A primer on developing a lead generation strategy

Driving leads starts with a well-defined sales goal

When it comes to reaching sales goals, a coordinated effort between sales, marketing, and operations is required. Here are 10 steps to launching a successful lead generation strategy for your organization.

1. Quantify your sales goals
Many clients come to us because they have aggressive growth goals but don’t know the best way to get there. They are often spurred to seek outside expertise by internal changes, such as new leadership or investors who have set new targets, greater competition, the introduction of a new product or service in their portfolio, or the realization that their database of leads is fatigued.

Breaking down a revenue goal into the number of new customers needed, taking churn into account, is the first step. Then it’s important to look at your current pipeline and typical sales cycle to understand the lag time between acquiring a lead and converting a lead to a sale.

2. Define your ideal customer
To identify your ideal customer, most companies can look at the current customers that represent the top 20 percent of sales, and create a profile based on:

  • Industry
  • Geography
  • Revenue
  • Company size
  • Buyer and stakeholder titles

3. Develop buyer and stakeholder personas
Some companies dismiss the idea of creating personas, considering them a nice to have, but not a have to have. These teams are missing out on a valuable tool that can help improve the marketing and sales process. By putting tangible profiles together based on data, marketing and sales teams can be more focused on driving more qualified leads and improving conversion rates.

Questions you need to answer are: Who are the decision makers and stakeholders? What are their roles and responsibilities? What is the typical buying process? What are their key challenges/pain points? What are their likes/dislikes? What motivates them? What is their consideration criteria? Without the answers to these questions, you will inevitably spend more time and resources to achieve your goals.

It’s not enough to simply have a bunch of data about your buyers and stakeholders. Bring them to life by giving them an identity — a name and a face. And then get the entire organization familiar with them. At your annual sales meeting, invite real customers who embody these personas to speak on a panel, bringing the personas to life.

Some of the ways you can develop personas are:

  • Interview current customers
  • Survey a targeted list of people on social media who meet your ideal customer criteria
  • Create pop-up surveys on your site
  • At minimum, pull together intelligence from your best marketing and salespeople — sometimes you may have all the information, it’s just a matter of putting it down on paper!

4. Define the sales funnel and how you’re identifying leads at each stage
Having a well-defined sales funnel is an important step that can really help automate a lot of your marketing and sales activity through your CRM and marketing automation software. A typical sales funnel includes four phases: Awareness, Consideration, Interest, Action.

Beware of overcomplicating your sales funnel as it will create a lot of unnecessary work and management. While your customers’ behavior is rarely this linear, it is a simple way to categorize your customers and the marketing and sales activities and channels to reach them.

We do encourage sales and marketing teams to consider a fifth phase of the funnel: Experience. Because keeping a customer is always more cost-effective than getting a new one.

5. Quantify your marketing goals
Is your main need top-of-the-funnel leads? Let’s call these “opt-ins” — people who have shared limited contact information with you for future follow up. As you build up your database, you can employ progressive or dynamic profiling through targeted campaigns to gather more intel about these leads and move them through the funnel as marketing qualified leads that are segmented by persona.

If you haven’t qualified leads in the past, it may be difficult to determine how many top-of-the funnel leads turn into marketing qualified leads. If you can’t make this calculation, a good rule of thumb is to use an average marketing conversion rate for your industry. For instance, 5-10 percent is an average marketing conversion rate for B2B software companies. There are a lot of factors that play into a marketing conversion rate including:

  • Broad vs. niche software
  • Awareness (low to high name recognition)
  • Reputation (positive news, social media and strong customer testimonials/case studies)
  • Sales cycle/price

For instance, if you are a niche software start-up with limited awareness, few referenceable customers and require a solutions-sale approach, you may be best served by projecting a conversion rate at the lower end of the range.

6. Audit your marketing and sales technology stack
Auditing your systems to ensure that they are built to support lead generation is critical. Because if they aren’t, this is where you should be investing your effort first.

The key is optimizing tools and creating efficiencies. It’s easy to get into the trap of trying out new and shiny tools that come on to the market, but there are some tried and true technologies that marketing and sales have leaned on for years.

As you audit your operations technology, ask yourself questions such as:

  • When’s the last time you cleaned up your database?
    A staggering 25-33 percent of email addresses become outdated every year according to Kissmetrics.
  • Are you able to create and segment lists by persona and stage in the funnel?
    Most CRMs and marketing automation programs worth their salt have this capability. If not, it’s time to make the leap.
  • Does your marketing automation software include progressive profiling so that you can collect limited relevant intel at each stage of the funnel?
    Most likely it does, you just need to employ it.
  • Are you able to pixel your web and landing pages to track traffic all the way through to sale?
    There’s nothing worse than having to use assumptions and dotted lines to tie marketing efforts to sales conversions.

For larger enterprise-level companies, a business intelligence solution like Tableau or Power BI is critical to be able to share reports with c-level executives, board members and investors.

7. Establish a budget
Clients sometimes come to us with a set budget, but it doesn’t align with the investment required to deliver the leads needed. The percentage of revenue a business should allocate to its overall marketing budget is not a one-size-fits-all number, but dependent on several factors such as growth objectives. For lead generation, you need to calculate your monthly revenue goals, the number of leads to reach those goals, and the overall cost of attaining those leads.

8. Develop a lead generation plan and campaign
Use content marketing to drive leads and nurture them through the funnel through targeted email campaigns. Ideally, you’ll have a mix of content offers from white papers, case studies, buyers’ guides, and webinars. Create content once and then repurpose it in different forms — for instance, a white paper can easily be turned into a webinar.

Programmatic digital marketing uses an audience-first approach, instead of the traditional channel-first approach. (Courtesy of our partner Goodway Group)

9. Operationalize your lead gen strategy
Make sure you have the systems and processes in place to support the necessary follow up, tracking, and reporting on leads, which will help you justify a budget for lead gen. As part of the process, get your sales team on board up front and train them on what is expected of them at each point in the process. Equipping them from the get-go with sales enablement materials and follow-up activities will help them close the deal. Establish regular check-ins with marketing and sales teams — encourage dialogue to capture insights that data can’t.

10. Launch, measure, test, optimize & repeat!
Now comes the fun part – you can develop your content offers and ad creative. With digital campaigns you can constantly monitor, test creative, copy and offers to optimize your campaigns to deliver the greatest results.

Don’t panic when anxious sales teams are looking for leads. Take the time to define the need, identify who you’re targeting, and establish the systems and processes to set the stage for success. Even the best creative needs a strong strategy behind it to achieve your goals.

Does your Chief Revenue Officer have lofty sales goals?