11 Killer Strategies to Generate and Qualify Sales Leads

7 min read

We all want to generate more leads and win more customers.

According to HubSpot, lead gen is the top priority for marketers.

What’s more, Ascend2 found that increasing sales leads (54%) and customer acquisition (49%) are the top primary digital marketing objectives for 2020

But wanting to sell more is one thing; actually doing it is another. Research suggests it’s actually becoming harder to sell, with more than three-fifths of marketers reporting an increase in customer acquisition costs over the past three years.

The most successful sales teams are those that generate and qualify leads most effectively.

#How to Generate

The first part of the story is generating leads in the first place. If you’re not keeping your pipeline topped up, it doesn’t matter how cleverly you qualify your leads, or what proportion you end up closing – you just won’t sell enough.

1. Optimize Landing Pages, SEO, and Content

Paid advertising is a key lead gen tool, and we’ll discuss it later in this article. But it has its limitations. If you stop paying, it stops working.

Organic search is different. If your site is well-optimized for the right terms and topics, you’ll keep bringing in qualified traffic long after the original work was carried out.

Tools like Ahrefs and Google Keyword Planner are your best friends here. Use them to identify keywords and phrases that your potential customers are using to find products or services like yours, then build landing pages to target those terms. Take a look at the Mailshake site and you’ll see this in action, with landing pages dedicated to:

Each of those landing pages is speaking about the same product – but we’ve optimized them to capture traffic based on our different audiences and use cases.

There are a few things to bear in mind when you’re creating new landing pages:

  • Don’t clutter them with hundreds of images, different calls to action, and huge blocks of text.
  • Create bold, enticing headlines that compel the user to read on.
  • Use images thoughtfully to highlight key information and emphasize your message.
  • Include a clear call to action so the user understands what you want them to do next.

Once your landing pages are in order, go back to your keyword tools and search for longer-tail terms to create content around. Every time you create a new blog, ebook, video, or webinar, share it across multiple channels to get as many eyes on it as possible.

2. Paid Advertising

Unless you rank #1 for a high-volume, highly qualified keyword, chances are you’ll need to invest some ad spend to bring in leads, too. But if you don’t truly understand who your customer is, you’ll be burning money, because you won’t know where or how to reach them.

Create customer profiles for every type of customer you serve, incorporating information like:

  • Age range
  • Job title
  • Industry
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Pain points (i.e. the reasons your product would be useful to them)
  • Where they hang out online

Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Ads – and plenty of others – are all potential ways to acquire leads through advertising. Both Facebook and LinkedIn make life easy for marketers by allowing data capture forms to be handled in-app, with much of the information auto-generated from the user’s profile. This makes it much more likely that someone will follow through and hand over their information once they’ve clicked on your ad.

With LinkedIn, your lead gen ad will appear in the feeds of people within your desired audience, incorporating a CTA like “Sign Up” or “Download Now”…

strategies to generate leads

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Once a user clicks on the ad, they’ll be taken to a data capture form within LinkedIn. The fields can be customized depending on the information you want to acquire – you can even add bespoke questions, although LinkedIn won’t be able to auto-generate the information, which can affect completion rates.

strategies to generate leads

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Finally, the user clicks to submit their information, which is sent straight to you.

strategies to generate leads

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3. Referral Programs

Referrals are absolute gold dust for your sales team.

Firstly, they’re already qualified for you by the referrer. And secondly, they give you an “in” to reach out to the potential lead and strike up a conversation. If the referrer passes on a few nice words about how great your product is, all the better.

Smart businesses don’t just wait for referrals to land on their own; they seek them out. Run a bulk email marketing campaign that incentivizes your existing customers to refer members of their network.

The reward you offer will naturally depend on your business model and the value of a new customer. It could be a month’s free access to your service or a gift like an Amazon voucher or an Apple Watch.

4. Networking Events

In a digital world, networking events can seem like an antiquated way to generate leads – but they’re still super effective.

By choosing the right events and speaking to the right people, you’re no longer just some random caller or emailer. Instead, you’re a real person who’s struck up a real conversation – and that makes you a lot more memorable.

When you’re in a networking situation, remember that you’re there to listen. Don’t make it all about you; ask questions to dig into your prospect’s business challenges and goals. And whatever you do, don’t launch straight into a pitch. They’ve come to this event to speak to people and hopefully learn something of value, not to buy from you.

Be sure to follow up with them after. It’s a networking event, so they probably spoke to a lot of people. Prompt them on what you discussed to give yourself the best chance of continuing the conversation.

5. Social Media Platforms

Your social presence – particularly on LinkedIn, which is built with business networking in mind – can be another valuable way to find and connect with new leads.

