A couple months back, I was at a digital marketing conference in Amsterdam. During a break, I grabbed a cup of stale conference coffee and started browsing the booths.
Most people gave me a few seconds to look around before moving in for the pitch. But not this girl. She launched in front of me like a full-page web pop-up.
“Do you need a better way to manage your fans online?”
Before I could tell her that I don’t have any fans, she was already explaining all the things her product did. She gave me a demo of the software. Then she made an offer I couldn’t resist:
“We’re giving away these swag bags. You just have to let me scan your conference badge.”
I didn’t need swag. But my kids love free stuff, so I said “Sure.”
Then exactly seven days later, I got the follow-up email:
“It was great meeting you in Amsterdam! Thanks for your interest in [product name]… blah, blah… feature, feature…” Delete.
She had committed the first sin of lead gen: collecting emails for sales teams, instead of connecting with people who need you.
Build your funnel from the bottom up
“Your goal as a marketer is to match your product or service with people who need it.”
The thing is, not everyone’s a potential customer. So trying to drop as many people as possible into the top of your sales funnel isn’t the best way to do it.
Here’s Alex Birkett, Growth Marketing Manager at HubSpot:
“Don’t assume that more leads is automatically the better outcome. If you’re passing names to a sales team and they’re unqualified, you’re wasting time—which is wasting money.”
All your lead generation efforts should start from the bottom of the funnel: with the people who pay for your product. They’re your target audience, your ideal customer, and people most important to your business.
Not sure who your ideal customer is?
Run a persona survey or interview existing customers. This helps build a data-driven persona that you can use for all kinds of marketing decisions.
Talk to your customer success team. They have the closest relationships with your customers, so they know who they are, what they want, and who sticks around. If they don’t know those things, do them a favor and pass them this guide to customer success.
Got someone in mind? Good. Never take your eye off that person—that long-term customer. They’re going to guide everything else you do. Including what’s coming up next.
Be memorable at every step of the journey
Once you know who you’re after, it’s time for them to get to know you. Because if you’ve got your eyes on someone—but they don’t know you exist—that’s called stalking. And nobody likes a stalker.
WordStream founder and Mobile Monkey CEO Larry Kim gives you another reason:
“The single biggest predictor of whether people will purchase is whether they’ve heard of you before.”
Great quote, but how do you do that? Brand awareness.
In the old days, this meant setting up booths at trade shows, blasting mass emails, and interrupting dinners with telemarketer calls. With a bit of luck, maybe you found a few people to pass onto your sales team.
But things have changed. Nearly 80% of us check our phones within 15 minutes of waking up. And we go on to spend over 10 hours a day looking at screens.
This always-on, information-everywhere world has given birth to a new type of person: the self-directed buyer.
Today, people research the brands and products that interest them long before they reach out to you. In fact, Forrester Research estimates that buyers are 70-90% of the way through their buying journey before you’ve even made an approach.
This has transformed lead generation into a full-funnel strategy. And at the heart of this strategy is content.
It’s part of the “inbound marketing” method, where you produce content to inform and entertain your target audience at every stage of their journey.
How does it work? Here’s Content Strategist Immanuel Simonsen:
“Be generous with your content and provide people with genuine and rich experiences that inspire them. Do that consistently and the credit of trust will come naturally, in the form of a sign-up.”
That’s what lead generation is all about. Starting relationships with potential customers by giving them something valuable—for free. So when the time comes to pull out the pocketbook, they’ll already know who you are and what you can do for them.
But just creating content won’t cut it. Every interaction with them needs to make a difference, and every moment they spend with your brand should flow like a snowman in the microwave. To achieve that, you’ve got to get inside your target’s brain.
Learn how your customers think
“Information density is by far the most important trend impacting digital marketing today.”
Why? Because information overload means it’s much harder to get people to notice you—even if you have something they need.
Nothing succeeds without attention. Movies don’t hit blockbuster status, relationships don’t thrive, and leads don’t get generated.
We’re all vying for space and time in the attention economy. Or as Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, put it: “[Netflix’s] biggest competitors are YouTube, Facebook, and sleep.”
And guess what: you’re competing with Netflix too. How the heck do you do that?
Grab H.E.R. attention maps
Every customer journey starts with getting attention. So let's have a look at how it works.
