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The Ultimate Lead Generation Guide for 2021

Here’s the fact: the majority of people aren’t ready to buy from you right away.

But—

The key phrase here is right away, and if you are in for the long game, you know that the process of acquiring leads and prospects is imperative for your business’s long-term success.

We’re not going to sugar-coat it—lead generation can be intimidating. There are so many strategies involved that it can make your head reel.

So, to make it easier for you, we’ve decided to break down the entire topic of lead generation piece by piece, discuss the most relevant strategies, and take a look at 2021 lead generation trends.

Here’s what we will cover in detail:

  1. What is lead generation
  2. The basics of lead generation marketing
  3. How to design a lead generation funnel
  4. Best lead generation strategies
  5. What are lead magnets (+ examples)
  6. What is a lead qualification and nurturing

What is lead generation?

Lead generation is a process in marketing that aims at converting strangers into potential customers. The goal of lead generation is to stimulate and capture a person’s interest in a product or service.

The ideal outcome of lead generation in marketing is to acquire new customers and make them loyal to your brand. That’s why lead generation also involves personalization – you should focus on making each lead ready to convert.

What is a lead?

A lead is a person or a business interested in your brand’s product or service. Sometimes leads can also be called contacts (because a lead is required to share contact information).

Oftentimes, leads are confused with prospects. What’s the difference?

A lead is a contact you haven’t qualified yet, and a prospect is a lead that is already in your demand generation pipeline. That means that you’ve already collected enough additional information about this person to effectively move them down the sales funnel.

Types of leads

As you might know—not all leads are created equal.

Some of the leads possess more traits characteristic of your target audience than others. Also, different leads have different lifecycle stages and require different lead capture strategies.

All these criteria define the main three lead types. Let’s take a closer look at them.

1) Marketing-Qualified Lead (MQL)

Let’s say you receive a filled-out content form from a lead that expresses interest in what your brand offers. This is a marketing lead, and it is qualified because it has more potential to become your customer than others.

How so?

Usually, such leads find brands by themselves and voluntarily submit contact information. They engage with your team of marketers both directly and indirectly to learn more about your product before purchasing it.

2) Sales-Qualified Lead (SQL)

Contrary to a marketing-qualified lead, a sales-qualified lead is here to buy your product. Their actions let you know directly that they want to complete a purchase so that you can pass them to your sales team right away.

However, it doesn’t mean that a marketing-qualified lead cannot become a sales-qualified one. SQLs are the outcome of successful sales lead generation and nurturing.

3) Product-Qualified Lead (PQL)

This lead type has already experienced your product, for instance, through a free trial or a freemium plan. PQLs have a bigger chance of becoming paying customers because they’ve not just expressed interest in it but have already given it a try and experienced its perks.

Why is lead generation important for businesses?

Lead generation is definitely a buzzword and a trendy topic in the digital marketing community. But, is it really essential for businesses? Does it bring real results? And, most importantly, will your investment in lead generation pay off?

Let’s see how designing a solid strategy for acquiring leads might benefit your business.

1) Generating profits

First and foremost, businesses use lead generation for financial profits, but there’s more to it than money. Lead generation is the best way to help you gain consumer trust and find customers with lifetime value. Besides, it’s the most efficient way to convert more people into loyal buyers.

2) Growing brand awareness

Another good reason to give a lead generation a try is to improve brand recognition and, subsequently, expand your potential customer base.

Over 60% of B2B marketers rely on content as the main way to generate leads. Content is also the most effective strategy to grow brand awareness.

3) Collecting valuable prospect information

When you make lead generation a part of your customer acquisition strategy, you collect valuable customer data. Later, you can use this information to retarget the buyers and adjust your lead generation strategy.

Lead generation marketing

Lead generation marketing is the process of organizing all the channels that will bring you leads.

For instance, you can target a lead with a blog post, an email, and a social media ad, all containing the link to one landing page with an offer. Leads provide contact information, agree to an offer, purchase your product, and boom – you have your customer!

This is how lead generation marketing works in theory. In practice, you’ll have to consider the lead type you’re targeting before you do anything else.

If your goal is to get more marketing leads (MQLs), you could consider the following channels:

  • content marketing (SEO, social media, etc.)
  • paid search
  • customer referrals
  • social media advertising

With sales leads (SQLs), your strategies might need to be more assertive:

  • traditional media ads
  • online ads of any type
  • pop-up website forms
  • cold emails

For product-qualified leads (PQLs), the mix of channels, where the inbound ones would dominate, could work quite well.

