When does a lead become a sale? When they pull out the credit card, right? It sounds like a simple process — marketing finds the leads, nurtures them, and passes them off to sales when they’re ready to buy. But in reality, there’s an often-gray area between marketing and sales. And if the handoff isn’t absolutely seamless, you might lose some of your most promising sales leads.
Sales lead generation is a nuanced approach to traditional lead gen that requires a more collaborative, combined effort from your sales and marketing teams. In the old-school funnel, marketing owned the top and middle, with sales commanding the bottom. In sales lead gen, there’s a lot more overlap.
Generating sales leads is harder than ever these days, especially as more individuals are savvy to cold calls and sales tactics (and aren’t afraid to give salespeople an earful). In fact, even though most sales aren’t made until after five points of contact, a majority of salespeople give up after just one rejection.
And look, we get it — no one likes rejection. But if your marketing team is properly equipping your sales folks with everything they need, they’ll have more success in closing the deal. That’s what sales lead generation is all about. And we’ve got everything you need to do to do it right.
What Are Sales Leads?
Most companies or marketing agencies will have their own way of scoring and qualifying leads (more on that below), but for the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on two primary lead types that are widely accepted within the lead gen arena: MQLs and SQLs.
Marketing Qualified Leads: MQLs have gotten into the funnel and are aware of the brand. They’ve taken some action to show interest, whether in the brand, the product, or the content offered. They are typically near the top and moving toward the middle of the funnel, so they’re still in the awareness and/or consideration stage.
Sales Qualified Leads: SQLs are moving through the funnel and are in the middle or nearing the bottom. They’ve reached the point of making a decision, and your brand is in the running. This is the point where sales can take over and potentially make a sale.
“Sales leads” is essentially another term for “SQLs.” To get them to this point in the funnel, sales and marketing must work together. With sales leads, the transition from marketing to sales is a critical factor in whether or not the lead becomes conversion.
How to Qualify a Sales Lead
Sales qualification is the process you use to determine if a lead is a good fit for your product or service. Basically, it’s making sure your sales team won’t be wasting time with leads that don’t fit your buyer persona and/or aren’t in the right stage of the buyer’s journey.
To qualify sales leads, you’ll first want to create a lead scoring model, which assigns points to leads based on the actions they take (or do not take).
A lead wouldn’t be considered sales qualified until it has enough points to enter the warm/hot territory.
You decide which actions add or subtract points within your lead scoring framework, whether it’s opening an email (+ points) or unsubscribing (- points), or any other actions that move leads closer to or farther from the goal.
At that point, you’re ready for the handoff between marketing and sales. But how do you find the leads that are ready to go through this process? Let’s find out.
28 Tips to Generate Sales-Ready Leads
The same is true when it comes to lead generation. You don’t need 1 million so-so or lukewarm leads — you’re much better off with 100 hot, sales-ready leads. As we know, it’s not about finding the most leads, it’s about finding the right leads. We’ve got all the tips you need to do just that.
#1: Ensure your offer has value
Why would a lead choose your brand over the competition? And why would they hand over their personal information for something they could get anywhere else? Make sure that whatever you’re offering in exchange for their details is relevant, valuable, and exclusive. Your offers should be:
- Something they want
- Something of worth
- Something they can’t get elsewhere
Make sure you’re measuring each offer against that criteria before you launch any lead gen campaign.
#2: Know your ideal prospect
Is there a difference between a sales lead and a prospect? You bet there is. Here’s how you know which is which:
Basically, your prospects are the SQLs that have the warmest lead scores and are being or have been handed off to sales.
Your ideal prospect is a combination of a lead who fits your buyer persona and one that has gone from MQL to SQL. They are in your target market and they are primed and ready for purchase.
#3: Map your lead generation process
The lead generation process will look different from one business to another, but most will follow the same basic steps.
First, you’ll want to do your research and dig deep into your buyer persona and understand the buyer’s journey. Next, set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) that align with your lead gen strategy. Implement your plan and make sure you’re keeping a close eye on the metrics. When you find something isn’t working, adapt, test, and try again.
Your lead gen plan is likely to have additional or other steps throughout — the important part is mapping it out before you get started so you have a roadmap to follow along the way.
#4: Web scraping
What in the world is web scraping? Web scraping is a process used to obtain and compile information on leads so you have a clean and comprehensive contact list. It utilizes software to gather details and formats it into a database you can pull your lead lists from.
Web scraping is usually cheaper than purchasing leads and gives you more reliable data. If you have a knowledgeable person on your team, they could write web scraping code, but it’s pretty common and cost-effective to purchase software or third-party support.
#5: Create a LinkedIn strategy
You want to be where your audience is already hanging out, and most of the time, that’s on social media. For B2B, SaaS, and tech brands, it’s critical that you’re using LinkedIn to find and nurture sales leads. But how do you create a LinkedIn strategy that works?
Once you’ve plotted out your LinkedIn strategy, you’re ready to get started meeting your leads where they are.
#6: Only cold call warm leads
There’s a lot of temperature-taking in lead generation. You want your sales leads to be as warm as possible, especially if you’re planning on giving them a cold call.
As we mentioned earlier in the article, most salespeople give up after the first couple of rejections.
And who can blame them? Still, the same research shows that it takes five or more points of contact before a sale is made. As marketers, you can smooth the process for your sales team by making those early contacts and warming leads up so they’re as hot as possible when it’s time for a cold call.
#7: Look inward to your personal network
You’ve probably put a lot of time and effort into building up your own personal LinkedIn profile, right? It’s time to cash in on all that hard work and leverage your own network for lead gen purposes.
By now, you have a network of industry peers and colleagues who understand your market and support what you do. Don’t be afraid to reach out and kindly request they pass along any potential leads they think might be interested in what you’re offering.
#8: Invest in Digital PR
Digital PR leverages earned media to promote your brand. It’s basically just an updated version of traditional PR, which focuses a little less on old-school media outlets (like TV and radio) and more on digital outlets.
But digital PR comes with its own set of considerations and sometimes challenges. A standard news release isn’t likely to get you far. Instead, you’ll need to utilize some of the following strategies:
It’s possible to DIY digital PR, but it’s nearly always more effective when you have someone who understands the ins and outs of the media industry and has critical contacts. It’s usually more effective to hire a digital PR strategist, consultant, or third-party support.
#9: Personalize cold email sequences
Email sequences (often called “drip” or “nurture” campaigns) use marketing automation to create numerous points of contact with your leads. Email sequences often fall into one of two categories:
Trigger-based: Your leads take a particular action that triggers an email sequence.
Time-based: Emails are sent at predetermined intervals without any action from leads.
Whichever route you take, it’s extremely important that your cold emails are as personalized as possible.
If you’re unable to personalize at the individual level (names and personal data), customize to your buyer persona. Make sure each email covers what you’ve identified as their pain points and is guided by what you know about their personalities, backgrounds, and behaviors.
#10: Develop an email newsletter
Newsletters are a highly effective way to get leads into your funnel. It ensures regular contact and gives them the ability to opt in, which puts them in control. That makes them more likely to open the email and even read it (shocking in this day and age).
Make sure your newsletters provide highly valuable content they won’t hear from your brand anywhere else. For example, don’t just copy a social media post — instead, repurpose it into a longer, more in-depth article they won’t find elsewhere.
#11: Add signatures to your emails
Signatures are more than just wasted real estate — they’re an opportunity to connect and engage with your leads at every point of contact.
Make sure your email signatures are dynamic and attention-getting without being too cluttered or busy.
It also helps to include a CTA in your email signature, but only if it doesn’t conflict with the action you want them to take within the email.
#12: Create outreach campaigns
Your sales lead generation strategy will likely include numerous outreach campaigns. Every time you have a touchpoint with a lead, that’s outreach. Most campaigns will have many and varied outreach points, so it’s important you map each one out so you know what leads can expect every step of the way.
Email outreach, in particular, can become complicated, especially if you have a combination of triggered and time-based emails as part of your automated sequence. Create a visual flowchart of what triggers each email, who the audience is for each, and what the content will be.
Also be sure you’re tracking all the data from your outreach campaigns. Today, most of that will be done for you, including your open rates, click-thrus, and more. This will allow you to make adjustments as you go along if you find something isn’t working.
#13: Social listening
Social listening is more than just keeping an eye out for brand mentions on your social media platforms. It’s gathering insights into consumer perception and working to build trust with your audience for ultimate demand generation.
Social listening goes a step beyond just keeping tabs on your brand — you’ll learn not only what your leads think and feel but why. That will give you critical information you can use to adapt your lead gen strategies and fulfill their needs.
