Launching a startup is a thrilling time. You get your product out to the world, pop the bubbly, and sit back and wait for the dollars to start rolling in.
Except 9 out of 10 startups will fail, so maybe don’t dust off that bottle of Dom just yet.
Look, you’ve accomplished a lot, and you should absolutely be proud. But the hard work isn’t over after launch — it’s only just beginning. First, you need to understand why it’s so damn hard to make a startup a success.
Sure, money is tight and the competition is fierce. That makes sense, and you knew that going in. But the Big Scary here is that gray area marked “All others.” What does that mean?
It means that there are plenty of hardships facing all startups, and they aren’t all black and white. One challenge most startups face is finding customers. That’s because customers don’t actually start out as, well, customers. Instead, they start as leads. And that means you’re going to need lead generation if you want to grow.
What Is Lead Generation?
Lead generation is the strategy you use to bring new leads into your funnel. If you’re new to this whole thing, let’s clarify a couple terms:
Lead: Someone who has or could express some interest in your brand.
Funnel: Leads enter your funnel at the top when they’re in the “awareness” stage, then move through the middle (“consideration”) and finally come out on the narrow end after the “decision” stage.
Got it? Good. Basically, lead generation is how you find, nurture, and convert leads as they move through your funnel. Without leads, you wouldn’t have customers. And no customers means no sales, no revenue, no referrals, no growth — you get the drift.
So when we’re talking startup success, it all begins with lead gen.
What Is a Lead Generation Strategy?
To start with, you’ll need a lead generation plan that details the lead gen process you want to use for your startup.
The beginning stages of lead gen are generally the same for startups as for other companies, though the specific tactics you’ll employ may vary.
You want your strategy to start with getting eyeballs on your brand and making sure leads know who you are. After that, you’ll need their contact info so you can continue to connect with them. We’ll talk about the rest of the process (qualification, nurturing, and conversion) further on, but this is where all lead gen strategies will start from.
Challenges Startups Face When Trying to Generate Leads
Why is generating leads so hard for startups? Well, look at it this way — lead gen is one of the biggest challenges for all marketers, including even the biggest brands. So you can imagine it would be even tougher for an unestablished company no one knows.
Before we go any further, let’s circle back to that nasty little statistic we shared back at the beginning (and seriously, we’re sorry to bring it up again): 90 percent of startups fail. But the big question is — why?
As you can see, not having a market is the top reason for startup failure. But isn’t there a market for basically everything?
Oh yeah, there is. The problem many startups have is finding that market.
And that’s where lead gen comes in.
Buying Leads Is Not the Answer
Wait…you can buy leads?!?
You can. But you shouldn’t.
The first rule of lead gen is…you don’t talk about lead gen.
No, we’re totally kidding. You should definitely talk about lead gen.
The first rule (for real this time) is that you don’t go after the most leads — you go after the right leads. Sounds counterintuitive when you’re a startup looking for anyone to be interested in your brand, but we’ll explain further on.
Second, buying leads might get you unreliable lists with bogus contact info, so you just end up wasting your time and your money.
And finally, due to privacy laws, if leads haven’t opted in to be contacted by you, it might actually be illegal to do so (and could land you and your brand in a big mess).
So what’s left? Doing lead gen the right way and using it to find your market and dodge the biggest reason for startup failure. We’ve got 27 tips to help you get started.
27 Lead Generation Strategies to Boost Startup Growth
At FPS, we’re a growth marketing agency, so we understand how critical it is for you to grow your startup. Your success hinges on finding long-term, sustainable growth opportunities. Luckily, lead generation can provide many of those opportunities. Ready to begin?
#1: Establish SMART goals
First things first: what do you actually want to achieve? More money? Hey, there’s no shame in our game, and there shouldn’t be in yours, either. Revenue is a critical goal for any startup. Just remember when you’re setting goals that while it’s okay to dream big, you want to really work on narrowing down your objectives. The best way to do that? SMART goals.
So yes, increasing revenue is a great goal. But a better goal is increasing revenue by 25 percent in the next 12 months. That goal is specific, it’s measurable, it’s (you hope) attainable, it’s extremely relevant, and it’s time-bound by your self-imposed deadline.
Aim high, but remember to bring those goals down to earth so you have the best possible chance of achieving them.
