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Lead generation is just a fancy term for the process of finding and converting casual browsers into potential customers — a crucial piece of your overall customer acquisition strategy.

Why do you need lead generation?

Sticky Branding reports just 3% of people are active buyers (they plan to make a purchase within 30 to 90 days) and 7% intend to change (they have a need and can be persuaded to make a purchase with a well-timed campaign). 

Pyramid of buyer readiness on a yellow background - the top 10% are most likely to buy while the remaining 90% are in varying stages of indifference.
Most leads aren't ready to buy, making lead nurturing crucial. Companies that implement an impactful lead nurturing strategy generate 50% more sales-ready leads and see a 33% lower cost per lead.

This already narrows the focus of potential customers significantly, yet you need a deep pool of leads in order to keep your SaaS busines afloat. With average inbound conversion rates from new contact to customer at just 0.05% and outbound conversion rates at 0.03%, marketing and sales teams need the help of revenue operations to identify potential customers, nurture their interest, and convert them into paying customers. 

Think of the revenue team as a gardener and leads as rare orchids. You need to give them just the right amount of attention at each stage of the funnel to help them bloom into paying customers. That's called lead management.

While the type and frequency of attention varies by stage, it boils down to meeting your audience on the right channel with the right messaging to push them closer to conversion. 

Types of Lead Generation

Before you start hunting for leads, you need to be familiar with the two primary avenues of lead generation: inbound vs outbound leads.

Inbound lead generationOutbound lead generation
Relies on organic growth channels like social media posts, search-optimized blog content and referrals from reviews.Uses paid marketing campaigns like social media ads, Over-The-Top ads, Pay-Per-Click ads, and Local Service Ads
Higher quality leads because they show interest first. Lower quality leads because you’re casting a wide net. 
Harder to personalize for one person. Mostly segments. Easier to personalize for one person.  
Reaches a lesser but more tailored audience. Reaches a large but less tailored audience.
Easier to measure the results Harder to measure efforts 
Cost less over a longer durationCost more over time 
Less control over sales processMore control over sales process

Inbound Lead Generation

Inbound lead generation is the process of attracting leads to your company and its offerings.

When you’re doing inbound lead generation, think of your brand as a magnet. You want to attract as many people as possible into your sales funnel and give them plenty of reasons to stick with you.

RevOps can make a significant impact on the success of inbound lead generation by uncovering the content or tactics that attract the largest number of lead form submissions and helping automate workflows to scale your inbound marketing efforts. 

Strategies for Inbound Lead Generation

The good news is that when it comes to inbound lead gen, you have nearly limitless opportunities to connect with potential customers. Here’s just a sampling of what you can do to attract leads and create as many opportunities as possible to turn them into buyers:

  • Set up a landing page for each of your personas. 
  • Post high-quality content on your social media channels. If you sell B2B products or services, don’t forget to post on LinkedIn.
  • Use search engine optimization (SEO) to make your website more visible to potential customers.
  • Set up an email marketing campaign.
  • Develop a comprehensive content marketing strategy. If you sell products to consumers, make sure your website has detailed product descriptions. For B2B companies, case studies, white papers, and webinars are especially effective for attracting new leads.
  • Create visually appealing infographics to make it easier for B2B buyers to understand the benefits of your product or service.

Outbound Lead Generation

Outbound lead generation involves sending messages to people in your target audience even if they haven’t expressed an interest in your products or services.

The main difference between inbound and outbound lead gen is that the inbound version involves pulling people in, while the outbound version involves pushing messages to people who might develop an interest in your brand at some point.

Sure, it’s a bit of a cold call (more on that below) but it certainly has its time and place. While this may seem similar to another strategy, there are also a few differences between prospecting and lead generation.

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Common Methods of Outbound Lead Generation

These are some of the most common methods of outbound lead generation:

  • Direct mail
  • Display advertising
  • Cold calling
  • Mass emails

Scaling outbound efforts requires support from revenue operations. From sourcing the right lead management tools to building workflows to analyzing the results of A/B tests, your RevOps team plays a crucial role in optimizing outbound and making it more effective. 

Types of Leads

Lead temperature ratings on a yellow background.Blue = cold leadsYellow = warm leadsRed = hot leads
The most basic lead segmentation categories are cold (still unaware of your brand and the problem you solve), warm (showing some interest through lead scoring), or hot (nearly ready to buy your product).

Cold Sales Lead

A cold sales lead is someone who hasn’t expressed an interest in what your company offers. They may not even know that your brand exists. Heck, they may not even realize they have a problem that could be solved by one of your products or services.

Cold leads have value, but they take the most effort to nurture, as they’re at the very top of your sales funnel.

As these leads “warm up,” they move deeper into the funnel, giving your team more opportunities to make sales. Just be prepared to provide plenty of information about your brand and its products or services.

Powerful cold calling tools can turn cold leads into warm conversations.

Warm Sales Lead

On the flip side, warm sales leads are people who’ve expressed an interest in your brand. They may have browsed your website or downloaded one of your free reports. No matter how they found you, they have at least some familiarity with what your business offers, making it a bit easier to nurture this type of lead.