#14: Speak at industry events and network with potential prospects
The way we approach live events is changing, especially since 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic forced most events to go virtual. There’s both good and bad news there. Bad, because the process of adapting to digital events came with a lot of hiccups, stress, and technical difficulties. Good, because it offers far more opportunities to connect with your audience.
Industry events — whatever the platform — provides you with a chance to be seen as a thought leader, which is extremely important to B2B audiences. The networking you do at a virtual event will be different than in-person, of course, but it can and does still happen. Most events offer a forum or virtual roundtable discussion so you can take questions and engage with prospects.
As some in-person events begin to return, just remember to be flexible and look for opportunities, whether it’s a traditional live event or virtual.
#15: Ask happy customers for referrals
It was true 100 years ago, and it’s true today — word of mouth is the ultimate (and cheapest) form of advertising. The value of happy customers isn’t just in what they spend on your product — it’s how much they spend when they return, how much the people they refer spend, and the people they refer, and so on.
Word of mouth works for many reasons, but primarily, it’s because people trust people they know more than they trust brands.
Starting a referral program with incentives makes it easier and more appealing for satisfied customers to bring new leads into your funnel. It also means that your lead gen strategy is both long-term and sustainable.
#16: Partner with businesses that offer complementary products or services
Co-marketing is a collaboration between your brand and another compatible and complementary business. Not to state the obvious, but the only no-go is partnering up with a major competitor.
Identify businesses that offer products or services that pair nicely with yours. Bonus points if they have a target market that’s slightly different from your own. Consider how you can best leverage one another’s existing contact lists to get new leads into your funnels.
You scratch their back, they scratch yours. Everybody wins (mostly the customers, if you do it right).
#17: Use social media to engage with prospects
Don’t limit yourself just to LinkedIn for social lead generation. Find out where your leads are spending their time — maybe they love Twitter, or they’re a younger demographic that’s into TikTok.
Make sure you have a presence on the profiles they prefer, and make sure you stay active there and update regularly. Most importantly, engage and interact with your followers. They will tell you what they like, what they’re interested in, and what they’re struggling with — you just need to pay attention.
Depending on your industry, be sure you’re looking into niche social media platforms as well, like ActiveRain for real estate agents or Gust Launch for startups. Be sure to also check out online forums where your ideal buyer is active, like Quora or Reddit. This gives you a great platform to chat with leads and find out what they need and what they want.
#18: Add chatbots to your communication platform
People are becoming more accustomed to chatbots, especially as technology evolves to make them more accurate and accessible. Depending on the industry and the specific use case, many people are now willing to talk to a chatbot over a human — as long as they get an answer (the right answer) in a much shorter time frame.
Chatbots, when done well, can be a great way to establish a connection with leads and encourage them to reach out for more information.
#19: Choose promotion methods wisely
There may be times when you want to go broad (as in broadcast) with your marketing efforts, but often, the most effective way of finding the best leads is to aim a little narrower. This means you’ll want to put careful consideration into how and where you’re promoting your offers and messaging.
The channels you use for promotion will depend on your goals and where in the funnel you want to target leads. For example, if brand awareness is your goal, you might go a bit wider when casting your net, looking at PPC and social media to find new leads and increase traffic. But if you’re aiming for the bottom of the funnel, you’ll have a smaller but more motivated audience. Consider all of these details before putting together your promotional plan.
#20: Create highly-converting landing pages
Landing pages can make or break your lead gen efforts, so it’s important you get them right, right from the start. When it comes to landing page success, more is better, and so is longer. But you can’t just cram a bunch of stuff onto a bunch of pages and call it today — creating an optimal landing page is a science.
For the best and most effective landing pages, remember these tips:
- Keep critical information above the fold.
- Only have one clear and direct CTA.
- Reduce navigation when possible to avoid confusion.
- Include video or visuals to entice visitors to stay on the page.
#21: Diversify your lead sources
What happens when your Twitter following dries up? If that’s where all your leads have been coming from, you’re in hot water. Or, let’s say you’ve been getting leads from PPC, but now budget cuts mean your campaign is coming to an end. What happens to those leads? They go poof.
Relying on a single lead source is really just asking for trouble. If something goes awry, you’re going to be royally screwed.
Instead, stay in the game with a diverse pool of leads from several different sources. That way, if your social media goes through a drought, you’ll still have leads flowing from paid ads or web scraping or SEO (you get the idea).
