Top Lead Generation Strategies for Startups in 2021
by Mike Khorev
Lead generation is often the most important aspect of any business, but can also be the most challenging.
If you can’t bring any leads, you simply can’t get new customers and grow your business. This is why we often measure a marketing team’s success in how many high-quality leads they can generate in a given amount of time.
In startups, arguably lead generation is even more important: since the business hasn’t yet made any money, we have the challenge of generating as many leads as fast as possible so we can generate revenue faster – often with the limitations of a tight marketing budget.
So, how should startups get around this challenge? How can startups compete with bigger enterprises with millions in marketing budget in generating leads?
The good news is, if you plan your lead generation strategy right, your startup can generate a lot of high-quality leads in no time, even in the cases of limited capital. Here, we will show you the top lead generation strategies startups can try in 2021 and onwards.
What Actually Is Lead Generation?
Before anything else, let’s discuss the concept of lead generation so that we are on the same page.
First, we have to discuss the definition of a lead.
A lead, or a prospect, is, in a nutshell, anyone who has demonstrated interest in your business. The level of interest can be very low or very high, but if they have shown any interest, they can be categorized as a lead.
In practice, a lead is someone who has given you their contact information, for example when they download an ebook in exchange for their email address, signed up for your free trial campaign, signed up for your email newsletter, and so on. In short, they have given your business permission to contact them.
So, lead generation, or just lead gen, is the process of generating leads. Any effort to attract strangers and convince them to give you their email addresses (or any other form of permissions to contact them) can be categorized as a lead generation tactic.
Typically any lead generation tactic involves three main steps:
- Attract: attracting people to visit your website or platform, for example by publishing high-quality, attractive content that can attract your ideal audience
- Engage: keeping them on your platform as long as possible while introducing your business, what you do, and what you sell (building awareness). The longer we can keep them on our platform, the more opportunities we’ll have to convert them
- Convert: giving them a valuable offer, the lead magnet, for free in exchange for their contact information. These lead magnets can be a free e-book, free-trial for your product, discount coupons, and any other forms, but the idea is to give something valuable for free so they are willing to give you permission to contact them.
That’s it! This is the whole concept of lead generation.
However, although this is seemingly simple, implementing lead generation can be challenging, and in a startup environment, these challenges can be multiplied, as we will discuss below.
Lead Generation Challenges for Startups
In a startup environment, there are three key factors that can make lead generation even more challenging than in an established business:
- Limited resources: most startups tend to struggle with limited time and money. Even if the startup is backed by a strong VC or investor, the capital and resources are still limited. Obviously, the startup would need money to pay the staff on time and take care of other expenses, so the marketing/lead generation budget is typically limited.
- Reputation: obviously we—as customers—are more likely to submit our contact information to established businesses with good reputations, so a brand new, relatively unknown startup can have a harder time attracting potential prospects.
- Experience: a startup might not have the required experience and/or experienced talents to perform advanced lead generation techniques, and related to the above, might not have the budget to hire an experienced marketer to do the job. Since every startup is unique, a unique lead generation approach might also be necessary, so a lack of experience might also be a significant issue.
Why You Shouldn’t Buy Leads
Nowadays, we have so many websites and platforms selling email databases and customer information. So, isn’t lead generation now redundant? Isn’t it faster and easier to simply purchase these leads?
First, remember our definition of leads above: a lead is someone who has shown any interest in your brand. So, when we, for example, purchase an email database from a third-party vendor, we can’t actually categorize them as leads because they haven’t been aware of your brand at all.
Yes, some of them might be interested in your brand and/or product/service, but it’s more likely that only a (very) small percentage of them will end up being interested. Also, remember that with GDPR and other regulations, sending emails to people who have not opted to receive your emails might be illegal.
In practice, people in this purchased email list might flag your email as spam, and when a lot of people flag your emails, you might be blacklisted by the email service providers, which will hurt your lead generation and marketing efforts in the long-run. Getting out from this email blacklist can be very difficult if not impossible, and will lower your email deliverability once you’ve generated actual leads.
So, never rely on a purchased email database, and build your own email list instead. This is also accounting for the fact that you are dealing with a limited budget and resources as a startup, you have to make sure that your lead generation efforts are spent on high-quality leads that are interested in your service or product.
Designing A Lead Generation Strategy for Startups
Now that you’ve understood the concept of lead generation for startups, and why a lead generation strategy is very important, it’s time to finally develop a lead generation strategy.
In general, we can divide our lead generation strategy into three core elements:
This aspect of the lead generation strategy focuses on bringing people to our platform (mainly our website). For example, we can publish an attractive blog post and use SEO to boost its presence on the search engine so it’s more visible to our target audience. Using social media and influencer marketing can also be a part of this strategy.
The main idea of this is fairly simple: by bringing more people to our website, we get more opportunities to convert some of these people into leads or prospects.
