What is Lead Generation? How to Get More Leads in Your Sales Funnel
There’s already a sea of content out there talking about lead generation, so here's why I decided to write one more… at Close, we're very, very good at generating leads.
Our solid lead generation strategy is the backbone of our entire business. We win customers with genuinely useful content, actionable videos, helpful eBooks, and highly targeted inbound marketing campaigns.
We’ve always been more focused on the quality of our leads than the quantity. The lead generation ideas we’ve experimented with that brought in 10 hot leads get prioritized over the channels that brought us 100 cold ones.
Sales has gotten way too complicated. Founders are convinced that a bloated tech stack, complicated sales funnels, and reps juggling 10 jobs at once will bring in more customers. But in reality, most of these games are a waste of time and money.
The big secret in sales that nobody tells you is that, if you get the right leads into your sales funnel from the beginning, you’re all set. A huge piece of a high-performing sales process is sharpening your lead generation tactics. The more qualified your leads, the less friction you’ll have in closing more sales. If someone wants to buy your product, they will. It's that simple.
This guide will walk you through the basics of lead generation and give you insight into the strategies we use at Close to bring in tens of thousands of high-quality leads every year.
What is Lead Generation?
Lead generation is like the first date for your sales funnel—and it’s the foundation of every customer relationship moving forward. Your sales team does lead generation through cold calls and emails, while marketing teams work on inbound lead generation through gated content, downloadable resources, or paid advertising. The goal is to capture their information and nurture them towards a purchase.
When looking at your buyer’s journey, lead generation sits right at the top—happening mainly within the “awareness” stage.
At this stage, lead generation takes on all kinds of styles—you choose the lead generation strategies that fit your business, and you’ll attract different types of leads. Here’s how that looks in the real world:
- Cold leads haven’t shown any interest in your product. None. Nada. Which means they’re the toughest for your team to move down the funnel. Your sales team generates cold leads by doing research on LinkedIn or using B2B data providers to match potential leads to your ideal customer profile, and then reaching out to those leads with cold calls or emails.
- Warm leads know about your company, and probably recognize your name when they see it. Your marketing team generates warm leads by being active on social media and setting up nurture sequences to keep these leads warm.
- Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are sitting quietly at the top of the funnel, showing discreet interest in something related to your product. B2B marketers generate MQLs by creating lead forms, landing pages, gated resources, and nurture emails.
- Sales qualified leads (SQLs) are right down at the bottom of your sales funnel—they’ve talked to your sales team, and both sides know this is a great fit. Sales teams generate SQLs by conducting product demos or helping new leads start (and see value from) a free trial.
Each type of lead is unique, and how they arrive in your funnel (and how you treat them moving forward) will depend on the types of lead generation you choose to focus on. Sometimes, new leads come to you, while others need to be pursued.
In the sales world, this is called inbound or outbound lead generation.
Inbound Lead Generation vs. Outbound Lead Generation—What’s the Difference?
Lead generation happens in two ways—when people come to you (inbound) and when you go to them (outbound).
Inbound lead generation attracts potential customers through content marketing, social media interactions, and SEO. It’s a more cost-effective way to generate leads, and it’s less intrusive. Additionally, when implementing inbound strategies, consider seeking recommendations on SEO software for marketing agencies to streamline processes, and optimize overall campaign performance for clients.
Outbound leads are generated when a sales team makes the first move. I'm talking about tactics like cold emails, cold calls, and LinkedIn to find a prospect who would benefit from your product. This is a great way to build awareness quickly and be more specific about who you’re targeting.
Both types of leads are equally valuable to your company—so both inbound and outbound lead generation strategies can work. It all depends on your business, your team, and the resources you can dedicate.
- If you sell a high-ticket product that’s a bit complex, outbound lead generation may be a better fit—your team can actively nurture leads and help them reach a purchase decision faster.
- On the other hand, if you sell a SaaS product with a lower price tag, you may want to try inbound lead generation. That way, people can learn about your product before contacting your sales team, thus making your sales cycle even shorter.
At Close, we have a 100 percent inbound lead generation process. But that didn’t happen overnight. We started with 80 percent outbound (playing the short game), and 20 percent inbound (building the foundation for the long game). That’s how we’ve been able to scale sustainably over time.