Attention is the brain’s way of deciding what’s important. It’s like a series of micro-decisions on where to focus from one moment to the next. And those decisions are guided by something called “priority maps.”
Priority maps are drawn up through the conversations of three influencers in your brain—Habit, Executive, and Reward—the H.E.R. systems.
Let me introduce you to each of them.
H: Habit system: the searchlight for stimuli
Imagine walking through a busy city street or shopping mall. Where are your eyes drawn?
Things like flashing lights, human faces, and text. And people jumping in front of you at conference vendor booths.
These are the natural attractors of attention—they’re built into our priority maps and stored as Habits in the parietal lobe in the back of your brain. And they’re always on the lookout for interesting things around you.
This is why emergency vehicles have flashing lights, and why people’s faces adorn effective ads. It’s also why animated GIFs work well on social media, and why pop-ups pollute your browsing experience—you can’t resist them.
E: Executive system: the project manager
You can also program your own priority maps. Sitting there behind your forehead is the frontal lobe, home to the Executive system. It’s the lobe that makes humans special—the reason we can imagine unseen realities and design long-term plans to bring those dreams to life.
The Executive lets us overwrite pre-programmed habits and focus our attention on goals.
So when I need to buy a present for my wife’s birthday, or finish a project at work, my Executive is constantly asking “Is what I’m doing now relevant to my goals?” “Is this a good use of my time?”
The Executive also helps us filter out noise—like clickbait banner ads: “Click here to get 100k new followers who really care about you overnight!” Bullshit. People don’t even see these ploys anymore. Thanks Executive system.
R: Reward system: where feelings are born
The third mapmaker is the Reward system, part of the limbic system buried in the middle of your brain. It’s the maker of emotions, the dripper of dopamine, the mother of motivation.
The Reward system builds priority maps that lead to pleasure and avoid pain.
In his newest book Pre-Suasion, Robert Cialdini outlines the frontline commanders of attention: the sexual, the threatening, and the different.
Then once you’ve grabbed attention? Use the self-relevant, the unfinished, and the mysterious to hold on to it. This is the fuel of the Reward system.
Design with the mapmakers in mind
Now what does all this mean for lead generation?
Every time someone encounters your brand, H.E.R. systems are playing tug-of-war for their attention. Here’s what they’re going back and forth about:
What automatically grabs my gaze and pulls me in? [Habit]
Is this relevant to me and my goals? [Executive]
How does it make me feel? Do I like what I see? [Reward]
These questions drive the priority maps that keep a person locked on your message, or bouncing out to the next distraction.
But learning how your customers think is only half of the equation. Here comes the really important part—knowing what they value.
Exchange value to build your tribe
I met my wife while traveling in Barcelona. We discovered we both loved travel, photography, and camping in the sand with great friends and too much red wine. And our family values and future visions were aligned.
Then I had to leave. But the trust we’d already created gave promise of more to come. So we did that thing that young people do to give hope to an extended relationship. We exchanged email addresses.
I was like a little kid on Christmas day every time she appeared in my inbox. Then three years later, we exchanged rings.
Your goal is the same. Get that inbox invitation, and then make them smile with each encounter as you work toward a long-term relationship.
Gain VIP access to their inbox
How many visitors arrive on your website, never to return again? Wouldn’t it be nice to know who those people are, and how many of them actually care about you?
To avoid being lost in the tunnel of Internet attention deficit disorder, you need a way to capture the interest of those browsing eyes. Maybe their name, company, job title—and definitely their email address.
“Email is a person’s universal identifier. It’s like the URL for an individual.”
An email address gives you a direct, owned channel to send targeted messaging, coupons, updates, and offers. It’s like having a door straight into their attention stream.
Just how important is email? More than 80% of landing page traffic at Unbounce comes from email campaigns. And Noah Kagan, founder of SumoMe, says that email drives over 90% or the revenue at their seven-figure business.
There was a time when people passed out their email address like flyers at a political rally. Then people got tired of spam, bait-and-switch offers, and plain old shitty content.
So to get those emails, you’re going to need to do some relationship marketing. Here’s how.
Offer them value, for free
It goes by lots of names: lead magnet, bride, incentive, bait. Instead, think of it as an exchange of value with your ideal customer. You offer them something they want, they give you their email address.
