What Is Lead Generation? And How to Get Started

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn how lead generation can improve your business and take action to get the most out of a lead generation strategy.

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Lead generation is the process of attracting people to your business so that you can nurture their interest in your products and services and convert them into paying customers. 

A good lead generation system can make it easier for your business to grow. You can gain exposure, attract aligned prospects, and guide them easily toward a purchase, while freeing up more time and energy to envision the next best version of your business.  

Different types of leads

Before we go into how to generate leads, it’s important to have a firm understanding of what a lead is and the different types of leads your business may attract. That way, you can meet leads where they are and provide support and experiences at each point in their journey toward becoming customers. 

Cold leads are people who have not yet expressed interest in your products and services, but they match your ideal customer profile (explored in the next section) based on their demographic and psychographic details. 

Warm leads are people who are familiar with your business and may even engage with the content or other aspects of your customer experience, but have not yet made a purchase. Engagement might include following you on social media, subscribing to your blog or newsletter, or attending your events. 

Hot leads are people who have expressed interest in your products and services, perhaps by reaching out directly to ask questions or booking a meeting to learn more. With hot leads, there is more urgency around responding to their needs and leading them to make a purchase.

One important goal is to qualify your leads, that is, ensure that they are the right fit for your business and the products and services you offer. Use these four types to examine qualified leads in your business: 

  • An information qualified lead is at the stage of researching solutions to a problem and may share information about themselves with your business, such as by filling out a contact form.

  • A marketing qualified lead is highly likely to become a customer based on their activity and engagement with a business, such as by downloading free lead magnets, visiting certain site pages, and interacting with certain social posts. 

  • A sales qualified lead is someone who is likely ready to advance from engagement with a business to the sales process.

  • A product qualified lead is someone who has used a product or benefitted from a service, perhaps with a free trial, and is now exhibiting signs of being ready to make a purchase.

How to generate leads for your business  

Use the strategies below to attract new potential customers and generate leads.

1. Identify your business objectives. 

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What do you want your business to look like in the next quarter, six months, and year?

  • What specific things need to change for this growth to happen?

  • What current or new offers do you want to sell?

  • How many sales do you need to make to reach your goals?

  • How many leads do you need to convert into customers?

2. Create an ideal customer profile. 

To be able to generate leads and guide them to make a purchase, you’ll need to know your ideal customer. That way, you can focus your efforts on attracting people who are the most likely to buy from you, become loyal customers, and even recommend your products and services to others.

Whether you serve individual consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B), think of an ideal customer profile as a hypothetical representation of the kinds of customers you can best serve. 

Here are a few basic questions for building an ideal customer profile:

  • What kinds of individual consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B) most need your products and services? Who can benefit the most from them?

  • What are their demographics (for example, the age and geographical location of consumers, or the industry, company size, and annual revenue of other businesses)

  • What are their psychographics, including values and beliefs, goals and desires, challenges and roadblocks?

Based on your answers to the above questions, write a story about the problem your ideal customer experiences, what they want to experience instead, and how your product or service can meet their needs. 

3. Investigate lead generation strategies in your industry. 

This section covers common lead generation strategies that businesses use to turn prospects into paying customers. Consider which of them will work best for your business goals, your industry, and the ideal customer you want to serve. Use any combination of them to collect leads’ contact information, so that you can follow up with them in a nurture sequence.   

Go offline.

Even in the digital age, offline lead generation can still be effective, especially in the B2B realm. Here are three examples of offline lead generation: 

  • Attend networking events to meet potential customers face-to-face, talk with them directly about their needs and goals, share information about your business, and exchange contact information. 

  • Sponsor other organizations’ events to position your brand in front of attendees who may be interested in your projects and services.

  • Ask your satisfied customers for referrals to leverage the power of social proof. Potential customers are more likely to buy from you when their personal contacts recommend your brand. 

