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Ultimate Guide

What is lead generation?

What is Lead Generation?
Lead generation is the process of collecting contact information from website visitors that can be used to send them marketing or sales information and move them closer to making a purchase.

Why lead generation?

When I first started working in marketing, “going viral” was at the top of every business’ wish list.

Between Harlem Shake videos and memes, the potential flood of traffic, likes, and shares was positioned as the pinnacle of success. But truth be told, these were and usually still are all just vanity metrics.

Vanity metrics are data points that sound impressive and may look flashy (think large follower numbers), but they generally don't correlate with people entering your sales or funnel. That means they don't show any direct impact on your business’ bottom line.

Fast-forward about a decade and hundreds of clients later, and it’s become clear that, large or small, the metric that really speaks the most to your business’s success is revenue — and the biggest way marketers can influence this number is through lead generation.

Lead generation, simply put, is the process of collecting contact information from potential customers that can be used in the future to send them marketing or sales information. This is typically done through a form in exchange for something of value, such as more information or access to exclusive content.

When a person gives you this information, it is assumed that they are interested in your product or service and, therefore, you can nurture them toward making a purchase by sharing more related content. In industries like inbound marketing and sales, where your action is triggered by this act of intent and interest, it's important to understand how to build effective lead generation strategies that create qualified leads.

Lead generation statistics

What does the current state of lead generation look like? Let’s dive into some lead generation statistics to give us more insight.

  • 61% of marketers rank lead generation as their No. 1 challenge. (Source: HubSpot)

    Lead generation strategies aren't easy to develop. If you’re reading this, clearly, you’re not alone.
  • Only 18% of marketers still think that outbound practices provide the highest-quality sales leads. (Source: HubSpot)

    Inbound marketing and other digital approaches to lead generation are quickly becoming the most popular and reliable tactic for creating high quality leads.

  • 88% of B2B marketers use content marketing as a lead generation tactic. (Source: Content Marketing Institute)

    Content marketing specifically is proving to be a trusted lead generation tactic. In fact…

  • Businesses with active blogs gain 67% more leads than firms that do not have blogs. (OptinMonster)
  • 63% of leads who inquire about your business won’t convert for at least three months. (Source MarketingDonut)

    Lead generation and nurturing can be a long process. Even if you’re getting quality leads, it may take some time for them to feel comfortable buying.

  • Using video on a landing page can increase conversion by as much as 86%. (Source: eyeview)

    Video can be a powerful lead generation tool on your landing pages and throughout your content marketing.

  • For every dollar you spend on email marketing, you can expect to earn $42 back. That’s an incredible 4400% ROI, higher than any other lead generation tool. (Source: Campaign Monitor)

    Contrary to popular belief, email is not dead! It is still a valuable part of the lead generation and nurturing process.

Clearly, businesses recognize the importance of effective lead generation strategies and are exploring the best ways to approach them, your sales team is not going to be happy with just any old leads.

As a business, you want qualified leads

If today’s buyers are entering the sales funnel with more education and clarity than ever before, that knowledge has to come from somewhere.

This is where inbound marketing comes in. For inbound sales to work, you need a robust inbound marketing strategy that attracts and educates your visitors so they are as qualified as possible before they speak to your sales team and, if you've done your job correctly, become customers.

In this model, marketers are doing much of the customer education that used to be done by the sales team.

We have resources that cover inbound marketing in much greater depth, but our focus here is on inbound sales. Just know that inbound marketing and inbound sales go naturally together — and neither can operate at its full potential without the other one in place.

Creating a lead generation strategy

Your lead generation strategy will depend on the steps of your buyer’s journey and inbound sales process, but all lead generation strategies include documentation of these crucial pieces:

  • A plan for generating quality leads
  • A plan for qualifying leads
  • A plan for segmenting, following up, and handing off leads

Generating quality leads

Your lead generation strategy needs to include a plan for what you are actually going to do to get people to convert on your website and enter your database. More specifically, that means what compelling offers you are going to create to get people to convert. This could mean a downloadable guide, a webinar, or a variety of other things.

You should know what kinds of pieces are of value to your audience and what subject matter needs to be covered in each stage of the buyer’s journey.

The Buyers Journey 

From there, you need to outline all of the elements needed to complete a conversion path — your call-to-action, landing page, form, thank-you page, and follow-up email.

Qualifying leads

This is the part of your lead generation strategy where you document your criteria for lead quality. In other words, it's what a qualified lead, a marketing qualified lead, and a sales qualified lead each look like. This will include the behaviors each type of lead displays, as well as how that’s reflected in lead scoring.

Following up and handing off leads

Your plan for qualifying leads should then lead to guidelines for how you will follow up with each type of lead and hand them off to sales.

What needs to be accomplished in each stage of the buyer’s journey to move them into the next one? What information will you deliver in your follow-up to do this? Will your follow-up be one step or multi-step?

These questions should be asked for each piece of content you create.

From there, ask yourself: At what point is this lead ready to be introduced to or handed off to enter the sales process? What are the steps of that process?

All of this should be documented in your lead generation strategy.

What does the lead generation process look like?

Now that you know what your strategy is, what does the actual lead generation process look like?

