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What is lead generation?

How does lead generation work?

How do I consistently generate high quality leads?

These are often the most frequently asked questions relating to the topic of lead generation. Consistent lead generation is one of the greatest challenges faced by B2B sales and marketing teams today. The reason for this is that it is constantly evolving; the tactics that worked yesterday will not necessarily still work today.

All hope is not lost though. We have put together a comprehensive rundown of lead generation best practices and tactics in 2020, ensuring you can keep that pipeline full and your sales team happy. 

What is lead generation? | Lead generation channels | Lead generation challenges | Lead generation tools | Get 25 free leads from Cognism

Let’s start with the basics first. There’s a lot of jargon out there and many many acronyms, so look at this as your jargon buster dictionary. These are the key definitions you need to know.

1 - What is lead generation? 

Lead generation is the process by which you deliver good fit prospects for your business’s product or service into your sales or marketing funnel.

Sounds easy, right? 

Sadly not! Gone are the days of picking up the phone and cold calling your way through the yellow pages. Likewise, batch-and-blast email sends won’t get you very far any more.

Modern day, successful and predictable lead generation involves a diverse, and at times, complex range of tactics and processes. But get this right, and you could see your revenue soar. 

What is a lead?

Now there is no catch all definition of a lead, and it often varies from business to business and from function to function. This is how we see it:

Outbound sales leads

A lead for your outbound sales team will be a contact at an account that matches your ideal customer profile. They will likely be of decision-maker seniority, depending on your outbound strategy and approach.

B2B marketing leads

A lead for your marketing team will be a contact at an account that matches your ideal customer profile, but that has also engaged with your business in some capacity. This engagement may take the shape of a form fill, providing contact information like their email address.

What are MQLs and SALs?

So here is where the acronyms start to creep in and also some deviations depending on the type of business you are, product or service you sell and the processes you run. But to keep it simple, here are the best definitions: 

  • MQL - Marketing qualified lead.
  • SAL - Sales accepted lead.

MQLs are those prospects that:

  • Fall into your company’s ICP (ideal customer profile).
  • Have engaged with some marketing-generated activity.
  • Have promise, but have not yet shown clear enough intent to be passed over to sales.

These leads remain with marketing for further nurturing before being handed over to sales, at which stage they become SALs.

SALs are again those prospects that fall into your ICP, but the key difference here is that these leads are agreed to be ‘sales ready’ by both marketing and sales. 

2 - Lead generation channels

Now all the definitions are out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. Let’s talk about lead generation channels.

At this stage it is best to distinguish between outbound and inbound, as these are two very different tactics, and each has their own specific channels within.

  • Outbound marketing - you create the need, you proactively outreach, and you grab your prospects’ attention. 
  • Inbound marketing - this is all about attracting your prospects and drawing them into the funnel. You are earning their attention. 

A further definition that is helpful to add here, is the difference between ‘lead generation’ and ‘demand generation’.

Lead generation

  • A short-term, seller-focused strategy. The aim is to deliver contacts to your sales team to sell to.
  • Lead volume is high but quality is very low, often with connect and close rates the same or lower than cold outbound.

Example strategy: eBook download via LinkedIn Sponsored Content. Followed by an SDR outreach cadence.

Demand generation

  • A buyer-centric strategy to create awareness and educate a market. The aim is to attract more people to your sales team.
  • Lead volume is lower but quality is super high, with significantly better win rates and shorter sales cycles that cold outbound

Lead generation tactics and processes

These have evolved greatly; gone are the days of buying a list of emails and mass spamming to generate leads, just to hit an MQL number and pass over the fence to sales to never be seen or heard of again.

Buyers are demanding and expecting more from businesses today. The way they buy has changed and businesses have necessarily been required to adapt to this in order to succeed.

Today's buyers are educated. They have an abundance of information at their fingertips, not to mention the amount of content they are being sent by competing brands. This means companies have less time to make an impact and need to be smarter about the ways in which they connect with their prospects.

So what lead generation channels are most popular with today’s B2B marketers? 

lead-generation-infographic1 - Content marketing 

Now by this we do not mean the faceless blog that is churning out content with little strategy or thought.

What we mean is content marketing that has a purpose, is ideally a revenue driver, and is firmly rooted in a clear strategy which will deliver highly relevant, targeted content across the full funnel.

This content must talk to real buyer pains and interests. It must be highly-actionable, rather than theoretical, and it should be developed on the back of data. Identify the pages of your website or blog that bring you the most traffic and start to build from there. Look at your competitors’ most successful pages and look to go one better.

