefactors-a B2B software company) categorize leads based on newsletter subscriptions, freemium signups, etc. In general, leads are categorized based on the below-mentioned factors:
- Based on qualification or stage of the funnel
- Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) is a lead that has intentionally engaged with your brand or has shown interest in what you offer but is not ready to have a sales-related conversation. For example, people who have subscribed to your blogs or newsletters, added e-commerce products to your shopping cart or visited your website again and again, shared contact details by signing up for a webinar or to download something from your website, and more. However, they are more likely to be receptive to any sales pitch than a typical lead. An MQL has taken the first step into becoming a customer and is most likely to turn into Sales Qualified Lead if marketed well. MQLs are often identified by the marketing department when they try to foster the target audience's interest in either the product or the brand.
- Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) are those who have shown interest in buying your product or service. For example, people who book a demo session of the product or service, take a free trial, reach out to the sales team to know about the product or service, or are referred by your existing customer. It is essential to collect certain information about the lead, such as the pain points, budget, demographic, etc., before being qualified as an SQLs.
2. Based on interests
- Cold or outbound leads: Cold leads are those leads who are yet to show any direct interest in your product or service but fit the ideal customer profile. These leads are generally generated either with lead generation tools/software or are bought from some third party. They are not easy to convert and take a lot of time and persuasion. Also, reaching people directly through cold calling is not recommended in today's business environment. It frustrates the people being called, and at the same time, it costs more to the business.
- Warm leads or inbound leads: Warm leads are that subset of leads that either know about your brand/business or your product or service. These are leads of people who have subscribed to your blogs, actively engaged with content on social media platforms, downloaded some marketing material, joined a webinar or may have called themselves to enquire about your product or service. Regardless of the source, these are easier to turn into prospects than cold leads.
- Hot leads: Hot leads are interested in purchasing the product or service you offer, for instance, waiting for agreement on terms or further discounts from you, etc.
Now that we have understood how to categorize leads let's move ahead to understand lead generation.
What is Lead generation and its importance?
Lead generation entails a business's activities or processes to acquire the identity and contact details of potential buyers or people interested in the product or service they offer. Potential buyers can either be the ones looking for a product or service similar to what you offer or people with similar characteristics to one of your existing customers.
If a lead is an SQL, it is passed to the sales team to initiate conversation related to products and offerings. And if the lead is not ready to initiate a conversation with a sales representative. In that case, the Marketing team shall further engage with them through email or through ads across channels to encourage customers to try the product or service offered by the brand.
Apart from helping businesses to achieve consideration from the target audience for the product or service and push them closer towards purchasing your product or service, lead generation activities also help in creating brand awareness among people who were not aware of your product or service, test product fit in the market and collect some valuable information about customers.
A brief history of lead generation
Before the invention of print, it was all about person-to-person. Businesses/traders served locals and relied on referrals, door-to-door, and setting up a store, mostly in foot traffic areas. Regardless, generating leads and selling took work. Word of mouth was essential, and generating a steady stream of referrals was time-consuming, making it difficult to scale. Then the printing press came, and lead generation took a new form. Print allowed businesses to send messages to thousands of people over vast distances without needing someone in person. They could advertise in publications and place posters and billboards in high-traffic areas. With the rise of railroads and the postal system, businesses could send catalogs and letters directly to people's homes and serve a broader market than before. Lead generation grew quickly during these centuries and gave businesses multiple tools like newspapers, posters, direct mail, advertisements, and billboards. However, word of mouth and person-to-person were still the primary lead sources.
Advertising exploded in the 1900s with the industrial revolution and the rise of big business. Apart from promotions in national publications, companies could now broadcast messages on Radio to millions of potential customers, with the first ad running in 1922 for AT&T, visually showing and demonstrating the offering to millions using television with the first commercial in 1941 during a Dodger's game. The rise of phones and phone books meant businesses could directly reach individuals through cold calling, and lead generation became comparatively easy. However, this led to a sharp increase in the number of companies, and consumers were flooded with ads & offers. Consumers started to become skeptical as there were gaps in what was promised and what was delivered.
And then came the Internet in 1983, which grew into a recognizable one somewhere in the 1990s, and lead generation changed all over again. The Internet, in combination with Mobile technology and social media, changed consumer-business relationships to become more personalized. It allowed businesses to instantly reach people anywhere at all times across the globe for a fraction of what it cost on traditional advertising and was more targeted than before. While at the same time, consumers now have an abundance of information at their fingertips, and they prefer educating themselves about the product or service they need without communicating with sales representatives. Word-of-mouth has become more powerful, whether positive or negative reviews/feedback is available to the masses.
