9 ways to generate leads online, explained in detail (Best for beginners)
What’s harder than being new to the world of online lead generation? Realizing there are so many ways you can generate sales leads.
You’re not alone in this; it really is overwhelming. Sending emails, writing a Facebook post, creating an infographic, hosting a webinar—practically every other online activity seems ideal for sales lead generation.
It’s a bummer when you find out there was a lead generation channel you could’ve used but didn’t.
That’s where this blog can help you.
In the next 15 minutes, you’ll get a concrete list of 9 channels you can use to generate sales leads online. I’m diving deep into each channel to analyze its characteristics and scope; when you know what each channel is capable of, it’s easier to decide which one(s) you should focus on. This blog is deliberately exhaustive so it can double up as your checklist; you might just want to bookmark this one.
Here’s a quick look at the 9 ways to generate sales leads online before we dive into each of them:
- Content marketing
- Landing pages, website optimization and SEO
- Social media
- Review platforms
- Online PR
- PPC ads
- Display ads
1. Content marketing
It doesn’t matter if you’re B2B or B2C—if you want to organically generate sales leads online, content is the way to go.
Content marketing involves creating and distributing educational content about your domain. Your primary intent is not to sell your product/service, but to create trust and authority around your voice and, by extension, your business. This is an “inbound” way of generating leads for your business, as opposed to the outbound model of making a plain sales pitch up front.
Here’s an example of how this is done.
Let’s assume you make CRM software. If you write a lengthy blog about why your product is better than X and Y, it’s just another product push on the internet. Instead, if you write a blog about how CRMs in general help businesses manage their leads better, you’re providing answers to a question businesses are constantly asking. Your blog—if written well—can be the content they’re looking for. It automatically gets people interested in who you are and what you do, and now you have a conversation starter for your business.
Content marketing can be done using a variety of content formats.
|Blogs||Writing a blog is very different from writing an article on paper. A lot of factors come into play, like optimizing your content to align with what people are searching for, making sure the relevant keywords are included in your blog, and formatting your blog to make it readable (with short paragraphs and plenty of white space). Remember to pick topics that people are talking about, and maintain a conversational tone when you’re writing.|
|Infographics||The staple rule of infographics remains simple: more graphics, less text. An infographic, by definition, is information presented in a graphical format. So instead of listing a bunch of stats, for instance, you use graphical elements (like icons) around each stat and whip them together into a neat image. This image can be embedded in or shared across websites. When you decide to create your first infographic, check out Canva, a user-friendly tool that’ll help you get started in no time.|
|Videos||Video is quickly outranking text as the most engaging form of online content. In 2015, social video boasted 1200% more shares than text and images combined, according to Brightcove. As attention spans keep decreasing, 1-minute videos (and shorter) are getting maximum engagement. You might want to remember this the next time you make a video.|
|Images||On the internet, visual content trumps textual content every day. You can use stock images from platforms like Shutterstock (for licensed pictures) and Unsplash (for free photos). If you’re looking for quality graphic designers who can create a visual voice for your brand, communities like Dribbble and Behance are hotbeds of talent.|
|SlideShare decks||SlideShare decks are great for a couple of reasons: you get your point across quickly, and you get to repurpose content from a longer content piece (like a blog). If you’re wondering how a PowerPoint presentation can be effective for an audience outside your organization, Netflix’s culture deck went viral after it appeared on SlideShare.|
|Memes||I’m not kidding. Memes connect with a wide audience, so the best place to use them is social media. And memes are not out of place in B2B—if you can nail pop culture references and find parallels with your business/domain, you’ll resonate. Case in point: The Daily Sales, a page that discusses life in sales, on LinkedIn.|
|GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format)||Again, I’m not kidding. As much as dog GIFs and cat GIFs seem like cheap thrills, they help you come across as a business that millennial customers can relate to and approach. And it’s not just funny GIFs; content about your product/service can be turned into GIFs too. A short GIF can be used in place of a how-to video, for instance. For some of the best stock GIFs on the internet, take a look at Giphy.|
|Podcasts||For people who prefer audio content and have to endure long commutes, podcasts fit right in. You need to have a long-term goal with podcasts because they’re not one-off content pieces; they’re served as a series. Also, when people tune into your podcast, they expect quality discussions and insights in return for their time—so remember to steer clear of rambling conversations. For the record, podcasts can be video too.|
|White papers||This is the more traditional content format among the lot. A white paper is a long-form write-up that's extensive, well-researched and often packed with statistics and quotes. It sets you up as a thought leader in your space, so you’ve got to be extra careful when you’re writing white papers. You also need more time to write them. White papers are usually gated content, which means the visitor must provide their email ID to access the white paper.|
|Case studies||Case studies are perfect testimonials for your business, because they have customers talking about how they’ve used your product/service to solve their problems. It’s not just your big customers who can give you great case studies; if you’ve done business with someone long enough, they can make for a great story. Reason? There’s always someone out there who can relate to another business’s problem(s).|
All this content can be produced and distributed through your own website, but there’s another way too.
