Every sale starts with a lead.
The stronger your lead generation plan, the more likely salespeople will close.
But like most things that are vital to a process, lead generation doesn’t come easily. Sixty-eight percent of companies say they struggle with lead generation, a Lattice Engines/CSO Insights study found.
The struggles are real. Lead quality and quantity can be lackluster. Details on leads might be hard to crystallize. And the actual leads are sometimes difficult to prioritize.
A closer look at lead generation can help sales pros make better sense of it, become more effective at generating and using the leads and maximize what they have.
Lead generation at its core
At the core, lead generation is collecting contact information from potential customers and getting their permission to reach out to them with more information and/or offers.
Generating leads has always been a high-priority early step in the sales process, but it became drastically different when the Internet emerged. Most companies generate organic leads online now. The days of business lists, phone books and knocking on doors are pretty much over.
Today, email is almost always the most effective way to get contact information and then reach out to prospects with offers. In fact, email outpaces social media as a lead generator tool, according to research compiled by OptinMonsters. And three-quarters of people prefer email over social media for permission-based messages from companies anyway.
So most lead gen plans are – and should be – online, email-based. Generators might include blog posts, social media engagement and updates, eBooks, infographics, videos, and webinars (more in-depth on these later) – which include a call-to-action that will get prospects to give their information.
The goal for lead generation
Lead generation should help you learn more about the people visiting your website, engaging with you in social media and responding to your ads.
Ideally, you learn their names and email addresses. But if you can capture the pages they visit and content they pursue, you can better target your messages aimed to turn them from leads to prospects to customers.
Create valuable lead generation content
While most companies once attracted prospects with advertising and email blasts, generating leads is more about being found these days. When you offer prospects something valuable – which must be easy to uncover in their searches – they’ll find you. Of course, you’ll still have to work at building the relationship.
Here are six types of lead generation content you can create or update:
eBooks will probably be your most lengthy content, so there’s an important rule before you dive into creating them: Make sure it’s a topic your potential customers want. A good way to gauge that is by asking current customers. Create an eBook with insight form your in-house experts, industry research, your customers’ and your own best practices and competitive intelligence.
2) Case studies
You should have loads of these, considering you have many happy customers. The key is to write and present them in a way prospects can see themselves achieving the same success. You want to build and maintain a diverse library of case studies. Highlight results in the beginning. Then build the story like this:
Use generalities for the problem so more prospects can relate. Whittle down the solution to as few steps as possible. Highlight qualitative results.
3) White papers
These should include more authoritative, research-driven content. You’ll want to identify a specific topic or problem that your ideal prospects care about, plus give them a few suggested solutions that they can walk away and implement. That’s what they’ll expect for giving their contact information. White papers can include all or some of these elements:
- in-depth survey results and expert analysis
- charts and graphs
- detailed explanation on the methodology
- interview transcripts, and/or
- background or historical details
You can create your own podcasts with in-house expert interviews or have your executives and product experts participate in Q&A podcasts with a third party. If you’re doing the interview, plan questions that allow the expert to give in-depth answers that will divulge helpful, valuable information on a topic that prospects would seek. Be sure to keep the interview casual with friendly banter, not just canned questions and stilted, prepared answers.
This comprehensive, informational and best-practice overview should be evergreen content. You want to create something that prospects would use if they’re new to the topic (perhaps in a new professional or personal role) and a solid refresher. Because comprehensive guides are go-tos for your audience, gate the material. Then you can send them more related, relevant content to establish yourself as a continued expert in the field.
As a LinkedIn companion site, SlideShare is a hosting service where you can post professional presentations, infographics, documents and videos privately or publicly. The best part: You can upload files (PowerPoint, Word, PDF or OpenDocument) that you created for other reasons – perhaps in-house presentations, conference appearances or sales demos. Be sure to include your logo and website on all your slides. Prospects searching for information on your topic can clip and share individual slides.
Place your content
One piece of great content can be turned into several lead generators. For instance, a white paper can be clipped into an online tip sheet. A portion of a blog post can be repurposed in an email. A video can be linked from a social media post. A white paper can be the introduction to a service trial.
The key is to include a call to action in the content, regardless of the channel. It can be built in almost anywhere – a side panel, bottom or top of message – to move prospects to your landing page.
Here are six channels for your content:
- Email. The best part of email is that prospects have already connected with you (because they agreed to opt-in to what you send). But they can also get buried and deleted in cluttered inboxes. Get serious with your email subject line, compelling copy and an intriguing call to action to get attention.
- Blog. Blog posts offer the best of many worlds. You can make them in-depth or fast-and-effective reads. You can get almost anyone in the organization to author them. (Prospects and customers can learn more about your products, services or company from everyone – the CEO, logistics manager, technicians, marketers, etc.) And you can tailor a blog post to align with the product/service you want them to learn about or the exact action you want them to take. The important part is to have a regular blog schedule so it’s fresh: Do it weekly, at least. Every few days, even better.
- Social media. Social media platforms make it easier to engage with like-minded, interested prospects, and guide them to take action. Because they’re already following what you do, you can maintain a steady flow of information that benefits them and encourages them to interact.
- Ads. Two keys to ideal ads: 1) Be sure what you promise in the ad is exactly what prospects see in the landing page. 2) Make the action you want prospects to take crystal clear (sign up, schedule a call, download your report, etc.). You pay for ads, and don’t want to risk turning off customers with inconsistencies (which, to them, will feel like bait-and-switch).
