The Lead Generation Process: Your Most Important Piece of Property
Let’s face it, without a steady stream of qualified leads, your business is kaput. The way you build that steady stream, a.k.a. the lead generation process, is central to your business. It’s how you feed your well-oiled sales machine. You need it to survive and thrive.
Every business has a unique audience, offering, and positioning. Therefore, every business should have its own unique lead generation process.
In this article, we’ll cover what the lead generation process looks like, why your process should be considered intellectual property, and how to create a killer lead gen process for your business.
What Is the Lead Generation Process?
Consider your sales funnel as a 5 step process that consists of Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Intent, and Purchase. Lead generation is the first two steps of your funnel: awareness and interest.
The first part of the lead generation process is generating awareness of your products or services to your potential leads. This could be through social media, Google or Facebook ads, SEO-optimized content, or any other channel that clearly shows your target audience how your company solves its specific problems.
Next, you need to get aware audience members to declare their interest and officially become a lead. To do that, you need some kind of call-to-action (CTA) where you can gather your lead’s information. This can be as simple as a "contact sales" or "sign up for our email list" form.
Alternatively, you can create content and put it behind a "gate" that requires a user to put in their contact information in order to access it. For example, at Close, we use lead magnets like this one to gather lead information:
Ideally, you would create some kind of useful guide or insightful infographic that is worth sharing your contact information to get. The last thing you want is for new leads to feel jipped on the content they’re getting from your company.
From MQL to SQL: The Process Within The Process
For some companies, the lead generation process isn’t technically over after a lead has filled out that first form. Instead of becoming fully qualified leads, new leads might become marketing qualified leads (MQLs).
These are leads that have downloaded an asset or filled out a form but haven’t shown enough interest to be contacted by sales quite yet. In a company with a high amount of leads but a limited number of salespeople, this helps ensure their reps aren’t wasting their time calling every single person that downloads a whitepaper.
Once an MQL enters the system, you can give them a "lead score" that either goes up or down as they engage with you. For example, you may enter MQLs into a nurture email sequence. If they open a certain number of emails or click a certain number of links within those emails, that may raise their lead score over the threshold required for a salesperson to reach out to them.
At that point, they have gone from a marketing-qualified lead (MQL) to a sales-qualified lead (SQL). It’s at this point that they officially leave the marketing funnel and enter the sales funnel, where ideally a real human being engages with them, finds out more about their needs, and helps them determine if your product is the right fit.
Your lead generation process will be unique and specific for your company. It’s not just some ideas thrown together, but a result of the creativity and ingenuity of your marketing and sales team. You should try different approaches and hone your process over time toward what works best. Then, you’ll have a structured and time-tested process to attract, collect, and nurture new, high-quality leads.
Incorporating advanced tools like the Close Sales Funnel Calculator can provide you with actionable data to refine and enhance your lead generation strategies continuously.
Why You Should Consider Your Lead Generation Process as Intellectual Property
A company’s established, successful lead generation process is one of its most valuable assets—up there with the product itself. This is because it’s the sole way that you generate revenue.
You might have a self-serve free-trial process, an outbound sales strategy that consistently works, or a content engine that brings in consistent inbound leads. That machinery is valuable in itself, and because of that, should be considered owned intellectual property.
Consider this: a well-developed lead generation process is what a company depends on for revenue and what protects them from their competitors. If a competitor infiltrates a company (perhaps by becoming a fake lead) and then steals that process step-by-step to use for themselves, they can steal a significant portion of market share. They are stealing the value that process creates—and that is why it should be considered protected intellectual property.
The reality is that there are no laws protecting your lead gen process, but you can build a process that’s not easily replicated. At Close, we’ve created a top-of-funnel (TOFU) content engine that generates consistent leads for our sales team, many of which become customers.
It would be very difficult for a competitor to make the same investments in high-quality, authoritative content that we’ve made (at least not without stealing it and getting penalized by Google).
