Paying customers rarely turn up out of the blue. To truly fulfill their growth potential, modern go-to-market teams need to attract the attention of key prospects and effectively nurture their interest — long before a deal is ready to close. This process is known as lead generation.
Companies that excel in lead generation leave nothing to chance. In fact, lead generation is one of the most highly optimized areas of marketing strategy, with new lead generation tools and ideas constantly emerging.
Businesses that fail to keep pace are likely to be left behind. For anyone with a role in marketing, gaining a clear understanding of the latest strategies and ideas in this field is essential.
What Is Lead Generation?
Usually considered a sub-objective of a demand generation strategy, lead generation refers to the process of attracting prospects and getting them into the sales funnel, with the goal of converting them into customers.
Lead gen occurs within the second stage of a marketing funnel — meaning it happens after marketers have attracted an audience and are ready to hand them over to the sales team.
What is a Lead?
Let’s start with the basics: a lead is defined broadly as any prospect who indicates interest in a company’s product or service.
Every company has its own definition of a “high-quality lead.” Generally speaking, anyone who begins to exhibit buying behaviors could be considered a lead.
Things start to get a little messier when sales and marketing don’t agree on what constitutes “buying behavior” — interest that can be expressed in many different ways.
For example, a behavioral lead scoring rubric based on a 100-point threshold could award 50 points whenever a lead registers for a webinar. This lead would need to take additional actions to reach the qualification benchmark of 100 points. However, if another prospect were to request a product demo, the same system could auto-qualify the prospect and award 100 points.
The Lead Generation Process Explained
While lead generation strategies come in many forms, the fundamental process can be divided into three stages.
The first step in effective lead generation is to attract potential customers. This can be achieved in many ways, from content marketing to active outreach.
Success here is vital. You can only nurture and convert leads if you have their attention in the first place. As such, companies invest heavily in generating content for the specific purpose of reaching possible buyers.
The aim here is to collect information about potential customers that will be useful within the sales pipeline, including demographic and technographic data, names, phone numbers, and email addresses.
Successful lead capture usually relies on creating a customized offer. An informative webinar with experts discussing cutting-edge industry topics, a comprehensive guide to the latest KPIs in your industry, or further high-value collateral often seals the lead-capture deal.
Lead scoring is a qualitative process of assigning numeric values to each lead you generate, based on a combination of the behaviors a prospect demonstrates and how well their firmographic and demographic information aligns with a company’s ideal customer profile (ICP).
Specific data points — like a company’s revenue or industry, or an individual’s job function and management level — should be weighted appropriately.
For example, a lead with a profile that matches a company’s buyer persona should be rated higher than a lead who is outside the typical customer profile. In many cases, the ideal prospect should be required to take less action in order to meet lead qualification criteria.
Stages of Lead Qualification
- Marketing engaged lead: Prospect who interacts with a company via a marketing channel.
- Marketing qualified lead (MQL): Prospect who has demonstrated enough behavior to be considered qualified and ready for sales intervention.
- Sales generated lead: Prospect from sales-sourced activity, usually via outbound prospecting activity.
- Sales accepted lead: A prospect qualified either through a sales development representative (SDR) or via a marketing campaign that an account executive is working on.
- Sales qualified lead (SQL): Any qualified lead who has been accepted, nurtured, and then associated with a business opportunity.
Lead Generation Sources
Leads don’t just magically appear in a company’s CRM. There’s a long list of ways that sales and marketing professionals can attract new customers, but when it comes to B2B lead sourcing, there are typically four courses of action: customer referrals, outbound prospecting, inbound marketing, and marketing campaigns.
A customer referral program is a great way to bridge the gap between finding new leads and leveraging the ones you already have. Leads referred by customers typically have a faster sales cycle because there’s already a level of built-in trust.
Outbound prospecting is a direct marketing channel where salespeople identify target customers and directly reach out to introduce them to their company or product. Identifying target customers involves compiling lists of companies or individuals that sales reps believe would be the most likely to need their product or service. Examples of outbound prospecting include email outreach, social selling, and cold calling.
Inbound marketing is slightly more complex than outbound prospecting. As a business methodology, it is the process of attracting customers by creating and distributing relevant content and providing valuable experiences that are personalized to a prospect’s specific needs.
Think of inbound marketing as building a relationship with customers — a consultative relationship that continues even after they’ve decided to make a purchase. The point is to engage the prospect with content that will bring them to owned marketing channels, most commonly a company website. In turn, this should evolve their awareness into validated interest about a particular product or service.
