9 Small Business Lead Generation Techniques That You Need to Know

Small Business Lead Generation Techniques

I think you’ll agree with me when I say:

Generating leads is a constant struggle for small businesses.

Unlike big corporations like Pepsi or Nike, you don’t have the budget for expensive advertising campaigns.

But you do have a great product or service. If only more people knew about it.

If only…

Well in this post, I’m going to show you nine lead generation techniques that can be implemented on even the smallest budget.

Of course, I’m not just going to tell you what these techniques are, I’m going to show you how to use them.

You need to have a lead generation strategy

Before we go into the techniques, let’s consider your lead generation strategy. You absolutely need to have one if you want to see results. There are two things you need to understand if for your lead generation strategy to be effective:

1. Understand the different categories of leads

Now, not all leads are equal.

Some leads have an interest in what you have to offer, but are not intending to buy at the moment.

Some leads are have an urgent need to take action and are ready to buy right now.

Of course the leads who are ready to buy are ideal. Convince them to take action and you’ve got a new customer.

But the leads who are not ready to buy are important too. They found you because they have an interest in your niche. But they’re not going to pull out their credit cards just yet. These are leads that can be nurtured. If you can get them to engage with your brand on a regular basis, when the time comes for them to buy, you’ll be their natural choice.

A good lead generation strategy will attract leads at different stages of the buying process.

2. Understand your audience’s needs and desires

The foundation of any marketing campaign is your understanding of your audience. Marketing is about building relationships with your audience. The more you know about your audience’s needs and desires, the better you can build a relationship with them.

Never assume you know what your audience wants. This is a common mistake, but one you cannot afford to make. Really take the time to know them. Read what they’re saying online, on social media, in forums or on question & answer sites. Talk to them in real life.

Use what you’ve learned to draw up buyer personas for each segment of your audience.

Picture each member of your audience in your mind. Focus on how you can help them achieve your goals, and how you can convince them that you’re their best option. This is your lead generation strategy in a nutshell.

Now we can look at the lead generation techniques themselves. I’ve organised them into three sections, with three techniques per section.

Content marketing

Content marketing is huge. HubSpot’s stats show that 54% more leads are generated by inbound tactics (like content marketing) than traditional paid marketing.

So what is content marketing?

The essence of content marketing is creating content to attract the right audience who will eventually buy from you.

As we’ve discussed, a good proportion of your audience will not be ready to buy right away. This is especially true if you’re in B2B (Business to Business). According to Demand Gen, 47% of B2B buyers consume 3-5 pieces of content before talking to a salesperson.

But here’s the paradox:

Although the purpose of content marketing is to sell, the best way to do content marketing is to avoid selling.

If you start selling immediately, you run the risk of turning people off. Instead of selling you should offer helpful information for free. This can be in the form of blogs, ebooks, or webinars. If you do this well, you can win the trust of your audience. When you have their trust, their business will follow.

Content marketing can be as straightforward as starting a blog or creating an ebook. But if you want to focus on generating leads, there are three key techniques you should implement:

1. Narrow down your niche

It might seem that the best way to generate leads would be to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. The more people you can reach the better, right?

Well the broader your audience, the more competitors you have, and the harder it will be for people to notice you.

Let’s say you’re a social media expert. There are countless social media experts out there. What’s different about you?

How about you narrow your niche to be a Facebook marketing expert. Well that’s a bit more specialised.

Let’s narrow your niche a bit more.  Now you’re a Facebook marketing expert for small businesses. That may well rule out some of your audience. But for the portion of your audience who are small businesses promoting themselves on Facebook, you’re going to be their go-to person.

So by narrowing your niche, you’re appealing to a smaller targeted pool of people. But the likelihood of converting that targeted group is going to be significantly higher. It’s the difference between marketing to 1000 people and converting 20 of them, and marketing to 200 people and converting 50 of them.

2. Map content to stages of the buyer’s journey

Different members of your audience are on different stages of the buyer’s journey.

The buyer’s journey is the path that buyers take before they make the final decision to purchase.

