The top priority for marketers is generating leads. (HubSpot, 2020

49% of companies report that increasing customer acquisition is their primary objective. (Ascend2, 2020)

Getting more leads seems to be a permanent item in the wishlist of many business owners and marketers. After all, leads are the lifeline of every business.

I’m going to write a series of posts around the topic of online lead generation. The first one is the one you are reading: An introduction to lead generation, and some strategies that you can start implementing right away.

Without further ado…

What is lead generation?

If you have done some research on this topic, you know that there are different ways to define lead generation, and what a lead is. And that’s fine. There’s no right or wrong answer. After all, every business is different, with different goals and different strategies.

I like to define lead generation as the process of identifying potential customers, and gain their interest in your products/services in order to increase immediate or future sales. This process uses inbound and some outbound marketing methods.

Basically, you are getting leads into your sales funnel. Sales-ready leads can be handed over to the sales team. Leads that are not sales-ready, mostly from the top and middle of the funnel, are kept on a nurturing track. 

What constitutes a lead?

Again, every business has its own criteria. In general terms, a lead is a person who has provided some basic contact information which suggests he or she may be interested in your products/services.

This lead always has certain characteristics based on demographics, interests, behavior, prior purchases, and so on. These characteristics are not random. You select them because previous experience indicates that someone with those characteristics may be interested in buying your products. 

Your client base is a good place to start gaining knowledge about your customers. You will also need some tools for measuring and tracking what a person does before becoming a lead, such as Salesforce, Marketo, or Google Analytics, to name a few.

One of the first things you should do, if you have not done it already, is to define the characteristics your ideal lead must have. And, while you are at it, specify what a qualified lead is, from marketing and sales perspectives. Usually, these two perspectives don’t match because a lead is perceived very differently from the marketing and sales departments.

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?

From a marketing perspective, a lead is someone that can be trailed and nurtured to the point of getting them interested in buying the product. An MQL is a person that has actively shown interest in your product/service, or has intentionally engaged with your company at some point. Some common ways of actively showing interest:

  • Downloading a lead magnet you have created
  • Adding items to a shopping cart
  • Adding items to a wishlist
  • Repeated site visits
  • Filling out a form
  • Clicking an ad
  • Using a demo
  • Watching an explainer video
  • Listen to a podcast

Examine the buyer journey and historical customer behavior to identify MQLs. By observing buyer behaviors, analyzing demographic data, and buyer habits, you can learn to recognize which actions qualify a lead to speak to sales. Observe the path followed by someone who, after showing interest in your product (downloading a lead magnet, for example) has ended buying it.

Customer feedback is a great way to help you understand the reasons why people didn’t buy the product.

What is a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)?

From a sales perspective, a lead is someone ready to buy, seriously considering a purchase right now.

Marketing generates a lot of leads that sales may consider low-quality leads not worthy to follow-up. Ideally, marketing and sales should define together what constitutes a sales qualified lead. The best way to know when an MQL is ready to be handled by the sales team is by implementing a qualification system, using tools like lead scoring and lead tracking.

A lead scoring is a system to objectively rank and prioritize leads. It consists of assigning points to contacts based on the actions the lead has taken. It allows you to assign a value to every action the lead takes that you consider a high-interest action. Once a lead reaches a desired threshold, it’s then passed to sales. With this system, marketing and sales can easily define when a lead is sales-ready. It also prioritizes leads so sales can call the hottest leads first. 

Lead generation methods

There are many ways to capture leads online: content marketing and blogging, PPC campaigns, landing pages with forms, social media… In most cases, you will need some kind of lead magnet to attract leads. A lead magnet is something of value that you give for free in exchange for some contact information.

In order to work, this lead magnet should solve a real problem your ideal customer has, offering a specific solution.

Types of lead magnets you can create: ebooks, whitepapers, reports, quizzes, assessments, video, mini-course, demos, free trials, newsletters, checklists, discounts, etc

The type of lead magnet you create will depend on several factors: your industry, your target audience, the stage of the funnel they are in (TOFU, MOFU, BOFU). For example, for someone that is at the bottom of the funnel, ready to buy, a free trial, free demo, free shipping, or a discount can be great lead magnets. For someone at the top of the funnel, you will need to create a lead magnet that gives them more information about your product/service. Use an ebook, whitepaper, mini-course, video series to educate them and guide them toward the sale.

example of lead magnet
An example of lead magnet. In exchange for your email address, they give you a sample proposal

Lead generation involves different inbound and outbound methods, some are paid and some are organic. You can define a strategy that involves different methods, both paid and organic depending on your resources. 

