What Is Lead Generation?


“Lead generation” is a complicated term for something quite simple: creating interest in a business’ services and products. This “interest” is generally quantified by the names and contact information of prospective customers who might generate orders for a business. A lead generation company, then, is responsible for helping companies find as many potential clients as possible.Not surprisingly, lead generation is the first step in a business’ marketing cycle, or, put another way, at the top of a company’s sales funnel. Indeed, long before salesmen work their magic on consumers, before a product is presented, and before any contracts are signed, a lead has to be generated. Visually, you can think of lead generation as the fuel that is poured into the top of the funnel.Lead generation is an umbrella term, one that encompasses several smaller components: selling, marketing, setting appointments, prospecting, and blueprinting. While lead generation has hundreds of different definitions across the industry, Teleark has a specific vision in mind: bringing qualified, interested, ready-to-buy prospects to their customers.

Why Is Lead Generation Important?

Leads are the engines that drive sales. Put simply, a shortage of leads will affect – and negatively impact – the entire sales process. Without leads, it is impossible to generate revenue. A productive approach to lead generation, however, will increase your sale force’s productivity and efficiency. By identifying potential buyers through a combination of inbound and outbound marketing (discussed below), a business will be able to turn potential leads into customers.Lead generation is also important because it encourages a marriage between sales and marketing, which results in a more effective overall business. While sales may succeed in finding consumers through cold calling and marketers may find promise within social media, the joint continuity of sales and marketing gives a business the tools to attract and retain a larger quantity of possible leads.Lead generation can be best understood when it’s broken down into its two component parts: leads and generation.

Leads

In business, “leads” refer to the people or the companies that might express interest in purchasing a company’s products or services. A lead is actually created when a business or person provides his or her contact information for a company. When considering leads, both quality and quantity are important considerations. A quality lead is one that a business has a good chance of closing; in other words, it is a lead that will ultimately pursue and purchase your product. Just as a strong lead in a TV show is essential for a series’ success, so too is a strong lead essential for a business’ prosperity. Unfortunately, over 60% of marketing executives reported that generating high-quality leads was the biggest challenge their company has faced in B2B (business-to-business) lead generation sales.But, no matter how strong your business’ approach, there will always be a number of “junk leads.” Even an expert salesperson will not be able to close 100% of leads; in fact, out of 100 available leads, it is a fair estimate that only five of those might actually become a closed sale. This means that quantity of possible leads is just as important as the quality of each individual lead. There must be a balance between both quality and quantity.

Lead Scoring

For a large quantity of leads, such as a database of 10,000 email addresses, there are certain leads that should be emphasized over others. The process of determining which leads could be most productive and beneficial for your company is called lead scoring. This analysis is performed by tracking your prospects’ business behavior and web activity. Through several online services, it becomes possible to determine which businesses hold the highest prospective value for your company. These potential customers should be prioritized.

Generation

The second part of the equation is the actual generation of leads. Just as Google generates websites from your search, and just as families prosper into multiple generations, businesses attempt to create – or generate – as many leads as possible. From there, salesmen attempt to close these generated leads. This is one reason why the quantity and quality of generated leads is essential to developing a strong sales pipeline.The process of lead generation is a constantly evolving process, changing alongside emerging technologies. In recent years, in particular, the buying process has significantly changed.

History of Lead Generation

Years ago, the process of lead generation was straightforward: marketers found the names of possible buyers, or leads, and then passed these onto the sales department. Sometimes, this meant purchasing a list of thousands of phone numbers or, more recently, email addresses. Leads were primarily generated when companies put themselves and their products out in front of the consumer. For example, at a trade show, a potential customer would come to a business’ booth, that company would gather his or her information, and a sales appointment would be made in the days following.This type of “old school” lead generation was often impersonal, however. Companies were unable to tailor their lead approaches to specific audiences, and many businesses became reliant upon purchasing massive lists of names and then randomly contacting each person. This method proved both ineffective and costly. Ultimately, these techniques resulted in a smaller quantity and lesser quality of actual leads.

Modern Lead Generation

Today, however, cold calling and print advertisements – methods for companies to put themselves in front of the consumer – are largely being replaced in lead generation. Instead, there has been a rise in the “self-directed buyer,” or a buyer who does his or her own research and outreach. This is a direct result of the quantity of information now available at buyers’ fingertips. So, instead of attracting potential buyers through trade shows, advertisements, or even mass emails, businesses must focus on being found by the buyers themselves. This is because buyers can now perform their own content research online, thereby becoming educated about a potential service or product long before they have to communicate with a single salesperson or marketing representative.The transformation in recent years has been drastic: according to one study, potential buyers might be anywhere between 66-90% of the way done with their buying decision before they even reach a vendor. This means that companies have had to switch their lead generation tactics from “outbound marketing” – meaning putting their own company out there – to “inbound marketing,” or ways to get themselves in front of the self-directed consumer.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is widely considered to be the process of helping potential customers find your company. Oftentimes these customers are not yet ready to make a purchase; however, through inbound marketing, the hope is that that these consumers will develop a brand interest that will one day turn into leads and revenue. Through inbound marketing, the buyer – not the business, as in outbound marketing – is in control. Thus, it is the business’ responsibility to distribute the most informational and entertaining content possible onto venues where the prospective lead spends time. A strong grasp of inbound marketing is essential for today’s marketers to take advantage of lead generation approaches. Below are two effective inbound lead generation avenues:

