Marketing

Dissecting Lead Generation: What It Is, Origins, and How to Make It Work

Lead Generation
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Try this if you’re bored one day. Google “lead generation.” What will pop up is more than a billion hits consisting of paid advertising (“Leads for Sale!” reads one), examples, and how to make it work for you.

But when it comes to lead generation — or lead gen — definitions can be all over the place. For instance, one article might define successful lead generation as developing audience interest in a product or service through nurturing.

Another blog points out that lead generation involves reaching potential customers when they are just starting out on their product sales journey.

And still another indicates that the process focuses on collecting information to build a list of potential clients.

These definitions are not too far off. But to understand the concept of lead generation, it’s important to understand what, exactly, is a lead.

what is a lead?

So… what is a lead?

Quite simply, a lead is an individual who expresses an interest in your product or service. And yes, lead generation can be the act of qualifying potential customers, and adding them to a sales pipeline.

But this is where it gets a little tricky. Some companies believe that website visitors are leads. The result is a retargeted ad that “follows” the individual around as they make their rounds on social media and other internet sites. The hope here is that the individual will click on the ad when they see it. But according to a recent study, some think these ads are disturbing and invasive.

So to reduce the creepiness factor, a qualified lead is defined as someone who willingly gives you their contact information, such as an email address. A successful lead generation process encourages a potential customer to share their contact information with you. That willingness to share means this individual is interested in your product or service. Also, with that information, you can nurture said prospect along the marketing funnel, eventually convincing him or her to act.

A brief lead generation history

If you’re bored again, google “history of lead generation.” The results here are meager, numbering in the single digits. And they differ in historical perspectives.

But these articles have some similarities:

  • Back in the day (read: the early to mid-20th century), lead generation resulted from direct sales. Specifically, door-to-door prospecting.
  • Fast-forwarding to the mid-to-late 20th century, the Fuller Brush Man lead gen method was replaced by call center sales. While those calls were as annoying as today’s robocalls, they did generate leads.
  • At the same time, television got into the act with late-night infomercials. As insomniacs ordered their Snuggies and ShamWows, marketers received caller information, using that data to continue targeting buyers with more offers.

The above involved “push” lead generation, in that products, services and phone calls were “pushed” onto a captive (and sometimes annoyed) audience. But the advent of the internet, social media and email changed this, making the relationship between customer and company a two-way street. These days, it’s the prospect, not the seller, who has the buying power.

Incorporating lead generation best practices

Incorporating lead generation best practices

With the above in mind, one best practice is to not annoy potential customers by being overly insistent. Here are other thoughts:

Identify your target audience

This is a basic “best practice” of successful lead generation but can sometimes be overlooked. By “identifying,” we mean understanding the audience’s pain points, and what will motivate them to act (by purchasing from you). This identification is a process, which is best achieved with the help of customer relationship management software and a solidly crafted marketing funnel.

Define your lead

It was mentioned, above, that the casual visitor to your website is likely not a lead. But a qualified lead could be someone who:

  • Fills out a form
  • Requests a callback
  • Downloads an ebook or other information

In other words, the lead is willing to trade their contact information for something you provide. Which leads us to the next best practice…

Make an offer they can’t refuse

Be sure you provide something of value in exchange for contact information. For instance, law firms are generating higher quality leads through use of interactive quizzes, rather than contact forms. These can be more enjoyable for a visitor to fill out, and it provides attorneys with information.

Other things to trade for prospect information include informative ebooks or brochures, a no-obligation consultation or email subscriptions to newsletters or digests.

Create outstanding content

Specifically, you want to create compelling, readable, interesting content that is of interest to your audience (which is why identifying your target audience is so important). The content does a couple of things. It demonstrates you have answers to your prospects’ problems. And it helps increase your prospects’ comfort level with what you’re selling.

Go beyond the sale

Once you’ve gotten your prospect to act, continue massaging that lead by encouraging feedback and offering additional content. It’s much easier to sell to an established customer than to go back to the beginning. And, if that customer is happy with you, they’ll tell their friends, relatives and others. Word-of-mouth is a number-one marketing tool.

Stimulate the interest

Stimulate the interest

A key to successful lead generation is not necessarily about that final sale, though that’s one goal. Rather, it’s about getting a prospect to trust you enough to hand over their information. In doing so, the potential customer is signaling a willingness to build a relationship with you, and to learn more about how what you’re selling can be of benefit to that individual.

Because of this, lead generation is less about aggressive marketing and more about respect.

Many definitions exist for lead generation. However, successful lead gen means a prospect will willingly provide contact information, and allow themselves to be guided along the marketing funnel until they are ready to buy. Learn more. #marketing Click To Tweet

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About the author

Amy Sorter

Amy Sorter is an award-winning journalist, copywriter, and principal of The WordSorters. Her work has been published in regional and national business and consumer publications. Amy's focus is on creating customized, highly engageable content in a variety of formats for non-profit organizations, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies.