What is lead generation?

Lead generation definition

Lead generation is the process of creating, maintaining, monitoring, and converting prospect interest. As the second stage of inbound marketing, the lead generation process occurs after you've attracted a group of anonymous visitors and are ready to begin the work of converting them into leads—known as marketing qualified leads (MQLs)—for your sales team to follow up on. Although all marketers have their own set of processes and workflows, the digital lead generation process does have a few commonalities:


Marketing channels

An anonymous person discovers your company through one of your marketing channels—your website, blog, or social media page.


Call to action (CTA)

That person then clicks on your call to action (CTA)—a hyperlinked image, button, or string of text—that encourages them to take the next step.


Landing page

That CTA takes the person (or visitor) to a web asset or landing page. Marketers design their websites and landing pages to capture lead information. Depending on your marketing automation platform, the information you collect can be used to create the lead in your CRM system, update a lead score, trigger a set of retargeting actions, or place a contact into a particular marketing campaign.


Data collection

To move a lead from an anonymous person to a known contact, marketers often use forms to collect contact information, such as email addresses and names. Forms are typically hosted on landing pages, although they can technically be embedded anywhere on your website. Landing page visitors can be prompted to fill out the form to access an offer or a high-value piece of content.


CRM addition

Once added to your CRM, the known contact becomes a lead that can be engaged, scored, and segmented for various campaigns.

Lead generation vs. lead management vs. lead scoring

Lead generation is the process of creating a lead—taking anonymous visitors and turning them into known contacts—who you can engage with directly through your marketing programs.

Lead management The set of processes you use to target and segment contacts throughout their buying cycle and the workflows used to route them as new leads to sales.
Lead scoring One of the many lead management processes, lead scoring is used to rank and prioritize leads based on a person’s propensity to buy.

What is lead nurturing?

Lead nurturing is the process of developing and reinforcing relationships with buyers/customers at every stage of the sales funnel. A successful lead nurturing program focuses marketing and communication efforts on listening to the needs of customers and known contacts and then providing the information and answers needed to build trust, increase brand awareness, and maintain a connection until they’re ready to make a purchase. Because most newly generated leads don’t immediately result in a purchase, it’s crucial to nurture relationships through a strategic lead scoring system. The stronger the lead scoring system, the more likely you are to identify the leads that are actively looking to make a purchase.

What is outbound lead generation?

Outbound lead generation is when marketing and sales align to find new leads to reach out to. Most advertising (except for retargeted ads) falls under outbound lead generation, in addition to cold calling, email marketing, and some account-based marketing.

What is inbound lead generation?

Inbound lead generation emphasizes content marketing by focusing on the creation of content and corresponding marketing campaigns that can draw in anonymous website visitors and convert them into leads. It can involve SEO strategies, content syndication programs, paid search, and paid/organic social media activities to get your content in front of prospects.

Outbound lead generation vs. inbound lead generation

The big difference between outbound and inbound lead generation is that with outbound, the marketer initiates the first interaction by sending a message to prospects. With inbound lead generation, you encourage prospects to come to you. Your marketing team works to make it as easy as possible for them to find your company based on search and relevant content, so they can decide when and how they will reach out to you. While other differences may impact effectiveness, a marketer may be constrained by resources that dictate using one method over the other. These constraints include:

  • Can you be sure that the potential customer prefers the channel you're using? In outbound lead generation, the marketer has to guess or use the same channel for all prospects, while with inbound, prospects find you on the channels they search.
  • Do you need more control during the conversations/engagement? In outbound lead generation, the duration is limited, while with inbound, a new offer or piece of content can generate leads over an indefinite amount of time.
  • Does your marketing team have the required marketing skills? There are some definite skills marketers must bring to the table. In outbound lead generation, these skills are campaign planning, graphics and web design, copywriting, and outbound calling skills. With inbound, the same outbound skills apply as well as SEO, social media marketing, and other digital marketing concepts.
  • Can you put in the effort required? In outbound lead generation, direct emails and phone calls require more time and effort. They also cost more. More expertise may be required with inbound, but the benefits are ongoing and the long-term costs are lower.
  • Is your team able to leverage the most common channels? In outbound lead generation, direct email, placed ads, and cold calling are the most common. With inbound, marketers typically use blogs, social media, SEO, and content offers.
  • Are you able to engage with customers on their timeline? In outbound lead generation, the marketer decides timing, while with inbound, the prospect chooses.

Why is lead generation important?

Without the ability to generate leads, a business would struggle to grow sales and expand. Many companies today focus on increasing website traffic so they can convert visitors into leads into customers.

Lead generation objectives include:

  • Increase in traffic
  • Brand awareness and competitive positioning
  • Conversion of prospects into customers
  • Attract a quality audience
  • Boost sales
  • Build customer loyalty
  • Attract influencers and bloggers
  • Increase customer/potential customers engagement

What is the first step in lead generation?

Maybe you’ve wondered, "how do I generate leads?" and don’t know where to begin. When it comes to generating leads, it’s important to align your sales and marketing teams to define your target customer or audience. With a fully defined target audience, it’s easier to develop the specific marketing strategies and content that will resonate with those specific targeted segments.

How is lead generation and demand generation different?

How is lead generation and demand generation different?

If lead generation were a spoken conversation, it would be a quiet, one-on-one chat. The verbal equivalent of demand generation, however, is shouting. It gets attention, which is how marketers develop and manage buying interest across a broad body of consumers.

Although any message can be shouted or whispered, there’s a reason you use one in certain situations and not the other.

Demand generation

Most B2C companies direct their message to large groups of people. They have an audience, and to showcase what they believe that audience’s need is, they focus on demand generation. They do use outbound tactics like billboards and telemarketing, but inbound tactics like social media, word-of-mouth/grassroots and influencer marketing tend to be more successful. But the biggest challenge with demand generation strategies tends to be the low conversion rates.

How to make lead generation more effective

Simply put, lead generation is all about nurturing your prospects throughout the buying process, educating them about your products, engaging with them, and building trust along the way. The following strategies are specific ways the companies can effectively generate and nurture leads:

  • Gate content only for very high-value assets, such as analyst reports
  • Create a value-packed newsletter with links to relevant content on your web pages
  • Host events for product education, product innovations, or to share customer success stories
  • Offer a coupon or discount
  • Provide a free product sample or free trial
  • Use live chat on your website
  • Optimize social profiles to promote your lead magnet—trial subscription, samples, technical briefs, or free consultations
  • Pay to promote lead magnets on social media
  • Target top-of-funnel keywords
  • Retarget visitors that have engaged with your brand
  • Create a referral reward system

How can you generate leads faster?

There are many ways to speed up the process of generating leads. Check the messaging on your homepage on your website. Your homepage will generally receive most of your web traffic, so it’s important to make sure that messaging is clear, up to date, and resonates with your visitors. Additionally, devise a content strategy that provides valuable resources—such as technical briefs, ebooks, or guides—to those interacting with your brand. If customers consider something to be of value, they are more likely to keep coming back for more. To further bolster these efforts, add a call-to-action for email sign-ups (newsletters, promotions, etc.) so that you can continue interacting with potential customers at regular intervals.

How to benefit from lead generation

Your company can benefit from different lead generation strategies and programs in several ways:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Reduce the cost per lead, gaining higher profit margins
  • Target the customers and prospects most interested in your brand
  • Create personalized customer experiences (CX)
  • Reduce the costs that go hand in hand with increased campaign effectiveness

Lead generation examples

The following are some proven tools and techniques that marketers have been using to generate more leads:

  • Gated content, such as business and technical briefs, ebooks, guides, reports, and classes/courses
  • Newsletters with new blog posts, product and service updates, special offers, renewal information, and upcoming events
  • Host in-person and virtual events, such as webinars, workshops, meetups, seminars, and conferences
  • Offer a "freemium" or a basic product free of charge with additional features or services for a fee
  • Optimize your website with a visible call-to-action (CTA) or live chat

What is the role of lead generation in digital marketing?

Digital marketing is a culmination of all efforts that marketing teams take to communicate with customers and potential customers using various digital channels, such as websites, search, digital media, email, and mobile apps.

Lead generation is a function of digital marketing; it’s the process of attracting and converting strangers and known persons into those who’ve indicated an interest in your company's product or service. When a stranger initiates a relationship with you by showing interest in your business, the transition from anonymous to known customer begins.

Once a lead is generated, marketers can engage effectively using the proper digital marketing channel for any given lead.

How do you automate lead generation?

The easiest and most effective way is to use a marketing automation tool. By using a marketing automation tool, you can automate email campaigns, personalize experiences, and track leads throughout the customers’ journeys. Additionally, you can leverage web personalization tools to personalize your communication to prospects and optimize the web experience that viewers will see, whether it’s a new lead or an existing lead visiting your website.

How do marketing automation tools help with lead generation?

Marketing automation replaces manual processes, letting you collect all the necessary data to identify the best leads and introduce them to your most relevant and valuable content. Marketing automation platforms give marketers efficiency and speed. Even smaller brands with smaller marketing teams can outperform those with more headcount and resources when the right tasks are automated.

How does lead generation work in B2B marketing?

Lead generation in B2B marketing involves the process of collecting a potential customer’s information to personalize communications and convert prospects to customers.

B2B leads are generated in a variety of ways, including:

  • Direct mail
  • In-person and virtual events
  • Email marketing
  • Telemarketing
  • Blogs
  • Social media
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)

Once a lead is generated, it will be nurtured across the buyer’s journey with the ultimate goal of turning a lead into a customer.

Channels to use for lead generation in B2B marketing