We’ve all been through it. You know: the moment you’re about to dig into the best darn pile of spaghetti and meatballs you’ve ever seen.
Just as you twist your fork in the pasta, spear a mouth-watering meatball, and go in for the first savory bite … the phone rings. “May I speak to Lindsay Kow-low-witch?” asks the telemarketer on the other end. “This is an important message regarding your oven preferences.”
This frustrating interruption is exactly why we’re here to discuss inbound lead generation. What is inbound lead generation? It’s a solution that can save your business or organization from being that annoying, disruptive cold caller who is ruining spaghetti nights for pasta lovers all over the world.
Let’s start with defining a lead, and then we’ll cover what online lead generation is, why you need lead generation, how you qualify someone as a lead, how to label lead types — such as sales qualified leads, how you generate leads, and why inbound lead generation is much more effective than simply buying leads.
- What Is a Lead?
- What Is Lead Generation?
- Lead Generation Process
- How to Qualify a Lead
- Lead Generation Strategies
What is a lead?
A lead is any person who indicates interest in a company’s product or service in some way, shape, or form.
Leads typically hear from a business or organization after opening communication (by submitting personal information for an offer, trial, or subscription) … instead of getting a random cold call from someone who purchased their contact information.
Let’s say you take an online survey to learn more about how to take care of your car. A day or so later, you receive an email from the auto company that created the survey about how they could help you take care of your car. This process would be far less intrusive than if they’d just called you out of the blue with no knowledge of whether you even care about car maintenance, right? This is what it’s like to be a lead.
And from a business perspective, the information the auto company collects about you from your survey responses helps them personalize that opening communication to address your existing problems — and not waste time calling leads who aren’t at all interested in auto services.
Leads are part of the broader lifecycle that consumers follow when they transition from visitor to customer. Not all leads are created equal (nor are they qualified the same). There are different types of leads based on how they are qualified and what lifecycle stage they’re in.
Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
Marketing qualified leads are contacts who’ve engaged with your marketing team’s efforts but aren’t ready to receive a sales call. An example of an MQL is a contact who fills out a landing page form for an offer (like in our lead generation process scenario below).
Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
Sales qualified leads are contacts who’ve taken actions that expressly indicate their interest in becoming a paying customer. An example of an SQL is a contact who fills out a form to ask a question about your product or service.
Product Qualified Lead (PQL)
Product qualified leads are contacts who’ve used your product and taken actions that indicate interest in becoming a paying customer. PQLs typically exist for companies who offer a product trial or a free or limited version of their product (like HubSpot!) with options to upgrade, which is where your sales team comes in. An example of a PQL is a customer who uses your free version but engages or asks about features that are only available upon payment.
Service Qualified Lead
Service qualified leads are contacts or customers who’ve indicated to your service team that they’re interested in becoming a paying customer. An example of an service qualified lead is a customer who tells their customer service representative that they’d like to upgrade their product subscription; at this time, the customer service representative would up-level this customer to the appropriate sales team or representative.
What is lead generation?
Lead generation is the process of attracting and converting strangers and prospects into someone who has indicated interest in your company’s product or service. Some examples of lead generators are job applications, blog posts, coupons, live events, and online content.
These lead generators are just a few examples of lead generation strategies you can use to attract potential customers and guide them towards your offers. (We talk about more strategies later.)
Whenever someone outside the marketing world asks me what I do, I can’t simply say, “I create content for lead generation.” It’d be totally lost on them, and I’d get some really confused looks.
So instead, I say, “I work on finding unique ways to attract people to my business. I want to provide them with enough goodies to get them naturally interested in my company so they eventually warm up to the brand enough to want to hear from us!”
That usually resonates better, and that’s exactly what lead generation is: It’s a way of warming up potential customers to your business and getting them on the path to eventually making a purchase.
Why do you need lead generation?
When a stranger initiates a relationship with you by showing an organic interest in your business, the transition from stranger to customer is much more natural.
Lead generation falls within the second stage of the inbound marketing methodology. It occurs after you’ve attracted an audience and are ready to convert those visitors into leads for your sales team (namely sales-qualified leads).
As you can see in the diagram below, generating leads is a fundamental point in an individual’s journey to becoming a delighted customer.
Lead Generation Process
Now that we understand how lead generation fits into the inbound marketing methodology, let’s walk through the steps of the lead generation process.
- First, a visitor discovers your business through one of your marketing channels, such as your website, blog, or social media page.
- That visitor then clicks on your call-to-action (CTA) — an image, button, or message that encourages website visitors to take some sort of action.
- That CTA takes your visitor to a landing page, which is a web page that is designed to capture lead information in exchange for an offer.
Note: An offer is the content or something of value that’s being “offered” on the landing page, like an ebook, a course, or a template. The offer must have enough perceived value to a visitor for them to provide their personal information in exchange for access to it.)
- Once on the landing page, your visitor fills out a form in exchange for the offer. (Forms are typically hosted on landing pages, although they can technically be embedded anywhere on your site.) Voila! You have a new lead. That is, as long as you’re following lead-capture form best practices.
Lead Generation Marketing
Once you put all of these elements together, you can use your various promotional channels to drive traffic to your landing page to start generating leads.
If you’re a visual learner, this chart shows the flow from promotional marketing channels to a generated lead.
There are even more channels you can use to get visitors to become leads. Let’s go into depth on these and talk about a few others.
Content is a great way to guide users to a landing page. Typically, you create content to provide visitors with useful, free information. You can include CTAs anywhere in your content — inline, bottom-of-post, in the hero, or even on the side panel. The more delighted a visitor is with your content, the more likely they are to click your call-to-action and move onto your landing page.
Email is a great place to reach the people who already know your brand and product or service. It’s much easier to ask them to take an action since they’ve previously subscribed to your list. Emails tend to be a bit cluttered, so use CTAs that have compelling copy and an eye-catching design to grab your subscriber’s attention.
Ads and Retargeting
The sole purpose of an ad is to get people to take an action. Otherwise, why spend the money? If you want people to convert, be sure that your landing page and offer match exactly what is promised in the ad, and that the action you want users to take is crystal clear.
The great thing about using your blog posts to promote an offer is that you can tailor the entire piece to the end goal. So, if your offer is an instructional video on setting up Google Search Console, then you can write a blog post about how to select your marketing metrics … which would make your CTA highly relevant and easy to click.