Inbound vs. Outbound marketing

Traditionally, all lead generation channels are divided into two main types – outbound and inbound. But the difference between these two channels isn’t always clear.

What is outbound marketing?

The nature of outbound marketing is simple – it aims to push the message about a product or service to make a hard sell.

The list of outbound marketing channels includes:

  • TV and radio ads
  •  outdoor advertising, such a billboards
  •  leaflets
  • cold calls and emails
  • contextual ads
  • trade shows, conferences, seminars
  • some social media ads, banner ads, video ads

Usually, a lead gen campaign doesn’t focus only on outbound marketing—it’s used together with inbound marketing.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing includes the channels that are all about earning the lead’s attention step-by-step:

  • SEO
  • link building
  • a landing page
  • opt-in emails
  • influencer marketing
  • blogging and guest posting
  • content marketing

One of the biggest perks of inbound marketing is the customer journey. It means that you can build a meaningful relationship with a lead first. As a result, they will be more likely to become loyal customers.

The anatomy of a lead generation funnel

A lead generation funnel (or a lead funnel) is a pathway with stages through which a lead goes before completing a purchase and becoming your customer.

The general lead funnel model consists of three stages – TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU.

1) Top of the Funnel (TOFU)

First, you introduce a lead to your business and product. This is your chance to build brand awareness and create a good first impression. 

At the TOFU stage, you can use product videos, brand films, blog articles and social media posts to attract leads

2) Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)

Now it’s time to nurture the leads and educate them about product features and perks. 

Content types that are great for lead nurturing are ebooks, white papers, webinars, case studies, toolkits, and templates. You can also give an email marketing campaign a try and launch an email course to demonstrate the value of your product.

3) Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)

At this stage, your task is to provide the leads with enough content to help them make a well-informed purchase decision. 

This stage usually involves content types like demos, consultations, trial extensions, discounts, and special offers. 

How to build and optimize a lead generation funnel

Now, let’s go to the practical part and walk you through the four main steps of building an effective lead funnel.

1. Map customer journey

Your first task is to research your target audience and their usual purchasing behaviors. Start from going to Google Analytics and analyzing the data on traffic, conversion rates, bounce rates, etc. 

Next, it’s time to get to know your audience on a more personal level to get a more profound understanding of their psychographics. Running customer surveys and reading customer service tickets can supply you with the information about your customer’s needs, interests, aspirations, and so on.

2. Create relevant content

Once you have a clear understanding of the customer journey, you’ll find it easier to choose the right content to attract leads. 

But knowing your customer well is not enough to create exceptional content for lead generation. Here are a few more essential steps to follow:

  • Learn about your competitors. Analyze the content they are posting and how well it works to generate leads. Then, think, how you can make this content better and apply it to your target audience.
  • Create content for each funnel stage. Consider your target audience’s needs at every stage of the lead generation funnel and find content types that can answer these needs. 
  • Commit to SEO. Create content with SEO in mind to make sure your audience finds it organically.

Take a look at your previous lead generation campaigns as well. Determine what worked and what didn’t in terms of content, and use this data to improve your current lead generation efforts

3. Bring qualified traffic

When the content is ready, it’s time to drive traffic to it. You can use one of these four methods to make it happen:

1) Organic search.
This method goes hand-in-hand with SEO optimization and should be among the top strategies to drive traffic and generate leads. 

2) Paid ads.
It’s a great option to get immediate traffic, and you have various options available to you – Google Ads, social media ads, etc. 

3) Social media.
You can drive additional traffic to your content via social media posts. At this point, it’s important to find the right time for a social media update to reach the maximum number of followers. 

4) Email marketing.
Lastly, you can share content updates with your subscribers via email. 

4. Collect contact information

Now, it’s time to get the potential leads to share their contacts. You can employ a lead magnet to do this job. 

You can choose any lead magnet to capture contact information – checklists, toolkits, ebooks, templates, case studies, etc. Just make sure they provide practical value to your target audience.

6 lead generation strategies to attract qualified leads

Now, as you know where to find a lead, let’s give a closer look at a few lead generation strategies that have been around for a while and proven themselves effective.

