Ashlee Sierra

Would you rather be surrounded by strangers or supporters? (Introvert gang, I don’t want to hear one word out of you. I’m trying to make a point here.)

While your personal feelings on the subject might differ, there’s only one right answer for your company. You need to identify potential supporters, turn them into lifetime fans and keep them around. After all, if you’re always marketing to a room full of strangers, you’ll only hear crickets in response.

But everyone starts out as a stranger, right? So how do you turn those randos into friends as loyal as a pack of tamed wolves?

That’s where the lead generation process comes in. Lead generation helps you identify promising opportunities among a crowd of digital passersby, nurture their interest and perhaps even convert them into long-time customers.

Here’s everything you need to know about the online lead generation process — and why it’s basically the same as playing Minecraft. 

Wait — What’s a Lead?

That’s right: I just compared marketing to playing a video game.

If you have any experience with Minecraft — whether playing the online game yourself or listening to someone enthusiastically narrate their adventures in wielding a diamond pickaxe — you might have a different idea of what “lead” means. It’s this cute little guy:

minecraft lead

This in-game item allows players to leash creatures like cows, sheep and horses, all of which I had in spades. Back in my day, however, lead finding was difficult and almost impossible to make without ample resources. If you were lucky enough to have one, you protected it. You never did anything to risk losing it. You stored it in an intricately hidden chest so your pesky friends wouldn’t “borrow” it.

Funny enough, you can say many of the same things for a marketing lead.

In its simplest form, a lead is a person who represents an opportunity for your business. They come in various forms, including:

  • Inbound lead: An inbound lead came to you, not the other way around. They might have found you through your blog or social media posts, and they’ve likely used your content to research important topics long before they’re ready to buy.
  • Outbound lead: Your company reached out to this person. As such, outbound lead generation often looks a bit more like traditional sales, marketing or advertising.
  • B2B lead: A B2B lead approaches things with a professional mindset and wants to know how your business can help their business.
  • B2C lead: A B2C lead uses a consumer perspective, which means they’re thinking about personal needs instead of professional ones.

The difference between a potential lead and a random passerby is that the former has interacted with your brand in some way, big or small. Here are a few examples:

  • Small interactions:
    • Liking or sharing your social media post.
    • Clicking a link in your blog post.
    • Watching a YouTube video about your product.
  • Big interactions:
    • Regularly commenting on and sharing your social media posts.
    • Subscribing to your email newsletter.
    • Entering information to get access to a gated asset.

Imagine you’re in a room, and there are strangers everywhere you look. If you have enough background information to intelligently and creatively address their interests, pain points or needs, you might be able to get their attention. Of course, individuals in a crowd can be fickle, so you never know if they’ll respond. Some might stand in the shadows, enjoying your content but never engaging. Others might give a quiet nod — the equivalent of liking your social post. Still others may even walk right up to you and start asking questions.

This “room” is the internet, and those strangers are your digital audience. If you can get them to stop lurking and start engaging, they become leads. The only remaining question is how you’re going to entice them out of comfortable stagnation and encourage them to become customers, friends and even supporters.

As you’ve probably guessed, this is when you get to add the “generation” to “lead generation.”

Simply put, the lead gen process allows you to approach that room with a plan. You look at your group of strangers and try to determine which are lurkers, which are nodders and which are question-askers. Once you’ve done that, you can start presenting them with content that will encourage them to get closer. Eventually, they’ll be standing right beside you — not just as customers but as active promoters of your brand.

So how do you decide which strangers deserve your time and attention? That’s where you get to use approaches like lead scoring and confidently assign titles like “sales qualified lead” or “marketing qualified lead.”

What a Qualified Lead Really Means for Your Business

Now that you know what a digital marketing lead is — and also a Minecraft lead — it’s time to find out how you can identify the good ones.

Let’s go back to Minecraft for a moment. In many in-game areas, players can find wild wolves roaming between the trees. Here’s an image, just so we’re all on the same page:

minecraft wolf

Aside from being generally adorable, these wolves will fight monsters, follow you around and even hunt prey for you. Long story short, you want them hanging around.

First, though, you have to tame them — and to do that, you feed them bones. The only problem is that you never know exactly how many of these tasty treats it will take for a wolf to decide it likes you. As such, some wolves can quickly eat up your entire bone supply without so much as a “thank you,” while others have one bite and swear undying loyalty.

Potential customers are often the same way. One might be ready to buy when they first run into your brand online, which makes them a high-quality lead. Another might need a lot of time and attention before they even provide the contact information necessary for a more personalized approach, meaning they’d probably eat up your resources. 

