There are key components at the heart of any business: products and customers. Every other function and activity exists to keep these aspects content and thriving. They have a symbiotic effect on one another – products are designed with customers in mind, and customers influence the evolution of the product. Creating this relationship is crucial for any business – and lead generation is an essential part of this process.

Using the terms ‘lead’ and ‘prospect’ interchangeably defeats their purpose. There are important differences between the two, including why they’re both important, how to convert leads into prospects, and why you need to start doing this immediately.

Leads vs. Qualified Leads

Leads are people whose contact information you have. They may or may not be interested in your service – you don’t know them well enough to judge this just yet. Examples of leads are those who have signed up to be on your email list through a form on your website.

Leads are at the top of your sales funnel, at the broadest part, and have probably just become aware of what it is your company does and offers. They need more convincing and resources before they can move along the buyer’s journey

Qualified leads, on the other hand, are narrowed down leads that have been characterized as being interested and able to invest in your product. They typically fit your ideal target audience and buyer personas, and they’re lower in the sales funnel than leads.

Generating and Qualifying Leads 

Introducing leads into your funnel is a process you want to get right. This approach can lead to a healthy influx of potential customers to engage with and convert. Here’s a breakdown of the process: 

1. Identify Target Audience and Sales Funnel

The first step in your outreach should be to identify your target audience and then create a sales funnel they will journey through to eventually become customers. The process of filtering your leads and narrowing them down into prospects will be an essential part of your funnel. It requires identifying who they are, what their pain points may be, and connecting them to content that addresses those issues via email drip campaigns

It’s helpful to break down the three main stages of the buyer’s journey and from there, pinpoint questions and issues customers have at each of those stages. Then, look through the content you already have (or create new content) that ties into those concerns and questions. 

Source

2. Capture Leads

Once you know your target audience, the next step is to find ways to reach out to them. Run lead gen campaigns via paid advertising on social media so you can tap into each platform’s audience demographics and targeting capabilities. Send dedicated email sequences or partner with other brands with a similar audience to host webinars or digital events. Also, make sure your website has pop-up forms and landing pages so visitors can easily sign up for your email marketing or provide their information in exchange for a whitepaper or helpful guide. 

The purpose? To obtain a database of contact information from within your target audience.

3. Consistently Generate Leads

Lead generation doesn’t have to be expensive. And if your efforts are consistent, you can steadily generate leads without much effort. Here are some simple, cost-effective ways you can get leads: 

  • Content Creation and Social Media. Creating organic content on social platforms is the most popular way to gain a following and capture leads. The advantages here are that it’s cost-efficient and naturally draws an interested audience. The main thing to remember is to create content that will attract the right kind of followers.
  • Podcasts. Podcasts have surged in popularity. Once again, this is content marketing – those who choose to listen to your podcast are interested in what you have to say, so cater your discussions to them.
  • Email Sign-Ups. We mentioned this earlier, but create pop-ups on your website and include sign-up links on other platforms to help you generate a database of leads. Use email tools to help you segment, filter, and manage your lists so you can send the right content to the right people. 
  • SEO and Blog Posts. Optimize your website for organic search by incorporating keywords, managing the backend, and generating backlinks to help people find you. Blogs are a proven way to boost SEO rankings, giving you an opportunity to create digital assets that will keep bringing visitors to your site over time.
  • UX/UI Optimization. After you lead people to your website, how will they find your products or sign up to be on your database? Optimize the user interface and experience to ensure your visitors end up where you want them to.
  • Cold Outreach. When done right, cold outreach can work wonders and open up plenty of opportunities for you. However, be mindful of GDPR regulations as well as local laws.
  • Press Releases. This traditional approach of informing people about happenings within your business is still a valuable tool. Have press releases appear in mainstream media to lend credibility to your business while getting the word out about new products or events.
  • Personal Branding. Personal branding is having a big moment. Encouraging the key figures in your business to leverage their personal brand can work in your favor. For example, Elon Musk has more followers and fans than Tesla. Why? People are more inspiring than brands and can attract more opportunities.
  • Referral Programs. Your current audience or customers are a valuable source of leads, and referrals tend to make the best customers. Incentivize referrals to get your existing customers to help you generate interest in your product. 
  • Networking. Almost all social and professional platforms have groups that you can join to network. This is a more personal and time-consuming approach, but it pays off because you get to talk to people that already fall within your targeted interests. This is a great source of high-quality leads and puts a face and name with your brand, helping to break down barriers.

