Lead generation is one of the most important, yet complex and imperfect parts of selling (or marketing). There are often more questions than answers in the lead generation strategies deployed by any organization– regardless of business size or industry, it’s a common problem.

Here are just some of the questions you might be asking yourself:

  • Which channel can help drive both high volume and high quality leads?
  • What are the biggest challenges standing in the way of generating more leads?
  • How important is scoring and tracking leads (and what criteria should I use)?
  • Which lead generation trends should I take note of?
  • Can sales lead generation software help?

This problem is further exacerbated by changes in the buyer journey, with customers having much greater product knowledge and carrying out research online before even engaging with companies (whether in the B2B or B2C world). In addition, the selling process is often comprised of a series of manual processes that are time consuming and prone to error.

To understand the current landscape better and to help answer these questions, we surveyed 300 B2B and B2C companies in North America to find out which lead generation strategies they use, as well as the major challenges and opportunities available.

Key Findings

  • 28 percent of respondents say that generating high quality leads is their biggest challenge, while 22 percent say that it is generating a high volume of leads.
  • 47 percent of respondents rate ‘in person’ as the method that provides the highest quality leads.
  • 38 percent say that social media provides the highest volume of new leads.
  • 69 percent of salespeople are likely to invest in predictive analytics to better score leads.
  • 72 percent of respondents say that third-party review websites are effective in generating new leads.

Lead generation challenges

Generating high quality leads and generating a high volume of leads are the two greatest challenges cited by respondents. These came in ahead of:

  • Tracking results (17 percent)
  • Budget (11.7 percent)
  • Understanding which channel to use (10.6 percent)
  • Lead nurturing (10.3 percent).

Budget constraints

M. H. “Mac” McIntosh, a B2B lead generation and marketing consultant, believes that a key main reason that generating a high volume and high quality of leads is their biggest challenge, is linked to budget.

“Companies don’t budget enough for lead generation,” he says. “They expect it to be part of the marketing budget, but focus most of the dollars and resources on branding instead of lead generation, nurturing and qualification.”

Aroop Menon, product marketing manager for Freshsales, agrees that budget plays a part, since marketers and salespeople have to generate high quality, high volume leads with less budget than before. Another major factor at play, he notes, is not understanding the audience and not tailoring lead generation strategies to that audience. He says:

“Before a business decides to make marketing investments, it needs to figure out the right audience to reach out to, clearly identify the messaging that resonates well with this audience, and also be able to track the sources from where they are able to generate leads.”

“Often it looks like companies lack clarity in identifying the target audience they should reach out to and the messaging. This, coupled with investment in marketing channels and tools with poor payback, makes the situation more challenging. Most businesses fail to invest in the right marketing channels (social media, content marketing and PPC ) and tools (like investing in a CRM that really suits their business).”

Always be closing

These findings are also in line with the nature of selling and the typical characteristics of salespeople, always pushing for more leads and revenue regardless of whether or not they’re meeting their goals.

“Since our job is to grow company revenue, I don’t think we’ll ever be satisfied with lead/revenue volume,” says Dave Rigotti, VP of marketing at marketing attribution solution Bizible. “Marketing teams should always want to do more, just like sales, and generating more leads/revenue is the key to fulfilling that need and goal. It’s healthy.”

Justin McGill, chief executive officer at lead generation software vendor LeadFuze, believes that a lot of this is about perspective. “For example we get 30 to 50 trial sign ups a day now,” he says. “Starting out, this seemed like our goal. We now want 100/day. Why? Because you can never have enough leads.”

Lead generation methods

Given that generating a high volume of quality leads is a key challenge, we looked at the channels that are helping businesses most in this area.

While there isn’t just one magical way of generating a large volume of leads that are also high quality– it’s all dependent on the type of business and how it operates– some common themes emerged when looking at the most popular lead generation channels.

In terms of the lead generation methods that garner the highest volume of leads, the results were as follows:

  • Social media: 38.2 percent
  • In person: 21.2 percent
  • Telemarketing:14.0 percent
  • Content marketing: 10.2 percent
  • Pay per click advertising: 6.5 percent
  • Email newsletter: 4.8 percent
  • Third-party review websites: 3.1 percent
  • Other: 2.1 percent.

The lead generation methods that generate the highest quality leads were:

  • In person: 46.8 percent
  • Social media: 22.2 percent
  • Content marketing: 12.3 percent
  • Telemarketing: 5.5 percent
  • Pay per click advertising: 4.4 percent
  • Email newsletter: 4.1 percent
  • Third-party review websites: 3.8 percent
  • Other: 1.0 percent.

Social media

Social media was named as the channel that provides the highest volume of new leads, with 38 percent of respondents choosing that option. Add to that the 22 percent who said that social media provides the most high-quality leads.

This suggests that salespeople need to work on their social media lead generation techniques or invest in a social selling platform.

“I think it comes down to targeting the right folks within different social channels,” says McGill. “For example, joining the right Facebook and LinkedIn groups, or connecting with folks that look like your favorite customer(s).”

Dolly Jade Draze, product marketer at Zoho CRM, believes that salespeople need to use the information that prospects are already posting on social media to connect in a more targeted and relevant way. She says:

“Social media is a great way to reach out to potential customers but the problem arises when you start concentrating on the ‘likes’ rather than leads. So people tend to make irrelevant posts and lose out on the quality of their leads. The ones they bring in like what the company posts rather than what it sells. Your leads are out there posting their preferences; you could use that information to either alter your sales pitch to suit their needs or to figure out which leads are worth investing in. Social media is such a wide source of leads that it is imperative to have very specific targeting in order to find credible leads.”

Sales expert Colleen Francis – president of Engage Selling Solutions – agrees that sellers need to build personal relationships with buyers.

“They can do this by connecting personally with buyers on Linked in, Twitter or Facebook as well as using those sites to gather research about the company and the buyer,” she says. “Using this research to formulate personalized  questions will hep the buyer feel that you care about them and their business which will then help you build a deeper relationship.”

Bizible is already using social media for lead generation with great success. The company uses LinkedIn to improve lead generation, as well as conversions from these leads.

“I love LinkedIn advertising — it’s ability to generate large-scale but yet still incredibly focused demand is unmatched,” Rigotti says. “At Bizible, we’ve found quite a lot of success with their list upload functionality to target specific companies and developing persona based campaigns to target almost individual roles at these companies. The combination of going after specific people in specific accounts has enabled us to see a fairly high conversion rate.”

Traditional lead generation methods

With the digitization of the workplace and the ever-expanding ways to contact customers, you might expect that the channel which generates the highest quality of leads would involve new technology. Sales people, however, still find great use in traditional methods of lead generation.

‘In person’ was the option that most respondents named as providing the highest quality of new leads (47 percent). It was also the second most cited lead generation method providing the highest volume of new leads (21 percent).

“This doesn’t surprise us at all! Despite having numerous ways to sell from anywhere, selling in person will always work out best,” says Draze. “That’s because people trust what they can see rather than an email that’s probably just a template. In fact, we have a feature called ‘near me’ in our Zoho CRM mobile app that lets you find nearby leads so that you can visit them directly and close that deal.”

Menon says it’s about personalized conversation.

“In person allows you to have personalized conversation and have better context than any other methods,” he says. “For this very reason, the method generates [the] highest quality leads.”

The downside of generating leads in person is the cost, as McIntosh explains:

“My own experience shows that referrals, event attendees and trade show visitors often become the highest quality leads. However, they also often have the highest cost-per-qualified-lead. And it is difficult to scale “in-person” lead generation due to those high costs and the resources (i.e. manpower) needed.”

Rigotti adds: “I’d be very curious on the cost and ROI of in-person conversations vs new video sales tools like Zoom.”

Lead generation strategies: scoring and tracking

Generating leads is the first part of the process when it comes to making a sale. The next step is to score the leads to determine which deserve follow up, and then track the results of the campaign so that you can understand which channels work best for your business.

However, our survey found that :

  • 13.1 percent of salespeople don’t have a lead scoring model.
  • A further 10 percent have an ineffective lead scoring model.
  • Only 15.5 percent say their model is very effective.

McIntosh has an idea of why this might be.

