What Is Lead Generation? A Fire Guide on How to Generate Leads

Amy Nichol Smith

The adage “if you build it, they will come” is assuringly optimistic, but likely to never apply in business. Even if you have an amazing product or service, you still have to work to find people who need what you’re selling. You have to earn those leads.

You’re likely going to need multiple strategies to generate leads for your business. The good news is, there are many ideas, tools, and services to help with lead generation. And there’s a lot that goes into good lead generation, including identifying types of leads, scoring, and distribution. 

What is Lead Generation?

Lead generation is the act of converting a prospect to a lead through education and a nurturing process. In simpler terms: It’s how marketing teams attract new people to their business and educate them about a product or service. Then marketing efforts convince or encourage a lead to engage with the business. 

When the sales team takes over, the leads should be ready to purchase. Once a lead becomes a customer, customer success and/or account management teams take over to work on retention and generally care for the customers’ needs. 

What’s a prospect vs lead vs customer?

Sometimes we use terms like lead and prospect interchangeably, so keep in mind your teams may define these differently. The gist is the same, regardless. 

Prospect: Someone who may know of your business and may have even engaged on your website or social media platforms. You likely don’t know if they’re a good fit for your product. 

Lead:This person has shown interest, is likely in your target market, and probably fits a buyer persona. This would be a qualified lead.

Customer: Congrats! A customer has gone from prospect to lead to buying your product or service. 

It’s important to know what types of leads you have, too. Lead scoring will help you figure out which contacts need to go into different segments. And this lets you nurture each group appropriately because you aren’t going to give the same treatment to a prospect as you would a qualified lead.

Information qualified lead (IQL): This lead is at the top of the marketing funnel. They’ll likely exchange their contact information for a piece of gated content, so they’re still learning about their problem or the solution.  

AKA: Cold lead. 🧊

Marketing qualified lead (MQL): If an IQL continues to engage with the marketing team’s efforts (emails, ads, clicking links), then they become an MQL. Marketing is sure to ramp up efforts here to generate more interest (free trial, free tool, etc.).  

AKA: Warm lead. 🔥

Sales qualified lead (SQL): Now it’s the sales team’s turn to follow up with the lead and figure out whether it’s a good sales opportunity. This is the best time to find out whether a prospect is the decision-maker and if your solution is the best solution for them. Booking demos is common at this stage. 

AKA: Hot lead. 🔥🔥🔥

It’s important to note that all organizations may use their own lead scoring structure (or none at all), as well as their own nomenclature for the funnel and lead stages. 

What is inbound lead generation?

Inbound lead generation is kind of what it sounds like: The leads come to you. That’s not to say that the marketing team didn’t have anything to do with that lead gen. Usually, inbound leads come from organic traffic to content on your site, social media posts and shares, or well-placed ads.

There’s a lot of strategy that goes into inbound lead generation, and every business uses different tactics. A B2C company is likely going to have a totally different approach to attracting leads than B2B. 

What’s the difference between lead generation and demand generation?

Lead generation and demand generation are somewhat similar, but each starts at different points in the marketing funnel. In lead gen, you’re working with an audience that has some knowledge of who you are or what you do. In demand gen, you’re educating that audience about your product and service and creating demand for it. 

Consider this scenario:

Your apple tree was super productive this season, so now you have all these apples—too many for one person.

You know the baker down the road uses apples to make apple pies, so you let the baker know you have a surplus of apples. They happily buy your apples.

That’s lead gen at work. You had a product that the baker needed, and you provided it, thus converting your lead to a customer.

Imagine that you have all these apples, but the townsfolk near you have never heard of apples, so they don’t even know they need apples.

So, you head to town and bring some of your apples with you. Maybe you slice a few and offer samples. Many of the people who try your apples realize they need your apples, despite not even knowing what an apple was a day ago.

That’s demand generation.*

*It doesn’t always happen this quickly, though we all wish it would. There’s usually some more nurturing that occurs before a lead becomes a customer.

