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Inbound Lead Generation – The Ultimate Guide

Why have food delivery services taken off in recent years? Because people prefer having the food delivered right to their door rather than going out to get it. 

That’s the appeal of inbound lead generation. You get delicious pizza… I mean, potential customers... coming right to your door without the effort of looking for them (or putting on pants).

Inbound lead generation should be a central pillar in your marketing strategy. When an inbound lead checks out your products or services, you know that they have some level of interest and it should require less effort to convert them into a customer than a cold lead.

What Are Inbound Leads?

An inbound lead is a prospect who initiates contact with you through a specific channel. They may have engaged with a piece of content that makes up part of your inbound lead generation strategy. They may have engaged with you on social media or visited your site directly after consuming a YouTube video. 

Inbound leads can fall into four categories (usually, this sometimes varies by organization):

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) has interacted positively with your brand (e.g., downloading a report, signing up for your email list, responding to a CTA on a landing page). However, they’re not ready to buy; they must be nurtured to become a sales-qualified lead. 

A sales qualified lead (SQL) is a lead that has shown an interest in buying your product/service and has met the sales team’s qualifications such as having the necessary budget and authority to make the purchase. 

A product qualified lead (PQL) has tried or tested your product and seems like they could become a paying customer. 

A service qualified lead has expressed interest in paying for the service you offer. They might have tried your service or want to upgrade to a higher service tier. 

There are many other types of acronyms that a team may use to label an inbound lead at different stages in the funnel, but these are the basic ones. It’s important to note that the inbound marketing process is ever-evolving, and the inbound playbook may vary across different companies.

What Is Inbound Lead Generation?

Inbound lead generation is the process of attracting visitors to your website and converting them into leads. The crux of inbound lead generation is that the potential lead (or visitor) controls how, when, and whether they engage with your content and provide their contact information.

Understanding the Inbound Lead Generation Process

Inbound marketing methodology diagram showing the process of how strangers become promoters through inbound lead generation.

The inbound lead generation process is a journey that your prospects take to become customers and promoters. In order for your prospect to progress through their journey, you must provide assistance through your actions across these four steps:

1. Attract

The first step is to attract strangers, within your buyer personas, to your website.

How do you get them to become visitors?

These strangers or prospects are searching for content that they’re interested in, helps them solve their problems, and answers any questions they may have. To attract them, you need to create valuable content that addresses their needs. 

This valuable content can take the form of blog posts, landing pages, infographics, guides, whitepapers, videos, and more. From there, you can use methods such as search engine optimization, social media, and other distribution channels to get your content in front of their eyes. 

This step is the top of your lead funnel and ultimately brings in the prospects that you can then convert into leads. 

2. Convert

The second step is to convert your prospects into leads. How is this done? 

A prospect doesn’t convert into a lead until you capture the information you need from them. This information can be their name, email addresses, company size, location, and more. The information they submit will depend on what your sales team needs to qualify these leads as opportunities for your sales reps to engage with. 

You obtain this information by utilizing lead capture tools such as landing pages, lead capture forms, lead magnets, pop-ups, and email captures. But your prospects aren’t going to just hand over their information, they’re going to want something in exchange. 

To successfully convert them into leads, you need to offer your prospects something of equal or greater value to their information. For example, you can ask them to sign up for your newsletter by providing their email address. Or you can offer a demo of your product or service if they provide their name, email address, and phone number. 

Once you capture their information, they become leads which then need to be classified as marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads, or disqualified. This will depend on the information they provide via your lead capture, their level of engagement with your company, and where they are in their buyer journey. 

When they are classified as sales-qualified leads, they are then handed over to your sales reps to work on closing deals. 

3. Close

You’ve converted your visitors into leads, they were qualified by your sales team, and have moved into your sales funnel. The third step is to close deals. 

In this stage, your sales reps engage the leads with the goal of moving them through your sales process. Some of these leads may be disqualified after having an intro call with your sales rep while others will become real opportunities that can turn into deals. 

Once leads become opportunities, it’s up to the sales team to demo the product or service, handle any objections, and at the end of it, close the deal.

After the deal is closed, customer success (CS) takes over to ensure that customers are onboarding effectively, achieve their goals with your product or service, and continue to build rapport.

4. Delight

The fourth and final step is to delight your customers into fans or loyalists. 

Some leads will become customers, and that’s the end of the journey for them. That’s OK. 

But some customers have one more step to take. You want to encourage as many customers as you can to become promoters. Developing a customer relationship to the point that they’re pleased enough to recommend your product or service to their peers, naturally and for free— that’s a big deal.

Sometimes the product or service itself is almost enough to do this. You’ll increase your numbers, though, with a little effort. Publish intelligent content regularly, and reach out to your existing customers with that content. 