A Strong Lead Generation Process That Was Literally Sold
At my old company, SmartHosts, our lead generation process was actually the selling point when we were acquired. We were in the vacation rental business, and we had the cleanest and most up-to-date database of vacation rental managers in the US and Canada. You could not get this data anywhere else, as my sales team and I carefully and consistently updated our customer relationship management (CRM) system.
We had all the relevant data that the market wanted in our database on both properties and owners, and we were using it to make sales. When our company was acquired, the buyer saw that the most valuable thing our company owned was our lead generation database and process, with all the data we had built up over time and the established process to extract value from it. The buyer knew they could use this lead generation process to effectively sell, and it directly translated to the majority of the real dollars that our company sold for.
The Benefits of a Well-oiled Lead Generation Process
While it might not be your goal to literally sell your lead generation process as I did, there are many benefits that come from carefully crafting a well-oiled lead generation machine.
- Building a customer acquisition engine: A good lead generation process has been time-tested to consistently produce results. That means your sales team has a steady pipeline of potential customers coming in the door and you’ve built yourself a working acquisition engine.
- High-ROI investment: Next to your product, building a reliable lead generation process is the highest-ROI investment you can make. You will continuously improve your ability to get new customers, drive revenue, and increase your company’s valuation.
- Creates value for the business beyond just sales: Like with my former company, SmartHosts, lead generation isn’t just about driving sales. It is, in a way, its own business within the business, and that business can become extremely valuable. A company with an effective lead generation process will sell for much more than one without. This is why it should be considered intellectual property.
- There is no business without it: Less of a benefit and more of a necessity, a lead generation process that produces a reliable sales pipeline is crucial to your success. Without it you’re pretty much doomed to failure, so it’s something your marketing team needs to prioritize above all else.
How to Build Your Own Killer Lead Generation Process
Your lead generation process will depend on your business and the types of leads you’re targeting. Every company has a unique buyer’s journey, but following these steps should help you build a killer process that finds your ideal customers.
Step 1. Know Who You Want To Sell To
Knowing your audience is crucial. If you don’t know who you’re selling to (or who is most likely to buy your product), you aren’t gonna make it. One way to define your buyer personas is to take a look at your best existing customers. You can segment them into different demographics and figure out what pain points you solved for them. Once you feel confident that you’re targeting the right personas, get after it. You can always change things up later on.
Step 2. Identify Where Your Target Audience Hangs Out
Understand how your target audience behaves and what marketing channels they’re most likely to respond to. If you have a younger audience, then perhaps social media marketing (Instagram and maybe even TikTok!) would be the best choice.
If you have an older, more professional audience, good ol’ fashioned cold email and LinkedIn could be a good option for you…or maybe even cold calling!
Psst... Want to know the secrets of how to generate leads with LinkedIn? We've got you covered.
Step 3. Decide Whether to Focus on Inbound or Outbound (or a Combination of Both)
Now that you know your audience and where they hang out, you can decide on what lead generation strategy to focus on. This will heavily depend on what are the most commonly used channels you’ve identified in the last step. You’ll want to devise what combination of outbound and inbound you want to use, and how much to go in either direction.
If you’re going with outbound, figure out what databases, social media platforms, professional organizations, and lists you can leverage to find the right people for your outreach. If you’re doing inbound, figure out which social channels and keywords your customers are going to be using. Also, set goals for how much of your inbound leads will be from paid ads or organic search.
For inbound, use the power of search engine optimization (SEO) tools like Semrush to figure out if your audience is searching for keywords related to your topic, and what their intent is with these keywords. Then, you should be able to tell if it makes sense to use content marketing.
For some companies (like a clothing or furniture brand) writing long-form content might not make sense. For companies like ours, content marketing made the most sense, and has paid for itself many times over with a steady stream of organic leads.
This is a big and important step of the process where you need to develop a deep strategy. For more ideas on what works best to generate leads, check out our other article on lead generation.
Elevate your content marketing game with these AI-driven tips – details within.
Step 4. Implement Helpful Lead-generation Tools
Use the right lead gen tools to get the most out of your funnel. For example, if you’re going with inbound marketing you’ll want to make sure you have a content management system (CMS) that integrates with your customer relationship manager (CRM) so that inbound leads can be quickly captured and responded to.