Your exact lead generation process will vary depending on your business and what your sales process entails, but conventionally in inbound marketing it includes the following pieces at a bare minimum:

  • Call-to-action (CTA): An image, button, or message that encourages website visitors to take some sort of action.
  • Landing page: A page on your website dedicated to a specific offer that contains a form that allows them to convert, exchanging their contact information for that offer.
  • Form: Where a visitor inputs their information and enters your database. They are typically on landing pages, but technically can be anywhere on your site.
  • Thank you page: The page that your lead is taken to after they fill out your form that delivers the promised offer. Sometimes this may be replaced by a simple in-line thank you message.
  • Follow-up email: The email sent after the form is filled out, confirming that the request was received, delivering the offer again, or offering next steps.

What does this look like when it is all put together?

Let’s walk through a hypothetical lead generation campaign to illustrate

In most situations, a visitor will first discover your business through a piece of content marketing that is focused on your target audience's needs, such as a social media post or a blog article in a search engine.

Let’s say you’re a travel agent and a user clicks on “5 experts tips for planning your next vacation” in a search engine, bringing them to a blog article on your website.

In an ideal lead generation scenario, here they could read your article and encounter a call-to-action promoting an offer or lead magnet called, “The Essential Vacation Planning Template for 2022.”

Your visitor would be intrigued and click the call-to-action, leading them to a landing page telling them more about the template. They see a paragraph summarizing what the template covers, a thumbnail of what the template looks like, a video discussing it in more detail, and then, a form to fill out to get it.

They fill out the form and are taken to a thank you page with a button to download or view the template that also contains links to related articles and tools.

In most instances, the visitor would also go to their email to view a follow-up message thanking them for downloading the template and finding another copy of it for safekeeping.

This may also be the first of several follow-up messages in a lead nurturing campaign designed to gradually deliver more useful information to this specific member of your target audience, drive them down the marketing funnel, and encourage them to do business with your company.

In other scenarios, they may click a link from social media or a paid ad and follow a call-to-action on your homepage, among many other possibilities. Regardless of their entry point, the journey from website visitor to someone who's speaking to your sales team consistently follows this path.

Lead generation through content marketing

Content is the crux of most lead generation strategies.

First off, it is an effective way to guide users to a landing page — picture how it would look to a customer if you published a blog article that includes a CTA inline, at the bottom of the post, in the hero, or even on the side bar of your page, or even simply sharing links to your website on social media.

But in addition to this, creating content helps create your authority as a helpful and trustworthy expert in your industry. When you offer prospects valuable, accurate, and thorough education that answers their questions, they see that you are not just out to steal their money. You are dedicated to teaching them and helping them make the most informed decision as a buyer. They begin to trust you and feel even more comfortable converting and becoming a lead in your database.

Content itself is also a powerful offer to drive conversions. In fact, it’s quite common for offers to be some form of premium content marketing, such as:

We call this “premium” content because it goes beyond basics and provides some advanced knowledge or engagement with your organization that is more comprehensive than the information you make public on social media or your website.

This means it offers your users higher value, showcases greater expertise in your industry, and is, in turn, worth sharing information to get their hands on.

It also, typically, takes more time and dedication to consume, so when people do convert, you can assume they are more interested and invested in your product, service, or brand.

Popular lead generation tools

Between blogs, premium content, social media, landing pages, calls-to-action, emails, and lead scoring, effective lead generation strategies involve many moving pieces.

You can, of course, find individual tools to help you implement these different pieces (i.e., Sprout Social for social media), but we’ve found it’s more efficient to invest in a marketing automation tool that helps you execute your strategy and campaigns from beginning to end.

Here are some of the most popular.


Hubspot Logo

HubSpot touts itself as an all-in-one marketing, sales, and service tool, and as an Elite Solutions Partner, we quite agree.

The marketing automation tool offers everything you need to put your lead generation process into place. Depending on your package or tier, you can publish content on your website or social media; create a conversion path with calls-to-actions, forms; and landing pages, then follow up with email and a sales and/or service hand-off.

HubSpot also offers a customer relationship management platform to house all of your leads and their activity with your website and organization, as well as a content management system to build and host your website.

Overall, it is among the most powerful lead generation tools for small-to-medium sized businesses looking to streamline their lead generation activities.


Mailchimp Logo 1

Though it was originally known for its user-friendly email services, MailChimp recently expanded its offerings to include some basic email automation as well as landing pages.

It is not as comprehensive and robust as HubSpot, but, depending on your needs, MailChimp can help you effectively generate and communicate with leads, especially if you are a small operation looking to just get your feet wet with lead generation or if you don’t rely on your website for your primary lead generation.


Marketo Logo 1

Similar to HubSpot, Marketo offers a long list of tools to help you execute your entire lead generation strategy.

Its products include marketing automation, email marketing, lead management, account-based marketing, social media marketing, and mobile marketing.

In addition to these, Marketo, recently acquired by Adobe, integrates with Adobe Analytics for metrics and Adobe Target for personalization and testing. Overall, it offers everything you need to create a robust lead generation engine; however, with its technicality, it has a barrier to entry that's higher than most lead generation tools

Generating high-quality leads is essential to closing business

All in all, successful lead generation is the biggest benefit inbound marketing can offer to your organization. When you fully understand your buyer’s journey and how to harness content marketing, calls-to-action, forms, landing pages, and emails to move your target audience through it, you will be well-equipped to feed your business’s bottom line with quality leads and, ultimately, business.

Want to learn more about inbound lead generation and conversion optimization? In this on-demand course, learn how to get started with both to win over more leads on your website.