“Salespeople must have strong egos to survive the rejection involved in selling,” he says. “This same ego causes them to often claim they found the leads on their own, rather than acknowledging the original marketing source of the leads. They also believe they will know a lead (like art) when they see it, so they don’t apply rigorous lead scoring themselves.”

However, overlooking this part of the sales process decreases the chances of closing a sale and may mean that you end up following up on the wrong leads.

“It’s not enough to just realize the best source of your leads, you also need to know the best leads to follow up on,” says Draze. “These leads might either be more important to your business (say, you prefer concentrating on bigger deals) or just have a better chance of closing (say, if the lead responds to emails more-so than others). It’s not possible to convert all your leads but when you score your leads, you could make sure that the most important ones don’t slip away.”

Lead tracking

Determining which channel is generating high quality leads is reliant on tracking the results of lead generation campaigns and measuring the ROI. As we’ve already seen, 17 percent of respondents say that tracking results is their biggest lead gen challenge. Despite this:

  • 13.5 percent don’t measure the ROI of their lead generation campaigns.
  • 18.4 percent say that their model to measure ROI is inaccurate.
  • 49.7 percent say that it is only somewhat accurate.

McGill says that the reason behind this is that it’s almost impossible to effectively track leads.

He says: “Do you go with first-click or last-click attribution? Some sort of combination? Adwords analytics is going to most likely show the Ad click as a conversion, Facebook will show their click as a conversion. What if the person first saw an Adwords ad, then a Facebook ad, but then signed up after reading three of your blog posts? Which gets the credit? It’s a very difficult thing to do and there just isn’t a solution unfortunately. Best thing to do is pick one (first click attribution for example), and just understand there are flaws.”

One way to improve lead tracking is to make the marketing department responsible for tracking performance.

“This is such an important piece of business; just as much as planning and executing. I understand it though — for some channels and activities, tracking can be a bit of a manual process,” says Rigotti. “This is where the marketing team can help. If marketing owns some (or all) of the performance tracking for sources via attribution and sales owns activities, the burden on each team is reduced quite a bit and you’ll not only make better decisions about what’s working, but improve your sales and marketing alignment as well.”

McIntosh agrees that tracking shouldn’t necessarily be the salesperson’s responsibility, and that using a CRM can ensure that there is an effective process in place.

“If you want to maximize your salespeople’s, reps’, dealers or distributors sales effectiveness, you need to develop lead qualification and scoring criteria that sales management agrees with,” he says. “Then use your CRM system to distribute the sales-ready leads while tracking the source of the lead and the additional marketing and sales touches, without asking the salesperson to be responsible for that tracking.”

Menon agrees that a CRM is key, but only one that offers a lead scoring model and has the ability to track performance.

“The best way forward is to invest in a CRM that helps track a lead’s engagement over time (and not just the email click through rates) and also, effectively score a lead based on interactions with website, in-app and other channels,” he says.

Lead generation trends: predictive analytics

An area closely tied to lead scoring and tracking is predictive analytics, which uses the data that you have already collected to make predictions about future events. As one of the most important lead generation trends, it can help with any conflict between sales and marketing over the criteria of lead scoring and prioritization, better aligning the two departments.

This is a priority for our respondents with more than two thirds planning on investing in predictive analytics to help better score leads.

Predictive analytics can shed light on which leads are most likely to convert based on actions taken throughout the sales or trial process.

“Predictive analytics based on past results allows you to focus your time, money and resources on the lead generation, nurturing and qualification campaigns and tactics that work best,” says McIntosh. “So, you minimize wastage and maximize results.”

Rigotti says that predictive analytics is great for identifying and prioritizing accounts to target with your marketing and sales messages and channels.

He explains: “Not only is it great for building initial lists and grading structure, but also understanding where to invest more or less over time. If you have a single outbound sales person, you should be investing in predictive analytics.”

Adoption of sales lead generation software

To gauge how respondents to the survey are recording, scoring, and tracking the leads they generate and the success of these leads, we asked how many of them are using sales software to manage lead generation. The answer is just over half (57 percent).