Top 4 B2B Lead Generation Strategies

Generating leads for a B2B audience isn’t all that different from B2C, but priority on specific strategies varies slightly. It’s good to remember that B2B buyers are still consumers, so they have similar expectations for personalization, trustworthiness, and buying on their terms, their time (not yours). You can find tons of B2B lead generation tips, but you have to do what works best for your business.

1. Content Creation

When you combine a solid SEO strategy with excellent content creation, you’re setting your site up for lots of organic traffic. Home in on the terms your buyer personas will search and offer content that introduces them to the solution they need.

Why it works: B2B buyers are doing a lot of research before making any decisions.

2. Email Marketing

When you get a hold of that golden ticket (er, email address) after a lead downloads a free tool or attends a webinar, you’re going to want to slide them right into an automated email campaign that provides even more value. You’re looking for an open rate of about 17%-18% and click-through-rate (CTR) around 3%-4%. 

Why it works: You already have that buyer’s attention with the valuable content or free product you gave them. This nurturing gives them even more, which builds trust and loyalty.

3. PPC Advertising

You’re likely to see about the same conversion rate from Google Ads as you do with email marketing CTR, maybe a little lower. Display advertising clocks in with a lower average around 1%. Is it still worth it? Yup. Brand awareness is a big part of demand and lead generation.

Why it works: It’s a good way to reach your target market, whether they’ve heard of you or not.

4. Social Media

Lead generation via social media platforms is becoming an even more popular option for B2B. Like PPC, this is more about brand awareness and education. LinkedIn is still huge for B2B, but Facebook is growing in popularity. These are great places to use lookalike audiences to tap into new audiences, too.

Why it works: Go where your ideal buyer personas are spending time. Show them what they can get from you, and you have a good chance of hitting conversion rates around 2%.

Lead Generation Tools to Help You Hit Your Goals

Obviously, you can’t generate leads with just a laptop and a lot of moxie. The grit helps, though. There are tons of tools and software out there that make it easier for you to create campaigns, manage leads, and route qualified leads to the right person or team.

1. Hubspot 

One of the most popular customer relationship management (CRM) programs also offers marketing automation, live chat, email marketing, and forms. Hubspot integrates easily with lots of other apps, too (including the next app on our list).

2. Chili Piper

There’s this whole thing about speed to lead—you gotta strike when the lead is hot, right? Use Chili Piper in your forms to qualify those leads, book a demo, and close the deals. The scheduling app automates lead distribution instantly. Plus, it puts the power of meeting availability in the hands of your lead. 

3. Clearbit

Thanks to that sweet content on your site, you now have some email addresses and names. Now what? Time to qualify those prospects to figure out which segment you’re going to put them in. You could do it manually, or you could use Clearbit to cross-reference the info you have with a B2B database rich with contact information.

4. Instapage

How are you making your landing pages? If you’re using WordPress, you could probably make the switch to Instapage to save yourself a lot of time and increase your conversion rate. Its landing pages are mobile-optimized, so your pages will look great on smartphones where lots of B2Bers are doing business (Boston Consulting Group reported 80% of B2B buyers use their phones at work).

There are many more lead generation apps you can add to your marketing toolbox, but be sure to audit yourself. You need to make sure the work you’re doing equals leads that convert. 

Lead Generation Success — Is It Working?

Technology has made it much easier for marketing to make informed decisions on reaching and engaging its target audience. Sometimes it still feels like we’re throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. At least we can analyze the results and find out why certain pieces of spaghetti stuck, right?

Every business is going to have a different set of lead generation strategies, and you’re going to have different benchmarks than others. Set your key performance indicators (KPI), including CTR, customer acquisition cost (CAC), and organic traffic, at the very least.

About the author
Amy Nichol Smith

Amy Smith has more than 20 years of experience as a writer for TV news, newspapers, and technology companies. She's tested and reviewed a variety of software, robot vacuums, video cameras, and SaaS. Her content has been featured in Tom's Guide,, L.A. Times, Reader's Digest, and more. When she isn't testing, researching, or writing, she's usually exploring a small town somewhere, cooking and baking, or playing video games.

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