If you continue to solve new problems for them, you’ll delight them.

You can also continue engaging with your customers through surveys and social monitoring. Keep nurturing customers into promoters, and you’ll reap an ever-increasing reward from free, grassroots marketing help.

Top Inbound Lead Generation Techniques

You want to be strategic in getting visitors to your website. You don’t just want anyone, you want people who fall into your buyer personas and you want a lot of them. 

The following inbound lead generation techniques will help you to develop a regular stream of incoming visitors who you can then convert into leads, customers, and finally promoters.

1. Content Marketing

Content marketing should be a central component of your inbound lead generation. Providing valuable content that educates, informs, and delights prospects will help to build a solid impression of your business and attract a steady stream of quality visitors to your website.

Examples of content marketing include:

  • Articles
  • Blogs
  • Videos
  • Case studies
  • Reports
  • Guides
  • Infographics

The Internet is full of content, so your content must stand out to attract attention. There’s plenty of fluff and filler—ensure that your content marketing provides real value, takes a unique position, or solves a real problem for your audience.

For example, we published a report titled 27 Conversion Rate Benchmarks for 2020 (and Beyond). Prospects looking to understand how their conversion rates compare to 2020 benchmarks would come across this report, find value in it, and potentially become an inbound lead.

As we mentioned above, once you start getting visitors to your content you’ll need to focus on converting them into leads by using tools such as lead capture forms, pop-ups, and software. 

But valuable content isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter how great your content is or how much content you’re writing if you don’t get it in front of your audience.

2. Search Engine Optimization

Google is the largest search engine with over 92% of the market share and billions of searches each day. 

Chances are your prospects are on Google and other search engines looking for answers to their questions. And Google is serving up content from websites to help solve their problems.

While creating valuable content is important, there’s more that can be done to get your content ranking on search engines and generating organic traffic. 

Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the best tactics you can use to get your content in front of prospects. SEO is all about getting your content to rank on search engines by optimizing technical aspects of your website, on-page elements of your content, and being recognized by others through link building. 

There’s a lot to cover in SEO but for the purpose of this article, you’ll want to focus on on-page SEO. To optimize your content, you’ll need to:

  • Address the search intent of your audience with your content (answer their questions)
  • Strategically use target keywords (title, headers, body text, URL, description, etc.)
  • Internally link to relevant content on your website
  • Externally link to relevant content from authoritative websites
  • Provide a great user experience for readers on your page

These are just a few things you can do to optimize your content and give yourself a better chance at ranking and being discovered by your target audience.

3. Social Media Marketing

Your audience is on social media. Focusing your inbound lead generation efforts on the right social media networks will put your solutions in front of people who will buy from you.

Many businesses make the mistake of trying to be on all the networks, which is time-consuming. It’s best to focus your efforts on where your ideal customers spend the most time.

  • If you’re a B2B company, LinkedIn should be your first choice. 
  • If your products or services are visually appealing, develop an Instagram presence. 
  • Is your audience a bit older? Facebook is a good place to be. 
  • If your audience skews younger, and you have a thing for making creative videos, give TikTok a try. 
  • Twitter is ideal for a more general audience.

Social media networks already have engaged audiences looking for content to inform and educate them. It’s up to you to customize the content to the platform and audience, and give them a reason to click the link to your website or landing page.

4. Email Marketing Automation

All inbound lead generation techniques should produce a similar result: the lead provides their email address for your email list or database. You can then continue the inbound lead generation process through email marketing.

Include a CTA to collect the lead’s email address for your email list or database. Use opt-in forms on your website to encourage visitors to subscribe. When creating a lead magnet (e.g., guide, webinar), request the lead’s email address in exchange for free and valuable content.

Email marketing automation makes this process much more efficient and effective. You can segment leads into groups, create custom email sequences that match specific actions and triggers, and automate the entire inbound lead generation process.

Remember: email marketing is not simply about promoting your goods and services. Your number one goal should be to provide value to your subscribers. They’re inviting you into their inbox, and you’re asking to be worthy of their time. So give them something valuable!

Reaching the right leads at the right time with the right message will increase the odds of converting those leads into customers.

The Bottom Line

Inbound lead generation is an effective way to consistently attract B2B leads and grow your customer base. Whatever methods you choose will depend on several factors, but proper implementation of inbound lead generation will drive more and better leads to your business.

About the Author

David Gargaro has more than 20 years of experience as a content writer and copy editor. His content has appeared in Business.com, ITPro.com, RHB Magazine, Advisors Magazine, and more. In his free time, he enjoys reading, catching up on TV shows and movies, watching hockey, and playing with his daughter.

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