What is Lead Generation? How to Generate Leads in 2023 (Definition & Strategies)
There are many articles out there that aim to answer the question what lead generation is. Here's why I decided to write one more: We're very, very good at generating leads.
We've build a highly profitable business that has been on a steady and sustainable growth trajectory through all the ups and downs the software industry has seen over the past ten years. We never had to raise capital to stay afloat, and one of the main reasons is:
A solid lead generation strategy is the backbone of our business. We win customers over with quality content, helpful ebooks, and targeted marketing campaigns. We were always more focused on the quality of our leads than the quantity. Lead generation ideas that brought in 10 hot leads are better than 100 cold ones.
This guide will walk you through the basics of lead generation and our inbound strategies at Close that bring us tens of thousands of high-quality B2B leads database every year.
Lead Generation Basics: Foundations of Generating Leads
If you're brand new to generating leads, let's start with the basics:
What is a Lead?
Leads can enter your sales funnel at any stage in various ways: for example, by reading a blog post (top of funnel) or signing up for a free trial (bottom of funnel).
But every lead is different.
High-quality leads will sign up for trials and move fast through the funnel, while others need more nurturing depending on what stage of the buyer's journey they're in.
6 Types of Leads that Matter for Sales Teams
Leads come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s how to spot the difference between them 👇
1. Cold Lead
A cold lead is someone who hasn’t shown any interest in your product. None. Nada.
They land on lead lists from LinkedIn research, email finder tools, or B2B data providers. As these leads haven’t shown any interest in what you’re selling (they may not even know you exist!), they’re the hardest for salespeople to move down the funnel.
2. Warm Lead
A warm lead does know your products/services exist, but may just be recognizing your name or following your Twitter page. These leads are more engaged than cold leads and are slightly easier to turn into prospects.
3. Hot Lead
When sales reps talk about striking when the iron is hot, they’re probably referring to a hot lead that’s just entered their funnel.
These leads have shown interest in your products and are ready for a trial or demo. They want their problem solved immediately. If you sleep on these leads, they'll go cold really fast.
4. Information Qualified Leads (IQL)
Information Qualified Leads (IQL) leads are product-curious and want to know if your solution is the right fit. They've handed over information like their job role, target audience and company size. They might've also downloaded lead magnets like ebooks and case studies during their research.
5. Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL)
Marketing qualified leads (MQL) have already indicated interest in your offer—but they’re not quite ready to hand over their credit card.
Sales qualified leads (SQLs) are at the bottom of your sales funnel and ready to buy.
They've indicated their interest in your products and services. These leads may have also completed a product trial and demo and are ready to move onto a paid option.
To capture any of these leads, you need to get them interested and offer something of value—that's where lead generation comes in.
What is Lead Generation?
Lead generation is a marketing strategy that engages people and introduces them to a product or service to turn them into paying customers.
Leads are generated in several ways, from talking to people on social media platforms to meeting them at live events or inviting them to webinars. Some leads, like cold leads, enter your funnel through cold calls or emails, while hot leads are generated through product demos or ebook downloads.
There are typically five stages a lead goes through before buying a product: Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Intent and Purchase.
Lead generation usually focuses on the first two stages—awareness and interest—to grab people’s attention.
Lead Generation vs Lead Nurturing: What’s the Difference?
Lead generation turns people into leads by offering them something (like an ebook or free webinar in the case of inbound marketing) in exchange for their contact details, most commonly their email address or phone number. Once they do, they’ll enter the top of your lead generation funnel.
Congratulations—they're now a lead 🥳
Lead nurturing happens after the lead drops into your funnel.
At this stage, your marketing and sales team will qualify them to determine if they're a good fit, and then try turn them into paying customers. Lead scoring helps sales reps and B2B marketers prioritize high-potential leads. Adding value to build trust with the lead is the main goal of lead nurturing. Personalizing emails, sending them helpful articles and guides and educating them about your product all happen during this phase.
Close is really build on two things: The product that we charge for, and the content we don't charge for. Millions of people, who never paid us a single cent, benefitted from our content, and were able to close more deals by applying the techniques and strategies we teach. A small percentage of these people decided to not use use our know-how, but also our tool; and those are the people who pay to use our CRM.
Free value will build their trust in your brand—and boost the chances of them investing in your products or services.