So remember—inbound and outbound don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Use a mix of both for an even stronger lead generation approach.
Ready to see how we do just that at Close? 😉
9 Lead Generation Strategies to Increase Your Conversion Rates
I want to give you some unique angles about some of the most impactful ways Close has generated leads and signed up new customers. By implementing the right tactics, you can attract qualified leads and nurture them into paying customers.
Here are 9 ways to find better leads.
1. Create Carefully Targeted Lead Magnets
One of the most effective ways to draw leads into your sales funnel is to build out targeted lead magnets—like eBooks, templates, or helpful guides. To access them, a lead must usually hand over some contact information, like their name and email address. Then, your sales and marketing teams can nurture those new leads.
But here’s the catch: lead magnets only work if the content you offer is worth signing up for.
Way too many companies put together a shitty eBook or bland template and think they are going to capture a bunch of high-quality leads. It's a strategy that's doomed to fail. To generate leads worth your time, you must build magnets like:
- Unique industry research and surveys
- Downloadable guides with valuable content
- Templates, worksheets, and other actionable resources
- Online courses
For example, we created a downloadable cold email template pack we knew sales reps could use right out of the box to help with outreach.
Not only has this lead magnet brought thousands of leads into our sales funnel, but the conversion rate for these leads is off the chart. That's because when a sales team downloads our templates and realizes they actually work, it builds trust in our brand. Simple.
What you decide to build will depend on the resources available to your team—but whatever it is, make sure it’s truly valuable to your leads.
2. Use SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to Drive Qualified Inbound Leads
Getting Google to take notice of your website takes more than just writing a good blog post. You need to match a lead’s search intent with high-volume keywords in order to rank.
The problem: There’s a butt-ton of competition doing the same thing.
The solution: Use a more targeted Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy. Find keywords with decent search volume (but not too much competition) using tools like Ahrefs or SEMRush.
Image source: Ahrefs
You want search volume terms that other brands aren't vying for so you can rank relatively quickly—as long as you are still creating great written content. While I would love to run through the entire process of how to do epic keyword research here, it deserves its own blog post. So check out this super in-depth guide from Ahrefs on how to get started.
Look, doing this work is hard, but it's worth the time and effort. And I'm going to shout out my own team here, because 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 team has spent thousands of hours creating evergreen content that will be found on Google for years to come.
And now, 10+ years later, our blog is our most lucrative lead generation tool for filling our sales pipeline.
Prospective customers can find us every time they punch in a search term like “cold emailing” or “sales strategies” into a search engine:
And the best part?
Ranking for search terms like this organically on Google saves us a ton of money we would otherwise spend on online advertising or PPC.
3. Build Free Tools
Offering free tools or resources on your website is a great way to prove to potential customers that you know your shit. It's also a great way to stand out from every other brand that offers guides and eBooks to gather email addresses or phone numbers.
For example, Mailchimp has a bunch of free digital marketing tools people can use in exchange for an account. This helps people take the platform's social media marketing and automation tools for a test drive. If they like those tools, they can then upgrade to a paid plan with more features.
Potential leads don't even have to hand over their email address to try it out. All they have to do is write a bit of information about their company and product into the email generator. Once they see how well it works, they (ideally) sign up for a free trial of Close to see how our product can help them.
It's a win-win.
Offer a product that works alongside your paid tools, but let your customers try it out for free. By providing something of value, you can attract leads who need your product and establish your brand as a trusted authority at the same time.
4. Use the Right Social Media Platform to Find Leads
Social media platforms are excellent channels for sales reps to find and engage with potential leads. But the key is to use the right platform and post on channels where your target audience hangs out.
Obviously, LinkedIn is the first choice for B2B sales reps. The platform has been around for over 20 years, and it’s still the place where 930 million members go to make connections. For sales reps, a tool like LinkedIn Sales Navigator has specific filters to help target customer profiles depending on demographics, company size, or location.
Image source: LinkedIn
If you find a prospect that's a good product fit, you can send an InMail message and get the conversation started.
However, a lot of companies get stuck and think LinkedIn is the only social media platform they should use to find leads.