Lead magnet to convert visitors
The second aspect of our lead generation strategy is to create an effective lead magnet to convert people we’ve successfully attracted to our platform (i.e. our website visitors) into actual prospects.
Again, our focus here is to offer something that is valuable and attractive for our audience to convince them to submit their contact information (mainly email addresses). The lead magnet can be a downloadable white paper, ebook, a free-trial, and anything else of value that is also relevant to what you sell.
Say we have successfully converted our website visitors into leads via lead magnet, we have to remember that these leads aren’t made equal. Say a prospect is already interested in buying your product, but don’t have the budget. Then we can’t say that this is a qualified lead.
Since, again, you are going to deal with a limited budget and resources, knowing which leads are qualified are very important so we can focus our resources on the prospects that are the most likely to make a purchase. This is where lead scoring comes in.
Depending on your business model and target audience, there can be many different approaches to scoring your leads. For example, we can score a prospect as more qualified if he or she has consumed more than five content in a month’s timeframe.
Below, we will discuss each of these aspects of lead generation strategy, one by one.
Lead Capture Strategy for Startups
Inbound Marketing: Content Marketing+SEO
Inbound marketing, as we know, has been a major buzzword in digital marketing and lead generation for the past half-decade or so. Yet, what actually is inbound marketing?
To put it in layman’s terms, inbound marketing is using content marketing and SEO to pull our ideal audience towards our business instead of pushing our promotional messages outwards like what we usually do in traditional (outbound) marketing like advertising.
The main idea behind inbound marketing as a lead capture method is fairly simple: by consistently publishing relevant, high-quality content, we can let people that are looking for information related to our niche to find our content. This way, we can effectively bring them to our blog/site and can start introducing our brand/product, while offering our lead magnet.
As we know, more and more people are now actively avoiding advertising, whether by using ad-blockers or by ‘dodging’ these ads subconsciously. Advertising and other outbound marketing efforts are designed to disrupt our activities: we wanted to watch a YouTube video, and that’s why we are often annoyed with the ads shown at the beginning and in the middle of the said video.
Inbound marketing, on the other hand, won’t disrupt what we are currently doing. The prospect is the one actively looking for information/content, so if they are happy with your content, they are more likely to perceive your brand as a helpful, valuable brand.
This is why inbound marketing typically generates more qualified leads for startups—both in quantity and quality—- compared to outbound marketing.
While inbound marketing is a very broad subject, here are some important areas you’d need to focus on:
- Content is king: yes, everyone is saying that content is king, but just because it’s a Cliché, doesn’t mean it’s not true. The quality of your content and how relevant it is for your audience is the most important factor if you are going to use content marketing for startups as a lead generation tactic:
- Keyword research: target keywords with high enough search volume to ensure your content is relevant
- Search intent: make sure to meet your target audience’s search intent with each keyword
- Competitive analysis: check the highest-ranking pages on Google for your target keywords. Our job is to create better, more unique, and/or more relevant content than these pages.
- Content promotion: no matter how good the content is, it won’t generate leads if it doesn’t reach enough people. Promote your content via all the available channels with two objectives: generating more traffic to the content, and get more backlinks in the process, as we will discuss below.
- Backlink building: Backlinks remain one of, if not the most important ranking factors in SEO. Yet, nowadays the quality of the incoming backlinks is more important than quantity. Generally generating just three to five backlinks each month from quality sites in our industry is sufficient, but it can be easier said than done:
- Give them a reason to link your page. Include at least one link hook like unique data/information, an engaging story, a great photo/image, and so on.
- Build relationships with relevant sites and influencers in your niche. Be proactive, and aim to build long-term, healthy relationships instead of focusing on getting backlinks.
- Guest posting, when done right, can still be effective in generating backlinks and used by many link building consultants.
Be more creative in social media
Obviously, social media is where our audience is nowadays, so generating leads via social media marketing is a given.
However, on the other hand, the social media marketing landscape is now very saturated, so getting our voice heard amidst all the noises is now very difficult. In today’s social media marketing, we have to effectively utilize all three options in social media marketing:
- Organic: that is, building our own followers and spreading your own promotional messages organically. This is the most affordable option (can be totally free), but take the longest to achieve results.
- Paid: using paid advertising options offered by the respective social media platform. These options are virtually guaranteed to generate quick results but are also the most expensive.
- Influencer: working with influencers so they can help promote your brand/product/service/content. Can be more cost-effective than paid advertising options, but can also be more expensive.
Be more creative in utilizing all of these options, and maintaining the right balance between cost-efficiency and time is very important. Make sure your audience can notice you, and also understand what your brand represents.
Effective Usage of Landing Pages
Don’t be afraid of launching more landing pages to capture as many different audiences as possible. One of the most common mistakes of many startups is that they do not have enough landing pages to effectively convert their audiences. The more landing pages, the more opportunities you’ll have to generate leads.