The Two Types of B2B Lead Generation Processes (Inbound vs Outbound)
Lead generation happens in two ways—when people come to you (inbound) and when you go to them (outbound).
Both have their advantages and disadvantages. If you want to know which is right for you, check out Inbound or outbound sales—which one should you focus on?
Outbound lead generation (when you go to them) requires a more forceful approach. Along with cold calling and email marketing, you'll also advertise and attend events to pitch your product.
Let’s take a better look at both strategies 👇
Inbound Lead Generation (Content Marketing & Social Media Platforms)
How do you convince inbound leads to come to you? Check out these inbound lead gen strategies:
Content marketing is all about creating content that your prospects would be interested in consuming.
These are usually assets like blog posts, ebooks, templates, white papers, videos, and podcasts. Businesses that generate leads using content marketing credit ebooks, case studies, and social media posts to their success.
We offer tons of these lead magnets on our website, usually an ebook or template bundle. Using optimization strategies, these are offered at different stages of the lead generation funnel depending on what pieces of content the lead is interacting with.
Content promotion also falls under this marketing category, whether sharing the article on LinkedIn or repurposing it into a thread on Twitter to get more traffic.
SEO & content marketing go hand in hand. The vast majority of our leads always discovered us through organic search.
When you optimize content for SEO, ask yourself:
- Is this content valuable to a person who matches our Ideal Customer Profile? (After all, if you sell to C-level executives of Fortune 500 companies, creating a viral video about Gentleminions that gets 9 million views won't generate any valuable leads for you.)
- Can we get this in front of the person? (After all, if you publish valuable content that no one ever reads, it's not going to do anything for your business.)
- Do you have something to say on the topic that's not already been said 5,000 times? Can you add a unique point of view, original data, or real-world experience? Think about why anyone should care about what your take on this subject.
Generating leads on social media can pay off. Big.
66% of marketers generate leads on their social media channels, but they only spend an average of 6 hours a week to get these results. Take Twitter as an example. Posting on the site can increase everything from brand awareness to message association. And Twitter’s own stats show 94% of users plan to buy from a business they follow.
That being said, social isn't for everyone. At Close, we've never really done a great job with our social media marketing efforts, and never prioritized it. If we'd shut down all our social channels tomorrow, it would have very little impact on our business. There are other companies that are winning big on social, but to really succeed, you need to really commit and go deep. If you stick to a social media marketing 101 gameplan in 2022, you might as well save yourself the time and not do it at all.
Our minimum viable social lead gen strategy looks like this: We attract leads with content on social media by repurposing blog posts and ebooks. These assets pique a potential lead's interest and get them to click on our website or blog, like this recent tweet:
Want to sell big-ticket items and advance your sales career? Try relationship selling.— Close (@close) June 30, 2022
Learn how to start a relationship selling strategy by:
👉 Displaying your expertise
👉 Looking for ways to add insane value
👉 Keeping your promiseshttps://t.co/nuQ0cIkxUV
When they land on our website from one of our social media channels, the content isn’t just super helpful and educational, it also has lead magnets (aka content upgrades) sprinkled through it:
The reader gets helpful content. We get a lead straight into our funnel.
Outbound Lead Generation (Outreach, Advertising, Events & More)
Want to go out and make it rain? Here are some key outbound lead generation strategies you'll need:
This is just what it sounds like—emailing a 100% cold contact in the hopes of turning them into a paying customer.
Businesses use cold emails to reach out to potential leads after finding suitable targets while prospecting. These cold contacts aren't old colleagues or mutual acquaintances. Hell, they aren't even reading your blog or following you on Twitter—they don't know you.
One of my favorite cold emails of all time is this one sent by Dhruv Ghulati, CEO of Factmata. 👇
It ticks all the boxes:
✔️A quick introduction before jumping straight into the reason why he’s emailing
✔️A short summary of the company and what it does
✔️An explanation of why he’s asking Cuban to invest
After a bit of back and forth, this email landed Ghulati an investment of $500,000—not a bad ROI for messaging someone out of the blue.
Next up is cold calling. It's the most traditional lead generation strategy on our list.
Again, this is exactly what it sounds like. A sales rep will pick up the phone and reach out to a potential lead who they’ve never met or talked to. If the call goes well, the lead enters the sales funnel and is nurtured to move them through their buyer's journey.
Some sales reps think cold calling is dead, but the data says otherwise. A recent study by RAIN Group found nearly 50% of buyers like being called, and 82% of them say yes to meetings when a sales rep picks up the phone.