With the introduction of modern technology, tools/software, and social media platforms, marketers have multiple options to generate leads from and can also fine-tune their lead-generation processes based on prospective lead needs and wants. However, the main challenge lies in identifying the right channel and generating high-quality leads quickly and profitably in this competitive market.
Different channels for lead generation
The history of lead generation not only shows that lead generation depends on how customers get to know about your business, whether it is door-to-door, through a website, any platform, or through referral, but it also shows that businesses should be ready to adopt the new method and always focus on making it easy for the audience. Throughout history, one thing never changed in lead generation—focusing on reaching potential consumers and generating consideration for the product or service. For a business to grow fast, business needs to use different channels for different lead generation objectives: inbound lead generation(customer finds the business and reaches you) and outbound lead generation (business reaches potential customers and generates consideration).
Inbound lead generation
The inbound lead generation process is permission-based, meaning the potential customer finds and decides to interact with you independently. To generate steady inbound leads, businesses need to create brand awareness within the target audience. Brand awareness represents your target audience's familiarity with your brand and your products and how well they recognize you. Advertising can help create brand awareness, but more is needed to develop strong brand awareness for the long term. Hence, the brand needs to build its presence across various organic digital channels like websites, social media, and marketplaces.
Similar to how we create brand awareness in traditional markets by setting a store in target markets, installing banners in regions of high traffic of target audience, distributing flyers and catalogs about brands, publishing about brands in local newspapers, etc., business needs to have a website and optimize it so that whenever someone is looking for product or service related to your business on search engine sites like Google (high traffic site), they are easily able to find it. For this, businesses need to identify keywords that their potential buyers search to find answers and solutions on search engines. And accordingly creating content for blogs, webinars, and webpages to drive traffic to their sites. Similarly, social media is another high-traffic site, and businesses use it to generate leads by engaging with potential buyers by sharing relevant content with the target audience. In short, high-quality content brings inbound traffic and, eventually, inbound leads.
Outbound lead generation processes
While many businesses still purchase lists of contact details from 3rd parties of people who match their existing customer profile as part of outbound lead generation activity, it is highly not recommended. Instead, they can follow below to generate outbound leads:
- Ads & Retargeting
- Research and identify the characteristics of potential customers using the buyer persona of your existing customers like platforms they use, type of content they consume, their issues and pain points, etc. Try to figure out how you can help them or add value.
- Create guides/ebooks or do webinars/podcasts around those content.
- Ads: Run Ad campaigns on the platforms they mostly use and target them with the help of the above-mentioned content as a lead magnet (collecting contact information). Also, you can run Ads on Google for the keywords for which your website or blogs are still not optimized to appear on the first page of search engine results pages, to reach people looking for a product or service that you offer. This will help you get traffic of high-quality leads to the site, and eventually, with quality content and effective CTA, you can push visitors to sign up or book a demo.
- Retarget: Once they engage with your ad by registering for a webinar, or downloading the guides/ebook, then start nurturing them over email with blogs, newsletters, product details, offers, how your product is better for them, etc., to convert them to Sales Qualified leads
2. Cold Outreach
Conduct lead sourcing to get contact details of potential customers.
- Research manually on platforms like Linkedin or other social media platforms (applicable mostly for B2B business). You can easily get contact details of your 2nd and 3rd LinkedIn connections using the LinkedIn lead generation strategy. About 80% of the leads in the B2B industry come from this platform.
- Attend as well as conduct marketing and sales events. This helps in creating awareness as well as in building networks with the target audience. Use events to share catalogs of your products and services and get contact details of people interested.
- You can also use various email finder tools that help you narrow down the target audience to find the right prospects.
- Also, remember to use the powerful and impactful aged-old technique of getting referrals from people in your network and your existing customers.
Once the contact information is collected for your potential customers, reach them through,
- Cold Emails: Run Drip campaigns to nurture them and create awareness and consideration for your product or service.
- Cold Calling: Although it is considered traditional, it isn't dead. To be effective, it requires thorough research, personalization, an impactful crisp script/pitch, the correct time to reach leads, and most importantly, patience, as it is not necessary that lead requires your product or service at that very moment but may consider it if engaged regularly.
Effective strategies to generate quality leads faster and profitably
- Follow your data and involve your sales team
The first and foremost step to making any strategy is to research your data for valuable insights. Every business is unique, and a particular strategy may work for others and may not work for your business. Hence, start with understanding your consumers, their demographics, pain points, keywords they use to search for solutions to their problems, platforms they use actively, the kind of content they engage in, and other related details.
Also, do thorough research on your existing content to find keywords that are working well, keywords that are not optimized, the type of content that is working well, contents that your competitors are using and is working well for them, keywords that your competitors are targeting, source of traffic on competitors contents, etc.