The content also needs to be presented in a digestible format. Experiment outside of the PDF; look for new, interactive and engaging ways of producing and distributing content. 

Repurposing good content is also a great tactic here. Extract the best statistics or quotes and use them on your social channels. Create teaser videos, design infographics, and build email campaigns around them. 

2 - Brand alliances/partnerships 

Depending on the size of your business, this will likely be a formal or informal process/channel for you. 

Start by looking at your customer base. Identify the best-fit customers you could work with to amplify each other's voices to new audiences. It can start as simply as a joint webinar, a reciprocal blog and backlink, or a monthly social share. Start small and build if you begin to see traction. 

Building partnerships with brands that share a similar ICP to you, but with a completely separate product offering, can be a very powerful tool when done right. 

3 - Retargeting campaigns

Utilise retargeting capabilities on advertising platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Google Display.

Build out specific retargeting campaigns and get creative. If a prospect has already visited your website and decided not to request a demo or take a bottom of funnel action, don’t re-target them with the same CTA. Try something different; perhaps try targeting them with some content, or a webinar instead. 

4 - Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Most businesses start their search on Google, so it makes sense that you would want to be capitalising on this channel.

Make sure your website is fully optimised for your high intent keywords. Build out a bespoke strategy for your SEO efforts. This should include topic clusters, pillar pages, pain point SEO and the list goes on!

5 - Pay-per-click (PPC)

SEO and PPC should be complimentary activities. PPC is how you can rank on Google, even when your organic rankings are not yet there. 

Identify the highest-value keywords to your business. These may include your own brand name, competitor brand names and other purchase intent keywords. 

These are the keywords you will then start to bid on, building out bespoke content and landing pages to boost your Google quality score, optimise conversions and start converting traffic at a low cost per lead. 

6 - Email marketing 

While batch-and-blast is certainly a thing of the past, email marketing is far from being dead. Your email list is one of the only channels you can fully ‘own’, and it can still be a very powerful tool when used in the right way. 

Use email to nurture your leads throughout the buyer lifecycle. Tailor the content to your audience's interests, get creative with the messaging and write for humans. You will be amazed by the results you can get.

Cold outbound email can also be a great source of cost effective net new leads. The key to success here is to ensure:

  • You are getting your data from a compliant provider.
  • You are using an email delivery tool which protects your domain and maximises deliverability.
  • You are very tailored in the content and prospects you are reaching out to.

Remember, you are turning up unannounced in their inbox, so you need to make sure it is a welcome surprise and delivers true value. 

7 - Email signature marketing

The average person spends 6 hours a day in the inbox. That’s a pretty captive audience. So make use of this competitor-free channel by maximising the power of your emails with email signature banners promoting your latest content, offers, webinars or events.

Integrations with HubSpot and other such tools can enable you to get very creative with how you use your employee email signature banners, supplementing your outbound sales outreach or your latest campaign.

8 - Chatbots

Drift has created a whole new category: ‘conversational marketing’ and it’s a real thing that is here to stay.

Marketing teams are seeing great success in using chatbots to remove the friction of forms on conversion pages. Chatbots serve up personalised experiences that increase conversions and push prospects to take action across a website.

9 - Webinars/podcasts

In-person events have been paused for 2020. This means webinars and podcasts have risen in importance. It also means it is much harder to cut through the noise and make an impact amidst the building screen-time fatigue. 

Like with all tactics, when done well, they can still have a great impact. 

The key to success is in the quality of the content, the relevance of the speakers and the uniqueness in the methods of promoting the webinar or podcast (words on a landing page or an email will no longer cut it).

Check out this video teaser example:


10 - Video marketing

There is no doubt that video is a preferred method of content consumption for many. However, many businesses are unsure of how to cost effectively scale video.

The key to this is not to get caught up on a need to produce highly-edited, brand-compliant videos, but just to start getting the content out there. Use your iPhone camera, start small and then look to scale. 

You can start with extracts from your most popular blogs, or with snippets from your webinars. Working from home needn’t stop you from producing valuable work - as our recent B2B sales video series shows:


11 - Internal influencer networks 

Probably one of the most overlooked channels is that of your business’s own influencers and thought leaders. 

Develop content and distribution plans for these key stakeholders and start to build out a following for them on your key social channels.

In B2B, the main channel to focus on is LinkedIn. People respond to people, rather than companies; you will have much more success growing a following from your colleagues’ pages than you would your company LinkedIn page.

