All you need to know about lead generation

Two co-workers learn about lead generation.

Generating leads is hard enough, but it’s especially difficult to source high-quality leads that your company will actually be able to convert into customers. Your target audience sees content, ads, and messaging all the time, which makes it harder for you to stand out. Plus, the ever-increasing focus on privacy makes it more difficult to reach customers — and when you do reach them, it could potentially come off as intrusive.

Yet attracting and nurturing leads is the best way to increase revenue and grow your business, whether you’re selling DTC or B2C. In fact, 85% of companies consider lead generation to be the main goal for marketing. But since 79% of leads don’t convert, the majority of companies say generating strong and reliable leads is their biggest challenge.

In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about lead generation, including the process, strategies, and tools you need to generate more high-quality leads. You’ll learn more about what a lead is, how to generate quality leads, and the best strategies for growing your lead pipeline.

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What is a lead?

A lead is a person or a business that shows interest in your brand. This could include signing up for your newsletter, following your brand on social media, or visiting your ecommerce platform.

A lead demonstrates interest, and then your business takes action to nurture a relationship with them. Since leads are already familiar with you, they’re more likely to embrace your offerings.

Every business has a sales pipeline, which is a series of steps that leads go through to learn more about your company and — hopefully — become a paying customer. The further a lead moves through the pipeline, the greater chance they’ll eventually become a customer. They go from being a complete stranger to your business to becoming a customer and, eventually, becoming a promoter of your business.

Leads don’t necessarily become customers. However, becoming a lead is the essential first step that every lead takes to ultimately become a paying customer.

While you should expect the majority of your leads to fall out of the sales funnel, you want to keep as many quality leads in the pipeline as possible. Of course, you can’t keep every lead that comes your way, but you can use sales, marketing, and customer service to convert more high-quality leads for your business. After all, the better the experience, the more likely a lead is to become a paying customer.

The key to generating leads is finding people who have a pain point that your business can solve. During the lead nurturing process, you might lose leads whose needs don’t fit with your offerings — and that’s okay. Your business isn’t a fit for everyone. You want the best-quality leads for your business, and that means letting go of those that aren’t ideal customers.

85% of companies consider lead generation to be the main goal for marketing.

Types of leads

Not all leads are the same. Just because a person or business has stumbled onto your brand doesn’t mean they’re actually interested in purchasing your product. There are a number of different ways to categorize leads, and your marketing efforts will generate a different return on investment (ROI), depending on the type of lead.

Four types of qualified leads

Every lead isn’t necessarily a good lead. If you’re craving high-quality leads, you need qualified leads. These are people who share information such as their name, email address, or phone number and engage with your brand in some way. It’s this combination of information and interest that should pique your interest.

There are four types of qualified leads:

  1. Marketing qualified lead (MQL). MQLs engage with your marketing team in some way, but they aren’t ready to move down the pipeline just yet. An MQL might follow your brand on social media, like a LinkedIn post, download a guide, subscribe to your newsletter, or enter some basic information in response to your company’s marketing efforts.
  1. Sales qualified lead (SQL). An SQL is someone who’s interested in buying your product or service. Their interest goes beyond engaging with your marketing team. SQLs demonstrate specific interest in learning more about your product. That might include downloading a demo or requesting a quote.
  1. Product qualified lead (PQL). A PQL has some existing knowledge of your product. Maybe they did a limited-time trial, or they used the free version of your product and are interested in upgrading to the paid version. Regardless of their level of familiarity, PQLs understand your product and usually have some hands-on experience with it.
  1. Service qualified lead (SQL). SQLs come in from your customer service team. An SQL expresses interest either in upgrading their existing product or expanding to other products in your line. The customer service team can then hand this lead off to sales to complete the process.

Depending on your business model, you might only have marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads. Every business sees different types of leads in the mix.

You can expect around 5–10% of your qualified leads to convert into sales. Since a small percentage of leads actually convert, it’s important for you to populate your pipeline with as many qualified leads as possible.

The key is to understand the needs of each type of lead so you can design lead generation strategies that best fit their expectations — that’s the secret to generating more leads and converting them into happy customers.