“One of the simplest and most effective ways to drive interest is simply making the lead form more valuable for your customers. Offer some content your users need but can’t get anywhere else, or give them a kickass reward for converting.”
What should you offer? Here are your main options:
Content. Free info that’s worth paying for—to inform or entertain.
Discounts or coupons. An incentive to purchase a product or try out a service.
Giveaways or contests. Free stuff, tickets to events, cash drawings.
So if you’re a SaaS company looking for new users, this could be a discount or a free trial.
Are you trying to build a subscriber list for your blog? Offer a highly-researched ebook or in-depth results to that state-of-the-industry survey you ran.
An online flower shop might offer a 20% discount before Mother’s Day as a helpful reminder. Or hook people higher up the funnel with a guide on growing a mood-boosting Zen garden in your bathtub.
Whatever you offer, it should satisfy some need or solve a problem—wherever they are in their customer journey. So make sure you build offers to target people at all stages of the funnel.
Need more ideas?
Look beyond the narrow customer journey
“A product is always a means to an end, never a final destination.”
Do a billion people really love WhatsApp and Facebook? No. They love how these apps let them connect with others. Your product’s the same–always part of a larger journey.
So our online flower shop might offer a contest for couples to win the ultimate date night. Because flowers are also a tool to help keep the romance going. See how it all fits together?
But careful here. Offering free Miley Cyrus tickets may get you tons of leads. But if you sell customer service solutions, are these really the people you’re after?
Importantissimo: don’t expect people to click on your “100-page super in-depth mind-blowing ebook” if all the free content on your website sucks. Do you think that if people find free short-form junk on your site, they’re going to trade their email for a longer pile of garbage?
Here are a few more ideas and tools to get you started:
Big-rock content: ebook, guide, white paper, research report
Giveaway: gift cards, free trip, autographed Madonna chastity belt
Cheat sheet: common metrics, glossary, checklists, etc.
Free product demo or consultation
Coupons or product discounts
Deliver what you promise
“People don’t move forward with a relationship because you promise them good stuff. They stick around because you give them great stuff.”
So one strategy is this: throw a pop-up in the middle of the screen promising some mind-blowing, life-transforming insights. And then send them a mediocre spin-off of some listicle advice you found on Buzzfeed.
A better option: provide content that’s actually mind-blowing. Or at least pretty darn useful or entertaining. If you do, people will share it, and Google will reward it with SEO coins.
And most of all: you build trust with your audience.
This way, when you send that follow-up email, your new lead will be more likely to click on your next offer.
Now you’re making connections with the right people.
Make your landing page irresistible
You’ve all seen the expression embroidered on your grandma’s hand towels: “The form is where the heart is.”
Of course not. Grandma hates forms. But they’re the heart and soul of your high-converting lead gen campaign.
So make sure you're leaving the right impression.
Say hello with your landing page form
Think of it this way: if you can create an online form, you can collect leads. Pop-ups, contact forms, subscribe bars, order forms, even conversational bots—all ways to ask for personal info from potential buyers.
Need an example? The Beer Company used a typeform to create a fun and informative quiz. After answering some engaging questions, users can add their email to get their score and see the correct answers. It’s easily shared through social media or embedded in a webpage.
Another place to generate leads is through a dedicated landing page on your website. Here’s one from Quicksprout for a free course:
No matter which way you go, remember H.E.R. priority maps to keep people locked from the headline to the submit button on your form. And build in the following tips from the experts.
Landing pages: stick to the expert formula
You know what they say, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” No need to innovate here. Let’s dive right into what the experts say.
1. Hook them at hello
How do you make sure you’re writing copy that will appeal to your audience? Sujan Patel, Cofounder of Web Profits, has the key:
“Have customers write your headlines. Using descriptions from customers can improve conversion rates by 50%.”
2. Say just enough, and say it perfectly
Lilach Bullock, social media and digital marketing expert, says too many marketers still forget these things when it comes to copywriting:
Use action-oriented verbs—like “drive,” “discover,” “generate”—to make people feel something. They give a sense of urgency and move people to take action.
Focus on the benefits of using your product or service, don’t just list features. How does it make people’s lives better? How can it improve their productivity? What difference will it make in their day to day?