Even though warm leads are aware of your offerings, they’re not likely to buy right away. This is the 30% just below the top 10% of the buyer’s pyramid we discussed at the beginning of this blog. They need more information about your brand and why it’s the best fit for their needs.

Fortunately, it’s possible to nurture warm leads into customers who are happy to buy your products or services.

Information Qualified Lead (IQL)

Information qualified leads are people who provide their contact information in exchange for something of value.

If you sell B2B products, the item of value could be a case study or a report with 10 tips for increasing productivity. When consumers provide their contact information, they may expect to receive a discount code or some other type of special offer in return.

Once you have a customer’s email address, telephone number, or mailing address, you have more opportunities to stay in touch with them. You can send out a weekly email newsletter, mail discount offers to the IQL’s home address, or call the IQL with a time-sensitive offer.

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

When a new lead comes in, it must be reviewed by the marketing department to determine if it meets the minimum criteria to be passed along to the sales department. Marketing qualified leads have made it through this process successfully.

For someone who’s not familiar with marketing and sales, it may seem odd to have minimum criteria for moving a lead to the next stage of the process. After all, isn’t any lead a good lead? Not necessarily.

For a lead to become a customer, they must have a need for your products or services, a reasonable budget, and the authority to make a purchase. If they are not the right for for your product or service, they will likely churn soon, bringing you back to square one. As SaaS growth rates compress in today’s economy, reducing churn and retaining customers is just as important to growth as net new customers. 

When someone from your marketing team reviews a lead, they make sure it meets these criteria. This review makes it possible for your sales team to avoid contacting leads that have no hope of turning into sales. Here’s an example:

Author's Tip

Author's Tip

Imagine that your company sells a $1,000 software package. If a lead indicates that they have a budget of $100, it doesn’t really make sense for your sales team to keep contacting them. It’s not likely that the lead will suddenly agree to pay 10 times more than they budgeted, no matter how good your software is. During the initial review, your marketing team would filter out this lead, ensuring that the sales team can focus on higher quality leads.

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

A sales qualified lead has moved through the sales pipeline, putting them a few steps closer to buying one of your products or services. Now it’s time for your sales team to work their magic. Converting an MQL into an SQL usually begins with a process known as lead scoring.

Lead scoring involves assigning a numerical score to each MQL. You can assign points based on how each lead behaves or how likely they are to buy from your company. For example, you might give a lead one point for downloading a free report and five points for booking a demo. In this scenario, the demo carries more weight because it requires more commitment on the part of the lead.

In some cases, it makes sense to deduct points from a lead’s overall score. For example, if a lead hasn’t interacted with your brand in several months, you may want to deduct several points to ensure your sales team can focus on leads who are more likely to make a purchase.

Product Qualified Lead (PQL)

Now we’re getting deeper into the sales funnel. In B2B lead generation, a product qualified lead is someone who has experience with your product. They may have downloaded a free trial, booked a demo, or used a limited version of the product to give them a sense of what the full version can do.

PQLs have a higher likelihood of buying from you, as they’ve invested time and effort in trying out your product and learning more about your company. You still have to nurture the relationship, but you won’t use the same nurturing tactics for a PQL as you would for a lead who’s barely had a chance to interact with your brand.

Service Qualified Lead

A service qualified lead is someone who’s indicated that they’re ready to have a conversation with one of your sales reps. There’s no guarantee they’ll buy from your company, but they’re moving closer to making a purchase. What your sales rep does during this conversation can make or break your sales conversion rate, so it’s important to hire experienced sales professionals and provide access to ongoing training to help them keep their skills sharp.

6-Step Lead Generation Process

Now that you know the major types of leads, you can develop a lead generation strategy or refine your existing strategy.

Remember that each type of lead requires a different level of effort from your sales and marketing staff. To execute your strategy successfully, you may need to hire new sales personnel, provide additional training, or change the way your sales and marketing teams interact with each other. 

Aligning all go-to-market (GTM) teams around shared goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) is the best way to ensure efficient and scalable growth. RevOps is your support system in this, building cross-functional systems, processes, and reporting that will keep your revenue engine running. 

Once you’re on the same page about goals, here’s how you can make the most of your lead management process:

1. Know Your Target Audience

First and foremost, you have to understand your target audience. What problems do they have? Where do they spend most of their time? Do they use specialized jargon? You need to know all of these things to ensure you can communicate effectively with potential leads and customers.

When you understand your target audience, you can tailor your messaging to the people most likely to buy from you. If you don’t do market research before you start selling, you may find yourself with disappointing results. Here’s why.

Imagine you sell a service aimed at attorneys who run solo law practices. It doesn’t make sense to run ads in the latest issue of Vogue or buy digital ad space on a website dedicated to playing chess. That’s not where the vast majority of solo attorneys spend their time. You’d be better off advertising on the American Bar Association website or placing an ad in a newsletter mailed to attorneys in a specific region.

B2C marketers need to gather as much information as possible about potential customers. How much do they spend per month on entertainment? How much money do they earn each year? What are their biggest pain points?