Paid advertising can be a fast way to generate leads.
Strategies like pay-per-click (PPC), LinkedIn ads and Facebook ads are all ways businesses can get on a potential customer's radar. Each ad targets users depending on their interests, behavior and search terms.
Here’s how HubSpot uses different platforms to lure leads with paid ads using webinars, assessments and content:
Finally, in-person conferences and virtual events are a great way to meet people and talk to them about your product. Events like webinars, summits, meet-ups and conferences allow you to connect with multiple people at once and introduce them to your product.
In 2017, we hosted our first virtual summit—The Inside Sales Summit.
Attendees had access to 55 video interviews with sales experts, leaders and bestselling authors for free. It landed us a whopping 7,827 new leads.
How to Build a B2B Lead Generation Strategy from Scratch (in 4 Steps)
Ready to build your lead generation strategy? Here are 4 steps to get started:
1. Brainstorm Your Lead Gen Goals
The first step in any successful lead generation campaign is figuring out what you want it to do for your business.
- Do you want to ramp up your cold outreach efforts or be hyper-focused on generating SQLs?
- Is your existing sales funnel leaking when leads get to a certain stage in their buying journey, or are the leads you're bringing in… just bad quality?
- Do you already have a lead generation campaign running, but want to prioritize the marketing channels (like content marketing or cold calling) that are bringing in the most leads?
- Do you want to generate more high-quality leads with referral sales?
Your answers will help you decide what strategy is a good fit to reach your lead gen goals.
Stay flexible and agile: sometimes you'll have to adapt to changing circumstances. A lot of B2B companies that were successfully generating leads on tradeshows struggled when Covid hit.
Let's take content marketing. When trying to decide how you'll use your blog to drive leads, consider crucial questions like:
- Can we write free content that solves problems for our target customers? What would that content look like?
- Where do our target customers spend time online? Are they engaging with our LinkedIn or Twitter channels? Does it make sense to promote and repurpose blog content there?
- Do we have in-house writers or a team of freelancers who can produce high-quality blog content to generate leads?
When you're brainstorming, it's important to be (brutally) honest and realistic about the campaign's goals. Think about the toolkit your sales and marketing team has and the channels your potential leads use to find your business, and build your goals from there.
2. Use Lead Magnets and Opt-in Forms to Capture Leads
Next, figure out how you’ll capture leads on your web pages, social media channels or in-person events.
Usually, leads will fill in an opt-in form or hand over their contact information to a chatbot to access a lead magnet. Pop-ups are also ideal for capturing leads who are jumping in-between tabs or are at risk of bouncing from your site:
Make this process as short and sweet as possible for potential leads. Asking for their email address (and nothing else) is quick and gets the lead in your sales funnel immediately. The nurturing comes later once they're on your email list.
If a potential lead is looking at a free trial or asking for a demo, you can ask for more information about their industry and role:
This gives your sales reps more details and information so they can personalize follow-ups and qualify leads more easily.
3. Plot Your Lead Magnets Across Your Sales Funnel Using the TOFU, MOFU, BOFU Technique
Each stage of the sales funnel requires different lead generation strategies.
Leads can enter your sales funnel at the top, the middle or the bottom, depending on the stage of their buying journey. Lead magnets should meet them where they're at, and your lead generation strategy should be planned accordingly.
Here’s where each lead magnet should be placed 👇
TOFU Lead Magnets 🧲
These potential leads have just discovered your product or service.
They may read a post on your blog or interact with a Tweet you’ve posted, but they don’t know much about what your product can do for them. As these potential leads have just found your products, TOFU lead magnets should them and add value with assets like:
- Blog posts
- Email templates
- How-to guides
- Research reports
- White papers
MOFU Lead Magnets 🧲
Middle of the funnel (MOFU) leads know your product exists, but they’re still researching if it's the right fit.
Your marketing and sales teams are working hard to gain their trust, so MOFU magnets include assets like:
- Live events/workshops
BOFU Lead Magnets 🧲
These magnets are placed at the bottom of your funnel (BOFU), and target potential leads who are ready to talk to a sales rep.