#2: Create a buyer persona to define your target audience
Most established brands already have a detailed, fleshed-out buyer persona (or two). But as a startup, you might not have gotten to this point yet. Creating your buyer persona will go a long way in your lead gen strategy and will help you define and discover the right market.
Keep in mind that a buyer persona is much more in-depth than a target audience would be. Where target audiences are mostly based on overall demographics, a buyer persona dives deep and looks at psychographic info as well as behavioral attributes.
If you aren’t able to poll existing customers to learn more about them, take a look at your competition. You can learn a lot from those buying their products.
#3: Test the right KPIs
Similar to goal-setting, you want to be specific and narrow when it comes to tracking your KPIs. Looking at overall revenue or traffic will give you one perspective, but it will really only scratch the surface. Instead, you want to look at the metrics that matter, especially those that matter most to lead gen.
To outline a little further:
- Cost of customer acquisition: CAC will tell you how much you pay for every single customer you have.
- Lead value and quality: How many qualified leads do you have? What are they worth to you? We’ll talk more about this later.
- Customer lifetime value: CLTV will tell you how much a customer is worth throughout their interaction with your brand. Use this to calculate CAC.
- Conversion rate: Of all of your leads and offers, how many people actually take the action required to become a conversion?
- Cost per lead: This will depend on numerous factors, including software and tools used to acquire leads, consulting or agency services, paid ads, and more.
#4: Build a content strategy
If you haven’t got a content marketing strategy yet, that’s okay. But now is the time to get it started. Content becomes lead magnets and lead gen assets that offer value to potential customers. It’s what pulls your leads into the funnel and moves them through, so having a content strategy is crucial.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Conduct keyword research
The keywords you use will help your leads find you and ensure they’ve come to the right place. Keyword research is an important part of both SEO and content and is necessary for both. For SEO, using the right keywords will boost your search ranking and help the leads discover you. Optimizing your content with those keywords also makes it easier to find and keeps it aligned with your leads’ search intent.
When choosing keywords, aim for long-tail keywords — the ones that are lengthy phrases about very specific topics. Most of the time, those keywords aren’t as competitive and are much easier to rank for. At the same time, they are also very high-intent, so they give users the content they want.
Write engaging content
Maybe it goes without saying, but you’ve got to write amazing content if you want it to perform well and generate leads. When it comes to blogs, you’ll want to aim for longer, evergreen blogs — 1,000 words +. But also think outside the blog — you can create content to fulfill any search intent, and as long as it provides value, it will continue to bring in leads.
Your most engaging content might not be a blog at all. It might be an infographic that gets shared on social media, a podcast, or a video series. Just make sure that whatever you do, you do it well. High-quality content will always outperform that which is shoddy or hastily thrown together.
Repurpose content for other platforms
The absolute best benefit of content is that it can be used in so many different ways. In that way, it provides pretty much endless value. Once you’ve created it, it can live in perpetuity. To keep it performing well, you’ll want to refresh and repurpose it.
So an engaging social post might become an explainer video. Or that infographic could become a blog or in-depth downloadable guide. Repurposing content saves time, saves money, and delivers results — it doesn’t get better than that.
Guest post on high-authority niche sites
Guest posting is so important to lead gen, but it helps grow your brand in other ways as well. When you post on a high-authority and reputable site within your industry, you grow your backlink portfolio, which also helps you rank better in search. It also increases your own site authority, making it easier for leads to find you. And it will help establish you as a thought leader in your niche, which grows awareness, trust, and positive perception.
Create a content distribution strategy
What you create is important, but equally as important is where you distribute it. You’ll need to make a plan for where and how you’ll be promoting your content, whether it’s on social media, through search ads, or on your brand blog.
#5: Use co-marketing to partner with influencers in your industry
Co-marketing is a way of collaborating and pairing up with other brands that offer compatible or complementary products or services. In this case, look for influencers with a large audience and see how you can establish a quid pro quo relationship.
Co-marketing will help you overcome that major startup hurdle — finding your market. Instead of blindly searching, you can piggyback on another brand or influencer who’s already established market share and build a relationship that can be mutually beneficial well into the future.
#6: Invest in SEO
SEO is tough for unestablished brands. It’s time-consuming, and the payoff isn’t immediately obvious. However, SEO is one of the most effective ways to grow your brand and get new leads into your funnel. Basically — it’s worth the investment.
The SEO process for lead gen is somewhat similar to content.