What is lead generation?

Lead generation is the process that connects your brand with new people as a way to generate interest in your solutions. The ultimate goal is to connect with leads and nurture a relationship to the point where they eventually become paying customers.

You have to get the word out about your business. Lead generation not only spreads information about your brand, but it does so in a way that matches your leads’ biggest pain points with your solutions.

5% to 10% of qualified leads convert into sales.

Lead generation is more common in B2B contexts. Businesses that offer high-ticket products or services often have robust lead generation processes, but any company can create a lead gen strategy to drum up more business.

Lead generation personalizes the sales experience by giving your team a strategy and defined sequence for the conversion process. It’s a tactical way to introduce yourself to leads and warm up the relationship over time — without scaring away potential customers.

For example, someone might start the lead generation process by following your business on Instagram. From there, they might subscribe to your blog newsletter, attend a free webinar, request a product demo, and then finally sign a contract.

The entire marketing and sales process kicks off with lead generation, which makes it a critical part of your team’s success. The goal is to have as many high-quality leads in your pipeline as possible to generate more sales. That’s because not everyone who initially expresses interest in your brand will become a customer. For this reason, you need to create a large pool of qualified leads to give your business more opportunities to increase sales down the line.

The importance of lead generation

Sure, it takes time to do lead generation, but it pays off in the end. You can’t afford to wait for customers to hear about your brand via word of mouth. You need to take matters into your hands and create a solid lead generation strategy.

Lead generation is important for so many reasons. It can help your company:

53% marketers spend half their budget on lead generation. 86% increased brand awareness and 133% more B2B revenue with online lead generation.

A look at the lead generation process

There are two different ways to think about how potential customers become leads — inbound and outbound. Simply put, inbound lead generation is when the customer discovers your brand, whereas outbound is when you find the customer. The process you follow will differ depending on the type of lead generation process you prefer.

Inbound lead generation

With inbound lead generation, the leads come to you. You aren’t picking up the phone to cold-call customers, and you aren’t running paid ads to grab their attention either. Whether through search engine, social media post, blog, webinar, or newsletter, inbound leads discover your brand and choose to pursue a relationship with you. Because of that, inbound lead generation is more permissive and consent-focused than outbound.

Inbound lead generation relies on content marketing to subtly connect you with more potential leads. Every brand uses a different mix of organic inbound lead generation content, but these are the most common:

Instead of creating content that pushes customers to make a purchase, you create content to get them interested in your brand as a thought leader.

Here’s how the inbound process usually works:

  1. You create a piece of content with a call to action (CTA) designed to pull leads into your lead generation funnel. You don’t ask them to buy your products right away because they aren’t ready yet.
  1. Instead, the lead signs up for a webinar, downloads a guide, or signs up for a free event. They exchange their information to get access to whatever you’re offering.
  1. Once you have their information, you can start nurturing the lead with customized outreach from your marketing team.
  1. After several touchpoints over a period of time, you can send more sales-forward content featuring your products and services. If you’ve done your job, the lead will be happy to convert and make a purchase.

While outbound lead generation certainly has its place, most brands generate more leads with inbound strategies. In fact, inbound marketing is 62% cheaper and generates three times more leads than traditional methods. If you’re trying to trim costs and gain more customers, inbound lead generation could be the way to go.

Outbound lead generation

Outbound lead generation can be an effective, complementary addition to inbound. It includes tactics like:

With outbound marketing, the brand reaches out to the customer first. This is usually because you have reason to believe the lead would be interested in your offerings. You might have a referral from another customer, or you think the lead would be a fit based on their online activity.

Think of outbound lead generation a bit like casting a fishing line into the water and hoping for a bite. Leads aren’t necessarily coming to you for a solution — you’re making an assumption that they need your help. Because of that, outbound lead generation strategies tend to have a lower success rate.

But just because it’s usually less successful doesn’t mean it’s useless. For example, outbound lead generation is still a popular way for B2B businesses to populate their lead pipeline. Sometimes you must make yourself known to leads, and outbound does a great job of that.