If you are relying on email marketing campaigns, then you would need to do the same, but with your email campaign delivery system. The same is true for paid ads, landing pages, social, etc. You need to make sure that everything is integrated and smooth so that it’s easy for your sales team to qualify leads quickly and start making sales. You’ll also want to consider marketing automation tools to further streamline this process.
Rember, the value from SmartHosts actually came from our lead process systems. This led to our valuation increasing during the acquisition. So this really is valuable as it defines your business.
Step 5. Define Your Lead Nurture Process
Do you have a rep call within 15 minutes or do you send an email workflow until the new lead responds? How do you thoughtfully follow up when you haven’t heard from them in a week? Lead nurturing is the meat of your lead generation process. Every company will do things differently here. It will depend on how many customers and leads you have, the length of your typical sales process, how the lead found you, and other factors.
For example, if you have thousands of people downloading a lead magnet or watching a webinar, you might only want to reach out to some of them individually. It may be the case that only 25 percent of those people qualify as leads, but the asset still helps with brand awareness for the rest (and you never know when that will come in handy).
If that’s the case, then you’ll want to define a lead scoring and qualification process (more on that in the next step) so you know when to have a sales rep reach out.
If you don’t have this nice little problem, then maybe you define your response process by making three calls over the course of a week, then enroll the lead into a three-month-long email sequence, followed by monthly calls.
Lead management is never set in stone, and shouldn’t be. If you’re finding yourself having success in a particular way (like your really getting most of your success with four calls instead of three), then you should change your process. The sales process is constantly being refined, and you should always be focused on continuous improvement and keeping up with the latest tech (like AI chatbots for sales).
Step 6. Define Your Lead Scoring Qualification Process
MQL to SQL? How does this happen for you? CRM systems like Close do lead scoring, so if someone downloads an ebook, for example, that triggers a certain amount of points. Then if they come back to the website, that’s more points. Or if they click on a retargeting ad, then that’s enough points to go from marketing qualified lead (MQL) to sales qualified lead (SQL) and have an actual person reach out.
Some smaller businesses want to have a person reach out right away. It just depends on the number of leads you get, your ability to handle them, and the value you get out of reaching out when you do. For some companies, it makes sense to let the content do the work for a while, then have a person reach out after the lead is sufficiently warmed up.
Step 7. Define a Clear Handoff or Endpoint
Every lead generation process must come to an end, and hopefully, that’s a good end. A good ending, in this case, is the salesperson taking the lead out of this process and taking control of the opportunity. This is when the lead is fully qualified and the deal is a reality. For you, this may be once a quote has been sent, after the first demo, or after the first qualifying phone call.
Define exactly when a lead becomes an opportunity in your CRM system, and automatically unenroll the lead from any automated email sequences or phone call cadences at that point. This is where a one-on-one relationship with a salesperson works better to close deals.
If for some sad reason, your lead never engages with the salesperson or your email sequences, then you may also want to have an "end point" or a "sunset" with them. Technically though, you never really have to do that, as you can keep sending monthly emails until the cows come home.
But, you may want to enroll them into that "final" low-cadence sequence after a certain number of failures or non-responses. This can be based on lead score, time, or number of touchpoints with no response. The worst thing you can do is send a daily email for months on end to someone who isn’t interested and then gets mad.
Another option is to enroll old leads into a retargeting campaign where they are shown relevant ads for a set amount of time, gently reminding them of their need for your product.
Treat the Lead Generation Process Like the Value-Driver It Is
Lead generation is your business within the business and a valuable asset in its own right. Treat this process like your carefully protected intellectual property that you personally crafted over many years—similar to how an author treats the only physical copy of a memoir they typed on an antique typewriter.
Implementing a lead generation process and marketing strategy is better when you use the best tools available. Close is a customer relationship management (CRM) system that is built to handle your sales cycle from start to finish, including the lead generation process.
Start a free trial to see how Close can boost your lead generation campaigns.