Not the case. It all depends on what industry you are in, and how big your company is.
Think about a power washing company operating in Joshua Tree. The business takes online bookings, but a lot of its customers come from recommendations and word of mouth. LinkedIn isn't of much use to the company, but scoping out local Facebook groups and forums that Joshua Tree homeowners use is a great way to bring in quality leads.
Find out which social platforms your ideal customers use and start your search there.
5. Build a Structured Referral Program
If you want quality leads—look in your own backyard.
Your existing customer base is one of the most valuable sources to find new prospects as they know others in their industry. And if you snag a referral, it's a low-cost way to bring in quality leads.
But not a lot of sales teams do this (or at least, they don’t do it effectively). Just look at the stats—only 30 percent of B2B companies even have an official referral sales program in place.
Incentivizing existing customers with an affiliate reward for recommending your product is another smart way to spend a little cash in exchange for new leads.
Hands down, one of the best examples of a successful affiliate program in the last decade has been ConvertKit. The platform pays a 30 percent commission for 24 months for every person who signs up through an affiliate link and becomes a paying customer.
ConvertKit plans are priced between $9 and $2,000/month, so the minimum it makes from each paying affiliate is $6/month without putting in any work to convert the lead. The affiliate strategy has been so successful that it now makes up a third of ConvertKit's overall annual revenue! 😮
Implementing a referral program can be a highly effective way to generate new leads. Tap into your existing fan base, and even talk to new customers about who they’d like to recommend. It may be hard to start, but if you don't ask—you don't receive!
6. Start Partnerships with Similar Brands
Sometimes, the best way to bring in new leads is to join forces with another company.
Creating partnerships with businesses that target a similar audience (but don't compete directly with your product) can help tap into an untouched prospect pool. These partnerships can exist in a bunch of different ways, from joint case studies to partner programs, integrations, and webinars.
Over the years, we’ve hosted (or participated in) a ton of these types of partnerships. I've jumped in on webinars and shared my expertise on subjects like cold emails and sales data to reach an audience that may not have known about Close.
And the payoff? Well, it's been pretty huge.
During our two most successful webinars, about 2,000 people registered to attend (each), with about 1,000 coming from the companies we co-hosted with. Just do the math on that real quick: we generated 2,000 extra new leads at no cost. All we had to do was host a webinar with a partner instead of flying solo.
The best part is that these leads aren't just any old leads. They are targeted and have a good chance of testing Close out or, at the very least, reading our email nurture campaigns once the webinar is over.
Learn more about how we built our Close Partner Program (and the mistakes we made along the way) 👇
7. Use Email or Phone for Cold Outreach
Classic movies tell us that cold calling and other types of cold outreach are stuck in the 90s. But that doesn’t have to be the case—as long as your methods for doing cold outreach are fully rooted in the 21st century.
One of the reasons I love cold outreach is that it’s underappreciated—not many people do it, and even fewer do it well.
But it still works—just look at the data
- A study by RAIN Group found nearly 50 percent of buyers like being called
- They also found that 82 percent of buyers say yes to meetings when a sales rep calls
Cold calling gets you an instant connection to new leads, and helps you get immediate feedback on your offering (and whether you’re targeting the right people). Cold email is more scalable, and it allows you to reach a wider audience in a shorter time frame. Put both together, and you’ve got a powerful sales workflow.
So, what do you need to do for your cold calls and emails to be successful?
- Be relevant: People love to talk about personalization, but that’s no longer enough. If you want to scale your email or phone outreach, you need to make sure it’s ultra-relatable to the audience you’re targeting.
- Ditch the business-speak: Remember, you’re talking (or writing) to a real human being. So, talk like a real human.
- Be super clear on why you’re calling them: Not just the purpose of your call—but why you decided to call this person specifically. What makes this person the perfect fit for your target audience?
- Sell the next step: Remember, lead generation is NOT the same stage as closing the deal. Your first call or email should be all about selling the next step, showing why it’s in this person’s best interest to move forward.
- Choose one clear, relevant call to action: Your prospect should know exactly what they’re supposed to do by the end of the phone call or email. Make it clear what the next step is, and what they need to do to move forward.