There are three stages to the buyer’s journey:

  1. Awareness Stage: “I think I have a problem.”
  2. Consideration Stage: “How do I solve my problem?”
  3. Decision Stage: “Who can best help me solve my problem?”

To generate leads from all three stages, you should create separate content for buyers in each stage:

  1. Awareness Stage: Share informative content about the nature of the problem.
  2. Consideration Stage: Set out the various possible solutions to the problem.
  3. Decision Stage: Set out your solution and show why it works.

3. Create viral content

Creating content that goes viral is the dream of many content marketers. What do we mean by “viral”? We mean content that’s rapidly shared and spread, driving huge traffic to your website.

Take the article “What Career Should You Actually Have?” published on Buzzfeed in January 2014. It currently has over 21 million views.

The great thing about viral content is that your audience does most of the work. After your initial promotional push, your audience takes over and shares it with their friends and connections.

But going viral is not easy. At first it seems more a matter of potluck.

Well Jonah Berber is assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business. He specialises in discovering what makes things go viral. He co-authored a research paper with Katherine Milkman titled “What Makes Online Content Go Viral?

Jonah and Katherine found that there were three key characteristics of viral content:

  1. Positive outlook: People like to feel happy.
  2. Evokes high emotions: People respond to high emotions like awe or surprise.
  3. Practical & useful content: People love to share useful content with their friends.

Now next time you’re browsing the web, look out for content that has a high number of views or shares. Which of the three attributes explains its popularity? Can you create something similar for your brand?

Social media

When used effectively, social media is a great way of expanding your reach and generating new leads. By becoming active on social media channels, you can interact with huge audiences who may be interested in your product. And you’ll see results. In a recent survey by Social Media Examiner, 90% of marketers reported that social media had generated more exposure for their businesses.

If you’re starting out on social media, you need to figure out which channels have the most potential for your brand.

One way to do this is to research the demographics of your audience and see which social media channels have similar demographics. Sprout Social recently published a helpful analysis of social media demographics.

Another way is to study your competitors and figure out which social media channels they are using.

Here are some broad guidelines:

  • General: Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are suitable for most brands.
  • Image-based: Pinterest and Instagram are good for visual products.
  • Video: YouTube is the best for posting videos.
  • Business-focused: LinkedIn is for marketing to other businesses.
  • Niche: Reddit is good for specialised niches.

Now let’s look at the three key lead generation techniques for social media:

4. Plan a sharing schedule

It’s not enough to post your latest blog post on social media and leave it at that. For your social media activity to be effective, you must be active several times a day. The more you post, the more people will notice you, follow you, and eventually buy from you.

You might not have the time to be posting on social media throughout the day. So use a social media scheduling tool. Buffer and Hootsuite are both very popular and well established. You can use either to schedule social media posts to go out for the rest of the day, or even the rest of the week.

So what should you be sharing to generate leads?

  • New blog posts: Of course, you should share your new blog posts on all your networks after you publish them. If you’re on Twitter, you can share it multiple times in the first week. With other networks, once a week is sufficient.
  • Old blog posts: If you’ve built up a back catalogue of blog posts, put them to work. Every week, pick a few of them to share on social media. The best blog posts to pick are evergreen posts, which remain relevant over time.
  • Other people’s content: Look for interesting stories that will interest your target audience. Although they may not generate leads directly, they will help position your brand as leaders in your industry. Also if you share other people’s stuff, some of them will return the favour by sharing your content. It’s a great way to build relationships.
  • Your landing pages: This will be your most effective way of generating leads. By directing social traffic to your landing pages, you can attract new customers. Make sure your landing pages are well optimised with attention-grabbing headlines and compelling calls to action.

But remember, no one likes to be sold to 24/7. The key to successful social sharing is to find a balance between promotional content and informational content. You need to mix it up.

Rallyverse’s 30/60/10 Golden Ratio is a good guideline to bear in mind. Your social media sharing should be:

  • 30% your own content.
  • 60% other people’s content.
  • 10% promotional

5. Practice social listening

Social listening is all about finding the social media conversations which are relevant to what you do. If you can do this, you can join in and let people know what you have to offer.