Creating content for third-party websites is crucial to earning backlinks—the links that lead back to your website from other sites.
Here’s an example of how it works.
You write a blog for a third-party website. In return, you get to include a link back to your business in the blog. Your content reaches a wider audience; both you and the third-party website reap the benefits of this readership. Third-party websites generally have stringent guidelines on how you can promote your business within your content. For instance, you cannot have the same number of hyperlinks that you’d have for a page on your own website. So you’ll need to be careful about where you place your precious link(s).
Remember that you just cannot discount the power of backlinks in content marketing. Google recognizes a website largely on its authority, and backlinks from credible domains lend significant authority to your own website. This in turn determines where your website ranks on Google for the search terms you’re targeting.
But more on that in the next section.
2. Landing pages, website optimization and SEO
A landing page is where visitors land after being directed from an ad you’ve posted on Google, or from a link in your social media posts. It’s an opportunity to present your business and convert the visitor into a lead.
Successful landing pages combine copy and design in a way that establishes your value proposition in the reader’s mind.
In the heading of a landing page (called H1 in HTML parlance), you typically outline the customer’s problem or provide a solution. The H1 is consistent with the message in the ad/social post that led the visitor here. The landing page then proceeds to explain how your business can solve the problem, but not in too much detail; a landing page usually doesn’t exceed 3-4 folds.
The lead’s information is captured through a signup form and/or a CTA (call-to-action) button in the page. To prevent visitors from dropping off, landing pages generally have no external links, although businesses sometimes take a chance by including a solitary link back to their website.
Landing pages are a classic case of trial-and-error: you try various H1s, move elements around the page, and keep iterating on the CTA copy until more and more visitors convert into sales leads. A tool like Freshmarketer is useful when you want to analyze your landing page for clicks, scroll rates and other forms of engagement.
These tips will help you generate more leads from your landing pages:
- Avoid walls of text.
- Make your copy visually appealing by laying it out in bullets and shorter paragraphs.
- Use a judicious mix of images and videos.
- Keep the page brief, and prioritize value over length.
Optimizing your website in particular and your content in general requires a sound understanding of SEO (search engine optimization) techniques.
SEO can be slightly intimidating to those who’re new to Google and its mysterious ways, but you don’t need to panic.
Think of SEO as a sustained activity to spruce up your online presence so more people can find you.
For more people to find you, you need to break into page one of Google. Let’s admit it, you and I don’t go past Google’s page one, and neither does the rest of the world.To stake your place on page one of Google, your website must contain content that matches searchers’ intent. And it must be optimized for both desktop and mobile users. #SEO #LeadGen Click To Tweet
This implies a ton of work: getting images to scale according to screen size, ensuring tables don’t bend into the edge of a smartphone’s screen, writing copy keeping in mind the page’s real estate/character limits, and many more such nuances.
Be sure to include different content types on your website: copy, images, videos, animations, CTAs. And be sure to place them all in strategic locations. If you place a sign-up CTA below a video explaining what your product does, you have a higher chance of attracting clicks than when you place the CTA above the video.
In a website, two elements are indispensable: a chat widget and a signup form. Using live chat to respond instantly to a website visitor is essential if you want to keep their interest alive and gain mindshare. A real-time interaction can often be the difference between a visitor dropping off and becoming your lead. As for the signup form, make sure you request only for the essential details, and desist from making the visitor feel like they’re filling out some application form.
Use a tool like Moz or Ahrefs to pick up keywords that are used in your industry. There are two sides to this strategy: you either pick a high-volume keyword (which means more people are searching for it, and there’s already a ton of content around it), and you create quality content to break into this competitive space. Or you pick keywords with low search volume, create content around them, and gain first-mover advantage in this space. You can create content in the various formats already discussed in this blog. For the specific purpose of website optimization, SEO pages—in-depth webpages around a specific topic—work really well.
To illustrate, a lot of first-timers to the CRM space begin by googling “What is CRM?”. This keyword is raging hot; it has a monthly search volume of 54K. An SEO page that answers this question is a good way to grab eyeballs and become a part of the discussion, especially if you’re a SaaS company that makes CRMs.
3. Email marketing
People like to write obituaries for email. It’s a soft target because it’s a relatively old channel of communication.
But here’s a reality check: email is alive and kicking.