  • Advertise on physical objects billboards or fliers, through direct mail, or in print publications. Promote your business visually or tactically to get potential customers’ attention when they are engaged in activities that don’t involve the internet.  

Host events. 

To boost your online and local lead generation, consider hosting events. Doing so can draw potential customers to crave-worthy experiences and prime them to consider purchasing additional products and services your business offers.

Here are two examples: 

  • Offer free or low-cost experiences like classes, workshops, webinars, and conferences to educate your audience on topics related to additional paid offers. 

  • Organize performances, parties, and festivals to entertain your audience and attract them to future events, merchandise, and related products.

Event hosting tip: You can collect attendees’ contact information through event registration apps like Meetup and Eventbrite, as well as through the video conferencing app Zoom.

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Build a social media following. 

Post content, including tutorial videos, blog posts from your site, images, memes, infographics, or polls, to engage followers and endear them to your brand, products, and services. 

As your content garners a following, you can generate leads in several ways, including:

 

  • Inviting followers to comment on posts, send you a direct message, or reach out via email  

  • Posting links to your website and/or sales pages to drive traffic there  

  • Posting irresistible lead magnet offers

  • Hosting giveaways and contests to create more buzz

  • Reposting content from your followers and show your support 

  • Asking followers to re-post, share, or retweet content to their pages 

  • Creating a Facebook group around a specific topic or purpose to foster community 

  • Participating in other Facebook groups or online forums 

Turn your website into a lead generation machine. 

Here are a few ways to optimize your website to convert the people who land on it into leads: 

 

  • Curate valuable, SEO-friendly content on your site that informs site visitors, speaks to their challenges and goals, and garners their interest in your products and services.

  • Offer free, “gated” content in the form of a lead magnet, such as an ebook, video tutorial, report, quiz, or a product trial that visitors can access once they subscribe via email. 

  • Minimize the steps site visitors have to take action on a webpage to subscribe via email or make a purchase.

  • Add call-to-action buttons, such as “Sign up to join our next webinar” or “Download our ebook to get our best hacks,” to every section to encourage site visitors to take action. 

  • Limit the information that your intake forms collect to name and email address.   

4. Vet lead generation services. 

There are many apps that can automate the lead generation process and reduce the number of tasks you have to do manually. In general these processes can include:

  • Collecting leads from social media, landing pages, and other channels

  • Storing information about leads for sales and marketing teams to use in closing deals 

  • Delivering a nurture sequence through email

Popular lead generation software includes:

  • Unbounce, a landing page service that combines your value proposition and expertise with machine learning to boost conversion

  • LinkedIn Sales Navigator, which allows you to search LinkedIn for leads based on job titles, cities, industries, and other demographic terms 

  • Salesforce, a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that allows you to engage leads, generate revenue, and deliver your service in one platform 

Depending on where you are in your business development journey, it may be a viable option to enlist a lead generation company.

5. Design a lead generation campaign. 

Once you know your business objectives, ideal client profile, best strategy, and app or service, the next steps are to design and execute a lead generation campaign:

  • Refine your products and services. 

  • Create a lead magnet. 

  • Set up your lead capture method using a combination of strategies, such as a landing page, live event, or print advertisement.  

  • Set up your CRM system.

  • Set up your nurture sequence to guide prospects to make a purchase. 

  • Drive traffic to your lead magnet. 

  • Analyze campaign results and refine it. 

For more ideas on generating leads, watch this video, part of the Salesforce Sales Development Representative Professional Certificate

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Learn the basic principles of lead generation, list building, and research.

Learn lead generation with Coursera

Generating leads is such an important part of a business’s success, and there are a lot of moving parts. Don’t forget that lead generation is only one part of business growth. Getting the right training and support can help you navigate all the challenges so that you reach your business goals faster. 

Consider getting the Salesforce Sales Development Representative Professional Certificate. Inside are four courses which cover such skills as empathizing with your ideal customer, using sales intelligence tools, and connecting with prospects. 

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