Want more tips for cold emailing? Check out our guide to cold emailing + 15 templates you can swipe.
8. Launch a Thought Leadership Email Newsletter in Your Industry
Don't sleep on a potential lead's inbox—especially if you’re providing meaningful value without always selling something.
Launching an email newsletter in your industry is an excellent way to build trust over time and slowly nurture leads into customers. A successful email newsletter should act as a bolt-on to your existing marketing strategy and support other efforts like LinkedIn posts and blog content to cement your voice as a leader in your industry.
Again, there are a bucketload of folks who send weekly newsletters. And most of them suck. If you want a newsletter to bring in leads, you have to make sure it is one thing: valuable.
Aleyda Solis has smashed this outta the park with her weekly newsletter, SEOFOMO. The newsletter is a wrap-up for those in the SEO world and shares news, updates, resources, remote jobs, and SEO tools. Basically, it has a shitload of useful stuff for SEO gurus.
SEOFOMO has over 28k subscribers, but more importantly, the metrics are through the roof—a 45 percent open rate and a 10 percent click rate. Because readers are so engaged, Solis has also started a weekly #SEOFOMO Chat on Twitter spaces to drive subscriptions.
So, what makes SEOFOMO so valuable?
That's easy. Every single edition brings something to a subscriber's inbox. Whether it's news of recent Google updates, announcements of upcoming SEO events, or just links to new SEO content, you could spend your entire Sunday reading it.
It's a great example of how using your expertise can help cement you as a trusted leader in an industry.
9. Use Video Content Marketing to Attract Inbound Leads
The last strategy on the list is one that I have spent years experimenting with—video content.
People love videos. In a 2023 Wyzowl study, 90 percent of marketers said video helped generate leads, and a whopping 89 percent of people claim watching a video has convinced them to buy a product or service.
It might surprise you to learn that most of Close's written content is born from educational videos. We film 10 to 20 minutes of video on a topic we think our audience will find valuable. Then, our content team will write an in-depth article based on the video and publish it on our blog.
The end result usually looks something like this:
But these videos don't just live on our blog.
Since 2013, we’ve recorded and uploaded hundreds of videos to Close's YouTube channel. In addition, we launched our Close Call Show, where we interview sales experts and ask them to share unique insights on topics like inbound sales, automation, and selling.
As video is so versatile, these little wisdom nuggets can be used across a bunch of marketing channels like our LinkedIn and Twitter to grab people's attention.
This strategy has worked for us so far—we have 2.9 million views and counting 📈
Why Targeted Lead Generation Matters for Sales Teams
In my opinion, 9 out of every 10 sales strategies fail for the same reason—they’re trying to sell to the wrong people.
A successful lead generation strategy is all about lead qualification. If you f*ck that up, no amount of LinkedIn strategies or webinars will fix it. Your sales team will waste a ton of hours chasing down dead ends. And your budget will suffer.
My simple rule for more targeted lead generation is to ask two basic questions:
- Can I help you?
- Can you help me?
This is because successful deals are a two-way street—both parties get clear benefits from this purchase. Ideally, you get cash, and they get a product or service that helps them solve their pain points or reach their goals.
When you are more strategic and targeted with your lead generation, you’ll not only build a solid lead list, but you’ll also add value to other areas of your business:
- Ultra-high-quality leads: The people in your sales funnel will be much more likely to convert, and your sales team will be saved from chasing dead-end leads.
- Better brand awareness: A strong brand presence helps sales teams earn trust and credibility with prospects before they jump on a call and position your company as an industry leader.
- Battling changing markets: A solid lead generation strategy can help your sales team adjust to market changes and bring in promising prospects—even when the weather gets rough.
- The foundation for sustainable growth over time: Without a clear lead generation strategy, there is no business. Build this foundation early, and you’ll have years of sustainable revenue growth ahead of you.
A bulletproof lead generation process is a piece of valuable intellectual property for your company. It’s your secret sauce and the place where money is made—so invest in it now, and protect it at all costs.
Psst… want to see how a high-powered CRM can help you nail lead generation (and what comes after)? Take Close for a test run for 14-days, free.