1) Create gated content

Gated content is the type of content that requires a lead to fill in a contact form or complete the purchase to access the product. If a purchase is required, then we’re talking about premium content – the type of content that is only accessible for a fee and is usually of a higher quality. 

Gated content can include:

  • guides
  • case studies
  • checklists
  • templates
  • ebooks 
  • webinars

Gating your content is a solid strategy for lead generation, but the chances that it will work for building brand awareness as well are low. Some people still don’t feel comfortable enough to share their emails, so if your goal is to spread brand awareness, limiting access to your content is not the best solution. 

2) Retarget people with ads

Retargeting ads help remind the visitors who’ve been to your website before about your brand and products. Such ads can be run via various platforms – Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, etc. 

Retargeting ads appear after someone visits your website, their cookies get saved, and when they go to browse other web pages, they see your brand’s ads. You can tailor these ads to make them an offer and ask for their contact information in return. 

When do you need retargeting ads?

First and foremost, retargeting is a long-term strategy for brands that already have a decent number of visitors coming to their website. If you have 100+ people visiting your site monthly, you can invest in retargeting campaigns on Google Ads and other platforms. 

Also, retargeting makes sense when you want to capture leads while promoting new collections and announcing upcoming products. In this case, you can use retargeting ads to attract the leads who’ve already heard about you, could be interested in your product but haven’t made a purchase yet.  

3) Social media communities

If we’re speaking about getting only relevant leads, tapping into communities on different social platforms is a fantastic idea, especially if you own a B2B brand.

Here’s why focusing on social media, in general, won’t work for lead generation. Social platforms have a very diverse audience that can subscribe to you just to see what your brand is up to. The truth is that most of your social media followers probably won’t purchase your product.

On the contrary, industry groups are more likely to host your target audience. But here’s the thing – you can get banned for posting promotional content.

What you can do instead is just become an active participant, get involved in discussions, ask questions, and post polls on industry-related topics. Once people start getting engaged, you’ll have the perfect reason to direct-message them and work on turning them into leads.

4) Freemiums and free trials

Offering a freemium plan is a customer acquisition method that gives access to a product or service for free without a time limit.

A free trial is also a customer acquisition method, but it provides a free product for a limited time only.

Often, a freemium or a free trial is combined with email marketing. This way, you get to both nurture the acquired leads, qualify them, and select those ready to become buying customers.

5) Host an online event

Another great opportunity to capture high-quality leads is a webinar, a conference, or any other type of online event. During this event, you can introduce a potential customer to your product and showcase its main features. 

A common mistake many brands make is using an online event for product promotion only. But you already know that to attract leads, you need to give something valuable in return, and they will hardly benefit from promotional content if they have never used your product. 

Here are a few ideas of what you can offer:

  • customized content via email
  • access to on-demand videos
  • access to discussion platforms and forums
  • product demos

Usually, you collect a lead’s contact information before the event and then send them the access link to the online event. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can abuse this opportunity to only talk about your product and nothing else. It will only scare away potential leads, and you won’t get them back, no matter how well you nurture them. 

6) Create a referral program

Referral marketing is a word-of-mouth strategy to encourage the existing customers to refer their friends and family to your brand. In exchange, they get a discount or any other reward. 

There are many ways how you can use a referral program to generate leads. The most common is to ask customers to share the emails of their friends or family. You can choose to reward just the customer for that or send discounts to both parties as a thank you for choosing your brand. 

Referral programs work well to generate relevant leads, but they might take some time. So, it’s better to pair a referral program with other strategies to keep new leads coming. 

Lead magnets

What is a lead magnet?

A lead magnet is an offer or an incentive that a brand promotes in return for the lead’s contact details. Lead magnet marketing is primarily used for generating sales leads.

Why does your business need a lead magnet?

Think about this. You’ve just purchased a beautiful piece of art, and you want to hang it on the wall in your apartment. You won’t be able to do it without the right tools.

The same goes for lead generation and lead magnets – one can’t work without the other.

Now, let’s look at a few more specific benefits of lead magnets for your business. 

1) A richer email list

Lead magnets gently lure potential leads into sharing their email addresses. Thus, it’s a win-win – a free product or service for the contact details, and you get more email subscribers to your list, which you can later use in your email marketing campaigns.

2) More trust between you and your leads

Essentially, a lead magnet offers something that leads wouldn’t find anywhere else in open access. Because this offer is highly relevant and credible, it makes you trustworthy enough in the eyes of a prospect to share contact information with you.