The rest of this article will dive into some of these methods. We start with some paid methods (Facebook Lead Ads, LinkedIn Lead Ads), followed by some organic strategies (LinkedIn Organic Lead Gen, Generate Leads with Your Website and Blog, Guest Blogging, Content Syndication)

Lead generation paid methods

Facebook Lead Ads

Works for B2C, and B2B. Traditionally, Facebook has been a platform mostly used by B2C businesses. However, Facebook Ads can work really well for B2B.

A Facebook Lead Ad is a type of ad designed to specifically capture leads for your business. The ad contains two integrated elements: the ad and the lead form. 

These ads are optimized for mobile, why is this important? According to Statista, over 98% of users access Facebook via mobile (April 2020). It is really easy to fill a form on the go. The form is pre-populated with any information the user has provided on the Facebook platform. With a couple of taps, the user can fill the form without leaving Facebook to visit your landing page. This removes conversion friction significantly. 

You can customize the forms to request specific information and use them for multiple purposes – event registration, request a quote, subscribe to your newsletter, call sales.

It’s possible to sync your lead form ads to your CRM to start the follow-up immediately. Here you can find a list of available Customer System/CRM Integrations for Lead Ads.

If your CRM is not supported by Facebook, you can download a .csv file from Facebook and upload it to your CRM. Another option is to use a bridging app like LeadsBridge that allows you to sync the data.

Use Facebook Lead Ads at any point in your sales funnel. At the top of the funnel, to create brand awareness and reach, and at the bottom for customer acquisition.

Before starting a Facebook Lead Ad campaign you need to:

  1. Have a clear goal for your lead ad campaign. What is the purpose of your campaign? Do you want to grow your email list, learn more about your audience, offer access to your products/services?
  1. Think about how you plan to manage the data you collect. Does your CRM integrate with Facebook Lead Ads? Do you have to download a .csv file and then upload it to your CRM? How are you going to automate the follow-up?
An example of Facebook Lead Ad

There are some things you will need to prepare before creating the ad:

  • The URL for your company’s privacy policy. If you don’t have one, you need to write one for this.
  • Videos and images for your ads
  • The text you are going to use
  • Custom questions you want to ask
  • A clear idea of your target audience
Some little things worth knowing

As with any other lead strategy, you need to give something in exchange for the contact information. It must be something specific to your business and solve one real problem the user has. Using the right lead magnet increases the quality of the lead.

You can add an introduction section to your instant form. You can use it to give a quick summary of your product/service and what to expect when they submit the form. It’s optional but you should take advantage of it.

You can add custom open-ended questions to help you qualify your leads. Examples of questions: “Which products or brands are you most interested in?”, “How do you prefer to be contacted by a team member?”, “Do you plan to be a full-time or part-time student?”

Some of the CTA you can use:  Apply Now, Download, Get Quote, Learn More, Sign Up, Subscribe.

Ask only for need-to-know information. It may be really easy to fill out the form, but requesting too much information tends to not end very well. Also, the value of your offer dictates how much information you should ask for.

Even though Facebook provides some pre-filled questions, take the time to customize them according to your business and your goals. You can add up to 15 custom questions. You have the following options:

  • Short Answer: You can ask a question that allows people to give you an open answer in one line.
  • Multiple Choice: You give people different options to choose from. You will need to type the question and the possible answers or leave the field blank for open-ended questions.
  • Conditional, under Multiple Choice: You can create a set of questions with conditional answers that change based on how someone answered a previous question.
  • Store Locator: This allows people to search for a nearby store or location.
  • Appointment Scheduling: People can make an appointment by requesting a date and time or schedule a store visit.

Target the right people by uploading a customer database of people who have already bought from you, and create a 1-2% lookalike of this database. Or, target people who have engaged with your brand by using Facebook’s engagement targeting options to reach them.