Here’s how the outbound lead generation process typically works:

  1. You research potential leads. You might source them from a data list, referrals, or conference contacts. Try to choose leads that interacted with you or demonstrated some kind of interest. If they aren’t interested, you risk coming off as spammy, which can alienate these leads.
  1. Your brand contacts potential leads. Try to send something of value to them instead of coming in with an immediate sales pitch. For example, if you met the lead at a conference, invite them to a free virtual event. If it’s a lead from a paid ad, offer them a comprehensive guide that solves a common pain point.
  1. Nurture the lead. Continue connecting with the lead through your organic content efforts. If they’re impressed with your solution, they’ll eventually become a paying customer.

To be clear, outbound lead generation has its challenges. Just 18% of marketers believe outbound lead generation brings in valuable leads. It’s essential to target the right leads if you’re doing outbound. You should also be very careful with your outbound messaging. When in doubt, lean heavily into the benefits of your lead magnets and solutions. Make the leads the hero of the story, not your brand.

Lead generation is the process of garnering interest in your brand through marketing and then building relationships with those leads to convert them into customers.

Strategies to generate more leads

Regardless of your lead generation processes, the marketing department will be responsible for the lion’s share of lead generation. Let’s take a look at a few tactics that you can use to generate more leads.

Social media

Social media is an affordable way to put your brand in front of thousands of potential customers. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are good bets for both B2B and B2C brands. B2C brands will get more traction on TikTok, while B2B brands are well-suited for LinkedIn. Use a mixture of paid and organic content to attract more leads to your site from social media.

Content marketing

Ask your marketing team to invest in organic content. Free content gets people interested in your brand and increases search engine traffic to your site, which is a win-win. Create blogs, videos, infographics, and maybe even a podcast to turn more heads.

Search engine optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) improves your existing content so leads can find it more easily in search engines. Landing pages, blog posts, product pages, and pretty much any content on your website can be optimized for SEO.

It can take time to see payoff from SEO, so take a long-term view with this lead generation method. You can expect to see results within six months of kicking off a robust SEO campaign. Although it takes more time, SEO is one of the best ways to come out on top of search engines — especially if you don’t have a big advertising budget.


Email is the most effective lead generation channel, according to 53% of marketers. An email newsletter is the easiest way to source leads’ email addresses. The key, of course, is to offer an email newsletter that’s compelling enough to persuade people to subscribe.

Be sure to add an email opt-in list to your website and social media. You can even offer coupons or exclusive digital downloads to persuade leads to hit the “Subscribe” button.

Most email service providers will offer analytics that tell you which subscribers are the most active. Use this data to reach out to more potential customers.

Tools you can use for lead generation

It can be difficult to manage hundreds of leads at once, even if you have a solid lead generation strategy. You can simplify the process by building your own lead generation toolkit.

There are many tools out there to make lead generation easier for you and your team. The right software will keep all of your leads organized, track where each lead came from, and provide the next steps for how to nurture each lead.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, either. Audit your current tools and tech stack to see what you’re already using to manage leads. You might already have:

Audit your current tools to see what you're already using to manage leads.

Evaluate how well each of these platforms works for your teams, as well as how they work together. Opt for tools that integrate easily with each other so you don’t have to worry about errors or duplicate entries.

If you’re open to new technology, analytics tools will also provide helpful dashboards to reflect the successes and opportunities of your lead generation strategy. Marketing automation tools are also a valuable way to do more with fewer resources.

Connect with leads using Adobe Marketo Engage

Your business needs to generate leads to boost profitability. Whether you already have a lead generation system in place or you’re just getting started, it’s important to scale up your lead generation so you always have a full pipeline.

Adobe Marketo Engage is marketing automation software that provides a complete solution for managing leads. Stay organized by keeping all your marketing and sales information in one place, which helps different departments stay on the same page.

With reporting tools, you’ll be able to analyze which campaigns are working, where your leads are coming from, and how best to convert them into customers.

Explore how Adobe Marketo Engage can help you with lead generation, or take an interactive product tour to get started.