How You Can Generate Sales Leads for Your Small Business

by DP Taylor | Updated Aug. 5, 2022 - First published on May 18, 2022

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A small business owner wearing a mask and hanging an Open sign on the front door of her shop.

Image source: Getty Images

Generating sales leads is vital to the success of any business. Here are a few ways you can increase the number of leads coming into your company, and therefore boost your sales revenues.

Of all of the phases in the sales cycle, none is more important than lead generation. There's simply no way to be a good salesman without knowing how to produce leads.

After all, you can't close a sale if you haven't pitched the product, and you can't pitch the product unless you have a prospect, and you won't get prospects worth pitching unless you have a steady flow of leads coming into your business -- it all starts there.

But it can be challenging to generate leads -- even the best companies struggle with it at times. If you are scratching your head on what you can do to turn things around, here's a breakdown of a few ways you can improve how you manage your leads and consequently increase your sales.

Overview: What is a sales lead?

A sales lead refers to any individual or business who could become a client or customer of your company. Businesses and salespeople will often use marketing tactics such as placing ads, networking, bulk email, direct mail, purchasing phone lists for cold calls, or even content, to find leads.

The salesperson will then qualify the lead by asking questions designed to determine whether the lead has an interest in the product and the ability to purchase it. If all looks good, the lead is placed in the sales pipeline and the salesperson goes to work pitching the product to the lead and eventually attempting to close a sale.

Sales lead vs. prospect: What’s the difference?

Oftentimes, the terms lead and prospect are used interchangeably in the sales world, but they’re not the same. A sales lead is any unqualified contact who could become a customer, but you haven't done any of the qualifying work to determine if that's even a remote possibility.

A prospect is a lead who has been thoroughly vetted and determined to be a good candidate to attempt a sale. You might think of a lead as like a hypothesis or a hunch, and a prospect as more akin to a theory with scientific evidence.

How your small business can generate sales leads

It’s not uncommon for a business to hit a brick wall when it comes to leads. If you’re wondering how to generate leads in new ways, there are a few tried-and-true methods -- some of which you may have not thought of -- that you can use to boost the flow of leads into your business.

Method No. 1: Referrals

A referral is among the best business sales leads you can get, for a few reasons. For one thing, the lead is already qualified for you by the person doing the referring.

For another, it's a "warm" lead rather than a cold one -- you're able to introduce yourself by saying "[referrer] suggested I contact you," which immediately breaks the ice.

And another advantage that might not immediately spring to mind: they're often cheaper to acquire than through other channels, both in terms of money and in terms of time. One report found that 78% of B2B sales companies say that referrals generate leads of good or excellent quality.

Ways to use referrals

If you don’t have a referral program, you’re missing out on a lot of high quality leads. Here are a few steps you can take to get one up and running, and make it successful.

  • Use email marketing: A bulk email marketing campaign to your customers advertising your referral program and the incentives they can earn is a great way to kickstart it.
  • Reward the referred as well: While you should obviously offer some sort of perk to the person who provides a referral, it's a good idea to offer some sort of incentive to the lead, such as a limited-time discount or some bonus features.
  • Track the program's success: You need to constantly monitor key sales metrics such as conversion rate of the leads you get from the program so you can determine if any adjustments need to be made.
Screenshot of a Phoenix car dealership customers incentive program.

This Phoenix car dealership is offering cash to customers who refer a friend. Image source: Author

Courtesy Chevrolet

Method No. 2: Networking

Closing a sale is all about building trust with a client -- particularly when you’re talking about B2B sales leads -- and there are few better first steps to doing that than meeting face-to-face.

By attending events and networking with potential customers there, you're not just some random phone number calling them -- you're a real human being with a face who has already broken the ice with that individual.

That goes a long way toward an eventual sale, and it will make it easy to secure that pivotal first sales pitch meeting.

Ways to use networking

Some people are natural marketers, and some are not. The good news is even if you aren’t, taking just a few actions will make a huge difference in the number of leads you get from networking.