When creating the form, you can customize it depending on the goal of your lead generation campaign.  You can choose between ‘More Volume‘ or ‘Higher Intent‘. ‘More Volume’ generates more leads. However, ‘Higher Intent’ will give people a chance to confirm their information, increasing the accuracy of the data you collect, and the quality of the lead.

Customize the Thank You page to encourage further engagement with your company. Some things you can do: make them visit your website, download an offer, or call you for more information.

Facebook Lead Ads can also run on Instagram but with some differences. If you want to do this, use Automatic Placements when creating your lead ads. As for the differences, currently Instagram only supports the following fields: Email, Full Name, Phone Number, and Gender.

Also, Lead Ads look somewhat different on Instagram than on Facebook. On Instagram, to complete the form people need to open your ad and click through a series of pages to complete it. Lead Ads are only available on the Instagram app. 

LinkedIn Lead Ads

One advantage of using LinkedIn is that you have access to a lot of professional data. LinkedIn’s user base is much smaller than Facebook, under half a billion, but the professional-based targeting information makes it perfect for B2B marketers.

With LinkedIn Lead Generation campaign you can attach a Lead Gen Form to your Sponsored Content or Sponsored InMail ad. It’s designed to be mobile-friendly. The form is customizable and pre-filled with a prospect’s LinkedIn profile data. When the prospect clicks or taps on the ad, their profile data automatically populates the form.

You can track ROI of your LinkedIn campaigns with Cost-Per-Lead, form fill rates, and conversion rate reporting.

Before starting a LinkedIn Lead Ad campaign you need to:

  • Optimize your LinkedIn page. Make sure you have your logo, description, and website URL.
  • Have a clear goal for your lead ad campaign. What information do you want to gather? What action do you want your prospects to take after seeing your ad? Identify what a lead is to your business.
  • Establish your target audience. Who do you want to reach out to in your campaign?
  • A link to your company’s privacy policy, and a privacy policy text stating what you intend to do with the information you are asking for.
  • An offer. The value of your offer is important.
  • How are you going to evaluate the success of your campaign?
  • Image or video
  • A landing page. You can provide a link on the thank you page. Do you want to send the prospect to your website? Is this a campaign that needs its own landing page?

In order to use Lead Gen Forms, select as objective Lead Generation when you create a campaign. There are three parts to creating a Lead Gen Form:

  1. Describe the offering. It’s important to write a compelling headline (60 characters) and the details of the offer (160 characters).
  1. Select the fields you want to add to the form. You can choose to include fields from the following categories: Contact, Work, Company, Education, Demographic. You can select a maximum of 7 fields, and enter up to three custom questions. These custom questions are required fields that the prospects need to answer to submit the form. The answer can be a multiple choice. Example of question: ” What service will you be more interested in?”
  1. Create a “Thank You” page. This is the page that people will see after opting in. Write a thank you message, and include the URL to the landing page you want to send the subscriber.

You can export the leads manually, or integrate your CRM. At the moment, possible integrations with LinkedIn are Convertr, Driftrock, HubSpot, Integrate, Leadsbridge, Marketo, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Oracle Eloqua, Zapier, Salesforce.

Some little things worth knowing

The description of your offer is important. Be clear about the value you are providing. It should answer one crucial question:  “Why should I share my personal information with you?”

You can use a question to hook your audience and use the form to provide the answer.

Use relevant images. Use an image of the product or service you are advertising.

If you are using video, explainer videos of 1 minute or less tend to work well.

Ask only need-to-know information. According to LinkedIn, Forms see the highest completion rates when they use 5 or fewer questions.

If you use a custom question to collect specific data you need to qualify a lead, multiple-choice is the best option since people are more likely to choose from a dropdown than to write in an answer.

Use the Thank You page (the confirmation page) to provide clear information about the next steps. The link you provide here is to give access to the offer you have promised them.

Refresh your Lead Gen Form creative at least once every two months.

An example of LinkedIn Lead Ads. The Ad and the instant lead form

Lead generation organic methods

LinkedIn Organic Lead Gen

We have seen how to use LinkedIn Lead ads to capture leads. However, there are some other ways to use LinkedIn for lead generation:

  1. Optimize profile and company page
  2. Publish content
  3. Find prospects: Search, initiate contact and build a relationship.
  4. Join LinkedIn groups

As always, first, determine a goal for your LinkedIn strategy. Knowing your goal, it will be easier to identify who the decision-maker is and find them on LinkedIn. If you don’t know this, you’ll be wasting your time going after unqualified leads.