However, it’s not only the number of your landing pages that is important but also how optimized they are:
- Clear offers: make sure your offer is as clear as possible. This will closely be determined by the quality of your lead magnet, which we will discuss again below
- Simplify everything: streamline every element on your landing page so your audience can focus on your offer and your call to action (CTA).
- Optimize CTA: make sure your call to action (CTA) is as straightforward as possible, make it to-the-point, and obvious.
- Contact information: make sure it’s easy for them to contact you. Provide as many options as possible.
- Social proof: add testimonials from previous clients and existing customers, display your awards/accolades if any.
- A/B test: test every element on your landing page, and continuously optimize it.
Optimizing Your Lead Magnet
Now that we’ve successfully attracted people to our platform (website), the next step is to convert these visitors into leads by offering our lead magnet.
As we’ve discussed above, a lead magnet is essentially something valuable that you offer for free so you can get the audience’s contact information. This is how we turn someone from just a visitor into a lead.
The main principles in creating a lead magnet is that:
- It should be valuable for your target audience
- It should be relevant to your brand, and preferably related to your product/service
- It should be cost-effective depending on your business model
While you can be as creative as you can in developing your lead magnet, here are some common ideas you can try:
- Gated content: a very common lead magnet is to offer a more in-depth version of the content the audience is currently consuming. For example, offering an ebook about the latest diet tricks on a diet-related blog post.
- Free-trial: especially if you are selling a digital product, a free trial offer can be an effective lead generation campaign.
- Webinar: an effective tactic especially nowadays when people are more familiar with Zoom meetings and webinars in general. You can offer free webinar sharing tips/educational videos related to your niche.
- Tools: if your niche allows, you can offer a simple but valuable tool as your lead magnet. For example, if you are a fitness blog, you can offer a BMI calculator or calorie counter as your lead magnet.
To be successful, your lead magnet should:
- Provide immediate value: offers offering delayed (progressive) value can still work, but the more immediate the benefit is, the more effective the lead magnet will be
- Problem-solving: a lead magnet that can effectively solve a pain point faced by your target audience is typically effective
- Unique: fairly self-explanatory, you should offer something that is not offered by your competitors
- Easy: it should be as easy as possible for your audience to sign-up for your lead magnet offer. Even if your lead magnet is already attractive, if it’s too difficult for your prospect to convert, they’ll likely bounce from the offer.
Now that you’ve properly generated your leads, it’s time to start scoring your leads so you can put your time and resources only nurturing highly-qualified leads that matter.
While the lead scoring methods can vary depending on your business model and your ideal audience, here are some general steps you can follow:
Defining the stages/tiers
The most important step in lead scoring is defining the stages/tiers of your leads. The standard tiers are:
- Stranger: a website/platform visitor that hasn’t submitted their contact
- Prospect: a contact that has submitted their contact info (email address)
- MQL: marketing qualified lead, a lead that has engaged several times with your content. Need to be monitored closely and we should gauge their actual levels of interest.
- SQL: sales qualified lead, a lead that is highly likely to make a purchase, ready to be approached by a salesperson
For example, we can use a 100-point system with the above tiers:
- 10 points for a stranger
- 50 points for a lead
- The lead is qualified as an MQL when they have 80 points, each of the lead magnets offered is worth 10 points. So, when they signed up for three lead magnets, they are an MQL.
- 100 points before the lead is qualified as an SQL, so they have to take two additional offers.
Define scores for actions
Above we have defined that signing up for a lead magnet is worth 10 points, but we can also assign scores to other actions. For example, every email open and read can be assigned 1 point, and clicking on links worth 2 points, and so on. Define scores for possible actions depending on your business model.
Define point decay
Your leads aren’t static and they might change their minds about your brands before, or even after they’ve made their purchase. We can assign point decays, in this case, to properly ‘demote’ a lead for more accurate scoring.
For example, we can subtract 10 points after 30 days of no actions, and another 40 points after 60 days of no actions. If a prospect hasn’t made any action after 90 days, we subtract all points.
When assigning point decays, it’s important to consider your product/service’s typical sales cycle. For example, if your product is relatively expensive so it has a naturally longer sales cycle (i.e. people tend to spend more than a week or two when considering buying a car), then you can be more lenient with assigning point decays.
On the other hand, if you are selling a product with a relatively short sales cycle (i.e. an affordable consumer product), then you can be more strict with this.
By following these steps, now you have a functional lead scoring system in place, and now you can use it to identify your most qualified leads and whether some leads are worth nurturing or not. As you gathered more leads, you can always go back and redefine this scoring system according to your needs. The main consideration is that the scoring system should be relevant and representative of your sales cycle.
As discussed, lead generation is often the most challenging aspect of starting a startup, but at the same time, it is a very important thing to focus on if you really want to grow your startup quickly.
If you can’t generate leads, you won’t get more customers, and you simply can’t grow your business without first generating your leads.
By following the tips we have shared above, and working with a startup SEO agency can now develop a lead generation strategy for your startup, generate more prospects, and grow your business in the process.
April 30, 2021