- Trials. Letting prospects use your products or services cost-free for some time may be an expansive lead generator. But it’s quite a bit easier to entice prospects to take a more committed action once they’re using your products or services.
- Referrals. You can use referrals in almost any of the other channels: Ask happy customers to share you in social media, pass your blog post along to others who would benefit from it, tell others about the successful trial they used. The more shares, the more leads.
Put a lead generation plan in place
The best lead gen plans are a formal system to gather, organize and store leads – usually created with lead generation software and tools – that are caught with quality content.
Once you’ve created great content – and are equipped to regularly update it – build a lead gen plan around these steps.
1) Give before you expect to receive
Free, useful content will be the building block for generating leads. Use your great content in different forms – tip sheets, videos, eBooks – as free-of-charge educational tools. Offer it in a way that prospects can get a portion of the information.
That should allow prospects to find out enough about you to help them determine if you have what they need. Ideally, the best prospects will be intrigued enough to give their contact information to get the rest of the information.
You can ask visitors to sign in to access the rest or give their email addresses to receive the content.
2) Lead prospects to a specific landing page
Most prospects aren’t just going to stumble upon you on the merit of your content. Your plan needs tools that will lead them to you in ways beyond a specific Google search of your company name or product.
When prospects see ads and other materials generated for and through different channels, you want them to click on the call to action and hit a landing page – which must be separate from the company website and ideally individual to each campaign to generate leads.
Your landing pages should capture leads and give prospects some more details about you – a way to start to build the relationship. You want to capture this information, at the very least, on your landing page:
- First and last name
- Email address
- Company name
- Job title
Those are need-to-know and only scratch the surface in qualifying a lead. These details are nice-to-know and will help you better qualify the leads you generate. But they present the risk of chasing away information-protective prospects.
- Company size
- Website url
- Number of employees
- Reasons for the visit (a drop-down menu)
- Current challenges (a drop-down menu)
Build landing pages with one, focused call-to-action. And offer one, specific, valuable item in return for that action. Skip any information that isn’t essential to those.
3) Score your lead
You don’t want to waste time reaching out to every lead that comes through your generators. Some aren’t qualified at all.
Scoring a lead is mostly an automation component in your sales or CRM software. So every organization will have different levels of automation and capabilities. Regardless of your capabilities, you’ll want to differentiate leads based on their level of engagement.
Assign points to the actions they take. Tally scores. Set a score threshold for who gets contacted.
Here’s an example of the points you might assign to be administered through your software after you’ve captured prospects’ contact information:
- Filled out an opt-in form – 7 points
- Signed up for enewsletter – 7 points
- Watched a video – 7 points
- Downloaded an eBook – 5 points
- Job role not a match – Deduct 5 points
- Not in customer profile industry – Deduct 5 points
Using points to gauge prospects’ interest will also help you prioritize who gets contacted, how quickly, through which channels and with which offers.
11 lead generation ideas
Once you have plenty of content and a formal system to generate and capture leads, you want to keep a pipeline of unique lead gen ideas. Then you should be able to keep your sales pipeline full of leads.
Here are 11 you can implement any time.
- Courses. Offer a video or audio course or tutorial for a sign-up. You can produce and shoot your own with employees who already like to do video as a hobby with their phones. Or you could hire a professional and hold the course live with in-house experts. You can continue to post the best recordings or videos. LinkedIn’s companion site Lynda allows you to load minute-long course previews, followed by a prompt to sign in for the full course.
- Demos. Make it easy for prospects to schedule a demo after they’ve looked at content that highlights your products or service. Embed the call to action at the end of the online demo.
- Email series. Unlike enewsletter or promotional email opt-ins, these emails are sent on a limited basis and are specific to a time or need. It might be “12 days of …” or “Countdown to …”
- Contests. People love to win, so they’re willing to enter contests. Run contests on your website and social media platforms, asking people to follow you and fill out a form (you get followers and leads!) Ask trivia and offer prizes that are valuable to your ideal customers.
- Tip sheets. You can craft these short, concise pieces from white papers and blog posts. They’re quick references with visuals, bullet points and specific actions. The call to action can be clicking through and giving an email address for the in-depth reports.
- Checklists. Similar to tip sheets, checklists are handy printouts or downloadable tools for prospects to use in their search for something related to your solutions.
- Kits. Repurpose pieces of different content and group them into one offer. You might include quick access to a SlideShare presentation, a tip sheet on what was covered and email series with follow-up ideas.
- Webinars. Get your inhouse experts to do an online presentation with a Q&A (or hire a pro) and offer it gratis to anyone who signs up with contact information. Put a series in a webinar library you can offer access to at other times to generate leads.
- Events. You can offer a free cup of coffee at a nearby shop. A happy hour at a centrally located watering hole. A reception at an industry event. A speaker at the Chamber of Commerce. Whatever events you sponsor, spread the word and get email addresses so you can email admission passes ahead of time and have their badge waiting.
- Be a guest blogger. Offer original pieces to sites your ideal customers might be reading. Give the same kind of valuable, insightful content you would on your own site (not promotional banter) and make the call to action a link to get the research your blog was based on.
- Content upgrades. You can add an upgrade to almost any piece of content or lead generator you create. For instance, offer a related checklist at the bottom of a blog post. Offer a related white paper at the end of a webinar. If they take the next step, they’re likely highly qualified leads.