Lead Generation


Check out our guide on lead generation, which gives you an entire overview of the topic. At the bottom, you'll also find a complete list of our lead generation articles.

Lead generation is a large topic that spans the systematic process of attracting new leads to your business, qualifying them, and converting them into sales opportunities. To help maximize your lead generation efforts, this article provides a high-level overview of the entire lead generation concept, helping direct you to in-depth articles on the major components of lead generation. Use this article as your ultimate guide to lead generation mastery.

Rather than taking the full reader journey through the entire topic, you can jump to our complete list of niche-specific articles for any lead generation situation: See them below. Otherwise, continue reading for an A-Z overview, beginning with the overall lead generation process:
lead generation ultimate guide

Lead Generation Process

The goal of a business’s lead generation process is to generate leads and convert them into qualified prospects, otherwise known as sales opportunities. To do so, effective salespeople follow a standard lead generation process and then tailor it to their inbound or outbound needs. The broad lead generation to follow includes:

  • Define Your Ideal Customer: Create an ideal customer profile and buyer persona so you can identify the right leads to go after.
  • Attract Leads to Your Business: With your ideal leads defined, attract them to your business or brand through inbound or outbound lead generation.
  • Engage Leads to Assess Fit: Engage leads who express interest in your value proposition to assess overall fit.
  • Qualify Leads for Nurturing: Qualify leads as prospects using a framework that assesses budget, authority, needs, and overall timeline.

Of course, this is only a high-level overview, and the particular lead generation process you implement will be dependent on your situation. For example, inbound lead generators might create a lead generation funnel to supplement their process, while outbound lead generators might not. Still, it’s important to nail down your lead generation operations first so you can build your tactics and strategies around the overall process.

We go into detail on these below, but for more information on setting up your initial lead generation process, read our article here:

Additional Reading:

For more detail on creating your lead generation operations, read our detailed article on the lead generation process, where we discuss a standard lead generation process as well as how to tailor it to online lead generation or in-person sales prospecting.

Top Ways to Generate Leads

As we pointed out above, once you create your lead generation process, your first action is to generate initial leads for your business. You can do this through inbound or outbound lead generation such as online lead generation, outbound sales prospecting, local lead generation, or a blend of B2B or B2C methods. The best option for you depends on your unique situation and business. Below, we give you the info to make that decision:

  • Outbound Sales Prospecting: The process of generating sales leads through various direct outreach methods such as cold calling or cold emailing. Best for B2B salespeople or B2C sellers offering bigger-ticket items that require a lot of nurturing.
  • Online Lead Generation: Refers to the inbound method of online advertising and marketing that attracts leads to your website or business, collects their contact information, and ultimately converts them into prospects. Best for companies with both marketing and sales departments.
  • Local Lead Generation: Includes the inbound and outbound strategies necessary to attract regional leads to your physical location or your local service offering. This can include anything from generating online reviews, creating local ads, or being active in your community.
  • B2B Lead Generation: The process of attracting individuals from other businesses to your business. This can be done through the inbound, outbound, or local strategies discussed above, and can even take a blended approach that leverages more than one.

Any of the above lead generation options might be right for you. To choose the best method, check out our detailed article that breaks down each of these approaches. From there, you'll be directed to additional articles breaking down the one you choose:

Additional Reading:

To learn more about each of these lead generation methods, including which one is right for you, check out our complete guide on the how to generate leads. In it, we discuss the best ways to generate leads using the methods above, including how to blend them together for the best results.

How to Qualify Leads for Sales Opportunities

Now that you’ve created a process and started generating leads, it’s time to qualify them. Lead qualification is the process of assessing a lead’s likelihood to buy your product or service before admitting them into the sales pipeline for further nurturing. It separates the bad leads from the good, thereby allocating marketing and selling resources to only high-potential contacts. When a lead is highly qualified — has passed all your stages of qualification, the seller marks them as a prospect and opens a sales opportunity.

During the qualification process, the business is evaluating the lead on two main criteria: interest and fitness level. Fitness is how well the lead fits your ICP. B2B businesses will also measure a lead’s decision-making status.

There are three qualification stages a lead must pass through to become a prospect:

  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): Marketing has ruled this lead qualified enough to pass to the sales team. These leads usually come from lead magnet downloads or ads, and they are evaluated on their interest level and fitness.
  • Sales Accepted Lead (SAL): The sales team has further vetted and accepted this lead. Usually, they have been scored and reached a certain scoring threshold.
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): This lead is willing and able to buy the solution and therefore has a high chance of purchasing. At this point — and even more so if they pass this stage’s tests (often a discovery call) — they are eligible to enter into a sales pipeline as a prospect.

Businesses typically qualify leads by scoring them with a lead scoring model and/or by speaking with them directly over a discovery call. Typically, an organization with a marketing person or team will use lead scoring to initially qualify a lead before handing them off to a salesperson for direct contact and further qualification. However, it’s possible to use a blend of these methods.

Additional Reading:

To learn how to qualify leads like a pro, read our in-depth article on lead qualification, where we cover the three stages of the lead qualification process, as well as detail on lead scoring and discovery calls.