The time you put into doing SEO now will pay off in the long run. Once you get your SEO strategy in motion, you’ll continue to reap the reward for years to come.
#7: Create irresistible opt-in opportunities
An opt-in is basically a piece of content or a subscription that leads opt to receive. It might be an email newsletter, a webinar, a downloadable guide, or a video series. The goal here is to go as big as your budget and time allows. You want multiple opt-ins for leads to choose from, and you want them to be so good they can’t say no.
Make sure your opt-ins provide valuable information your leads can’t get elsewhere — whether it’s from your brand or somewhere else.
Splash those opt-ins across your website wherever it makes sense. Post them on social, and consider adding a popup to relevant pages to tempt them further.
#8: Use live chat on your website
Live chat is one of the top ways users experience customer service and engagement.
Keep in mind that leads expect instant responses and accurate information. Offering live chat is definitely an investment, as you’ll need a trained team to provide it. However, it improves user experience and customer satisfaction immensely, so it’s worth exploring.
#9: Create easy-to-understand landing pages
Creating the perfect landing page isn’t easy, but it is doable when you know all the elements it takes.
Here’s what you’ll want to make sure you include:
- Headline: Short, sweet, and to the point. Make sure it includes your primary keyword.
- Sub-header: Use this to support your headline and include a secondary keyword.
- Copy: Again, keep it short. Break it up with bullets, lists, and headers to make it easy to digest.
- Trust signal: Use a testimonial or review to show leads you’re legit.
- CTA: One CTA per landing page only, so users take only one decisive and clear action.
- Navigation: Remove if possible, but if not, make sure it’s clean and not cluttered.
- Visuals: Use high-res images or video content if possible.
- White space: Keep the page clean and give it room to breathe.
#10: Create a social media strategy
You want to be where your leads are, and that means you’ve got to be on social. Rather than spreading yourself too thin and trying to be everywhere at once, start small and build your presence slowly, beginning with the platform on which your buyer persona is most active.
Creating a social media strategy will help you accomplish your lead gen goals, as it has done for many other social media marketers.
Lead gen and sales are among the top goals of all social media marketing. It’s wise to start with a strategy that will guide you on which platforms to use and what content to post to help you reach your goals.
#11: Write engaging ads
Take it from us (because it’s not our first rodeo): Most brands write crappy ad copy. And most people don’t like or trust ads anyway. So, terrible copy + inherent disdain…not a winning equation.
So why are ads so popular? Because when you find the right combination of great copy, attention-grabbing visuals, and an irresistible offer…they just work.
Make sure your ads stand out from the crowd, especially if you’re a startup in a highly competitive field. Don’t be afraid to go bold — your ads are your bait and your hook. It’s up to you to reel them in from there.
#12: Make your offers enticing
Make them an offer they can’t refuse. Seriously. Make it so good that no sane person would say no. It’s tough to give stuff away for free, but it works. So when you offer your best stuff at no cost to them, they’ll be pouring into your funnel.
Consider making your free trial longer or offering a premium upgrade at no charge. Or, instead of the same old freemium, design a free tool that provides a valuable service.
If you’re able to go big, you’ll get bigger results.
#13: Start a newsletter
A newsletter is a great opt-in to get leads moving through your funnel. They’re already warm leads because they’ve chosen to be there, and they’re already aware of and interested in your brand (again, because they’re there by choice). A newsletter is your in to connect with them on a regular basis and nurture them toward a conversion, by offering timely and relevant content.
Speaking of newsletters, if you want to get fresh marketing content delivered directly to your inbox (with even more lead gen tips your startup can use), sign up for our FPS newsletter, The Snippet!
#14: Use remarketing and retargeting to turn visitors into leads
You’ve probably heard the terms “remarketing” and “retargeting” used interchangeably, and it makes sense because both have the same goal. Each targets leads who’ve expressed some interest in a brand or product and leverages that interest to move them closer to conversion. But they’re not exactly the same. So what’s the diff?
Retargeting refers to paid advertising. It looks at leads who’ve visited your website, browsed a particular product, or clicked on a previous ad and serves up a custom ad to urge them to take action.
Remarketing is an organic approach to retargeting and focuses more on traditional lead nurturing like email campaigns and personalized touchpoints.
Ideally, you would use both remarketing and retargeting to capitalize on leads’ interest in your brand.