#22: Inside sales
Inside sales is essentially what happens when you reach out to leads…from inside. So, cold calls, emails, live chat, etc. — anything that is not an in-person encounter.
The lead gen process for inside sales is very similar to the standard process.
More and more, inside sales are becoming the standard, though outside sales are still popular, especially among B2B brands. But as the world shifts and the way we interact evolves, you can expect inside sales to become even more pervasive, no matter the industry.
#23: Use a lead generation software to streamline your process
If you aren’t relying on a third-party agency for your lead generation, you’ll definitely want a software or tool that can help you get it right.
It’s most important that you begin with a CRM or customer relationship management platform. The two best and most popular choices are Salesforce and HubSpot. As a HubSpot agency partner, we always recommend their robust but easy-to-use tools, and you can get started for free.
HubSpot also offers other platforms that aid in inbound marketing, so you can adopt an entire suite of resources and tools to support your team.
#24: Build a sales funnel
Is the sales funnel any different from the standard lead gen funnel? Nah, not really. But we love funnels, so let’s dive in.
The difference between the two is really that a sales funnel may have a couple additional, more nuanced stages. Traditionally, the lead gen funnel includes:
But the sales funnel, as you see above, has smaller stages in between. After awareness, the sales funnel includes interest (which is when it helps to have someone who knows demand gen). It also adds in a negotiation stage between consideration (or evaluation) and decision, and then a renewal stage at the very bottom, when a customer makes another purchase.
Your funnel may look a bit different, but use this as a foundation to build your own.
#25: Use SEO and content marketing to drive inbound leads
Inbound marketing is a methodology used to bring leads to you instead of you chasing them down with outbound methods (like cold calls).
In the realm of inbound marketing, there’s nothing more powerful than the dynamic duo of content and SEO. Seriously, they go together like this:
While SEO can take significant time, it’s an incredibly effective way to bring in new leads, and once you get the ball rolling, it will deliver long-term results.
Content is one of the pillars of lead generation because without content, what have you got to entice leads into your funnel? Content is what delivers the value that will lure them in and keep them moving toward conversion.
#26: Hire a lead generation service
We love a good DIY, but that’s mostly when it comes to hanging art or knitting sweaters. If you don’t have skilled lead gen experts on staff, we don’t recommend doing this all on your own.
Instead, make the smart investment by partnering with an experienced lead gen agency or consultant. This will ensure your marketing dollars are being wisely distributed in a way that will help you achieve your goals.
If you aren’t sure where to start, you’re in the right place. At FPS, we have a team of lead gen experts with years of experience in finding, engaging, and converting leads (plus, they’re just pretty kick-ass people you’d probably enjoy throwing back a beer with).
We’ll tell you below how to get in touch with us when you’re ready to talk shop.
#27: Revisit lost opportunities
Think of this as the lead gen version of missed connections on Craigslist. For whatever reason, when you contacted a lead — even a qualified one — the timing was just off. The stars didn’t align. It wasn’t kismet.
Okay, so you didn’t have a meet-cute (maybe they hung up on you or had a few choice words). But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. In fact, lost leads can turn into huge opportunities. They’re more qualified than cold leads, and they’ve already gotten familiar with your brand.
It might take some time, but be sure to reconnect with them on a regular basis because, sometimes, hardened hearts can soften. And the next call, the next email, or the next LinkedIn DM might just be your happy ending.
#28: Track your leads
Do you know who’s opening your emails (or who’s ignoring them)? Can you rattle off your click-thru rates (CTRs) and how many answers you’ve gotten on your latest cold call campaign?
You may not know all the numbers off the top of your head, but you should have them easily accessible whenever you need them. Track all outreach, which means every single point of contact you have with your leads.
As we mentioned above, having the right lead gen software (like a great CRM) will help you do this, but you’ll need to create a plan to compile and analyze the data so you can draw out insights that will guide your overall lead gen strategy.
Conclusion: Sales Lead Generation Is a Continuous Process, Not a One-Time Effort
Lead generation will never be a one-and-done thing. Sure, you might get some traction with single tactics, but if you want to see consistent growth and lasting results, you’ll need to build a sales lead gen strategy that looks at the big picture.
These 28 tips are a good starting point, but they’re far from everything you need to know about sales leads and lead generation. For that, trust the experts to fill in any gaps and ensure you’re on the right path.
At FPS, we have lead gen experts on standby who understand the complex relationship between marketing and sales and know exactly how to help you navigate it to get the best results.