- Sales leads are potential customers who are interested in your product or service but may not be ready to make a purchase
- Get new leads for sales by optimizing your website, investing in digital marketing, and building your online reputation
- Nurture leads with an email marketing campaign and maintain your web presence on business platforms like Yelp
As a small business owner, generating a consistent stream of potential customers is vital for success. Without a strong marketing strategy and lead generation efforts, it can be hard to maintain a steady customer base and grow your brand’s reputation.
Word-of-mouth can play a role in growing your brand, but you may need to implement a more wide-ranging strategy to grow your sales pipeline and attract more customers to your business.
Learn how to find leads for sales using outbound and inbound marketing and discover what types of sales lead generation strategies are right for your business.
What is a sales lead?
A sales lead is a potential client or customer who has provided you with their contact details or otherwise shown interest in a product or service—but hasn’t yet made a purchase. A sales lead may have visited your website, signed up for your email list, or connected with a member of your sales team at a networking event or trade show.
Other examples of sales leads include potential customers who attended a webinar, downloaded a lead magnet, or signed up for a free trial.
A sales lead differs from a prospect in that they haven’t been qualified yet. This means that while leads may turn into paying customers, they haven’t yet signaled that they’re ready to buy by engaging further with your sales team.
To turn a lead into a prospect, businesses can engage in lead nurturing to build trust with the customer and provide more information about your product or service. The more leads you have, the more opportunities you have to make a sale.
How to find new sales leads
Learning how to find sales leads is key to running a successful small business. Although you can continue to generate revenue by selling to your existing customer base, some degree of customer churn is inevitable. Finding and nurturing high-quality leads helps keep your sales funnel full of new prospects so you can grow your business.
The best way to find sales leads will vary by industry. E-commerce businesses are more likely to find their sales leads online, while a brick-and-mortar business may use a combination of digital and in-person lead generation.
Here are some of the most common strategies for generating leads:
- Asking for referrals from existing customers or business partners
- Paying for online ads on social media, search engines, and online business platforms like Yelp
- Attending trade shows, conferences, and other in-person networking events
- Using content marketing to build brand awareness or provide free resources in return for contact information
- Using search engine optimization (SEO) to attract more website visitors
A sales lead turns into a prospect when they take further action, such as replying to an email or signing up for a webinar. Only a small portion of leads become prospects, and an even smaller amount are converted into paying customers.
You can track the success of your sales efforts by measuring your lead conversion rate. According to the Corporate Finance Institute, target conversion rates vary based on industry and sales process, so you should pay attention to your own industry’s averages and your past performance to determine what percentage you should aim for. You can increase your conversion rate by qualifying leads and nurturing them.
Inbound vs. outbound lead generation
Lead generation strategies come in two forms: inbound and outbound lead generation.
Inbound lead generation refers to a situation in which potential leads come to you, by visiting your website, searching for a product on a search engine, or looking for a particular type of business on platforms like Yelp.
Outbound lead generation requires you to do the outreach, such as advertising to potential leads on social media, sending out direct mail, or cold calling them. Outbound lead gen can get your business in front of your ideal customers more quickly, but it can take more time to nurture these leads if they’re unfamiliar with your business.
Lead generation vs. lead nurturing
Lead generation is the process of acquiring leads whereas lead nurturing is the process of developing a relationship with those leads in the interest of making a sale.
Some leads may not be ready to buy and want to explore their options or learn more about your business before making a decision. Lead nurturing aims to develop trust, answer questions, and drive interest in your product or service over time.
Some of the most common approaches to lead nurturing include:
- Drip marketing campaigns, such as a series of automated emails that provide helpful information about your business or industry
- Free trials and product demos that allow leads to try out your product or service with no long-term commitment
- Webinars and other online events where potential leads can learn more about your business offerings or leadership team
- Surveys and giveaways that allow you to engage with prospective customers while learning more about their needs or pain points
The amount of time you spend on lead nurturing will depend on your industry and target audience. High-value products and services have a longer sales cycle, but an effective lead nurturing campaign can shorten the sales cycle and drive more sales.