- Demos/free trials
- Case studies
- Sales landing pages
- Comparison blog posts
- Free consultations
- Loyalty programs
Target each part of the funnel with the right content is key. Notice that it's actually not that much about the format of the lead magnet, but the intent it fulfills. For example, you'll see that Ebooks are listed at every stage of the funnel: An ebook on general startup sales advice (TOFU) fulfills a very different intent from an ebook on CRM implementation strategies (BOFU). A potential lead at the discovery stage of their journey is not ready for a demo of your product. And if they're ready to buy, don't waste time by sending out infographics.
4. Use Lead Generation Tools to Launch Your Campaign
The last step is launching your lead gen strategy and filling your sales funnel.
The most effective lead generation strategies use a set it and forget it approach. Marketing automation and lead generation software put the process on autopilot and help teams target potential leads at every stage of their sales funnel.
Some of the lead gen tools you’ll need are:
- A database to store leads. This is usually a CRM or spreadsheet that stores information like contact details and how a lead entered your funnel (i.e. free trial, ebook download). If you’re just starting out, a spreadsheet will work, but if you want to ramp up or automate lead generation efforts, a CRM is a must.
- Outreach tools. Lead gen activities like cold emails and calls can be automated with outreach tools. In Close, you can create cold email sequences to be sent out to potential leads so reps can spend more time prospecting.
- Actionable metrics and reports. Analytics track how well your prospecting efforts are working, where leads are coming from and if your funnel is leaking. These reports break down how many leads turn into paying customers and if there’s a weakness in your sales strategy (i.e. leads aren’t converting after a demo) so you can fix it.
Once your strategy is in place, all that’s left to do is launch it—and watch your pipeline fill up.
3 Examples of Successful Lead Generation Campaigns to Fill Sales Pipelines
Wondering what works? We've tried and tested almost everything—here's what's worked best for us:
1. High-Quality Blog Content
Can I have a minute to brag?
I'm going to brag.
The content we generate on the Close blog is f*cking epic. We’ve been helping sales reps sharpen their strategies and techniques since 2013. Our blog is also our most lucrative lead generation tool for filling our sales pipeline.
But it’s not easy.
Our team has spent thousands (and thousands) of hours making our blog what it is. And most of that time is spent creating evergreen content using search engine optimization (SEO) techniques so it'll be found on Google for years.
The upside is prospective customers can find us every time they punch in a search term like “cold emailing” or “sales strategies” into a search engine:
Our success on Google saves us a ton of money because we don’t have to spend our budget on paid ads or PPC.
2. eBooks and How-to Guides
We have a huge library of ebooks and how-to guides responsible for bringing in tens of thousands of new leads to Close.
We use these lead magnets everywhere. We insert them into blog posts. We put them on landing pages…. We even launch them on startup-focused sites like Product Hunt to grab TOFU leads.
Our growth hacks ebook was upvoted 762 times on Producthunt!
The best part about these books is how easy they are to create. Once we pick a topic for the book, we’ll look through existing blog posts we’ve already written on it and start organizing them into a longer format (usually in a Google Doc). Then, we fill in the gaps and add more value for our readers.
We get a designer to create a cover and package it all up—and that’s it. A simple yet super powerful lead magnet is born.
3. Copy & Paste Templates
Templates are a must for scaling companies and busy sales reps.
We know sales reps want to automate their processes and reuse winning formulas, and our templates tick both boxes. To date, our downloadable cold email template packs are the single most effective lead generation tool in our toolkit.
They've brought many tens of thousands of leads into our sales funnel. The conversion rate from website visitor to lead is also extraordinary high with this kind of content. These templates are such assets for our target customers because they help them reach a goal: getting more hot leads.
The success of these templates has been so great that we've created several different packs targeted at cold calling, cold emailing, scripts and much more. Thousands of sales reps now use them to land new customers. And we gain their trust and ultimately turn many of them into paying customers.
Not all leads are created equal—your lead generation campaign shouldn't be either.
Sometimes, leads come to you. Your reps will work (really hard) for others. Some leads are ready to buy. Some have never even heard of you.
The best way to build a solid, evergreen lead generation campaign is to put the work in. No shortcuts. No shitty hacks.
Research your potential customers and create lead magnets that help and educate them. Put in the work to craft templates and ebooks they can use to elevate their businesses. And target leads where they're at in your funnel—not with sweeping, general campaigns.
Build quality relationships with your leads, and the revenue will follow.
Want to ramp up your lead generation efforts? See how Close can help you generate and nurture more leads all the way to the sale.