Social listening is effective because it allows you to target the people who are most likely to be interested in your brand. These are the ones who are most likely to convert into leads.

There are a number of tools that allow you to monitor social media activity. Mention and Social Mention are popular choices. They work by giving notifying you whenever certain keywords are mentioned.

So what keywords should you be monitoring?

Try the following:

  • Industry keywords: Whatever your industry, there will be buzzwords that potential customers will be discussing. Make a list of these words and monitor them all. When a person is discussing one of these words, consider them a targeted lead. Join the conversation and convey your experience and expertise. Make a good impression and you could have a new customer.
  • Your brand name: If you’re already established in your industry, people will be talking about you. You want to know about it, so you can join the conversation. Maybe they want more information, maybe they have a specific question. By responding in a timely manner you can create a good impression and help a potential customer make a decision.
  • Your competitors’ names: Now this is a bit cheeky. When you listen in on people discussing one of your competitors you might come across someone bemoaning the fact that your competitor doesn’t offer a particular feature. But what if you do offer that feature? That’s a potential lead right there. Reach out to that person and let them know how you can help.

6. Use Q&A sites

Q&A sites consist of users asking questions about their area of interest. And of other users providing answers to those questions. You might be thinking, this sounds like an ideal place to find leads. Well, you would be right.

Popular Q&A sites include Quora, Stack Exchange, and Yahoo Answers.

Now you don’t want to dive in and start spamming links to your products in response to relevant questions. Be genuinely helpful and add value before you even think of prospecting for leads.

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Create a killer profile: This means a writing a catchy headline along with your credentials. Your profile is important because it will often appear next to your name. Remember to include a friendly professional photo.
  • Search for relevant questions: Search for relevant keywords in your niche to find a list of relevant questions.
  • Identify the questions with the most potential: The questions you want to target are: recent, have lots of followers or views, and have few answers.
  • Write the best answer: Users can upvote answers and the answers with the most upvotes rise to the top. So read any answers already written and beat them all. Make your answer more authoritative, more detailed, and more engaging. Don’t be afraid to be original, even controversial, if it will help you stand out.
  • Drop a relevant link: At the end of your answer drop a link for users who want to know more. This could be a blog post you’ve written on the topic, or it could be the sales page for your product.

Q&A sites are a goldmine of opportunity. With each successive answer your reputation on the site will rise, giving you more authority and views. If you stick with it you can experience a snowball effect in your view count.

When answering questions, the key is to provide sufficient value to win you upvotes but to leave out certain details to entice users to click through to your website. The ones who click through will be a great source of pre-qualified leads as they are already interested in what you have to offer.

Email marketing

Some visitors to your website will decide to buy from you. Most won’t. Given that an average website has a sales conversion of 1% to 2%, more than 95% of your visitors won’t buy from you.

Now instead of giving up on that 95%, you can try to capture their emails so you can reach out to them in future. The thing is, most people aren’t going to buy from you if you’re a brand they don’t know. They need to get to get to know you first, trust you, believe in you.

So with email marketing the plan is as follows:

  1. Capture their emails
  2. Give lots of value in your email broadcasts
  3. Sell great products

Email marketing is especially effective if your products are complex or expensive. In fact BtoB Magazine’ survey found that 59% of B2B (business to business) marketers say email marketing is the most effective channel for generating leads.

Use these three techniques to maximise your lead generation with email marketing:

7. Create an irresistible lead magnet

You want your visitor’s email address, you need to offer them something in return. This something is called a lead magnet.

Here are some suggestions for lead magnets that have been proven to work:

  • Ebooks: Now many websites are offering free ebooks these days. So you need to make yours stand out. Take the time to research your audience. Learn their greatest need or their deepest pain point. Then create an ebook offering the solution in a way that showcases your expertise.
  • Webinars: If you’re good at public speaking, a webinar can be a great way of showcasing your expertise. A live webinar opens up the possibility of audience interaction. But resist the temptation to turn it into a lengthy sales pitch. Focus on being educational and providing value.
  • Facebook contests: Facebook contests can be the most cost effective way to get leads. Sweepstakes are the simplest to do. Contests need more work but can generate more engagement. Don’t offer generic prizes like iPads. Instead offer the winner something related to your brand.

