You’ve heard it over and over again: Today’s consumers are more informed than ever before. With the constant presence of smart phones and 24/7 internet access, consumers actively navigate product information on their own terms, leaving marketers far less control over how and when consumers interact with brands.

According to Forrester Research, buyers could be anywhere from two-thirds to 90 percent of the way through their buying journey before even reaching a vendor. Therefore, it is essential for marketers to meet their consumers where they already are and catch them at the perfect point in their buying journey. This is particularly challenging when we consider the non-linear and unpredictable nature of the consumer buying process. Companies can overcome these challenges by developing a clear and strategic lead generation process.

 

Source: Marketo

 

What is Lead Generation?

A lead is a potential customer who has expressed interest in your company in some capacity. In order to effectively capture leads, it’s critical to define the parameters of what makes a good lead for your company.

Lead generation is the process of attracting and converting potential prospects into viable leads and eventually brand-loyal customers. It is important for companies to have well-defined lead generation processes in place in order to maximize marketing efforts and reach the right consumers.

This process of lead generation can be broken down into three steps.

  1. Lead Nurturing
  2. Lead Qualification
  3. Lead Conversion

Step 1: Lead Nurturing

Lead nurturing is all about building relationships with prospective consumers. This step encompasses all of the ways you get to know your leads, educate them on what you have to offer and encourage them to buy your product or service. Lead nurturing is one of the most essential steps in the lead generation process.

In fact, according to Forrester Research, companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at 33 percent lower cost. Lead nurturing helps ensure lead conversion by personalizing the information-seeking experience for each consumer. This not only lowers cost but also can lead to greater profit for the company by increasing the number of repeat buyers and large purchases. According to research by The Annuitas Group, nurtured leads make 47 percent larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.

By meeting the consumer where they already are in the buying process and providing engaging content that speaks to how your brand fits their individual needs, you help make the decision easier for potential customers.

Step 2: Lead Qualification

Once you start to build meaningful relationships with new leads and facilitate their decision-making process, the next step in the lead generation process is lead qualification. This is where you evaluate where leads are in the buying cycle.

During this phase, companies begin the process of lead scoring which helps marketers categorize and prioritize leads according to their levels of brand engagement and their current stage in the buying cycle. Lead scoring allows marketers to determine which leads are ready to be closed by sales teams and which leads may need more nurturing.

Even though companies often see the importance of the lead generation process, most do not make it a priority to establish clear processes, which ultimately affects their overall return on investment from lead-generated prospects. Nearly 57 percent of B2B organizations identify “converting qualified leads into paying customers” as a top funnel priority, yet 65 percent of B2B marketers do not have a strategy for lead nurturing, and 79 percent do not have an established lead scoring process (Source: MarketingSherpa). A clear gap exists between marketers’ understanding of the importance of lead generation and an ability to implement strategic processes, which can create many internal challenges for organizations.

To fully take advantage of the leads generated by marketing teams, companies must create clear coding systems that determine how responsive leads are to various interactions with the brand, and indicate which consumers are ready to buy but have not yet been in contact with your brand. In order to see the long-term return on an investment in lead generation, it is essential to put in the time up front to develop an effective, engaging lead generation and lead scoring process.

Step 3: Lead Conversion

Lead conversion, in its simplest terms, is closing the deal. This is where the time put into lead nurturing and lead qualification pays off – literally. According to a recent DemandGen Report, on average, nurtured leads produce 20 percent more sales opportunities than non-nurtured leads. The importance of fully developing a lead generation process is crucial to the overall success of a business.

Successful lead generation comes down to reaching the right consumers at the right time and in the right manner – a skill that marketers can help companies develop over time. An effective lead generation process allows marketers to build important relationships with consumers, as well as build their base of potential consumers and brand advocates.

Lead generation enables companies to get in front of and build personal connections to consumers, resulting in a greater number of brand-loyal, happy customers.