Along with content marketing, email is the most preferred channel for online lead generation, according to a report from Ascend2.
And the reasons are pretty straightforward too.
- It’s simple (you don’t need a developer’s efforts or a designer’s time to write an email).
- It’s valuable (an email is often the first point of entry to a lead).
- It’s ubiquitous (everybody has an email ID, and that’s not changing anytime soon).
In fact, you even have email templates that you can use to connect with prospects right away.
So how does email marketing actually help you generate sales leads?
Imagine a website visitor signs up for your blog. You know they’re interested in what you’re talking about. If you’re a B2B SaaS company, you can leverage this interest to begin a personalized discussion that eases them down your sales funnel.
You can use subject lines that reference their recent activity on your website. (Can I share some some useful info about our pricing?)
You can address them by name at the top of the email. (Hey Walter! It’s been a while since we caught up. How have you been?)
You can draw their attention to developments in your business that they might be interested in: a new blog, a product update, or a promotional offer. (You get a flat 40% off on your annual subscription if you sign up this week.)
Always use a single CTA in an email. Asking your recipient to do too many things in one email usually means they’ll do nothing at all. If it’s an offer to download an ebook, state it without ambiguity; don’t distract them with multiple offers.
4. Social media
The best thing about social media is it’s hard to keep up with sales leads once they start flowing in.
But when do they start flowing in? That takes some work and time, but it’s not too difficult when you have quality content and a distinctive voice.
Take Wendy’s on Twitter.
Wendy’s has 2.57 million followers as I write this. They distinguish themselves with a stinging sense of humour, take digs at competition in clever ways, are quick to seize upon current trends, and most importantly, they reply to tweeters. Not all the time to everyone, but enough to maintain a healthy relationship with Twitterverse.
A sample of of how Wendy’s speaks:
On social media, a lot of businesses make the mistake of using it only like a megaphone to blare out announcements about themselves.
Take time to discuss news about your industry, share tips that aren’t always compiled by you, and never shy away from a conversation. People are very perceptive to a brand’s voice, and if yours is unique, they’ll recognize and appreciate it instantly.
We are a restaurant
— Wendy's (@Wendys) April 5, 2018
TFW yo beef’s still frozen pic.twitter.com/C0lgiNo9Ca
— Wendy's (@Wendys) May 8, 2018
On the other hand, as a targeted exercise, you can also employ a number of tactics to generate sales leads through social media.
Run a contest/poll, invite people to join a campaign, go live on Facebook—in addition to sharing links (leading back to gated content), running paid ads, announcing referrals and product/business updates. On social media, your lead generation initiatives are really only limited by your own creativity.
It also helps to remember that you need to be able to switch tones depending on the platform, and still retain the brand’s essence. Wendy’s on Twitter speaks differently from Wendy’s on LinkedIn, but you know it’s them.
You can find below a list of popular social media platforms. I’ve segmented them by B2B and B2C, but like a lot of things digital, boundaries are blurring and businesses are exploring everything. So take a look at each platform before deciding what’s best for your business.
For B2C: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram
For B2B: Anything from the above list as appropriate, Quora, Reddit, LinkedIn
A quick note on Quora and Reddit here. These are information hubs, not promotional platforms. While Quora is a shade lenient in allowing you to plug your product into an answer, Redditors are quick to spot a marketing attempt and quicker to penalize you. The standard rule of social media applies here: genuine conversations only.
Webinars are to online lead generation what events/trade shows/conferences are to offline lead generation. It all comes down to picking a topic that people are interested in, getting the right speaker on board, and having a quality conversation.
Sounds a lot like a podcast? Not really—and for two main reasons:
- Your audience needs to sign up if they want to attend your webinar. A podcast doesn’t require signups.
- A webinar is a live discussion. A podcast is a recorded file.
You can use various channels to let the world know you’re hosting a webinar. Your website can have a sticky header, you can send emails to your mailing list, and you can share a link to the webinar on your social media pages.
When you’ve completed your webinar, here are a couple of recommended follow-up practices:
- You can send targeted messages to your registrants based on registrant type, like existing customers, recurring registrants, and new registrants.
- You can transcribe the webinar into a blog and publish it, so it can reach a wider, different audience. If you’re able to distil the insights into a presentation, you can repurpose your webinar on SlideShare too.
When you get a renowned speaker for your webinar, their popularity enables you to gain more sales leads. Their tweets and posts reach far and wide, so the leads generated from this activity can be shared between the two of you.
The speakers for your webinars usually cost you, depending on how popular the speaker is. But if you’ve got a strong social circle, and you can’t afford to spend too much, you can leverage this network to help set you up.