8. Optimise your sign-up forms

Your sign-up forms are your means of getting your visitors’ email addresses in return for your lead magnet. Not everyone who sees your form is going to sign up. But by implementing a few conversion rate optimisation (CRO) techniques you can dramatically increase the proportion of your visitors who do sign up.

You should bear the following principles in mind.

  • Give a reason: Your visitors are busy, easily distracted, bombarded with marketing messages. Why should they sign-up for your lead magnet? Write a headline that clearly states a compelling benefit they receive when they sign up.
  • Less is more: Keep your forms short and sweet. That means your accompanying text should be simple and to the point. It also means that you should minimise the number of fields your visitors need to fill in. Having to fill in 5 or more fields on a form can put a lot of people off. Asking for their email, and possibly their first name, is often all you need.
  • Say what’s going to happen: People like to know exactly what’s going to happen when they sign-up. Uncertainty causes hesitation which can cost you leads. The best place to let people know what’s going to happen next is the submit button. Don’t just label it ‘submit’. Say what will happen when the button is pressed. It could be downloading your ebook, registering for your webinar, or entering your Facebook contest.

9. Convert subscribers into leads

When a visitor signs up to your email list, you’re one step closer to converting them into a lead. But be strategic about it. Bombarding your subscribers with emails urging them buy your product is rarely going to work. The key to selling to your email list is to build engagement first. If you engage with them on a regular basis, you can build trust and credibility. When you’ve gotten to this point, your visitors will be eager to hear about what you have to offer.

The emails you should be sending fall into three broad categories:

  • Welcome email: First impressions count. So give your new subscriber a warm welcome. Thank them for signing up. Introduce your brand, welcome them to your community. Use a conversational, friendly tone. Next, let them know what interesting and exciting content they can look forward to.
  • Informational email: Your subscriber has signed up because they have a certain problem or desire. They’re looking for a solution. You can help them by sending out informational emails that are relevant and useful to their need. These emails should be educational. At the same time, you can introduce your brand by including case studies and testimonials.
  • Promotional email: This is the one you’ve been waiting for. Pitch your product or service to your subscriber. Don’t beat about the bush. Make your offer clear. Talk about the benefits, as in “What’s in it for them”. Write for your target market, in words they would use themselves. End with a strong call to action to make a purchase, sign up for a free trial, or to schedule a consultation. If you can, create a sense of urgency with a deadline or a limited offer.

There’s a balance to be struck between informational and promotional emails. Where the balance lies depends on your particular industry.

If your products are inexpensive or frequently purchased on impulse, most or even all your emails can be promotional.

However, if your products are expensive or complex, you’d be better off sending a series of informational emails then ending with a promotional email.

Conclusion

Lead generation should be a cornerstone of your marketing strategy. After all, without new leads, you’re going to struggle to grow your small business.

The nine lead generation techniques we’ve covered will give you a solid foundation for your lead generation strategy. But they’re not magic buttons. You need to apply them consistently over time, monitor your results, and keep refining and improving.

What lead generation techniques are working for you?

Let me know in the comments.

Special bonus: We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article. So I’ve created a “Small Business Lead Generation Techniques Checklist” to help you kickstart your lead generation strategy.  To download my checklist now, click here.

Image Credits: gstockstudio / 123RF Stock Photo

I create strategic content with authority and personality. My work has been featured in Search Engine Journal, Problogger, and Jeff Bullas. Businesses hire me to grow their traffic and boost conversions. If you’d like to know how I can help you, click here.

Comments

  1. Great post Clement, as usual!

    I think one of the most common misconceptions out there is that “We can’t afford marketing.” A small business owner (or even a large business owner!) thinks they need tons of funds to make an impact, and as you’ve demonstrated, that’s simply not the case.

    True, it’s going to take some time and effort to put these structures into place, and many small business owners will need to read up quite a bit before jumping in, but it CAN be done.

    Keep em comin buddy.