Campaigns are created with a specific goal in mind, which could include generating brand awareness or promoting a new product. Campaigns should also use multiple media channels, including:
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Almost nobody clicks on business links that don’t make the first page of Google results. SEM strategies help to ensure that your content makes the cut by strategically bidding on branded and non-branded keywords. This gives a company’s brand valuable real estate atop of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
- Display Campaigns: Display campaigns can be deployed to a specific list of companies that a go-to-market team is trying to engage. Alternatively, they can be used to retarget companies in real time by leveraging IP addresses associated with visitors to owned web properties.
- Content Syndication: Placing content across trade publications and third-party websites can increase the reach of your assets. The content can be anything from eBooks and sponsored research to upcoming webinars and virtual events. Marketing teams can work with these publications to ensure that leads are matched to a predetermined set of firmographic and demographic filters.
- Trade Shows: Sponsorship of industry events, or even producing an event using internal resources. Usually, leads are obtained through networking that occurs either at a company’s booth, or at any breakout sessions internal employees might be leading.
Lead Generation with Content Marketing
Content is the lifeblood of any lead-generation effort.
The key to a sound content marketing strategy is to map your content to the sales funnel. For instance, even though engagement with case studies and product sheets may indicate a sales-ready lead, that doesn’t mean a marketing team should start with this type of content.
Such assets are usually introduced further along in the sales process, following blog content and lead magnets such as white papers.
Emails are great for reaching people who are already familiar with a brand, product, or service. Nurturing prospects with an array of content creates trust, authority, and more engagement that (hopefully) turns into qualification.
SEO’s best friend: the blog post. Company blogs take commitment, but pay dividends in a variety of ways. First, blog posts are a great way to fit a lot of keywords and popular questions into one piece of content. Companies that take this approach to search engine optimization have a better chance of ranking high on SERPs without spending advertising dollars. A blog can also provide an organic platform for a company to further establish itself as a subject matter expert.
Social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn make it incredibly easy for visitors to interact with a brand. A company’s social media presence provides a unique opportunity to promote not only its products and services, but its brand, its value as an employer, and its company culture.
The interactive nature of the channel offers a chance to foster two-way conversations with employees, customers, industry leads, and potential leads, too.
Lead-to-Revenue Management (L2RM)
Lead-to-revenue management, otherwise known as L2RM, is the process of integrating metrics, processes, and goals that correspond to a marketing strategy throughout the sales funnel. The endgame? Understand the entire buying process, and align engagement with results.
Key Components of L2RM
A stage-based approach to turning prospective leads into buyers, usually divided into four phases:
- Awareness: Potential customers have diagnosed pain points and are beginning to conduct preliminary research about available solutions in the marketplace. As the widest section of the funnel, the main purpose of this stage is to improve the visibility of a brand and demonstrate expertise.
- Interest: The prospect is actively looking for solutions to improve business outcomes. It’s time to ensure your prospects begin to understand key differentiators between your offerings and those of your competitors, teeing up value that the rest of the GTM team can convert further down the funnel.
- Consideration: Leads are officially converted to sales-qualified opportunities, and are viewed as prospective customers. They have a clear understanding of what their problem is, the solutions that could solve it, and what their budgets are.
- Decision: The qualified leads know everything there is to know about their pain point and the best solution for the problem, and they are ready to select a provider.
Service Level Agreement (SLA)
A service level agreement (SLA) is an understanding between marketing and sales that outlines what each department is responsible for at each stage of the lead qualification process.
If diligently followed, an SLA should provide relative metrics that go-to-market teams can use to measure success. Marketing is able to better understand its contributions by analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) such as leads generated, qualified leads generated, sourced pipeline, and revenue. Sales goals should include follow-up time, follow-up frequency, and the percentage of leads that sales is expected to follow up with.
Just how effective can an SLA be if each party adheres to established guidelines? Research by Forrester shows that highly aligned companies grow 19% faster and are 15% more profitable.
Important Lead Generation Tools
Most B2B marketers create a workflow that incorporates the following types of software:
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
As businesses grow, leadership needs to understand historical trends, right-size current projections, and capture everything that happens in between.
CRMs help marketers and salespeople to track sales from the very first touchpoint with a prospect through the sale. It’s where B2B companies keep their hard-won customer, prospect, and deal data — but a CRM alone is just a platform, and relying on a legion of busy sales and marketing pros to deliver top-quality, error-free data is a tall order.
To truly unleash the power of a CRM, modern GTM relies on trusted, expert signals and automation platforms like ZoomInfo’s SalesOS.