Customer first, solution second.
3. Grab attention with images, videos, and GIFs
This isn’t just to make things pretty. You’ve heard that images are processed 60,000 times faster than text. But did you know they’re also useful for guiding attention?
Just ask this adorable baby. No, that’s not a radioactive virus engulfing his face. That’s a heatmap of where people looked on the landing page.
In the top pic, see how the baby stole attention from the text? Good for the baby’s future modeling career, not so good for the marketer’s message.
But in the bottom image, people followed the baby’s gaze straight to the text. Way more effective.
So use images, but use them wisely. And as HubSpot reminds: put your copy before design. Because what good is grabbing attention if you don’t have anything to say.
4. Build trust through social proof
Here’s a trick: point out to your target audience that similar types of people are doing the same. Content Strategist Brittany Berger tells you how:
“A great way to improve landing page copy is to ask people who've already converted on your offer how they benefited from it. Adding in direct quotes as social proof will help you convert more people like them.”
5. Poke out that peacock’s eyes
This one was so good, I had to steal it from Oli Gardner’s most entertaining guide to landing page optimization:
Where would you click in this picture?
Not so clear, is it? Now where would you click in this one?
Ah, now it’s a more obvious. And that’s the trick for your landing page: minimize visual distractions and eliminate multiple calls-to-action. Or as Oli Gardner at Unbounce put it:
“Never feed your marketing traffic to a peacock, unless you’ve poked his eyes out. The feather ones, not his actual eyeballs! Wow, you’re sick.”
6. The more you qualify, the less they click
Here’s the basic rule: to improve clickthrough rate, ask fewer questions in your form. But asking more questions results in more qualified leads—the people who are really interested.
“In a nutshell, the length of your form inevitably leads to a tradeoff between the quantity and quality of the leads you generate.”
So define your goals, and find your balance.
7. Don’t neglect the final check
When you’re all done, for goodness sake please chek yur speling and grammer. Because when you git it wrong, you not only look a bit dum, it’s actually costing you money.
“Typos and other grammatical errors are an example of earned credibility.”
If you can’t be trusted to do your own work properly, do you think people will trust you to handle their business?
8. Bandages before bandaids
We reached out to Brian Dean, Founder of Backlinko and content producer extraordinaire, for his thoughts on landing page testing. Here’s what he had to say:
“So a few months ago I realized my homepage’s conversion rate was OK… but with a ton of room for improvement. One idea came to my mind for how to improve it: reduce options.
You see, my homepage had literally 20 different options that a user could take… and only three of them led me to collect an email. So I removed all the links to my latest posts. And I replaced them with a clear offer—just ONE option.
The result? A 60.5% increase in the number of leads generated from that page. Nice!”
Test overall user experience first. Then get into details like image placement and button size.
“To optimize your landing pages, stop the gushing blood before putting bandaids on the scratches.”
But before you can enchant your audience, you need to make sure they land on your page in the first place. How do you do that?
Get in front of your audience
“Make people feel like they’re seen and heard. That means reaching out to individuals, and targeting your messages as specifically as possible. Don’t broadcast or spam your users, or they’ll filter you out as white noise.”
If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it… nobody cares. It’s the same with your epic blog content. And it’s the same with your lead gen offer.
Because when a great campaign comes out and nobody sees it, the only people who notice are the rest of your marketing department, and your unimpressed CFO.
So how do companies like HubSpot and Marketo continually bring in thousands of leads per month? It starts with the basics: good brand, good product. And a lot of well-designed lead gen campaigns.
This means sharp offers targeting relevant audiences, with links to landing pages scattered all along a potential customer’s journey.
Promote where your audience roams
Remember the “content shock” we talked about? Consumers are slammed with emails, ads, articles, and offers. So how do you get your lead gen campaign in front of the right eyes?
Not by slapping people in the face with pop-ups and push notifications. The trick is to be there when your audience is looking for you.
Google calls these “micromoments”—those critical touchpoints when people are open to influence. These are “if-only-I-had” moments, and “how-could-I-do-this-better” moments. It’s when the Executive takes control of priority maps, and attention goes searching for solutions.
Where does your audience search? That’s what you need to ask yourself. And that’s where you need a link to your lead gen landing pages.