3) High-quality leads instead of freeloaders

It’s not always apparent in the beginning whether a lead will become a buyer or not. But if a prospect makes an effort to share their contact details via a lead magnet, this person is more likely to convert into your client.

4) Higher profits

Of course, we can’t skip the ‘money’ question—are lead magnets worth it?

The answer to this question will depend on the types of lead magnets. For instance, an average lead magnet conversion rate for a freemium ranges from 3% to 10%. Indeed, each business has a different product or service, but even if you get a 3% conversion rate from one lead magnet, it’s still worth giving it a shot.  

5 Key elements of an effective lead magnet

Lead magnets aren’t created equal, and you can still end up creating a lead magnet that nobody wants. To make sure this doesn’t happen, here’s a checklist of five key elements of the best lead magnets:

  • high perceived value
  • a unique selling proposition
  • easily accessible
  • easy to digest
  • useful

The last point in this checklist makes a lot of sense. 

Sometimes, brands use different lead magnets to fool leads into sharing their contacts yet never fulfil their promise of a high-quality offer. But such a scheme will not remain unpunished.

So, no matter how thirsty you are for more leads, play the game by the rules. 

5 Lead Magnets Ideas & Examples for Every Business

Now let’s take a look at a few popular lead magnet ideas for every business. We’ve only listed the top 5 here, but to check the full list, read: 25 Best Lead Magnet Ideas and Examples for Every Business.

1. Ebook

An ebook is a downloadable digital publication with text and images. It is readily displayed on any device and sometimes contains interactive elements.

What makes a good ebook lead magnet?

  • a unique and relevant content 
  • original research 
  • high-quality visuals
  • eye-catching lead magnet design

If you play your cards right, you can make ebook lead magnets your signature marketing tools. Just look at HubSpot and its impressive ebook library:

Credit: HubSpot

Once you click on any of the items in the library, you get the contact form: 

HubSpot contact form

Credit: HubSpot

Ebooks can work wonders as lead magnets, but their potential is often abused. There is no point in wasting your time on an ebook if you don’t have anything helpful to offer. In this case, go with something less painstaking – a guide or a checklist.

2. Product demo

A product demo’s goal is to show your potential customers the main advantages of your product.

How does a product demo work?

Essentially, a lead clicks on a call-to-action button on your homepage, chooses the day and time for the demonstration, and shares contact details with you. Wishpond has followed this pattern for many years: 

Wishpond demo lead magnet

Credit: Wishpond

Running product demo meetings helps Wishpond separate top-quality leads from freeloaders and fill its email list only with relevant contacts. 

3. Guide

A guide is a collection of insights that offers an in-depth look into a subject. It’s a common practice to add guides to a brand’s content marketing strategy – they are usually not as extensive as an ebook or a study, but also provide valuable data to support the topic.

A lead can access the guide right after sharing their contact details. Some brands, like SEMrush, also allow to view a sample of a guide:

SEMrush lead magnet

Credit: SEMrush

The sample gives a sneak peek of the first 14 pages of the guide. This helps a customer decide whether they can find a use for the information provided in it.

4. Bonus pack

Let’s say you are at the supermarket about to buy your favorite breakfast cereal. Once you approach the shelf, you see a promotion going on, and you can buy two packs and get one for free.

This is an excellent example of how a bonus pack works. If we’re talking about digital agencies and online businesses, they usually include a bonus pack in their B2B content marketing strategy as an additional lucrative offer to what a customer is about to purchase. Just to give you some context, take a look at OptinMonster’s offer:

Optinmonster lead magnet

Credit: OptinMonster

You can see that a lead may choose to download a free cheat sheet alone or get it in the bundle with other useful marketing resources.

So, a bundle pack is not just a way to get more leads but also an opportunity to cross-promote your services, making it one of the most unusual but creative lead magnet examples. 

5. Checklist

A checklist is a lead magnet that contains a list of to-do activities, requirements, or things to keep in mind. What makes a good lead magnet checklist?

  • the activities are related to one topic
  • the tasks are organized in a logical order
  • listed activities focus on a particular goal 

An excellent example of all these characteristics in action is the Healthy Habits checklist by PickUpLimes:

Pick Up Limes lead magnet

Credit: PickUpLimes

In this checklist, there is a step-by-step guide on adopting healthy habits. It also contains links to other checklists for healthy morning habits, decluttering, and productivity activities.