What is lead qualification?
Some businesses may also benefit from lead qualification, which means vetting your leads to determine if they’re worth marketing to. This is especially important with B2B leads, since these leads typically require more personalized lead nurturing.
You can qualify leads by ranking them based on some of the following factors:
- Demographics: Are they the same age and gender as your ideal customer? Do they live in a country or region where your services are available?
- Behavior: How many times have they opened your email newsletter? How many online webinars have they attended?
- Professional attributes: For B2B leads, do they work at a company that has a use for your product? Do they have the authority to make a purchase?
The lead management process may include a discovery call, in which one of your sales reps calls up a B2B lead to determine if they’re a good fit for your business, or a survey in which you follow-up with B2C leads to learn more about their pain points.
As you learn more about your leads, you can qualify them in your customer relationship management (CRM) software based on this new information.
Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are those who have shown enough interest in your business that you might win them over with additional marketing efforts. Sales qualified leads (SQLs) are those who are so close to making a sale that you can convert them with a final sales push or a clear call-to-action (CTA).
7 ways to get sales leads on a budget
Lead generation requires some effort, but it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money. Whether you’re a small business owner learning how to source leads for sales yourself, or you have an entire marketing team doing it for you, follow these seven steps to find more sales leads on any budget.
1. Develop a content marketing plan
Content marketing provides helpful content to potential customers for free in the hope of building trust and interest in your business. This “content” can take the form of ebooks, blog posts, newsletters, infographics, or any other type of media, and is usually directly related to your industry or area of expertise.
For example, a landscaping company might create a resource with helpful lawn care tips while an electronics company might offer a video tutorial on how to fix a broken smartphone screen. B2B marketing departments tend to focus on white papers and case studies, such as a report on financial trends in a specific industry.
Content marketing may be the best way to get sales leads because it can help with lead nurturing at the same time. A lead magnet is a piece of free content that leads can only access after filling out a lead capture form that collects their contact information. That same piece of content helps nurture leads by giving them the opportunity to learn more about your business at their own pace.
2. Leverage online business platforms
Social media platforms aren’t the only places where you can maintain a web presence for your business. Online business platforms like Yelp allow you to add or claim your business page so you can post your contact information and operating hours—and importantly, respond to customer reviews.
In fact, visitors to online business platforms may have a more immediate need for a product or service than social media users. More than 80 million people visit Yelp each month to look for businesses—from electricians to accountants—and eight out of 10 searches on Yelp don’t include a specific business name.
Yelp makes it easy to acquire new leads and drive sales with free request features such as Request a Call and Request a Quote. You can also invest in the custom Call to Action (CTA) upgrade which allows you to tailor your messaging to your business and customer base, rather than relying on a generic lead capture form.
You’ll get a notification when you have a new sales lead so you can follow up with them as quickly as possible. Businesses that respond to messages and requests within 24 hours get 3x more messages and requests.
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3. Launch an email marketing list
Email newsletters make a great lead magnet because they encourage folks to develop an ongoing relationship with your brand. Do your target customers want to learn about cutting-edge technology or get daily health and wellness tips in their inbox? Provide a convenient sign-up form on your website and social media profiles.
Sending out an email newsletter takes some effort, and you may not have the time to keep up with a daily or even weekly newsletter. Set up a drip marketing campaign when subscribers first sign up so they can receive introductory emails automatically. Then, set realistic expectations so subscribers know how often they can expect to hear from you—and always give them the option to unsubscribe.
Email marketing platforms like Mailchimp and Constant Contact offer features such as list segmentation so you can break up your list into categories by interest or demographic. You’ll also be able to view advanced metrics to track your open rate and unsubscribe rate, which can help you determine what type of content is resonating with your audience. Conduct A/B testing to see what’s working (and not working) and adjust your content accordingly.