Here are the basic channels where your campaign links should live:
The other day, I was searching for a rental car in Dublin. I clicked on one of the first few links that Google offered. After selecting the dates I needed the car, I got a pop-up coupon for 10% off my rental. All I had to do was add my name and email address. An offer for an email.
Popups, sign-up forms, subscribe bars, contact forms—all ways to capture leads online. Optimize your website to convert visitors into leads. And optimize for search engines (SEO) to make sure Google recommends you.
Any blog post is an opportunity to link to a landing page. Just make sure you match the content of the offer with the intent of your article.
Imagine you sell dentures for hamsters. Someone poking around your product page is probably pretty far down the buyer’s funnel. (Because really, why the hell else would they be there?) This is the place to offer a free consultation, or promote that 50% off coupon campaign.
Now imagine someone is reading your top-trending blog post “Why sparkling oral hygiene improves rodents’ quality of life.” (very little SEO competition for this topic). This person may just be discovering your little known secret to hamster happiness.
So this is a good place to promote more top-of-funnel lead gen lures. Like that highly researched ebook you wrote on “The wear and tear of tooth enamel in pets with domesticated diets.” No doubt destined for bestseller status.
If you google “things to do in Barcelona,” the first few results are sponsored links from travel and event companies. These are pay-per-click (PPC) ads, where these companies pay to jump in front of organic search results—right into prime eyeball real estate.
These ads can be sharply targeted to a specific audience. So whenever someone searches for “how to care for domestic rodents,” your hamster hygiene guide is there waiting. Follow paid ads best practices to make sure you’re maximizing click-throughs.
P.S. If you’re actually looking for things to do in Barcelona, shoot me a message and I’ll let you in on a few secrets. And if you’re looking for hamster hygiene, sorry but you’re on your own. 🙂
Viral quizzes and giveaways are a huge attraction on social media with high conversion rates. This is a great way to turn followers into leads. And people love to share an engaging quiz, so it’s like free PR at the same time.
And don’t just rely on your own social accounts. As Jayson DeMers, Founder & CEO of EmailAnalytics, reminds us:
“Most brands don’t want to take the time, but one strong influencer relationship could drive thousands of new people to your page.”
So what’s the most effective way to turn anonymous eyes into leads for your business?
It depends on your audience, but here’s what a couple thousand people told MarketingSherpa:
Jayson leaves you with some final advice:
“Paid channels work fast, but don’t grow much over time. Organic and social channels take longer to kick in, but they’re cheaper in the long run. Organic approaches also have limitless potential, as long as you’re patient enough for them to develop.”
So figure out what works for you. And whichever channels you choose, make sure your clothes match. Huh? Read on.
Create a consistent experience
An outstanding offer, a luring landing page, and perfect promotion—all are essential to a highly converting campaign. But to capture leads, these keys need to be played in harmony.
“Think outside of the landing page. Don’t just focus on headlines, or CTA color and size. What matters is the whole customer journey. Match the pre-click (ad, email, etc.) message and design with the post-click landing page experience.”
Here’s an example from digital marketer Lilach Bullock.
A Twitter card presents her offer—a free webinar—with a uniquely branded design and a clear CTA to sign up.
You’ll find the same thing over on Facebook. And when you click to sign up, you land here:
The consistent design lets your brain know you’re in the right place. The text reinforces your expectations. The countdown timer gives you a sense of urgency. And the big CTA tells you what to do next.
Still not convinced? Scroll down for a bullet list of benefits. And the same picture of Lilach you started with.
See how that whole experience flows? Aim for the same with your campaign.
Create a unified experience from first encounter to final form. Then get out your slide rule—it’s time to measure what’s working.
Track your leads: the metrics you should know
“That sure was a cool campaign!”
“We got 5,000 clicks at an average CPC of $0.65!”
“Did you see how many likes we got on Facebook?!”
All good signs. But none of them good enough.
Because when it comes to calculating return on investment (ROI), your feelings, cost per click, and social engagement have nothing to do with how well your campaign is going.
This is a place to leave your limbic system at the door and call on the Executive to check your intuitions.
So how do you know if your campaign is working?
Think leads, not clicks
Imagine you’re running a viral quiz campaign on Facebook, and you’ve got $1,000 to impress your boss. You test out some different audiences and find you’re able to get an average cost per click of $0.20.