Also, while generating a final report on insights, discuss the findings with the sales team. As the front face and point of direct contact with customers, sales teams can add significant value to the insights and help prioritize action plans for different findings.
2. Content Marketing
Content is king today because online marketing is all about content. "According to HubSpot, more than 82% of marketers invest actively in content marketing". Marketers spend over 25% of their budget on content marketing. And there is a reason for that; quality contents help businesses get the audience, keeps them engaged, generates leads, and improves brand loyalty, that too at 62% less than traditional marketing. Research shows that 60% of people are inspired to seek out a product after reading content about it.
The presentation, type, and the content copy must be changed for different channels. However, the overall objective of creating value must remain the same. The aim is to create content across multiple channels and add value for the audience by making content available and easily accessible across various channels in the best form for the respective channel.
Here are some really effective strategies for content marketing that has proven helpful for us:
- Be available across channels: blogs, newsletter, social media(LinkedIn, Facebook/ Insta especially if B2C business) organic as well as ads Emails, Google, Whitepapers & webinars, if B2B business), offline media like OOH, newspapers ads, banners, etc.
- Demonstrate consistent voice, tone, and brand image across channels.
- Provide values beyond your product and offerings. Do not try to push the product or service that you offer in every content. If there is something that can add value to your audience but is not to your product or service, then also share it.
- Target different customers at different stages: awareness, consideration, and purchase, with different contents. For instance, for the audience at awareness, focusing on the pain points and challenges with educational content like what, how related questions. Blogs, ebooks, newsletters, webinars, and videos are the best content for this stage. Similarly, for the audience at the consideration stage, focus on educating them about different tools and features that can add value and serve their needs. Case studies, whitepapers, guides, how-to videos, checklists, or worksheets, are the best content for this stage. And for the audience at the closing stage, focus on creating differentiation for your product or service compared to others. Content like user-generated content like reviews, feedback, testimonials, product videos, case studies, research reports, buyer guides, and PR works best for this stage.
- Keep content crisp, simple, and easy to read, watch, or listen. Use images, infographics, and videos wherever possible. It enhances user experience.
3. Take advantage of technology and automation.
Today businesses need to be fast, efficient, and omnichannel. Without automation, it is impossible to generate leads and nurture them efficiently at scale. And you would also be using some of the tools for the same. However, it is essential to review the effectiveness and efficiency of your tools. Some of the best tools available in the market that you can try if you are not using them are:
- For automating online advertising: Google Ads, Meta Ads Manager, AdEspresso, AdRoll.
- For automating email communication: Mailchimp, Sendinblue, Prospect.io, OutreachPlus.
- For Lead Management and sales automation: Zoho, HubSpot, Salesforce
However, if you want to automate workflow and communication across the customer lifecycle, from lead generation to customer retention, we recommend you try Corefactors AI CRM. Corefactors AI CRM is a cloud-based RevOps-enabled Automated Relationship Management software to enable businesses to manage processes across the entire customer journey from lead generation to customer support to customer success efficiently and effectively from one integrated platform. It includes Sales Box to drive lead generation, lead nurturing through calls (inbuilt cloud telephony), SMS, Email, and WhatsApp, Marketing Box to help businesses automate transactional and promotional communications omnichannel, Support Box to handle customer queries, and Success Box to help businesses manage and excel in customer retention. The power of AI enables you to prioritize tasks, make the right decisions at the right time, and grow faster.
Give a better offer
Unless you are a category leader, a well-renowned brand, or a top marketer who creates excellent content that motivates people to try products and services, you can improve lead generation through the right offers. Offers don't only mean discounts. You can use offers for different customer stages as well. For instance, giving away free templates or guides for email communication, content calendar plans, etc., is an excellent offer to the target audience at the awareness stage. Similarly, a free trial, easy returns or money-back guarantee, free research report, free whitepaper, free access to the case study, or access to the demo account, etc., are reasonable offers for the audience at the consideration stage. And discounts, special offers, free delivery, etc., are suitable for the audience at the closing stage. One essential point to note here is that each of these offers shared above has shown excellent results, but what is best for your target audience at different stages depends on the insights you gathered in the first step.
Measure and Optimize
There is no one-fit strategy that works for everyone all the time. What works for one may not work for another, or it could even happen that it may not be that effective. However, this doesn't mean that one should not learn different practices or ignore advice or suggestions from others, but that you should try and test it repeatedly until it works for you.
Steady lead generation can sometimes be daunting, especially considering the growing competition, but with leads, there will be sales, revenue, and profits. Hence, as a business, you need to be agile in adopting a new method for generating leads but always pay attention to the basics, which focus on creating value for customers and audiences. Set SMART goals, understand your customers, identify the right channel, and then follow the above strategy, and you will see great results. We say this confidently because we practice the same and have seen results.