That’s why effective lead generation efforts rely on lead scoring.

Lead scoring is a method of assigning value to each lead. Although the specifics can differ depending on your industry and needs, the goal is always the same: ranking prospects based on how likely they are to become customers and promoters. Ranking takes the guesswork out of the lead gen process — which means that, unlike in Minecraft, you can ensure your resources are going to the most interested wolves. That’s how you end up with a qualified lead.

What does that mean? Gartner puts it best: “A qualified lead is a prospect who has been generated by the marketing team, evaluated by the sales team and fits the profile of an ideal customer with the intent to buy.” Essentially, this is the wolf who already thinks you’re cool and requires the least amount of coaxing to follow you.

Bonus: A Closer Look At Lead Scoring

If you want to spend your time on a qualified lead instead of a low-quality one, you need a process that will help weed out the weak links. To get started with lead scoring, you might ask questions like these:

Is This Lead a Real Person?

Unless your goal is to build brand awareness among robots, your first job is to make sure leads represent real people. Unfortunately, fake interactions and engagements can look pretty promising at first, so have spam detection tools at your disposal.

Does This Lead Fit Into Our Target Audience?

If your lead is a real person, it’s time to decide whether they belong to your target audience and maybe even a buyer persona or two. You determine targets using demographics. Is this person the right age? Are they in the proper industry? Will they be interested in your brand and offerings, or did they accidentally stumble onto your content in pursuit of something else?

Say you sell farming equipment. You notice someone interacting with your blog content and even sharing some of your social posts. Upon closer inspection, however, you realize this person would never buy your products — and that’s because they’re actually just applying some of your techniques and topics to their Minecraft farm. (Hey, a girl’s gotta support her 400 tamed wolves somehow, right?) The good news is that you were able to catch this issue upfront, which means you didn’t waste resources on a low-quality lead.

Is This Lead Already Engaging?

The value of a potential customer has a lot to do with their engagement level. If they’re lurking in the shadows, liking 1 out of every 1,000 social posts, they’re probably not very interested. However, if they’re actively engaging with your content, they’ve already done some of the work for you — which is to say that they’ve built up their own interest. 

What Does This Lead Want From Us?

Some leads are interested in building a professional relationship with your brand. Others are just enjoying your content, learning from your marketing approach or getting ideas for their completely unrelated video game escapades. Lead scoring helps you determine which people are in the right customer journey stages and how to use that to your advantage. 

For example, imagine you’ve identified a lead in the research phase. This person isn’t exactly reaching for their wallet, so you might think they’re a low-quality lead. However, smart lead scoring might tell you otherwise. What if this person’s research topics suggest they’re interested in a long-term professional relationship? That could indicate that they’re a more promising lead than someone who’s ready to buy one time and never speak to you again. 

Tools That Make Lead Gen Into Lead Zen

You wouldn’t bring a diamond pickaxe to tame a Minecraft wolf. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to bring the wrong lead generation strategies to your marketing approach — otherwise, your audience might get the impression that you aren’t designing your approach with their needs in mind. It’s important to choose the right tools for the job, especially if you want to turn strangers into passionate brand advocates.

Let’s take a look at some of the lead generation tactics you should always have in your back pocket:

Email Nurture Campaigns 

Remember how Minecraft wolves need an undisclosed number of bone snacks before they follow you? Well, in the lead generation world, emails can be those snacks.

Email lead generation works because targets are usually at least partially engaged; after all, they probably signed up for your newsletter or otherwise offered their contact information. Every time you send an email with helpful or personalized content, you’re offering one more “bone snack” to your leads. 

The best part of email marketing for lead generation is that emails are short and sweet — making them highly versatile. They take less time to write than a 3,000-word blog post, meaning your creative team can whip up a new email campaign for just about every lead type you identify. You can also use emails for a variety of purposes, from webinar follow-ups to promotional announcements. 

Social Media

Imagine you have an inbound lead. They need a quick way to reach customer service, research a product or learn more about your brand. While a blog post can do any and all of these things, that blog post doesn’t necessarily live on the same platforms where people spend about 2.5 hours a day. Social posts have the advantage because they’re woven right into a user’s feed — not to mention all the easy, no-obligation methods of interaction. It takes a lot less effort to like and share a Tweet than to comment on a blog or hunt down the right contact information so you can email a question to a company.

Of course, social media can also be a great way to build up your outbound lead generation strategies. Maybe someone commented on your Facebook post; to further their engagement and bring them into your company’s metaphorical “friend group,” you could reply with a special offer or ask them to message you for more information.

