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.

How 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 online and inbound lead generation, outbound sales prospecting, or a blend of both through B2B methods. The method you use to generate leads and fill your lead funnel depends on your unique situation and business. Below, we give you the intel to make that decision.

Online Lead Generation

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. Businesses do this by building a lead magnet — a gated resource (e.g., ebook, guide, checklist) that a person can access only if they submit their contact information via a lead capture software (often a popup or web form) — and drive web traffic to it.

Here’s the six-step online lead generation process:

  1. Create Your Buyer Persona: Define the leads you’re targeting by outlining your buyer persona: a description of the person most likely to buy your solution based on demographics and psychographics.
  2. Map Your Lead Generation Funnel: Define what you will do with leads once they give you their contact information. This will dictate your lead magnet and capture method.
  3. Create Free Content: Build trust with your target audience by creating and sharing free content like articles, guides, and videos that help them solve their problems.
  4. Create a Lead Magnet: A lead magnet is a gated piece of free, high-value content that people can access if they submit their contact information. This could be a checklist, an ebook, or a similar resource.
  5. Choose the Right Lead Capture Method: Decide where you’ll offer your magnet and collect contact information. Offer it directly on your website or on social media via lead ads.
  6. Drive Traffic to Your Lead Magnet: Attract target buyers to your lead magnet through free methods like organic SEO and organic social media, or through paid methods like running PPC ads or social ads.

Online lead generation allows you to generate leads without speaking to anyone directly. Also, since you will likely be posting valuable content on your social media account and website, your brand awareness and audience will grow. These benefits make it a critical aspect of any business’s marketing agenda.

Sales Prospecting

Sales prospecting (or outbound lead gen) is the process of generating sales leads through various direct outreach methods such as cold calling or cold emailing. Through manual research, a good searchable database like ZoomInfo, or an email finder like Hunter.io, businesses create lists of good-fit individuals or companies and their contact information. Salespeople then reach out to these contacts to get them interested and ask for a follow-up meeting.

Popular outbound methods for connecting with these potential leads include:

  • Cold Calling: Compile a list of people who are a good fit for your solution. Get their phone numbers. Then call and tell them about the pain points you solve. Be sure to personalize the outreach if possible.
  • Cold Emailing: Compile a list of potential leads and their email addresses. Research them, and then send personalized emails telling them about the problems you solve.
  • Social Selling: Interact with ideal leads on social platforms. Write and share content. Make posts into groups to which they belong. And even direct message them.
  • Business Networking: Attend conferences, trade shows, and other events where your leads might go to learn more about the industry and improve their business.
  • Getting Referrals: Ask current or past clients, or even past prospects, for introductions to other businesses or people who might need your help.
    Cold Canvassing: Go door to door starting conversations and pitching your solution.

After the lead expresses interest in the product or service, the salesperson will typically set up a discovery call to assess things like budget, timeline, and decision-making power. The most attractive feature of outbound lead generation is that your destiny is in your hands. You can knock on doors, make calls, and take names until you have hit your revenue target. No waiting around for leads to find you. Your success is limited only by your skill and time invested.

B2B Lead Generation

B2B companies are businesses that sell to other businesses. Therefore, B2B lead generation is the process of attracting individuals from other businesses to your business. This can be done through both the inbound and outbound strategies discussed above. For example, a marketing software company might run ads targeted to VPs of marketing. A facility management company might cold call warehouses.

Although you are still selling to people, the main difference between the B2C and B2B lead generation process is that in B2B, what matters most is the individual’s company. The lead generation material is meant to show these professionals how your solution can benefit their business by reducing costs or boosting revenue. The company’s attributes (monthly revenue, size, industry, etc.) also indicate whether the lead is a good fit for the product or service.

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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