Sales automation software can help sales teams reduce the seemingly endless list of annoying tasks that SDRs and managers hate, leaving more time for prospecting and lead nurturing.
The core components commonly found in a sales automation solution include:
- Sales dialer capabilities
- Email (personalized templates, automated A/B testing)
- Activity management (automatic task creation, communication logging, and more)
- Multi-touch, multi-channel sales sequence builders that can:
- Build custom triggers
- Create phone and email cadences
- Measure performance
Some sales automation software is even more specialized, handling specific tasks like gathering contact information for inbound leads, and analyzing sales calls for key insights.
Marketing Automation Platform (MAP)
Just like sales automation, marketing automation software can eliminate repetitive tasks, freeing marketers to focus on creation, rather than distribution.
Marketing automation is great for managing key components of your lead generation campaign, like email marketing, social media marketing, and ad campaigns, in a way that makes it incredibly easy to personalize messaging. For example, an automation for pop-up signup forms can help with building a better email list.
Tips for Effective Lead Generation
- Understand the buyer’s journey: Creating an effective lead generation strategy is based on truly understanding how your leads become customers. Make sure the individual stages are well connected and remember that the journey will vary between different types of leads.
- Create offers for every stage: The first offer is often free content. Then, you might provide more information or reduced pricing in exchange for their details before finally delivering your sales offer.
- Lead information is vital: Aside from filling your pipeline, the secondary purpose of lead generation is to collect information that can be used later in the sales process. Almost any data is potentially useful for sales reps, and it’s possible to supplement data collection using a solution like ZoomInfo.
Frequently Asked Questions
A roundup of common questions on lead generation strategy, techniques, and best practices:
What’s the Difference Between Lead Generation and Demand Generation?
Demand generation is typically considered the broader category, focusing on the entire lead-to-revenue process. Lead generation is a subset of demand generation, focusing on top-of-funnel conversions.
Demand Generation: The purpose of demand gen is to create and tap into market interest in your company, product, or service and nurturing that interest into business opportunities.
Lead Generation: The goal of lead gen is to collect information about potential customers and turn them into leads that can enter the sales funnel. B2B lead gen is often based on content or other offers that prompt a targeted prospect to enter their business contact information.. There is considerable overlap here in purpose and tactics. For instance, both demand generation and lead generation may use the following:
- Data sheets
- Blog posts
But the positioning of each tactic likely varies slightly. Demand generation teams, for example, may decide to host a thought leadership webinar about a particular industry pain point.
The content, in a demand gen webinar, would primarily be evergreen, and product-agnostic. In contrast, a lead generation webinar would focus more on trying similar problem-solution messaging, but with a more direct tie into a brand’s value proposition, through the use of product features and customer testimonials.
What Are the Common Pain Points of Lead Generation?
There are many hurdles that stand in the way of successfully getting potential customers into the sales funnel. But when these factors are addressed during the process of developing a lead gen strategy, they can be overcome.
- Data quality: A good way of creating content that will generate leads is to analyze your database to look for trends and attributes. However, this information won’t be accurate if your data is out of date or inaccurate.
- Lead quality: What good is a lead if they have no real intention of buying? Many sales reps say their biggest hurdle is lead quality. Traffic to your website is good, but it doesn’t mean much if those visitors don’t convert into MQLs or SQLs.
- Measuring lead gen success: How does a business measure lead quality? Some indicators you can look at to measure lead gen success are CTRs, conversion rate, time to conversion, and leads per channel.
What Is the Average Lead to Conversion Rate?
B2B sales processes are complex, with long lists of stakeholders and a long decision-making process — which drives down lead conversion rates.
Achieving better conversion rates can be tricky, but there are always tweaks that can be made to a lead gen strategy to encourage more conversions.
- Streamline sign-up forms: leads will be more likely to sign up for something if they only have to fill out three lines, rather than 10.
- Provide a clear and straightforward call to action (CTA): CTAs inform potential customers about what their next steps should be and what they need to do in order to get there.
When calculating your average number of lead conversions, it can be useful to identify which channel is resulting in the most converted leads, and where those leads end up along the sales funnel.
Lead-gen strategies can quickly become complex, multilayered affairs — especially in a world of constantly ballooning marketing tech stacks, growing competition among vendors, and new trends in audience development and content consumption. But the most well-oiled GTM teams know that they can rely on cutting-edge platforms to unlock insights, engage customers, and win faster.
ZoomInfo offers a range of powerful tools that can assist your team with lead generation. Just as importantly, they are linked in one easy-to-use platform. Sign up for a free trial to test drive it for yourself.