3 - Lead generation challenges

So what are some of the greatest challenges facing those undertaking lead generation today? 

1 - Finding enough of the right people to reach out to in the first place

We have covered the tactics that can be used to generate leads for your business, but what do you do if you don’t have the B2B data to execute some of those tactics? 

The good news is that there are many companies out there who have designed solutions to this issue and which enable you to automatically generate data for your ideal prospects in a matter of minutes, all while being compliant.

Sound too good to be true? 

Check out Cognism by trialling 25 free leads today and see how you can start generating new prospects at scale. 

Cognism helps you find new audiences that fit your ideal customer profile and enables you to identify those that are most likely to buy.

2 - Finding the right offer to get the attention of your prospects 

This challenge is all about CTAs. We have all seen the ‘Request a demo’, ‘Free trial’ offer one too many times. 

The key to overcoming this challenge is to start thinking outside the box. Think about things that don’t scale. Test them out for traction and, when you have created a problem for yourself because you have generated ‘too much demand’, that is when you can go to your CEO and request resources or budget to start automating a solution for this.

Think about creating tools that are useful for your prospects. Ideally they will be somewhat linked to your business offering, but as long as they address a specific pain of your ideal prospect, this is less important.

3 - Measuring the success of your lead generation efforts

This one is important. It can often seem overwhelming to track all the possible metrics from every lead gen channel and activity. That is why it is really important that you know which metrics really matter.

Cost per lead (CPL)

CPL is the amount it costs to generate a net new lead. This can be worked out through the following formula:

CPL = Money spent on all channels and tactics / Total number of new leads generated 

Cost per meeting booked (CP MB)

CP MB is the amount it costs to generate a meeting. This is the next stage in a lead’s journey through the sales pipeline. This can be worked out using the following formula:

CP MB = Money spent on all channels and tactics / Total number of new meetings booked from this activity or spend

Cost per sales qualified opportunity (CP SQO)

CP SQO is the amount it costs to generate a ‘sales qualified opportunity’. This is the metric all your lead generation efforts should be optimised for. It is the furthest stage in the sales pipeline that marketing lead generation efforts can have influence over.

It directly correlates to the quality of the targeting and tactics you have been using. This can be worked out using the following formula:

CP SQO = Money spent on all channels and tactics / Total number of new SQOs from this activity or spend

Cost per deal (CPD)

CPD is the total cost of acquiring a new customer. It is the revenue target all your lead generation efforts have been aimed at achieving and is a key metric for determining the efficiency of your marketing lead generation tactics.

It accounts for the cost of the complete lead journey, moving from lead right through to being a closed-won customer. This can be calculated using the following formula:

CPD = Total amount spent on all channels and tactics / Total number of new customers acquired via this activity or spend

Customer acquisition cost (CAC)

Your CAC refers to your Customer Acquisition Cost and is the average expense of acquiring a single customer. This is a good metric for measuring the efficiency of your lead generation efforts. CAC will take into account things such as headcount costs and technology costs.

It can be calculated with the following formula:

CAC = Total amount spent for all lead generation efforts / Total number of new customers acquired through these efforts

4 - Lead generation tools

There is an abundance of technology out there to help you with almost anything - and lead generation is no different.

The tools that can help you with lead generation - split by category:


Cognism | LinkedIn Sales Navigator

Visitor identification

Lead Forensics | Leadfeeder

Sales engagement

Outreach | SalesLoft | Groove

Market intelligence

DueDil | InsideView | PitchBook | Crunchbase

Live chat

Drift | Acquire | Intercom | Zendesk

Video hosting

Vidyard | BombBomb | Covideo | Bonjoro | Seenit

Digital advertising

Google Ads | Adzooma | AdHawk | AdRoll | LinkedIn Marketing Solutions | SEMrush | PPC Protect | G2 | Capterra


Terminus | Sendoso | Engagio | Demandbase | Punch!

Referral marketing

Mention Me | Bulbshare | Peg

Email marketing

Mailtastic | Mailchimp | Constant Contact | Robly | Campaign Monitor | Bluecore

Content marketing

Turtl | inflo.Ai | Showpad Content | Inkpact

Webinar hosting

ON24 | GoToWebinar | DaCast

Marketing automation

Pardot | ActiveCampaign | Autopilot | LeadSquared | dotdigital


Google Analytics | Ahrefs | Siteimprove | Moz

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