4. Qualify Leads 

What does it mean to actually “qualify” leads? 

Qualifying is simply the process of determining whether a lead is more likely to be a good fit for your product or service. It’s important to do this because:

  • You can save time and resources by marketing to people who have a higher probability of becoming your customers.
  • It improves your customer conversions. 
  • It helps you customize and grow your product to better meet the needs of your target audience.
  • You enjoy growth in revenue through more sales and better resource utilization.

Let’s look at how you can qualify a lead to become a prospect. The most common method is to apply the BANT framework when approaching a lead: Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline.

Budget

Will your lead be able to afford your product or service? If not, then marketing to them won’t get you anywhere. Unless they have the ability to commit to your product, you’re wasting your time. 

Authority

Who signs off on the decision to purchase? Is it the person you’re speaking to or someone higher up in the organization? Spend more time with the person who’s going to approve the purchase, otherwise, you might find yourself rejected simply because the right person was not convinced. 

Need

Ask questions that will help you find out whether your lead genuinely needs your product and if they have identified and accepted this need. Unless they perceive that your product will solve a problem for them, they won’t commit. Identify their needs to tailor your communication and customize your product.

Timeline

There are many people who need solutions, but you need to be talking to those who need it most urgently. See if your lead has a timeline within which they intend to solve their problem – this ensures you only qualify people who are ready to take action.

5. Convert Qualified Leads into Customers

Now that you have a database of interested prospects, you can focus your resources on converting them into paying customers. 

Things to Keep in Mind

You’re almost ready to start generating and qualifying your leads, but before you hit the ground running, keep these four factors in mind for ultimate success: 

  • Referral Source. If you want to know which marketing avenues are working, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll reverse-engineer your strategy. You should record the referral path of every sales lead who contacts you, whether it’s by banner advertising, search engines, Google Adwords, social media, or any other route. You’ll notice trends and begin to understand what’s working—and what areas you could improve upon. This is valuable not just for maintaining a clear line of communication with your leads (e.g., if they found your product because they searched for “PPC agency,” you immediately know they’re not necessarily interested in your graphic design offerings), but also because it will save your company money and help hone your marketing strategy. Tracking each referral source means you can clearly see which sources are working and which aren’t, so you can stop wasting time and money on inefficient keywords or under-performing advertisements. 
  • Open Communication. Your marketing and sales teams should always be in contact with one another. If they’re not on the same page, folks in the marketing department might start sending qualified leads off to the wrong person in sales or sending leads that aren’t ready down the sales funnel, turning them off for the future. It’s shocking how many small businesses don’t establish what “qualified leads” even are or how the sales funnel process should look. Be sure to clarify from the onset what terms you’re using and how your teams should be communicating with one another. Have regular sit-down meetings to evaluate how the process is going, and ask around to figure out ways to smooth out any potential problems.
  • Response Time. If someone is reaching out to you with interest, why would you leave them hanging? They’re effectively knocking on your door and asking to chat. Try to keep your turnaround time to no longer than 48 hours—24 is even better—and keep your sales team on their toes with ways to answer most questions in a friendly and comprehensive way. And for the leads that get turned off by a rapid-fire response, deploy an effective nurturing strategy that allows for more casual follow-ups down the line. Making a quick first contact is great, but it’s the subsequent moments of contact that will make or break your business in the long term.  
  • A Strong CRM. There’s only one way to combine all the information outlined above—you need an excellent customer relationship management tool. It’s the only way to cleanly organize your data, dividing leads into various categories and eventually customers. You can track all their interactions with your company, so your sales and marketing teams aren’t doubling over the same information, irritating them into not returning. You can also move unqualified leads into their own category, enabling your team to keep in touch while acknowledging that they aren’t ready or interested in what you’re selling right now. The best CRM software will enable you to go a step further, too, integrating your email marketing and data tracking analysis into the same bundle, so you can distinctly segment and communicate with leads with whom you have a certain relationship—say, at the beginning of the sales funnel instead of the end. It’s this kind of individualized relationship that makes your lead generation as efficient as possible.

Converting leads into sales can be a complex process, but with the right tools and education, your business can make the most efficient use of the time and resources available to you. Products and businesses stay alive because of sales, and it’s always a smart move to bolster that part of your operations and equip your team to deliver their best.