Videos, Infographics, Blog Posts And More

As a content writer, I’m a big fan of — you guessed it — content marketing. While social media sometimes falls into this category, we’re breaking it up because blog posts and other assets can play a unique role in lead generation.

Let’s take a look at each lead gen tool:

  • Videos: If you want to engage multiple senses at once, you need videos. These are great for explaining complex processes, showcasing impressive visuals or adding a little flair to your promotional announcements, depending on which leads you’re targeting.
  • Infographics: An infographic is a great way to connect with leads in the research and consideration phases. It can even help leads who are ready to choose between your products and services but still need a quick comparison.
  • Blog posts: Some topics deserve full explanations, and that’s where blog posts come in handy. You also have a bit more freedom with calls to action (CTAs), because, unlike videos and some infographics, you can use hyperlinks.
  • Interactive content: Don’t forget that lead generation leaves plenty of room for creativity. Any asset that encourages engagement or nurtures a lead, such as a quiz or interactive infographic, is helpful in this process.

Essentially, these assets are more “bone snacks” you can offer to your leads to get their attention. The difference is that they have more control over which snacks they choose, when and why — so your job is to make this content easy for them to find. Of course, you can still use other channels — like social media or email campaigns — to nudge them in the right direction.

Landing Pages

Landing pages tend to be about specific products or services, which means they’re most helpful for leads who are further along the sales funnel. While searchers might find your landing page in the research phase, they’re more likely to engage during the consideration and buying phases. That means you should write, format and promote landing pages to leads who have already shown interest in your brand.

Gated Assets

If you’re looking for a smart, low-profile way to gather contact information without hiring a private investigator, gated assets are your best bet. 

It all starts when a new lead clicks on a link promising something interesting. This link might have been in the CTA of an article on your blog, or maybe it was the focus of your most recent social media post. No matter where users find it, the important thing is that they have to know what’s on the other side.

As it turns out, this link brings them to a landing page. Here, they can enter their contact information in your lead capture form, and in exchange, they get unlimited access to an important asset — usually an eBook or white paper. If they want this exclusive information, they’ll have to cough up their email addresses.

It’s a win-win: They get something valuable, and you get to send them follow-up emails based on the topic of the asset they just downloaded. You can now nurture a lead who is clearly interested in your product, service or industry.

Tips for Quality Lead Generation

Organic lead generation strategies depend on having all the right tools, sure — but don’t forget that you need a solid approach, too. That means you need to build a lead generation strategy based on what works for your industry, target audience, lead types and more.

Think of it this way. When I’m going out to find cows in Minecraft, I’m not just worried about how many I need or whether they’ll be willing to follow me. (Cows, as it turns out, aren’t as picky as wolves.) I also need to think about getting them back to my house and taking care of them once they’re in their barn. For reference, we’re talking about these guys:

cow minecraft

Look at that face. Don’t you want to do everything in your power to protect this creature?

That’s how you have to approach lead generation marketing. Your audience is willing to give you their time and attention — but if you don’t continuously offer interesting, relevant content, they’ll wander away to greener pastures before you’ve had time to convert them.

Here are a few tips to take good care of leads and Minecraft cows:

1. Be Prepared

You can’t just identify leads and call it a day. You also have to know what you’ll do with those leads once you have their attention — including the kind of relationship you’ll build and the types of actions they’ll need to take. This falls into lead management, an important part of any lead generation campaign. After all, failing to prepare is like getting a cow back to your Minecraft house and then realizing you forgot to build a barn.

2. Be Consistent

Remember, you’re not the only business trying to generate leads, just like I’m never the only one who needs cows. If you want your leads to stay yours, you need to create interactions they’ll find valuable. Personalization goes a long way, but so does background research, which allows you to understand your audience’s shifting interests in real-time.

3. Be Memorable

When it comes to lead generation strategies, most of the hard work happens behind the scenes. However, this all culminates in a customer-facing story — a personality your leads will come to associate with you. If you’re too pushy about generating leads, they might find you obnoxious; if you’re not pushy enough, they might forget about you. The perfect balance is to be memorable. Make your brand into something worth listening to, and people will listen.

Make Friends Through Your Marketing

Has anyone ever told you that marketing isn’t about making friends? Well, that’s not the case with lead generation. If you play your cards right, you can even turn a room full of strangers into your brand’s biggest supporters.

But good friends, like Minecraft wolves, aren’t always easy to come by. That’s why you need to have the right tools, a solid process and, of course, a pocket full of bone snacks. 

What? You don’t carry bones around with you? Not to worry — we’re here to help with everything the marketing world throws at you. Contact us today to start making friends!