Lead qualification & nurturing

What is lead qualification?

Lead qualification is a process that helps determine if the lead fits your buyer persona criteria, has more chances of purchasing your product and becoming your long-term customer.

How to qualify a lead?

Now let’s review the process in detail and see what it takes to qualify a lead.

Estimating lead’s level of interest

As you remember, the main goal of lead generation is to stimulate interest in a product or service. But, once you have your lead, how do you know that they’re interested enough to make a purchase?

Several buying signals could indicate the lead’s readiness to become a customer:

  • a complete subscription form for a free trial
  • a filled-out contact form
  • high engagement with your brand through social media
  • attention to the content connected to your product
  • high interest in the product’s price
  • participation in product reviews and discussion

Even one of these signals is already enough to consider a lead interested in purchasing your product. Nevertheless, the chance is high that you need to keep nurturing the lead to make them more confident.

How to use lead scoring?

One more way to separate good leads from unfitting ones is lead scoring – a method of assigning each lead a point, or a score, to determine their readiness to become a customer.

You need to select a set of criteria, according to which you will assign the points and qualify your leads. For instance, you can score your leads according to:

  • demographics
  • company information (if it’s a business lead)
  • online behavior
  • social media engagement
  • email engagement

Once you set the scoring features (also known as quality attributes), you can assign score values to each of them. For instance, if a lead gets 35+ points, they are qualified, and if their score is lower, you might need to nurture them a bit more.

What is lead nurturing?

Lead nurturing is the process of building and facilitating relationships with customers at each stage of the sales funnel. Lead nurturing programs focus on listening to the prospect’s needs and provide information to reinforce brand awareness and build a connection based on trust.

4 Ways to nurture leads

Let’s take a look at the five core stages of effective lead nurturing.

1) Create targeted content

Lead scoring is certainly not the only aspect where a target buyer persona will come in handy. You’ll also need it to nurture your leads by creating highly targeted and personalized content.

To create targeted content, you will need several target buyer personas based on your customers’ interests, needs, goals, purchasing behaviors, etc. The goal is to make lead nurturing meaningful by making only relevant offers in return for the contact information.

2) Target leads with personalized emails

Email marketing remains one of the top ways to nurture leads effectively. And there are many ways you can tailor emails to get the lead’s attention.

For instance, you can send an automated email right after the lead signs up for a newsletter or completes a download. The goal is to tailor the content of your emails to the type of behavior the lead is exhibiting.

3) Focus on multiple touches

Each customer will have a different experience with your brand. But reports have suggested that a potential customer needs from six to eight marketing touches until they become fully aware of your product and are ready to buy it.

What is a marketing touch?

A marketing touch is a point of interaction with a customer – online ads, organic search, social media, etc.

So, if you want to capture more leads, consider creating a mix of different content types – social media posts, blog articles, case studies, infographics, etc., and promote them through multiple channels for maximum brand exposure.

4) Take advantage of timely follow-ups

It is crucial to start nurturing a lead right after you get their contact, otherwise, you can lose a potential customer. Here, automation is your best bet.

Automated lead nurturing lets you send immediate follow-ups each time you capture a lead. It can be an email or a phone call, but the sooner you do the follow-up, the higher are the chances that the lead will become a qualified sales opportunity.

Lead Gen Topic Recap

Lead generation is a rather extensive topic and is not one you can fully comprehend just in one sitting. But, if you are in a hurry, here’s a quick recap of the main points we covered in this article:

  • Lead generation is a strategy used to stimulate an interest in your product. As a result, a lead is someone who’s expressed this interest.
  • The majority of leads are marketing- or sales-qualified.
  • To qualify leads, you need to estimate their level of interest by scoring them.
  • There are two main types of lead gen channels – outbound and inbound.
  • All your lead generation efforts will depend on the stage of the lead funnel your potential customer finds themselves at. 
  • Each lead you collect should go through lead qualification and scoring. Both these processes help you determine which leads are more likely to become your customers. 
  • Once the lead is captured, it’s time to nurture them. You can nurture leads via email, personalized content, and other techniques, but it’s crucial to target leads through multiple channels and send timely follow-ups. 
  • Brands rarely generate leads through one strategy. Most of them combine various lead generation strategies.
  • Lead generation involves creating lead magnets. This can be checklists, templates, ebooks, whitepapers, case studies, guides, infographics, etc. 

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