    • Hey Adam

      Success in business is typically down to a combination of a great product and great marketing. There are too many business who’ve failed because they had the former but not the latter.

      Marketing is essential if you want to succeed. As you say, it takes time and effort, but it can be done.

      Thanks for sharing your insight.

      Clement

  2. Hi Clement,

    There is so much YES! in this article. You’ve hit upon something when you talk about the paradoxes: “Although the purpose of content marketing is to sell, the best way to do content marketing is to avoid selling.”

    You have your finger on the pulse of how to generate leads.

    Also, leads come in when you least expect it.

    My ideal clients are rarely on social media, or when they are, they’re more rare than Monarch butterflies in a hurricane. They don’t want to spend time on social media, so getting in front of them is the best way. However, there are other ways to find them.

    There is also the issue of the client who is not yet ready to buy, and for that we need to be experts at follow up and consistency. And I think that’s where a lot of us fall down. Following up once is easy, but the second, third, fourth, and fifth times? Not so easy.

    We have to battle against that little voice that says, “Am I bothering them?” If we can truly believe we are providing a valuable service, then we can overcome that voice. Again, not so easy.

    Thank you for the thoughtful article. I’m going to have to read this one a few times.

    Carol

    • Hi Carol

      It’s seems ironic that the clients for your social media services are rarely on social media. But of course that’s why they need you in the first place.

      Good point about the client who is not yet ready to buy. A natural impulse would be to let them come back when they’re ready, but this leaves you open to being usurped by a competitor. By following up with persistence and tact you lay the foundation for the client to choose you when they do become ready. It’s hard to do, but it’s an essential part of the marketing toolkit.

      I love you phrase, “More rare than Monarch butterflies in a hurricane”. It could even be a great line of copy in the right circumstance.

      Thank you for your thoughtful contribution.

      Clement

      • Hi Clement,

        It really is ironic that clients aren’t on social media, but they’re often busy running a company. They might have someone running their social media, but perhaps not. It’s a little like finding an audience with the pope, except the pope is of course on Twitter!

        Thank you about the phrase, maybe I’ll use it. Monarch butterflies are rare even without a hurricane.

        The trick with the follow up is balancing the persistence without being a total pain in the patootie.

        I always learn from your posts.

        Carol

        • Hi Carol

          It does seem to be very common that business owners are too busy running a company to deal with social media, or marketing in general. We marketing freelancers can provide an invaluable service to work with busy business owners to grow their brand.

          Persistence should always be coupled with tact. As you say don’t want to be a total pain in the “patootie”. Actually I had to look that word up. My mind has been expanded.

          I learn from you too, all the time.

          Clement

  3. Absolutely spot on article! Social listening is one of the most often overlooked tools for really learning about what your audience wants.

    You laid out a great action plan for almost anyone to follow and see success – from understanding the why to how to make it happen.

    • Hi Robert

      Social listening is invaluable for the insights and opportunities it affords.

      In marketing as in life, its often prudent to listen before we speak.

      Thanks for sharing your insights.

      Clement

  4. Hi Clement,

    I’ve really been working on the awareness levels piece lately. My biggest mistake was assuming all my content could be created on the same level.

    The social sharing schedule has worked wonders as well. It creates a hot bed of activity which is great for all involved.

    Keep it up sir I’m glad we linked up!

    • Hi Aydeji

      Understanding the different levels of awareness is one of the more advanced concepts of content marketing. But it’s an important one. When it’s properly implemented in your content marketing strategy it can reap great dividends.

      Keep up the social sharing and I’ll see you on twitter!

      Clement

  5. So much useful, free content here! What sparked my interest was the study on what makes content go viral. The positive outlook and useful, practical content, well, that’s why I get a thrill when I write a success story. It is just so crazy fun to focus on what a business is doing right! Thanks for this added spark to my fire.

    • Hi Julia

      It’s a great study for sure. It’s good to understand the psychological principles behind what we’re trying to do. Marketing is as much a science as it is an art.

      I’m glad you found inspiration in my piece.

      Thanks for dropping by.

      Clement

  6. There’s a lot of useful information here. Ebooks have always been a great lead magnet for us, but in the upcoming days, we’re going to try out our first Facebook contest.