Meanwhile, of the 43 percent that don’t use sales software, 82 percent still use spreadsheets.

Draze believes that this lack of adoption comes from different factors depending on business size. For larger businesses, it’s working in silos; for smaller organizations, it’s being uninformed on what’s available.

“There’s a significant disconnect between the lead-gen mechanism and the remaining teams of the company,” she says. “It is this disconnect that prevents tracking and improvement of lead-gen, which is why many of them might be skeptical about investing in the latest lead management tools. With smaller companies though, it is the lack of adequate information and knowledge of latest developments that prevents them from adopting the latest lead generation mechanisms and tools.”

According to Menon, the primary reason for the lack of adoption is the complexity involved in setting up, understanding, and using the software.

“Most often they need to juggle between different tools (CRM, event analytics, lead scoring, marketing automation etc.),” he says. “And obviously the cost is also a major factor. For SMBs, what’s most needed is a CRM tool that can offer all of these in one single package with ease of use and economical pricing.”

However, for those that have already deployed the software, 82 percent say that it has increased their ability to generate more leads.

Meanwhile, 78 percent say it has increased their ability to generate higher quality leads.

 

How to choose the right software

While sales software and lead generation tools will help improve your lead generation process, as well as aid with scoring, tracking, ROI, and efficiency, it’s important to find a solution with the necessary features to effect change.

Menon explains: “Businesses are challenged in generating high quality and volume of leads because they don’t have a CRM tool to capture and follow up on leads. Or, they have invested in CRM tools that lack features for lead generation, are complex to setup, use and maintain, and do not have the ability to fetch or provide context or quality data about the lead like website and in-app engagement of the prospect. Due to lack of context the sales rep fails to have personalized conversations and nurture the lead effectively.”

Sales lead generation software features

There are certain features that you should look for in sales or lead generation software to ensure that you are able to generate, score, nurture, and track leads.

McGill recommends that you look for: “Lead discovery (finding people and contact information of people that fit your target market and resemble your favorite customers), [and] personalized outreach at scale with automated follow-ups. I mean, this is exactly why we built LeadFuze. I know I didn’t like the idea of my business being in the hands of salespeople that may, or may not, have done everything they needed to do to continue generating leads.”

Draze advises looking for a solution that enables multichannel interactions.

“Leads come through multiple sources and channels, because prospects engage with you through multiple channels like social media, email, telephone, in-person, etc,” she says. “This means that a lead management software should be capable of handling these leads in a multichannel environment and keep the sales team on top of these leads at all times.”

In terms of inbound lead generation, Draze believes that web forms and live chat help create better quality leads to follow up on.

“Web-forms embedded into your website and other social presences will help you capture the leads that are already interested in what you have to offer,” she says. “Also, having a live chat available for your site lets you not only capture these leads but also gives you a good idea of what they are looking for and also how “hot” a lead it is. Some software lets you convert the emails you get into leads directly (like SalesInbox for Zoho CRM). Google Adwords and social tools let you capture all the internet savvy leads that are already looking for you or what you sell.”

Moving from lead generation to lead management, here are some of Draze’s recommended features: “Once you bring in leads, you can deploy different lead management tools such as: setting up alerts when your leads respond to emails or social media posts, distributing these leads to the right sales rep, categorizing the leads, setting up workflows and automating emails, measure conversion rates of these prospects, and making sure your team follows up on them as well.”

Conclusion

What’s clear from our research is that generating high quality leads in a large enough volume remain major challenges for salespeople. However, there are a couple of possible explanations for this:

  • Poor social media lead generation strategies.
  • Not enough emphasis placed on lead scoring.
  • No ROI tracking model in place.
  • Using outdated and manual methods to generate and manage leads.

To overcome these obstacles, businesses should invest in sales lead generation software (as well as social selling solutions), as a large majority of our respondents said that is has increased their ability to generate a higher volume and quality of leads.

If you would like to find out more about how to choose lead generation software or what other users recommend, here are some resources that can help:

Methodology

This research is based on a survey of 300 B2B and B2C sales and marketing professionals working in businesses in North America. The survey was carried out in May 2017.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch regarding use of the charts above, please contact karen@getapp.com.