5 Best Lead Generation Software Types

As you continue to generate and qualify leads, leverage lead generation software to improve your results. These online tools help you generate leads, gather their data, nurture them, and convert them. Regardless of your business type and specific goals, there are countless lead generation software types out there that can help you with each area of the lead generation process.

Here are five of the most valuable types of lead generation software.

  • Email Verification Software: Email verification tools are a type of lead generation software that helps you verify that the email address you have for a lead is correct. Quality email verifiers assess an address’s domain, formatting, and email server.
  • Prospecting Tools: Prospecting tools assist salespeople in finding lead contact information and other data that help them nurture the lead. Quality prospecting tools have searchable, filterable databases to find leads that fit your ICP.
  • Landing Page Builder Software: Landing page builder software helps you create and implement single web pages that capture lead information or facilitate purchases. Businesses often keep their lead magnets on these pages and drive traffic to them.
  • Lead Capture Software: Lead capture software is an umbrella term for lead generation tools, utilities, and apps that enable you to capture information from your leads, such as email address, name, phone number, and anything else that helps you make the sale.
  • Lead Management Software: This software helps businesses generate, track, score, and nurture leads to improve the lead generation process and increase conversions.

Software not only helps you automate parts of your lead generation process, but it also enables you to study it. For instance, most lead capture software will allow you to track your conversion rate. Lead management software like a CRM helps you spot where in your funnel your leads tend to fall out. These insights help you iterate on your lead generation process until it is optimized.

Additional Reading:

If lead generation software sounds like something you want to research more in-depth, read our article on the top lead generation software. There, we discuss each of the main types, including core features and top providers.

Top Lead Generation Strategies

There are hundreds of unique ways marketers and salespeople attract leads to their businesses, including practicing local SEO, hosting webinars, or attending industry events or trade shows. For the sake of simplicity, let’s go over four of the most effective lead generation strategies that you can get started on this week: build a brand on social media, create and share free educational content, run Facebook lead ads, and make personalized cold calls.

Build a Brand on Social Media

Social media is an effective medium for generating leads. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and others all offer up a place for you to find and engage with potential leads. Write and share content that shows up on their feeds, and direct message people who seem like a good fit for your solution. Consistent social media activity builds your network and trust with your followers, increasing your pool of potential leads.

Create & Share Free Educational Content

Creating educational content in the form of videos, blog posts, articles, courses, or industry reports and sharing it on social media or your blog is a great way to generate traffic to your website and build your brand’s reputation as a value provider. Use this content to engage your social media audience or drive google traffic to your website. Or even attach it to cold emails you send out. Remember, people want to buy from experts in their space.

Run Social Media Lead Ads

Facebook and LinkedIn offer on-platform advertisements with an embedded form to capture lead information, meaning the lead doesn’t have to leave the platform to give you their contact information. In the ad, you offer users something free they find valuable, like an ebook download. The user clicks on the ad and the form pops up asking them to fill in fields that you have chosen, from email address to company name. To learn more, check out our guides on creating Facebook lead ads and LinkedIn lead gen forms.

Make Personalized Cold Calls

Cold calling is an age-old method that still works, as long as you do it correctly. After forming a list, the first part of cold calling is researching the recipients. Search through their social media profiles and websites to learn about their traits, responsibilities, interests, and possible needs. This will help you personalize the call, which increases the chances they will engage in the conversation. For more on this outbound approach, read our ultimate guide on cold calling.

Additional Reading:

For unique lead generation strategies that you can add to your repertoire, read our article outlining the top lead generation strategies. We walk you through the basics of each strategy, from hosting webinars to SEO content marketing, so that you can choose which is best for your business.

Where to Buy Business Leads Directly

Some businesses might prefer to buy business leads directly, either by paying a lead generation company to generate leads for them or by buying a subscription to a searchable lead database. Both options will take some of the lead generation load off of your back, freeing up time to focus on your core business activities.

Pay a Lead Generation Company

Lead generation companies are businesses that help other businesses find and attract leads. Common examples include a marketing agency or a telemarketing service. The highest quality lead generation companies typically create and implement a strategy customized to your business and target audience. For these services, you typically pay an agency fee plus an ad spend budget. To learn more, read our article on the best lead generation companies.

Pay for a Searchable Lead Database

Searchable lead databases (also known as prospecting tools) like ZoomInfo are software solutions that house lead data like names, contact information, and associated company information you can access for a subscription fee. These software solutions help outbound salespeople and marketers create lists of leads that fit their ICP. Each solution differs in its offerings, so we’ve compiled a list of the best sales prospecting tools out there.

Additional Reading:

To learn more about buying leads, read our article on the best places to buy business leads. There, you'll find an aggregate list of the best lead generation companies and sales prospecting tools, including who each is right for.

Bottom Line: Lead Generation

Lead generation is the first stage of your sales process and paramount to a successful business and sales career. In general, people want to buy from businesses they trust and see as experts. Therefore, your lead generation strategies should satisfy these desires. Engage with your ideal leads consistently, providing them with value during each interaction.

Once you generate your leads, the next step is to nurture them to deal-close. For next steps, check out our overview of lead nurturing.

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