#15: Target competitor customers with Gmail ads
Since its inception in 2004, Gmail has become the most popular email service in the U.S. Globally, it now has close to 2 billion users. Promotional emails and ads perform well on the platform, but none perform better than those targeted toward your competitors’ customers.
With Gmail, you can actually target your ads toward customers who receive emails from your biggest competition. It’s an incredibly valuable tool for startups who don’t yet have the same visibility and awareness as other major brands.
#16: Create explainer videos for your product
Video is a valuable asset for your startup and is quickly becoming a necessity for brands that hope to stay competitive. With a majority of the population classified as “visual learners,” video is one of the best ways to explain what your startup is to the audience you’re trying to reach.
Video does more than just provide information — it also creates engagement. It helps you build a relationship with your audience and signals to them that your brand is reputable and trustworthy.
#17: Build trust with testimonials
While it’s not quite the same as a referral program, a testimonial is still considered word-of-mouth advertising, and it’s still a highly effective way to build a solid reputation for your startup.
A testimonial is a trust signal, so when an existing customer talks about their experience with your product or your brand, others will listen. And nothing is quite as effective as a video testimonial.
Viewers say that video testimonials are effective because it demonstrates how the product works for a real customer, and it’s more authentic and believable to hear what an actual user says rather than what the company says.
#18: Use paid ads to get quick results
We’ll probably always lean into our organic roots, but we can’t deny the power of paid, especially for startup success. Organic and inbound marketing are effective, but they come with a long wait time, and most startups just don’t have that luxury.
Paid advertising, on the other hand, is incredibly effective and starts to work right away, so you can see results within moments of launching a campaign.
When it comes to lead gen, PPC and other paid ads make a swift and noticeable impact, no matter where your leads are in the funnel.
And while we are paid ad converts at this point, we always feel it’s important to add a disclaimer: Your paid success will only last as long as your budget does. When the money is gone, so are the results. That’s why it’s always best to pair up paid and organic marketing efforts so you can reap the rewards of paid while you wait for your organic strategies to take effect.
#19: Create downloadable lead magnets
Lead magnets are content assets you create to encourage leads to move deeper into your funnel. They should be highly valuable and relevant to your audience. There are many types of lead magnets, so you can create something unique for every persona, every lead type, at every stage of the funnel.
Checklists are handy and helpful, but they’re also pretty easy to create. You can design a checklist for almost any purpose, just as long as it provides useful information to your audience.
As an example, you can check out our inbound marketing checklist. It’s free, but even better, it’s really helpful.
Gating content is one of the best ways to get leads in the middle or bottom portions of your funnel to move even deeper. In exchange for access to the gated content, your leads will give you their personal information so you can continue nurturing them toward conversion.
You won’t want all of your content to be gated — it’s important that top of the funnel content be easily accessible, so most often, you’ll want it to be ungated. And remember that whatever you choose to gate should offer tons of value your audience can’t find elsewhere. Online courses, like ours above, make a great gated content asset, as they provide plenty of desirable and useful information and also allow for multiple touchpoints throughout.
Free trials are the old standby of lead gen, and there’s nowhere else they’re as effective as in the SaaS startup realm. Offering users a chance to try your product before they buy is a best practice, but remember that in order to get the most out of it, you want it to deliver the most value to them.
Make sure your free trial offer is long enough to give them a chance to get to know the product and doesn’t lock down all the features they want to try. Also, if you can provide them a trial without asking for credit card information, you’ll usually have more luck in getting signups.
Most B2B buyers want information and education, so if your startup is marketing to that audience, you’ve got your work cut out for you. But providing reports is one way to satisfy their demand. You can report on your own first-party research or provide thought leadership on industry trends. But one of the best ways to impress your audience is to create a custom report just for them.
You can do this by sending them a brief survey and generating a report based on their responses. This offers them something they find valuable, and it also gives you their contact information and some insights you won’t find anywhere else.
Templates are a great way to offer a valuable service to your leads for very little investment. A template might be a schedule or calendar, a calculator, or a planner. Whatever you do, be sure your template fulfills a necessary purpose and is easy to use.
As an example, you can check out our free lead gen planning template. It’ll give you an idea of how a template can look and (bonus!) will also help you plot out a winning strategy for lead generation.
#20: Host events
Events are important to B2B brands, especially startups that need to get a foot in the door with actual, real-life prospective customers. After the last couple years, though, the way brands do live events is changing. Today, virtual events have overtaken their in-person counterparts as the top way to find leads.