6. Review platforms
Every business in every industry has at least one hugely popular platform for search, discovery and reviews.
The hospitality industry has TripAdvisor.
The food industry has Yelp.
The job search industry has Glassdoor.
If you’re in B2B SaaS, you start by getting listed on a site like G2 Crowd. And then the adventure begins: obtaining reviews from your users/customers.
Review platforms are completely user-driven, so you’ll need to pull out all your networking skills to keep the review count ticking. Some users are more than happy to leave reviews on request. Some others need an incentive, like a discount on your product/service, or a gift card. Negative reviews don’t need your initiation, of course. Just make sure you’re on hand to respond to the review, and close the loop by following up with the respective reviewer.
These review platforms are your content bank—they’re a form of content marketing without you writing the content. New businesses and those looking for a change of product/service are always stopping by review platforms. They often make a decision solely on the authenticity of what your users say. This is one very important reason for you to refrain from posting fake reviews.
An important pointer: update your profile on every single platform where you’re reviewed. You cannot afford outdated information about your business anywhere on the web. Discerning searchers can quickly notice inconsistencies between profiles on different websites, so don’t take any chances.
7. Online PR (Public Relations)
I’ve included online PR towards the end of this list because it involves spending money.
Look out for product evangelists and social media influencers. Their word can amplify traffic to your website and help you generate more sales leads. But these people don’t come cheap. If you’re a small business or a startup, it’s a better idea to spend your first few months generating leads through content, social media and email before you step into this game.
For online press releases, PRWeb and PRNewswire are two popular websites. Many other news sites syndicate content from these two, so if you can develop connections here, you’ll get a wide reach and quality backlinks. However, both PRWeb and PRNewswire are paid press release sites. Keep an eye on your budget before you approach them.
8. PPC (pay-per-click) ads
PPC ads are the first three or four search results that appear on Google when you type stuff like “best crm software.” They look exactly like regular search results, except that they have the tag “Ad” before the hyperlink.
As the name suggests, PPC ads cost money. You create them on Google Adwords, and this is how they work—a visitor clicks on your ad and goes to a landing page where you explain your business; you pay Google for each click you get. The amount you pay is directly dependent on the popularity of the keyword you’re writing your ad around. Closely contested keywords require you to spend more because many businesses are bidding for them. A less popular keyword means unexplored territory, so you’ll spend lesser.
So who invests in PPC ads? Businesses who don’t have time to organically rank at the top of Google’s search results, but have the budget to spend on ads.Three key benefits from investing in PPC ads: you get into the first fold of search results (which is the hottest property on Google), you capture people’s attention, and you increase the probability of a click. #PPC #LeadGen Click To Tweet
With PPC ads, it’s all about optimizing your copy with the relevant keywords, within the limited space you have. Notice from the image that each PPC ad comprises a title, a hyperlink, and a meta description.
You need your best copywriters to capture your business succinctly in this tight space. Businesses generally prefer keywords over descriptive sentences in PPC ads. Well chosen words, when arranged judiciously, can describe your business better in this context.
9. Display ads
Display ads are the digital equivalent of hoardings and billboards, on a much smaller canvas, of course.
Display ads are more creatively satisfying than PPC ads—you get to play around with copy, images, illustrations, and even animation. But a couple of features from PPC ads remain the same here:
- You work with limited ad space.
- When someone clicks on your ad, they go to a landing page.
To make your display ads a valuable lead generation channel, here are a few best practices you can follow:
- Be careful while selecting websites where your ad is going to be featured. These must be domains that are as close to your target audience as possible, they must be domains with authority, and they cannot be controversial websites.
- Address a problem or provide a benefit—DO NOT spend that precious ad space waxing lyrical about your company. Your viewer is scrolling down that page in a second or lesser, so you’ve got a very, very minimal timeframe to offer value and seize their attention.
- Ensure a consistent message between your display ad and your landing page. You can’t have an ad that talks about why your CRM is the best for startups, and then lead the visitor to a landing page that explains what your CRM system can offer for businesses in general.
- Even if you have no body copy in your ad, invest all your energy in writing a clear CTA. The CTA button appears prominently, and plays the most crucial role—that of getting the viewer to click. Choose the colour, copy and placement very carefully.
So there you have it.
9 ways, each with a unique ability to generate more sales leads for your business.
You must be wondering: leads come in through so many channels, do I need multiple sales tools to handle them all?
With a single tool like Freshsales CRM, you can store leads, make calls, send emails, set up meetings, create reports and find out what your leads are looking for on your website and inside your product.
Know other lead generation techniques we can all learn about? Tell us in the Comments!
Happy selling 🙂
Thank you Sailesh Gunasekaran for designing the cover image.
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