1. Optimize Profile and Company Page

It’s important to optimize your LinkedIn profile. Someone who doesn’t know you will want to ascertain whether or not you are legitimate. Your profile can help you gain trust in your company, your products/services, and in you.

How to optimize your LinkedIn profile? By optimizing I mean making your profile easy to find by your potential clients. Choose the right keywords, the ones that best describe what you do. The more specific you are, the better.

Use these keywords in the headline, summary, and experience sections.

  • The headline is the text below your name. Tell who you are and what you do.
  • The summary is the section you can use as your elevator pitch to tell your work story. It’s the place to mention any awards you have, publications that have published your articles, industries in which you have expertise. Write a summary that appeals to your target audience and addresses their primary struggle. Mention that pain point they have that you can solve. It’s also the place to communicate your value proposition.
  • In the experience section, don’t just list where you have worked. Use this section to highlight the things you have taken away from every company you have worked at, and the results you got them. In a way, it shows your target audience what you can do for them.

Add a headshot that reflects your industry, and make good use of the background photo. Here you can add a tagline that explains what you do and who you help. You can also add your website and social media handles, and include a call to action – contact me, go to this page, call this phone number.

Another thing you should optimize is your company page. Use a cover photo that gets attention and generates interest, and write a compelling pitch in the company description. The first two lines are the most important because they are the ones that LinkedIn shows before the “see more”. In those two lines try to identify your target audience, your value proposition, and the services/products you provide. How do you generate leads from your profile and your company page?

2. Publish Content

Well, the moment you optimize both assets, you are identifying and calling your target audience. You are telling them what you do and how you can help them. You are addressing their main struggle and offering a solution. Every element in those profiles is there for a reason. If you have done a good job, the prospect will take action. To capture that lead, you probably want them to click on a link and visit a landing page where you will have a form to capture their contact information. But, even if they don’t click the link, you still have new opportunities to capture that lead. Post updates regularly: blog updates, news about your industry, repurpose content you have shared on other social platforms. Whatever the update, you can provide a link to a landing page where you can capture the lead.

Try to publish articles that answer some of the questions your ideal prospect has. Show with your content that you are an expert on your industry.

Now that you have ensured your profile and company page are optimized and ready for your target audience, don’t just sit and wait for them. You have taken the right steps to make sure they’ll find you. This doesn’t mean that you can’t go and get them. How do you find prospects within LinkedIn? 

3. Find prospects: Search, initiate contact, and build a relationship.

LinkedIn has some options to help you find prospects. You can search the LinkedIn network as a whole. However, the best leads usually come from people to whom you are connected at a first, second, or third level.

Use the Advanced Search to identify the exact type of people you are targeting with the following fields: location, current company, industry, past company, school, profile language, nonprofit interests.

After conducting a focused search on LinkedIn and finding your ideal client, create a list of leads you will like to engage with. The next step is to initiate contact by sending them a personal message. After that it’s time to build a relationship. Engage with their content and keep communicating with them.

4. Join LinkedIn groups

Another great option is to join groups. Make a group search using keywords related to your ideal prospect. For lead generation, target groups with a decent number of people, and active members. It does not make sense to target groups with only a few members, or groups with inactive members, or that don’t tolerate promotional content.

Further Reading: SEO guide to optimizing your LinkedIn profile for more connections, better leads

Generate Leads with Your Website and Blog

To generate leads with your content, identify what content your audience really wants. What questions is your ideal prospect asking? What are the things they want to know about your product/service? What information do they need in order to move them through your sales funnel, from the top to the bottom? The top and middle of the funnel are the best stages to capture leads and nurture them.

To find all this information, start with the search engines. When people have a problem and need to find a solution, they tend to look for answers by doing a search on the Internet. You can start your market research there. Do keyword research to determine what words and phrases people use to search for a solution, information about your products or your company, pricing, alternatives, objections they might have, and so on.

With a list of keywords you will have a good idea of the type of content you can create to generate leads. Determine the search intent behind that keyword, and by this I mean to find out:

  • What are people looking for when they search for that keyword?
  • What goal do they have in mind?
  • What kind of search result would satisfy them?