4. Be active on social media
Social media platforms are a good place to find leads for sales because you can interact with your followers and respond to questions and comments from potential leads. Whether you’re posting content on your social media profiles or hosting a live Q&A to answer common FAQs, staying active on social media offers plenty of opportunities to generate leads.
Some social media platforms may have built-in lead capture forms or you can direct followers to visit your website or sign up for your email newsletter.
To get the most value out of your social media campaign, choose the platform that’s most aligned with your business. For instance, LinkedIn is a popular site for B2B lead generation while TikTok and Instagram appeal to younger users and B2C customers.
5. Host webinars and online events
Webinars serve the dual purpose of generating leads and building your reputation as an industry expert. If you offer professional services, the topic of your webinar should be directly related to your area of expertise, such as “How to Design an Ebook Cover” or “10 Tips for Filing Your Small Business Tax Return.”
Other online event ideas include a panel discussion featuring local business leaders or a presentation on major trends in your industry over the past year.
For niche markets, consider an interactive event in which potential leads can meet each other, such as a virtual meet-and-greet for reptile lovers. This helps to demonstrate the social benefit they would get from being part of your community.
Before hosting a webinar, estimate the size of your audience and choose a platform that can handle that capacity to avoid any technical issues. Generate demand by having an exclusive webinar or open it up to anyone who provides their contact information.
6. Start a referral program
A referral program is an outbound marketing strategy in which you encourage existing customers to tell their friends and family about your business. There’s no better way to demonstrate your company’s appeal than by getting existing customers to spread the word about your products or services.
Set up a referral program by offering a free gift, cash reward, or another incentive for every new lead who becomes a customer as a result of someone’s referral.
Referrals don’t have to come solely from customers. Your professional associates and other small business owners may be happy to spread the word about your business among their clientele. Leads are more likely to trust recommendations from someone they have a relationship with than from someone cold calling out of the blue.
7. Optimize your website for search engines
Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to a set of practices websites can follow to rank higher on search engines. There’s no shortcut to a high ranking: You do it by providing relevant information that matches what your ideal customers are searching for.
If you’re a small local business, you’d focus on local SEO tactics, such as optimizing your website for search terms like “pet food near me.” If you’re an e-commerce store, you might focus your SEO on a particular product category, like electronics.
The more common your keyword is, the more competition you’ll have for it. Consider developing a keyword strategy that incorporates long-tail keywords. Instead of trying to rank for “best accountant in new york city,” try targeting “best accountant for artists in new york city” or another long-tail keyword that aligns with your niche.
Another tactic is to develop unique landing pages that target specific buyer personas. A potential lead searching for an accountant in New York City would see a different landing page if they searched for “accountant for artists” versus “accountant for dentists,” allowing you to welcome them with a more personalized call-to-action.
Top tools to get more leads for sales
Now that you know how to find leads in sales, how do you keep track of them all? Many sales and marketing departments rely on software to generate and qualify leads, and to automate key parts of the marketing process. Here are six tools that can help you find more leads for sales and market to them.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a digital database where you store contact information for all of your customers. Some popular cloud-based CRMs include Zoho, Salesforce, and HubSpot. Your CRM may contain everything from your customers’ purchase history to their interactions with your customer support team.
A CRM can also help you qualify new leads and move them further along your sales funnel. Designate leads as “cold leads,” “warm leads,” or “hot leads” based on their previous interactions with your salespeople.
Email marketing platforms
Email marketing tools help you build an email newsletter to attract new leads along with drip campaigns to nurture them. These marketing automation platforms do all the hard work by providing handy email templates for you to choose from and sending out emails automatically.
Pricing varies based on the size of your list and the number of emails you send each month. Monitor your open rate, click-through rate, and unsubscribe rate to track the success of your email marketing campaigns.
Social media management tools
Social media management tools like Buffer and Hootsuite can help you create content and post it to social media platforms automatically. Instead of logging into your social media accounts separately, simply link them to one of these cloud-based tools and post them on all your accounts simultaneously. You can also plan out your social calendar ahead of time and use these tools to schedule posts so you don’t have to log in every time you want to post something.
