What Is Lead Generation and How Do You Optimize the Lead Generation Process?

What Is Lead Generation

Finding leads is a key aspect of doing business for those who sell directly to the end customer, particularly in a B2B setting. Lead generation attracts potential new customers and helps move them through the sales funnel, improving the chances of successfully converting their interest into a purchase. Without a good lead generation campaign, your sales team needs to rely more heavily on outbound strategies such as cold calling, which can be time consuming, difficult, and produce fewer sales.


What Is Lead Generation?

In a nutshell, what’s involved in lead generation is raising interest in your products or services, collecting contact information and other relevant data, and passing that information on to the sales team in order to convert interested parties into customers. While this work is primarily carried out by the marketing team, it’s important to operate in conjunction with the sales team in order to understand what qualities they’re looking for in a lead and to give them the best chances of converting those leads.

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What Is a Lead?

A lead is someone who has shown interest in your business but may not yet be ready to buy. People can become leads in many ways, from interactions on social media or blogs to ebook and whitepaper downloads, coupons, newsletter signups, and more.

A good inbound marketing strategy can demonstrate your expertise in your industry and attract an audience of people who are interested in the type of product or service you offer. These are the people who will interact with your posts, follow your CTAs, fill out your forms, and try out demos or free samples. Marketing and sales can then use the information gleaned from these interactions to determine the quality of these leads and target those who are most likely to become customers.

What Makes a Lead “Qualified?”

A qualified lead is someone who is more likely than other leads to turn from a visitor into a customer. There are many types of qualified leads based on both quality and on the stage of the sales funnel that the lead is currently in. Different leads will respond best to different marketing and sales tactics, so evaluating your leads allows you to tailor your approach and increases your odds of making a sale.

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

A marketing qualified lead is someone who has demonstrated interest in your product or service via channels such as social media or a landing page form. This level of interest alone doesn’t necessarily indicate a good-quality lead, however, so leads may need to meet additional criteria (such as certain browsing or engagement patterns, or additional information from a form) to be considered MQLs. These MQLs may not yet be ready to convert and may require additional nurturing before being contacted by a sales representative.

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

A sales qualified lead has had at least one interaction with the sales team and has shown interest in becoming a customer, for example by asking questions about your product or service. An SQL may need more information or direct contact from the sales team before they are ready to make a purchase. SQLs are often considered to be higher-quality leads than MQLs and may be prioritized more highly by the sales team.

Product Qualified Lead (PQL)

A product qualified lead is someone who has tried your product — typically through a trial or a limited free version — and is interested in becoming a paying customer. These leads are generally viewed as higher quality than MQLs or SQLs since they have firsthand experience with your product. It’s possible for a lead to become a PQL without first being an SQL, if you’re offering a free trial or demo that can be accessed without first speaking to a salesperson.

Service Qualified Leads

Service qualified leads are existing customers who have indicated that they’re interested in a new product or service, or who want to upgrade an existing product or service. An example would be a customer wanting to upgrade a subscription to a higher tier.

The Lead Generation Process

So what is the lead generation process? It begins with determining who you want to target and how best to reach them. If you have the data, creating a buyer profile from your existing customers is a good first step, as it tells you what kind of customer is interested in your product or service. You can also build a profile based on what qualities you expect your target customers to have. Your strategy will depend on whether you want to focus on bringing in a lot of new leads to the top of the sales funnel or to increase revenue from your existing customer base with the help of new products and services.

Once you’ve identified the type of lead you’re looking for, you can adapt your messaging to that type of buyer and focus on the channels they’re most likely to use and respond to. It’s important to keep your messaging consistent across channels, while making use of the style and structure that suits a particular medium. Typically the lead generation process starts with a marketing campaign to raise interest and educate people about your product or service, before transferring to the sales, product, and/or service teams to close the deal.

A good content strategy is essential for making people aware of your brand and your offerings, and to establish yourself as an expert in the market. A blog is a great way to start, with content that is relevant and useful to your target customers and a good SEO strategy to help people find that content.

Other methods of generating awareness include social media, your website, and pay-per-click ads (PPC). These channels allow you to direct potential leads straight to your product, or to your content to build interest and trust. You can place calls-to-action (CTAs) in all of these places to send visitors to a relevant landing page, where you can use a form to capture information about them in exchange for something of value to them, such as a newsletter, template, ebook, or product trial.

There are various schools of thought on the ideal number and type of fields to use on a form. If you minimize the number of fields, you minimize the amount of friction the user experiences when trying to access your free offerings and increase the chances of them filling in the form. However, the more information you have on a customer, the easier it is to qualify leads. A simple form may provide you with many low-quality leads that will need time and effort to evaluate and nurture. If you’re looking for high-quality leads, a more in-depth form can help.

Fields you might use in a form include:

  • Name
  • Email
  • Job title
  • Company
  • Company size
  • Location

Name and email are the most basic pieces of information and can be used to send your leads offers and news in order to warm them up to your offerings. Further data can help you determine how likely a lead is to want your product, and how to customize future communications in order to increase their interest and willingness to buy.

Lead Scoring

Once you’ve acquired some new leads, you need to determine how likely they are to become customers and which ones are most worthwhile for the sales team to pursue. A lead scoring system lets you evaluate your leads and give them a quantitative ranking in terms of how ready they are to make a purchase. This enables the sales team to prioritize the leads that have the most potential. It also allows marketing and sales to target leads with content and offers that are appropriate to their current position in the sales funnel.

You can score a lead based on a number of factors, including information from forms they’ve filled out, how often they’ve engaged with you, and other actions they’ve taken on your site, such as downloading free content, trying out a demo, or using a coupon.

It’s important for the sales team to be involved in establishing what criteria a lead should meet — if marketing and sales aren’t aligned, marketing may end up selecting leads that they believe to be high quality but that don’t meat the sales team’s needs. If marketing is generating a high number of leads but sales isn’t converting them to buyers at a satisfactory rate, it’s worth sitting down with both teams to determine if there’s a disconnect in the scoring system. You may find it necessary to adjust this scoring system multiple times before you land on the optimal formula.

Test and Measure

There is no single correct technique when it comes to the lead generation process. Different industries, companies, individuals, and products can all benefit from different approaches. That’s why it’s important to track metrics such as click through rates, page visits, social media engagement, email open rates, and more.

Try out different CTA wording and placement, email subject lines and delivery times, landing page forms, and types of content. A/B testing is a valuable tool here, as it allows you to experiment and determine which approaches are more effective. There are always opportunities for improvement, even when a campaign is already performing well. Keep trying new things and refining your approach and you’ll find new ways to help grow both your leads and your revenue.

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