    • Hi Sammy

      Glad ebooks have been working well for you. Good luck with you first Facebook contest. Let me know you it goes.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Clement

  7. This is another awesome article, Clement. I echo Adam’s comment in that small businesses really struggle justifying allocating resources to: a. marketing b. content marketing specifically.

    • Hi Ray

      Adam is a very wise man. Sometimes small businesses need to be educated on the benefits of marketing and content marketing. Effective content marketing can open up new audiences, drive engagement and boost conversions. What small business would not benefit from this?

      Thanks for commenting Ray. I value your insights, as always.

      Clement

  8. Hi Clement,

    9 super tips! I am digging Quora these days. Here’s why: last week I checked in after not visiting for 2 weeks. No activity during that stretch. Yet I still nabbed thousands of page views on my replies. Thousands! Passively. Brilliant. Being active on Quora before the 2 week sabbatical did not hurt 😉 but really, if you help folks and show up semi-regularly, people will put their peepers on your profile and blog. Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

    • Hi Ryan

      I’m glad to hear Quora is working so well for you. If you can be helpful and share your unique expertise, you will start to pick up a following.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!

      Clement

  9. Hey Lim,

    The tips you have provided are helpful. People need to maintain their consistency. To lead, it’s important to understand what your readers want.

    Narrowing the niche can help the people to generate more efficient content. It’s always been a rocking position of the social media networks.

    You can get more exposure through social media.

    Glad to read the article.
    ~Ravi

    • Hey Ravi

      Narrowing your niche is a great way to give your marketing more impact. It’s often more fruitful to achieve great conversion rates with a select audience than poor conversion rates with a mass audience.

      Glad you found it useful.

      Clement

  10. Timely reminder. Thanks for sharing, Clement.

    I’m about to start writing my own lead magnets (been too busy writing for others). I think I can combine many of these strategies to maximise conversion, e.g. webinars that drive traffic to a landing page that offers a freebie. And so on.

    • Hi Rhonda

      Lead magnets work well for growing your list. The key is to find a topic that will resonate with your audience.

      Good luck, and let me know how you get on.

      Clement

  11. Hi Clement,

    Here I am reading your article for the third (or is it fourth?) time. So many gems here, like this:

    Picture each member of your audience in your mind. Focus on how you can help them achieve goals, and how you can convince them that you’re their best option. This is your lead generation strategy in a nutshell.

    So simple and yet so not easy.

    Thanks again,
    Carol

    • Hi Carol

      It’s all about trying to engage our audience on an individual level. To build a personal connection.

      Like you say, so simple and yet… not so easy.

      But we must try!

      Clement

  12. Andrew M. Warner says:

    Hey Clement,

    Really great post here.

    Although all the tips are great, I think what you use as a lead magnet is really key. The more specific you are to creating something for readers who want information on a specific thing, the better that is.

    This is why I’m a huge fan of Content Upgrades because you can tailor them for specific readers interested in that topic. And when you know that, you can create specific email content for them too.

    Great stuff.

    – Andrew

    • Hey Andrew

      Content upgrades on key blog posts are an excellent lead magnet strategy as they’re targeted to the audience of that particular blog post. It means you have to create lots of lead magnets but it can be worthwhile.

      Glad they’re working for you.

      Thanks for sharing your insights.

      Clement

  13. We have ditched Quora but we’re back on it again! We couldn’t believe that we’re actually getting leads from it even if we have been stagnant on promotion for several weeks.

  14. Hi Clement,

    Another gem: “here’s the paradox:

    Although the purpose of content marketing is to sell, the best way to do content marketing is to avoid selling.”

    That’s a tough one to explain to clients, who want to push their content out 24/7. Sometimes if I use the words “old school,” that’s enough for them to get the idea.

    Sometimes.

    Carol

    • Hi Carol

      If you start by selling too hard, people’s defences will go up.

      The idea behind content marketing is to start by providing value. This way, you can earn the trust of your audience. Don’t even think about selling until you have their trust.

      Good luck with educating your clients!

      Clement

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