According to Google’s quality rater guidelines, there are four major user intents:

  • Know query. This is the informational query: The user is looking for a specific piece of information.
  • Do query. This is a transactional query: The user is looking for something to buy or sign-up for.
  • Website query. This is a navigational query: The user is looking for a particular destination on the internet.
  • Visit-in-person query. This is a local query: The user is looking for something in their local area.

You can find this information on your Google Analytics. Check Acquisition > Search Console > Queries. There, you can see the type of queries that are bringing traffic to your site.

Google Analytics is also a good source to get information about the topics you should create content about. Look for the content that drives more traffic to your blog or website, the pages with more views and lower bounce rate, and the content with more engagement (shares, comments, likes).

A good place to start is the All Pages section in Google Analytics. Go to Behavior> Site Content > All Pages

Here you can see things like the average time spent on page, the bounce rate, or the titles that get the most clicks.

Use your Google Analytics to write content that generates leads. Go to Behavior> Site Content > All Pages to see your most popular content

Use the  Behavior Flow Report to see how your readers are engaging with your posts. This report allows you to see what your visitors do after reading a post, do they leave the site, go to another post, visit your contact page?

Data-driven content is crucial if you want to generate qualified leads. Find content topics that are popular among your audience. Don’t stop with your website. Take a look at the type of content that’s trending in your niche. Visit the social platforms where your target audience is and analyze the type of content that people engage more with. Also, look at what your competitors are doing. What type of content are they publishing? What formats seem to work best? It’s not about copying what they are doing. It’s about doing something better or completely different.

Now that you have a clear idea of the type of content your audience wants, it should be easy to create the right piece of content to capture qualified leads. One common and effective way to do that is by creating a lead magnet. A lead magnet is a free item (it can be some type of content) or service that you give in exchange for the prospect’s contact information, usually name and email address. 

Use your blog to capture leads. Every post you write is an opportunity to convert your readers to leads. One way to obtain quality leads is by upgrading your content with targeted opt-in forms. You give a post-specific resource that can be downloaded after filling an opt-in form. This bonus is the “content upgrade“. It can be a video, a podcast, membership access, license for software, discount code, a template, or any other thing that fits your business. These leads usually are quality leads because they are already interested in what you are offering.

You can repeat this on every blog post you write. Create a lead magnet specific for that post and use an opt-in to capture the reader’s contact information.

An example of “content upgrade”. The Free Bonus Section has a link to a form

Guest Blogging

Another way to capture leads with your content is guest blogging. You write an article that will be published in another blog. Look for blogs your audience reads, and content that is related to your niche.

Every blog has its own guidelines for guest blogging. Find the ones that let you include a link in your bio. Then, send people clicking to this link to a landing page so you can convert this guest post traffic into leads and sales. In this landing page, you’ll need to have a lead magnet and a form the visitor must fill in order to get it.

Create a lead magnet related to the topic of your guest post. It is also a good idea to create a page specifically for people that read your guest post.

Further Reading: Guest Blogging for SEO: How to Build High-quality Links at Scale

Content Syndication

And the last one we’ll see here is content syndication. Content syndication consists of republishing your content on other sites to reach a broader audience. It can be free or paid. The purpose of this is to get your content in front of a different audience, one that didn’t know you existed. It can also build links and drive traffic to the original article. Usually, you want to look for sites that are bigger than yours, or similar, or even smaller than yours with like-minded audiences that may be interested in your content.

It’s different from guest blogging because with guest blogging you create a completely new piece of content. When you do content syndication, you don’t create new content, you republish content you already have.

When your article is syndicated on another site, there is usually a link back to your site or to the original article, where you can capture the lead. You will need to have a form in place.

Some sites where you can do content syndication for free: Medium, Quora, LinkedIn, SlideShare, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Business2Community.

Further Reading: Is Content Syndication an Effective Marketing Strategy?

If you have read the whole article… thank you for your time! This was a long one. I hope it was also useful. This is just the beginning of the series, we still need to see more methods to capture leads, tools that facilitate the whole process, how to build a lead scoring system, and what to do with all the leads you are going to capture. See you soon!