Social media management tools also help you optimize your content marketing strategy by tracking clicks and showing you which types of posts get the most engagement.
Search engine optimization (SEO) tools
Search engine optimization can help you generate leads by attracting more customers to your website. But knowing which keywords to focus on can be tricky. Use keyword research tools to identify long-tail keywords that customers are searching for, and perform a local SEO audit to see how your website currently stacks up.
Landing page builders
A landing page is the first thing a potential customer sees when they visit your website. Use custom landing page builders like Instapage and Unbounce to create targeted landing pages that convert website visitors into leads.
Built-in tools can also help you optimize your landing page copy, perform A/B testing on your CTA, and experiment with new ideas to lower your bounce rate.
Online advertising platforms
Digital advertising platforms help you generate leads by targeting potential customers in a specific region or market. Online advertising options include ad networks that display your ad in multiple places around the web, as well as individual websites with built-in advertising features, like LinkedIn and Yelp.
When you invest in Yelp Ads, your Yelp Business Page will be shown in multiple places on the Yelp website and the mobile app. Yelp’s built-in advertising tools make it easy to create a new ad based on your business details or even from a customer review.
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How to qualify new leads and turn them into prospects
Not every lead is going to become a customer, and that’s okay. Sometimes it just isn’t the right match or the right timing. Once you know how to find new leads in sales, you can focus on qualifying leads and turning them into prospects.
The more leads you have, the less realistic it is to qualify leads one by one, so consider using CRM software to score and qualify leads. Use sales calls, qualification surveys, and market research to develop customer profiles and lead scoring strategies.
According to Gartner Digital Markets, the BANT framework “has been the de facto lead qualification method for sales teams for more than 70 years.”
Here are four factors to consider as part of the BANT method:
What is your lead’s budget and can they afford to purchase your product or service? In B2B sales, you can get this information in a discovery call or by researching their company. For B2C leads, this may be an estimate based on demographic info.
You can address a lead’s budgetary concerns by offering a discount or by using lead nurturing to demonstrate the value of your product or service. However, if a lead’s budget is too low, consider focusing on other leads who can afford your price point.
Does your lead have the power or authority to move forward with a purchase? For B2B leads, determine whether or not they’re a decision-maker at their place of employment. For B2C leads, are they a homeowner who can make decisions about the property or will they need to get the landlord’s approval first?
Just because a lead doesn’t have the authority to make a purchase right away doesn’t mean they aren’t worth building a relationship with. Low-cost lead nurturing strategies like email and content marketing may lead to a word-of-mouth referral or a purchase down the line when your lead gets a promotion or moves to a different company.
How necessary is your product or service and does it address a specific pain point? For necessities, your lead is likely to make a purchase somewhere—either from you or from a competitor. For discretionary items, they may or may not make a purchase at all.
You can use questionnaires to learn more about your lead’s needs. For example, when potential customers use the request features on Yelp, they’ll be presented with a series of questions specific to your industry. Do they need a repair or an installation? Lawn care maintenance or tree removal? The more you know about the situation, the more effectively you can turn your lead into a sale.
How soon is a lead likely to make a purchase? Expensive purchases like vehicles and electronics have a longer sales cycle than everyday items like food and clothing, and some businesses have seasonal sales cycles, like lawn care and pool cleaning.
Some leads may indicate that they’re ready to make a purchase right away while others may still be in the research phase. Use a drip campaign to nurture on-the-fence buyers and try seasonal marketing to drive more sales in the off-season.
Go from lead to sale with effective lead generation
Generating leads for sales starts by making contact with potential customers through your website, social media, or online business platforms like Yelp. With inbound lead generation, customers discover your business themselves; with outbound lead generation, you reach out to them via online advertising or referral marketing.
Once a customer has shown interest in your business by providing their contact info, follow up promptly to respond to any questions and nudge them toward a sale. If you need to generate more leads quickly, check out these 15 online advertising examples to reach more customers and expand your customer base.
The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.