Content and SEO:

Content, or relevant information that is meant to engage a target audience, is considered to be the foundation of inbound marketing. From mass emails to social media, high-quality content is paramount in order to attract potential self-directed leads — and, in turn, to boost your company’s SEO rankings.
A critical avenue to spread your business’ content is a company blog. A blog offers a venue to write and share information about your industry at large and your company specifically. Blogs, if search-engine optimized, can be a gateway for your company’s future lead conversion.

Social Media:

Perhaps the most recent, revolutionary change in lead generation has been the advent of social media. Social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, is crucial for self-directed buyers to become aware of your company – and, in turn, for you to ultimately generate leads. LinkedIn is perhaps the most important of these social media powerhouses, driving 80.33% of all leads generated through social media. Twitter can also be powerful if using strategies such as Promoted Tweets and pointed hashtags (#leadgeneration). These avenues provide you with an easy outlet to start connecting personally with people and companies. See Teleark’s blog post on other lead generation avenues you may have yet to consider.

Outbound Marketing

The modern nature of inbound marketing does not imply, however, that all outbound marketing techniques are outdated. An effective lead generation strategy should, in fact, incorporate a mixture of both inbound and outbound marketing. Outbound marketing is a way to put your content outwards toward your prospects in a highly targeted manner.One of the most common avenues for outbound marketing is email marketing. Email, just as cold calling was years ago, is a cornerstone for every marketing campaign. In fact, according to a 2014 study, 78% of respondents cited email as the most successful channel for generating leads. This was followed by another effective outbound marketing strategy: events. Events allow businesses to interact with both future prospects and current customers, thereby ensuring that potential customers will turn into strong leads. Webinars, accessible methods to generate leads regardless of geographic distance, are also included within this category.While inbound marketing can oftentimes attract those who are not yet ready to buy, outbound marketing can drive prospect-seekers through the funnel more quickly. A combination of both inbound and outbound marketing is critical in order to generate and convert the most qualified leads.

Successful Lead Generation Tactics for the Modern Consumer

These advances have meant overall increases in lead generation spending, with many companies now opting to invest more in their website optimization, SEO content, and social media presence. According to the results of MarketingSherpa’s 2012 Lead Generation Benchmark Survey, companies have greatly increased their spending on these three avenues by 29%, 27%, and 24%, respectively. This allows businesses to put themselves directly in front of the consumer (or rather, in front of the consumers’ fingertips.) Conversely, they have increased their spending on webinars, tradeshows, and print advertisements only by 9%, 4%, and 3%.In a recent B2B Lead Generation Marketing Trends survey, IDG reported that the three most effective B2B lead generation tactics were a company’s website, a conference/ tradeshow, and email marketing. These avenues were followed closely by Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and virtual events, such as webinars. Not surprisingly, the least effective lead generation tactics were outdated avenues such as direct mail and print advertising.

What Does A Lead Generation Company Do?

The question does arise: what is the purpose of hiring a lead generation company? How can a random company generate leads for me better than I can generate leads for myself? While it is true that your company is the expert for your specific products/ services, a lead generation company can be an expert in the first step of the sales process.Think of it this way: there are two sales in every sale. The first is selling the appointment, or “earning the right,” and the second sale is following up on that lead and making the sale of your product. Lead generation companies consider themselves experts in the first sale of getting qualified leads, while your company is the expert in the second category.In fact, the general process of lead generation does not differ much from business to business or industry to industry. Lead generation companies do tailor specific elements of their approach based on the company – such as seeking leads within a company’s target demographic. But, overall, there are proven lead generation methods that work for all businesses. Lead generation companies offer services in things ranging from scripting cold-call conversations, to sending emails, to prospecting, to setting sales appointments. Lead generation companies can be considered an extension of a company’s sales organization, and are oftentimes far less expensive than a company developing its own lead generation division.

Next Steps

Of course, generating leads is only the first step in a company’s sales funnel. After leads are generated, it is important for companies to invest in two essential, middle-of-the-funnel steps: lead nurturing and lead engagement. Just because a lead is interested does not necessarily mean the lead is ready to invest – yet. Engaging these leads with continuous relevant content and even personalized cards (taking a hint from 1-800-Mattress’ Napoleon Barragan) will make those potential leads all the more likely to eventually generate revenue for your company.