2. Create Engaging Content

Content marketing is the cornerstone of an effective inbound marketing strategy. The key is to make your content relevant, valuable, and engaging. When content is relevant, it matches the needs and interests of your target audience. If you have a team of B2B marketers, for example, the content they produce should be relevant to business professionals rather than general consumers.

“Valuable” content isn’t necessarily expensive to produce. It just has to be perceived as valuable by the people in your target audience. If you’re in charge of marketing for a public accounting firm, for example, it may cost your marketing team very little to produce a report containing 10 tips to help business owners reduce their tax liability. The content would be highly valuable to your target audience, however, as it could help them save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on their taxes.

Engaging content educates, inspires, entertains, or provides an alternate point of view on a topic. To make your content as engaging as possible, aim to be original. Instead of copying your competitors, develop something completely unique. You’ll establish your company as an industry leader and give people a reason to keep coming back to your website.

Once your content is live, make sure each page has a strong call to action. You should also use contact forms to collect email addresses, telephone numbers, and other types of information from potential customers. Consider using CRM software to keep track of the information you gather.

3. Promote Across Channels

It would be great if you could go to one website and immediately connect with everyone in the world who has a need for your company’s products or services. Unfortunately, this magical website doesn’t exist. The people in your target audience may visit different websites, read a wide variety of publications, and spend time in different places.

To ensure you reach as many people as possible, you need to use multiple channels for SaaS lead generation. Don’t just post content on your website and then forget about it; post on your most effective social media platforms or partner with other companies to make sure your content has a broad reach. Just make sure your partners aren’t direct competitors.

If you do everything manually, posting to multiple channels can be time-consuming. The good news is that there are plenty of marketing automation tools available to help you save time. For example, you can use social media management software to schedule Twitter posts or track engagement. You can also use automated lead generation tools to record information about your potential customers.

4. Use SEO to Your Advantage

SEO (search engine optimization) isn’t just for technical experts. It’s essential for generating high-quality leads and educating those leads about your offerings. In simple terms, SEO helps the major search engines understand what your website is about. As a result, your site becomes more visible to people searching for specific keywords related to your business and its products or services.

To maximize your SEO results, spend plenty of time doing keyword research. You should be using keywords that match the intent of search engine users who have a need for what your company offers. Users typically have one of these four types of intent:

  1. Informational: People with informational intent want to know more about a topic. Someone who searches for “standard deduction 2023,” for example, is likely looking for information about taking the standard deduction on their 2023 tax return.
  2. Navigational: Instead of typing a URL into their browser’s address bar, some people type the name of a website into their favorite search engine. For example, someone who searches for “Facebook” is likely looking to visit the Facebook website.
  3. Transactional: People with transactional intent are ready to buy something. “Pizza delivery” and “buy refrigerator” are examples of transactional keywords, as they express an intent to make a purchase.
  4. Commercial investigation: This type of intent is a bit different from transactional intent. A user with commercial investigation intent is likely comparing products or wanting to learn more about solutions to a problem. “Best microwaves of 2022” and “top 10 payroll software” are examples of commercial investigation keywords.

5. Convert Visitors to Leads

When someone visits your website, you have a valuable opportunity to convert them from a casual visitor into a warm lead. Remember, a warm lead is someone who’s already expressed interest in your brand, so they don’t require quite as much nurturing as a stone-cold lead.

Here are some tips to help you convert visitors into leads without spending a fortune:

  • Offer something of value in exchange for the visitor’s contact information. It may be a 20% discount, a free report, free shipping, or a no-obligation free trial. Just make sure your offer matches the needs of your audience members.
  • Make sure you have several calls to action on each page of your website. It’s common to have a button at the bottom of the page that says “Click to learn more” or “Book an appointment,” but not every visitor scrolls all the way to the bottom. To turn more visitors into leads, try adding CTAs above the fold or in one of your sidebars.
  • Build trust by making sure your website is easy to use and has plenty of quality indicators. If your company has a specialized certification, belongs to a professional association, or has some type of government accreditation, make sure to mention it. You can also post testimonials from satisfied customers to show visitors that it’s worth engaging with your business.

6. Follow Up

Once you convert a visitor into a lead, don’t just forget about them. You need to keep nurturing your leads to move them through the sales funnel and convert them into paying customers. Send out a weekly email newsletter, offer product discounts, or contact potential customers by telephone to find out more about their needs.

After you convert a lead into a sale, provide excellent after-sales service by following up to make sure the product or service meets the customer’s expectations. This helps build positive relationships, which may lead to more referrals and even more sales for your business.

Make Your Lead Generation Campaigns Sizzle

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Phil Gray
By Phil Gray

Philip Gray is the COO of Black and White Zebra and Founding Editor of The RevOps Team. A business renaissance man with his hands in many departmental pies, he is an advocate of centralized data management, holistic planning, and process automation. It's this love for data and all things revenue operations landed him the role as resident big brain for The RevOps Team.

With 10+ years of experience in leadership and operations in industries that include biotechnology, healthcare, logistics, and SaaS, he applies a considerable broad scope of experience in business that lets him see the big picture. An unapologetic buzzword apologist, you can often find him double clicking, drilling down, and unpacking all the things.