Is that good? It doesn’t matter. As Typeform’s SEM Manager Tom Wilkinson puts it:
“One of the biggest mistakes rookie online marketers make is focusing on cost-per-click (CPC) instead of cost-per-lead (CPL).”
Take note: your ad clickthrough rate is important. It’s the number of people who click on your ad / the number of people who see your ad. It measures how relevant or enticing your campaign is to the people you’re targeting.
But when it comes to ROI, it doesn’t matter if that $1000 generates 4,000 or 10,000 ad clicks. What matters is the number of clickers that leave their email address—your click-to-lead ratio.
Minimizing cost per lead (CPL) is your goal. And it’s easy to calculate:
CPL = Money spent on campaign / Number of leads generated
So if you spend that $1000 on Facebook ads, and your viral quiz generates 2400 leads:
CPL = $1000 / 2400 = $0.42
And make sure you include the extras. If you run a giveaway campaign with a grand prize of $500 in burritos, just add that into the cost:
CPL = ($1000 + $500) / 2400 = $0.63
Oh, and don’t forget to net the social ripple effects.
Catch your social butterflies
If you create shareable stuff—like a giveaway or viral quiz—your lead gen campaign should get some social shares. And if you’re hitting the right audience with offers they care about, those shares should spawn some additional leads. Make sure you count those too!
So, imagine your burrito giveaway campaign gets shared 218 times, and from those clicks you pull in another 122 leads. The organic uplift on your paid campaign just dropped your cost per lead:
CPL = ($1000 + $500) / (2400 + 122) = $0.59
Nice one. But are all these emails paying off?
Look down the funnel
“Measuring lead generation campaigns is where a lot of people go wrong. Just simply focusing on the raw volume of leads is ok, but in the long-term you need to figure out which types of leads bring the most value to your business.”
Remember that the goal of your lead gen campaign isn’t to collect email addresses. Your goal is to connect with potential customers. So keep an eye on how well your leads convert down the line.
There’s a few ways to do this. One is with your lead-to-sale conversion rate:
Total number of new customers / Total number of leads
You want that number to be over 20%. If you’re too much below that, you’re probably not matching your offer to your ideal customer.
Here’s another good hack from Jayson DeMers:
“Keep at least two landing pages or channels running at a time, so you have an ongoing A/B test. It’s easier to compare two sets of stats to determine which is better than it is to look at one set and ask ‘Is this good enough?’”
But how do you know if you’re really investing in the right places?
Be your own benchmark
The best benchmarks for any of these metrics aren’t found in industry standards. The best place to benchmark starts at your own front door.
How many people who arrive on your landing page leave you their info? How many of those people open your emails? How many of those people go on to become loyal customers?
This is where you start. Now go do what it takes to make next month’s numbers better than the last.
Parting words: connect, don't collect
Connect (verb) /kəˈnɛkt/ 1. bring together so that a real link is established. 2. form a relationship or feel an affinity.
“Lead generation is about connecting your product to people who need it. Think long-term relationships, not a short-term grab for emails.”
Forget about casting a wide net and hoping for the best. Your job is to generate interest in you and what you do. This doesn’t happen in one go. It’s a relationship that unfolds over time through a mutual exchange of value.
Here’s how you get started:
Define your target. What problem do you solve for your users? What goal do you help people accomplish? Know your target audience.
Pick your pitch. Where is your target in their customer journey? What info are they looking for? Create an offer that appeals to this audience.
Perfect your approach. Is your offer clear and your landing page friction-free? Are you engaging their attention until they click submit? Make it easy for them to pass you their info.
Get the word out. Where is your audience when they need you? How do they like to be engaged? Help your audience find you.
Evaluate your success. Are you investing in the right channels? Did you connect with the right people? Remember, it’s about potential customers, not email addresses.
And don’t forget the larger customer journey. Create content that delivers value at all stages and in every micro-moment of the customer quest.
Think of each interaction as a value-based exchange.
You provide relevant, engaging info, they give you their attention. You present an irresistible offer, they pass you their contact info. You have a product that helps them get through the day, they become a loyal customer.
How do you know your lead gen strategies are working? When the right leads start looking for you.