A Guide to Lead Generation

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Lead generation involves marketing activities that attract online users to your website or app so you can further engage them in conversations around your products and services.

Once on your site, these users are encouraged to fulfill a desired action, such as making a purchase, subscribing to a newsletter, or contacting your sales team for more information about your offerings.

This article takes a closer look at how to generate leads and implement lead generation in your own digital marketing strategies.

What is a lead?

The number one question people often ask when they get a cold call or receive a spam email is, “Where did you get my contact information?” This is because they are not a lead. They are an annoyed stranger who, for the most part, has no interest in what they’ve been contacted about.

A lead is someone who has already shown interest in a product or service before being contacted. They’ve previously engaged with your company or brand (via social media, email, or your website) and remember submitting personal information in exchange for an offer, trial, or subscription.

While a cold contact often gives a cool response (if they even respond at all), a lead is already somewhat warm to your brand’s product offerings and service.

Leads are the best type of consumer to work with as the opportunity for their conversion is much higher.

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What’s the difference between a prospect and a lead?

A prospect is often confused as a lead, but there’s a fundamental difference: in lead generation terms, a prospect is an unqualified contact. So, any potential client or customer you meet who hasn’t been qualified as a lead is still a prospect.

Prospects are important because they fit your ideal target market, have the means to buy your products or services, and are authorized to make buying decisions. Prospects may not have indicated an interest in buying, but they need to meet the aforementioned criteria. Most digital marketing efforts involve attracting these prospects to your website to attempt to turn them into leads.

In the sales process, you gather prospects first, qualify them into leads, and then move them through your sales funnel process.

Why qualify your leads?

It’s important to qualify a lead, so your business knows what next to do with them. Here the adage applies: if you only have a hammer in your toolbox, you’ll treat everything like it’s a nail. But not all leads are at the same place in a sales funnel, they have different requirements and needs, so it’s important to adapt your ongoing sales and marketing efforts to address each lead, or lead type, uniquely.

 

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The most common lead types

1. Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is a person who has engaged with your marketing team’s efforts but is not exactly ready to receive a sales call. An example of an MQL would be a contact who attended a webinar, downloaded an e-book, or subscribed to your newsletter. It’s basically someone who fills out a landing page form with contact information.

2. Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

A Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) is a contact who has taken actions that expressly indicate their interest in becoming a paying customer. They have a problem, and you have a product or service that can help them. This is usually someone who has already been vetted and researched by your marketing or sales team — this makes them sales qualified.

3. Product Qualified Lead (PQL)

A Product Quality Lead (PQL) is someone who has used your product and has taken actions that indicate interest in becoming a paying customer. This is a person, for example, who’s used a limited or free version of your product or software but engages or asks about features that are only available with the paid version. Since there’s no need to sell a PQL on the product’s value (since they’ve already experienced it), the sale process is slightly easier.

4. Service Qualified Lead (SQL)

A Service Qualified Lead (SQL) is a contact or customer who has indicated to your service team that they’re interested in becoming a paying customer. An example of SQL is a customer who tells their customer service representative that they’d like to upgrade their product subscription or sign up for your full-service package.

 

Now that we know what a lead is, let’s dive into the what, why, and how of lead generation.

What is lead generation?

The purpose of lead generation is to get potential customers into the sales funnel and begin a sales conversation. Here the company learns more about a lead’s needs and qualifications, and the lead discovers more about what the company has to offer. Lead generation starts with acquiring basic information, such as a name and email address, then advances to more detailed information collected about the lead.

Historically, lead generation consisted of activities like sending out surveys in the mail or having people fill out forms in the back of a magazine. Thankfully, the internet has completely changed (and, in our opinion, improved) the way companies now acquire leads.

Why is lead generation important?

Lead generation is important for several reasons — mainly for generating sales and increasing a customer base. An effective lead generation strategy will help you get to know your target audience’s interests, which items you could potentially sell to them, what their pain points are, and how you can eventually turn them into loyal, paying customers. It’s a cost-effective marketing strategy that increases the return on marketing investment.

Lead generation extracts information that can turn strangers into leads, leads into subscribers, and subscribers into loyal customers.

What is inbound and outbound lead generation?

Inbound lead generation involves activities that make your brand and website more discoverable to potential customers via search engines and social media platforms.

When your business creates web content and campaigns that organically attract customers to you rather than directly reaching out to them, you are involved with inbound lead generation strategies.

Outbound lead generation, on the other hand, targets online users with more deliberative marketing strategies. Examples of outbound marketing include paid media advertising and cold email marketing.

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What are the best methods to generate leads?

To expand your customer base and grow your business, you need to have access to a steady stream of sales leads. You can use several methods to generate leads, including search engine optimization, paid advertising, cold email marketing. Let’s take a look at how these marketing tactics generate leads.

 

1. Search engine optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO)  is the process of improving your website or webpage to increase its visibility on a search engine’s organic results pages (SERPs). SEO helps rank your website’s content on SERPs relevant to the search terms used in online searches. Matching a user’s online search query with your web content increases the chance of being found by actual prospects – i.e., users who would actually be interested in your business or service.

When you know users’ intentions, you can direct them to content that meets their needs. There are many ways you can effectively utilize SEO to help with your lead generation efforts, including performing keyword research and creating an ongoing content strategy that provides value to your target audience.