Fortunately, the rise of virtual events means your brand can be in more places and in front of more people than ever before. There’s a learning curve, especially if you want to host your own live virtual events, so start out by attending some virtual conferences in your industry and ease into it.
#21: Host webinars
Speaking of virtual events, webinars are one of the best options, especially for B2B audiences. Webinars are great for lead generation, and in fact, it’s the primary goal for most webinars.
There are a couple ways you can approach webinars. You can hold them as live events, which creates a sense of urgency and FOMO, or you can pre-record them, which is convenient and allows people to watch when it works for them. Ideally, combine both approaches: Hold a live webinar first, then offer it as a recording for those unable to attend.
#22: A/B test everything
A/B testing, or split testing, is known by B2B marketers as the most efficient and accurate way to optimize websites and landing pages, especially for lead generation. In an A/B test, the goal is to put two options of one asset in front of the audience and see which one performs the best.
The key to successful A/B testing is to only change one element — a CTA, a headline, etc. — at a time. Once you’ve found the best option for one element, move on to testing the next until your page is completely optimized.
#23: Find sponsorship opportunities in your niche
You don’t have to have a huge broadcast advertising budget to hit the right audience, nor do you need a splashy, overly-produced commercial to make an impact.
Instead, look into sponsorship opportunities. One of the most popular options is appearing on an industry podcast. This will get your brand in front of an audience that’s already interested in the type of product you’re selling, and if it’s a host they trust, they’ll trust your brand, as well.
YouTube is another big opportunity for sponsorship. Like podcasts, it also offers an engaged and interested audience.
#24: Incentivize customers with a referral program
Referral marketing is one of the most effective ways to get new leads into your funnel. If you do the hard work of satisfying your customers and giving them a reason to come back for more, you’re setting yourself up for referral success.
But while you might think your product or service is good enough to win referrals on its own, you can’t expect it to happen without some effort on your part. When you incentivize your referral program, you give existing customers a reason to bring their network on board, and you give the new recruits a reason to stick around.
This is why reciprocal referrals are so popular. In this method, you offer an exclusive incentive to customers who refer your brand. They’re able to distribute their own code to anyone they think would be interested. Both the customer and their referrals receive a bonus or incentive for using their code.
You can also make referrals social and offer a bit of friendly competition. A contest is a great way to bring in new leads, but you can also incentivize it by offering additional entries for shares or likes.
#25: Partner with deals and discount sites
Everyone loves a good deal. And sometimes, a coupon is all a person needs to pull the trigger on a purchase. Just ask Groupon, the deal site that built an entire brand on it.
You may not want to be perceived as a bargain basement brand, but working with a discount site is an excellent way to reach leads you would otherwise never have gotten in front of. The margins aren’t high, but the real return comes in the form of getting many new leads into your funnel.
And by the way, Groupon is a great choice for startups because it's got the audience and has done all the marketing and advertising legwork for you.
#26: Create an affiliate marketing program
Affiliate marketing is pretty common these days, but you may not always recognize it when you see it. Think about your favorite blog. Within each article, there are numerous links. By clicking on those links, you’ll be directed to a place you can purchase an item mentioned in the blog. If you do, the blogger gets a kickback.
That’s affiliate marketing.
From a brand perspective, you seek out the websites on which you’d like your product to appear. They become your affiliate, and they earn a profit whenever a sale is made from a link on their site.
Affiliate marketing is a great way to build partnerships and create relationships with influencers in your niche.
#27: Use lead scoring to prioritize
How do you know which leads you should be investing the most time and energy in? Use lead scoring to prioritize them. Lead scoring involves assigning a number value (both positive and negative) for each action a potential lead takes (or doesn’t take). The higher the score, the warmer (and therefore closer to conversion) the lead.
Lead scoring will help you set goals for your lead gen strategy and help you put together a plan to achieve them.
Conclusion: Fast Startup Growth Requires Effective Lead Generation Tactics
Growth is the goal when you’re a startup, and for any growth to happen, you need a source of consistent, qualified leads. So how are you going to get them?
You can take the tips we’ve offered above and get started on your own, but at some point, you’ll probably want some support from an outside source. That’s where FPS comes in. We’re not only experts in lead generation — we’re experienced in helping startups achieve long-term, sustainable growth. We can do the same for you. Contact us so we can answer your lead gen questions.