Start by building a strong profile. People will be much more likely to engage if you look legit and clearly know what you’re talking about. Pay particular attention to:

    • Your headshot: It should look professional and be at least 400 x 400 pixels.
    • Your headline: In 120 characters or fewer, you need to intrigue the reader and make them want to learn more.
    • Your summary: Give an engaging overview of your professional life in 2,000 characters or fewer.

With a souped-up profile in place, join niche groups in which your audience is likely to hang out. Get involved in conversations, and start your own. By adding value, you’ll give people a reason to connect with you and find out more.

6. Live Chat

Think of live chat as a way to turbocharge the lead gen capabilities of your landing pages.

By handling FAQs and directing users to the information they’re looking for, live chat makes it more likely that a prospect will stick around on your site and follow your desired CTA – whether that’s signing up to a newsletter, downloading an ebook, or requesting a demo. 

On a basic level, it also helps you qualify leads. You might set your chatbot to ask if a prospect wants more information, or if they’re just browsing. If they want more information, they’ll be passed onto your sales team.

Live chat can be a gold mine of key learnings, too. Analyze your chat transcripts to identity information that your prospects are struggling to find on your site, then add it to your FAQ page.

7. Cold Outreach

It might be less “sexy” than inbound marketing, but cold outreach is still super effective.

On average, we spend three hours a day checking our work email accounts, and a further two hours a day checking personal accounts. We do it while we’re in bed, watching TV, and attending meetings. So it’s no surprise that brands continue to reach out to us via our various inboxes.

Factor in the immediacy of cold calling and LinkedIn messaging, and it’s clear why cold outreach is still such a valuable sales engagement tactic for so many businesses.

The key to successful cold outreach is not asking too much of your prospects. They didn’t know who you were until you emailed, called, or InMailed them, so why would they immediately agree to a face-to-face meeting or product demo? 

Focus instead on moving them to the next step of the funnel – perhaps by enrolling them in a webinar, or driving them to check out a relevant case study or download your new ebook. 

#How to Qualify

Generating leads is fantastic – but not all leads are created equal. Unless they have the budget, buying power, and an immediate need for your product, they’re not a lead right now – and they may never be.

1. Define Your Ideal Customer

The first step in the qualification process is to understand exactly who you want to be selling to – in other words, the people who are most likely to benefit from your services (and have the budget to pay for them).

By creating an ideal customer profile (ICP), you’re building a blueprint for what an ideal lead looks like. That makes it much easier to disqualify leads that just don’t fit the bill, thereby ensuring that your salespeople are spending their time effectively.

Defining your ICP is about developing a qualitative and quantitative understanding of who your customers are at a company level, incorporating attributes like:

  • Location
  • Company size (by revenue or headcount)
  • Technological maturity levels

 Once created, brief your salespeople so they’re applying it consistently to qualify all new leads.

2. Understand their Needs

Having created your ICP, you need to dig into the things that really make them tick. Your existing customers are your best source of information here. Ask them:

  • What goals are they working toward? 
  • Are they focused on volume or margin? 
  • What problems do they face? 
  • What are their individual, team-level, and company-wide needs and objectives?
  • And, most important of all: how can your product help them to overcome their challenges and achieve their goals?

Once you fully define the role that your product plays and when it’s most useful, you gain a clearer understanding of the types of companies you should be targeting. If a lead doesn’t tick those boxes, they should be disqualified.

3. Know the Decision-Making Process

You might think that if a customer needs your product and has the money for it, they’re a fantastic lead.

But that’s not the full picture. The buying process can be a make-or-break factor in your qualification process. You need to find out:

  • How many people are involved in their decision-making process?
  • Which departments are they from?
  • How long does it take them to sign off on a purchase?

If you’re selling a $20/month SaaS product and your prospect has a six-month buying process, requiring multiple in-person meetings with various department heads, it’s probably not worth all the time and effort.

4. Study Your Competition

Before you can decide if you and your prospect are a perfect match, you need to know about their other options:

  • Which of your competitors are they speaking to?
  • Which other vendors have they worked with before?
  • If they’ve ditched one of your competitors, why didn’t it work out?
  • Are they considering building an in-house solution?

There are lots of issues here that could disqualify a prospect.

If you sell a premium product and everyone else they’re speaking to is at the budget end of the market, price is likely to be a stumbling block. 

Or if they’re planning to take everything in-house in three months, you might not recoup your setup costs by the time they give notice.

Conclusion

Once you’ve gathered all that information, you’re ideally placed to understand whether or not a prospect is truly a good fit. It might seem like a lot of detail, but it’ll save your sales team a ton of wasted effort down the line.

Use this guide to define the key questions you need to ask to qualify your leads, bring all that information together in a one-pager, and circulate it to your salespeople. Embed it in your sales process and they’ll spend more of their time speaking to the right people – and they’ll close more deals as a result.

Sujan Patel is a partner at Ramp Ventures & co-founder of Mailshake. He has over 15 years of marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.
Sujan Patel
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