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Lead Generation: A Beginner's Guide to Generating Business Leads the Inbound Way

Written by Lindsay Kolowich Cox, Hubspot


What is a lead?

A lead is any person who indicates interest in a company's product or service in some way, shape, or form.

Leads typically hear from your woman-led business or organization after opening communication (by submitting personal information for an offer, trial, or subscription) … instead of getting a random cold call from someone who purchased their contact information.

Let's say you take an online survey to learn more about how to take care of your car. A day or so later, you receive an email from the auto company that created the survey about how they could help you take care of your car. This process would be far less intrusive than if they'd just called you out of the blue with no knowledge of whether you even care about car maintenance, right? This is what it's like to be a lead.

And from a business perspective, the information the auto company collects about you from your survey responses helps them personalize that opening communication to address your existing problems — and not waste time calling leads who aren't at all interested in auto services.

Leads are part of the broader lifecycle that consumers follow when they transition from visitor to customer. Not all leads are created equal (nor are they qualified the same). There are different types of leads based on how they are qualified and what lifecycle stage they're in.

What is lead generation?

Lead generation is the process of attracting and converting strangers and prospects into someone who has indicated interest in your company's product or service. Some examples of lead generators are job applications, blog posts, coupons, live events, and online content. These lead generators are just a few examples of lead generation strategies you can use to attract potential customers and guide them towards your offers. (More strategies here.)

Essentially you should find unique ways to attract people to your business. You want to provide them with enough goodies to get them naturally interested in your company so they eventually warm up to the brand enough to want to hear from you. That’s exactly what lead generation is:

It's a way of warming up potential customers to your business and getting them on the path to eventually making a purchase.

Why do you need lead generation?

When a stranger initiates a relationship with you by showing an organic interest in your business, the transition from stranger to customer is much more natural.

Lead generation falls within the second stage of the inbound marketing methodology. It occurs after you've attracted an audience and are ready to convert those visitors into leads for your sales team (namely sales-qualified leads).

As you can see in the diagram below, generating leads is a fundamental point in an individual's journey to becoming a delighted customer.

What’s the Lead Generation Process?

First, a visitor discovers your business through one of your marketing channels, such as your website, blog, or social media page.

  1. That visitor then clicks on your call-to-action (CTA) — an image, button, or message that encourages website visitors to take some sort of action.
  2. That CTA takes your visitor to a landing page, which is a web page that is designed to capture lead information in exchange for an offer. Note : An offer is the content or something of value that's being "offered" on the landing page, like an ebook, a course, or a template. The offer must have enough perceived value to a visitor for them to provide their personal information in exchange for access to it.
  3. Once on the landing page, your visitor fills out a form in exchange for the offer. (Forms are typically hosted on landing pages, although they can technically be embedded anywhere on your site.) Voila ! You have a new lead. That is, as long as you’re following lead-capture form best practices.

See how everything fits together? To sum it up: 

Visitor clicks a CTA that takes them to a landing page where they fill out a form to get an offer, at which point they become a lead. By the way, you should check out HubSpot’s free lead generation tool. It helps you create lead capture forms directly on your website. Plus, it's really easy to set up.

How to Qualify a Lead

As mentioned, a lead is a person who has indicated interest in your company's product or service. Now, let's talk about the ways in which someone can actually show that interest.

Essentially, a sales lead is generated through information collection. That information collection could come as the result of a job seeker showing interest in a position by completing an application, a shopper sharing contact information in exchange for a coupon, or a person filling out a form to download an educational piece of content.

Gauging a Lead’s Level of Interest

Each of these examples shows the amount of collected information that can be used to qualify a lead.

  1. Job Application: An individual that fills out an application form is willing to share a lot of personal information because he/she wants to be considered for a position. Filling out that application shows their true interest in the job, therefore qualifying the person as a lead for the company's recruiting team — not marketing or sales teams.
  2. Coupon: Unlike the job application, you probably know very little about someone who has stumbled upon one of your online coupons. But if they find the coupon valuable enough, they may be willing to provide their name and email address in exchange for it. Although it's not a lot of information, it's enough for a business to know that someone has interest in their company.
  3. Content: While the download of a coupon shows an individual has a direct interest in your product or service, content (like an educational ebook or webinar) does not. Therefore, to truly understand the nature of the person's interest in your business, you'll probably need to collect more information to determine whether the person is interested in your product or service and whether they're a good fit.

What should you ask for in a lead form?

  • Full Name: The most fundamental information needed to personalize your communication with each lead.
  • Email: This serves as a unique identifier and is how you will contact your lead.
  • Company: This will give you the ability to research your lead’s industry and company and how the lead might benefit from your product or service (mainly for B2B).
  • Role: Understanding an individual's role will help you understand how to communicate with them.
  • Country: Location information can help you segment your contact by region and time zone, and help you qualify the lead depending on your service.
  • Province: Knowing your leads province can help you further qualify them.

Try HubSpot's free lead generation tool. Use it to add simple conversion assets to your site (or scrape your existing forms) to help you learn more about your site visitors and what content prompts them to convert.

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