 

2. Paid media advertising

Paid media is a form of advertising that requires advertisers to purchase advertising space to broadcast their message to a wider audience. Paid media advertising has become an essential part of an effective marketing strategy and important for companies looking to improve brand awareness and revenue growth by increasing traffic, interaction, and sales.

Different advertising platforms are used for social media and search engines — and they’re all based on a pay-per-click method, also known as PPC.

What makes PPC a particularly effective strategy is that it allows your content to instantly appear on top of a search engine results page, directly in front of people searching for a solution to their problem. Furthermore, you only pay if a potential client clicks on your link. PPC allows you to create a profile of customers you are trying to attract based on a specific set of criteria such as demographics, income, and education.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to filtering leads; however, the more specific your criteria, the more effective your PPC ad campaign will be. One of the main benefits of using PPC for lead generation is attracting visitors looking for what you have to offer.

 

3. Cold email marketing

Cold email marketing (also known as email lead generation) is a strategy of sending appropriate offers to a targeted audience via email, typically without any established relationship with the recipients. Cold emails should not be confused with spam emails. A cold email is generally sent to a qualified prospect, with a certain amount of research that has been done to prove their interest in a particular product or service. When using cold emails as a first point of contact (without being spammy), your business could effectively generate leads that could eventually turn into customers.

 

4. Email marketing

Email marketing is a highly effective marketing channel that uses email to promote your business’s products or services to leads and existing customers. Did you know that 80 percent of business professionals believe that email marketing increases customer retention? You can not only use it to acquire leads but to nurture them too; it’s a simple and effective way of keeping customers engaged between service offerings or purchases.

For email marketing to work, you first need to capture leads’ email addresses. The easiest way to do this is to have a lead capture landing page on your company’s website. Companies usually offer users an incentive in exchange for their email addresses, like a discount or a promo code. Another example would be gated content, like an ebook, white paper, or case study, which visitors can access only after submitting their email address and contact details via an online form. Online users would happily submit their details in exchange for a free product trial or temporary access to a new live-streaming channel.

 

5. Content marketing

Content marketing is a strategic marketing technique that focuses on creating and sharing valuable and relevant content to attract and acquire a targeted audience to drive profitable customer action.

Content marketing taps into the first two stages of the sales process by raising awareness of solutions and educating leads and prospects about a product they weren’t even aware of in the first place. This can be done by blogging, infographics, podcasts, or videos.

There are multiple ways to boost lead generation efforts with content marketing, including creating high-converting landing pages and using commercial keywords to target the right search intent.

Effective content marketing attracts qualified traffic and demonstrates your company’s expertise.

It shows potential customers that you know what you’re talking about and you care enough to help them with their issues.

Effective content marketing can lead to increased brand awareness, sales, customer interactions, and loyalty. Instead of immediately diving into a sales pitch, content marketing allows you to provide relevant and useful content to your prospects and customers to solve their problems and build authority and trust around the subject.

 

6. Social media marketing

Social media marketing is a type of marketing that involves creating and sharing content on social media platforms to connect with your audience and build your brand.

Social media allows you to interact with your followers, analyze your results, and run social media advertisements. The biggest social media platforms are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, and TikTok. Using these platforms, businesses can have conversations with prospective customers and ultimately generate new leads.

Once you acquire some leads, you can use social media to find out more about what they need and want.

The easier it is to interact with your business, the more likely it is that a customer will trust your brand and eventually purchase from you or enlist your services. There are many ways you can generate leads through social media, and it all depends on which platform your audience spends the most time on.

You can do both organic and paid marketing on a social media platform, run competitions, link to gated content like ebooks and whitepapers, as well as promote content on your page or through groups/communities.

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How to optimize the lead generation process

Like every other marketing strategy, lead generation requires a clearly defined plan of action and a system for measuring your success. Here’s how to optimize the process so that you get the most effective results:

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Define what qualifies someone as a lead

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to figuring out who qualifies as a lead, but the marketing and sales teams must agree on what they believe a lead is. Is it someone who fills out a contact form? Someone who clicks on an email link? What is the action that a user must take on your site that will help grow your business? Qualifying a lead helps you avoid wasting time and money pursuing a lead who isn’t ready to invest in your product or service.

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Align with the sales teams

Having your sales and marketing teams aligned is vital for effective lead generation. According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound survey, a marketing teams’ main goal is to convert prospects and leads into customers. For sales teams, the most important goal is to close more deals. If the marketing team thinks a lead is qualified and the sales team does not, it most likely isn’t a qualified lead. It’s important to schedule regular sales and marketing meetings so you can make sure you’re always on the same page.

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Nurture leads

Lead nurturing is simply developing relationships with your leads and nurturing them through the sales process. Venture Harbour shares that close to 50 percent of companies indicate that their leads need long-cycle nurturing, with multiple touchpoints with a brand, but only 29 percent of businesses continue with lead nurture past their initial purchase. If you’re consistently engaging with your leads and offering them valuable information and services, they’re less likely to slip through the proverbial cracks.

 

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Lastly, you need to measure performance.

How do you know what’s working and what’s not? Even if your lead generation strategy is going swimmingly, you should still be measuring the process and optimizing in any way you can. Constant analysis and optimization are key for any marketing strategy, especially ones that are potentially growing your business.

What is your ROI like? Where are you losing leads? How do you recapture them? There are many metrics and variables to consider, and you need to know exactly how well your tactics are working.

 

 

A lead generation strategy is both a long-term and continuous process. If you do it right, you can increase your opportunities for business growth. If not, you could waste precious time, money, and resources.

 

 

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