  • Be a listener, not a talker: This is good news for us introverts. The reality is that talkers are in abundance and listeners are in short supply, so by absorbing what the person has to say, you show that you care to understand where they're coming from and will stand out from others.
  • Now's not the time for a pitch: The purpose of networking is to get to know people from a human level and understand what their needs are. You should not be pushing your product now; that will come off awkwardly and likely will scuttle a chance at a sale.
  • Follow up quickly: Your potential client will probably meet a lot of other folks at the networking event, so the longer you wait to make a follow-up call, the more likely it is he or she will forget who you are. Try not to wait more than a couple of days to develop the relationship further.

Method No. 3: Advertising

Sometimes, the best way to get leads is to pay for them, and that's where advertising comes in. You have to be careful here, because while you can get great leads if you do it right, it's super easy to waste a lot of money on the wrong kind of advertising -- and waste a lot of time on the bad leads it brings in.

Advertising is one of the oldest and best ways to acquire new customers, so you’d be unwise to ignore it.

Ways to use advertising

There’s a lot more to advertising than creating an ad and throwing money at it. Here are a couple of things you can do to dramatically increase your chances of success.

  • Know your customer: If you don't know who your customer is, you don't know where or how to advertise to them. You need to create customer profiles that describe each type of customer you serve, right down to their age range, job title, or even their hobbies. Then, make a list of what mediums or content they are likely to consume, and this will give you an idea of where to begin with an ad campaign.
  • Have a few different ad campaigns running: It's not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket. Try a few slightly different ad campaigns that will all run at the same time and track their business metrics via analytics. That way you can see which message resonates the best and through which medium, which will help you improve the efficiency of your advertising.

Method No. 4: Content, SEO, and a great landing page

You need more than a website: you need a landing page that offers great content and uses tried-and-true search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to ensure they can find you via search engine even if you aren't advertising (free traffic is always a huge bonus).

By spending time creating quality content that your potential customers will care about, and using SEO best practices to give them a roadmap to you, you'll position yourself for success here.

Ways to use content, SEO, and landing pages

Creating a great website is all about helping the potential client with information they will find useful, and then providing a way for them to find you through search engines.

  • Keep your landing page simple: Don't clutter up a landing page with a lot of stuff. Create bold, enticing headlines, use images thoughtfully, and make sure there's a call to action so your customer knows what to do next, whether that’s filling out a form for a consultation or downloading a brochure to learn more.
  • Don't neglect SEO: Use tools like Google Keyword Planner or to find keywords and keyphrases your clients are probably using, and create pieces built around those terms so you'll show up in search results.
  • Repurpose the content: When you create a great piece of content, share it across multiple channels. If you're a business that provides IT security to small businesses, and you create an article providing actionable tips on keeping your small business safe from cyber attack, take that content and turn it into a video or even a webinar that can be shared not only on your website, but on social media as well.
A screenshot of a D.C. IT firm landing page.

This D.C. IT firm’s landing page is clean, simple, and gets straight to the point. Image source: Author

Method No. 5: Social media

Social media is mystifying for most businesses. How do you even begin to turn this mess of memes and random thoughts into something that has an impact on your sales process? How do you even get noticed?

But what you should realize is that it's not about getting tons of followers or going viral, it's about using it as another way to find and connect with leads.

Ways to use social media

Using social media wisely and profitably is all about having conversations, particularly through LinkedIn or Facebook groups where your clients are probably talking. Here are a few ways to do that effectively.

  • Create a strong profile: Before you even begin to have conversation with clients, your profile should be thorough and professional. Fill out your work history, particularly if you’re using LinkedIn, provide information and a link on your company, and upload a professional-looking profile picture. This will give you the credibility you need, because people will click on your profile to see what you’re all about. You want to send the right message when they do.
  • Be helpful: Closing a sale is about gaining your client’s trust, and the best way to do that through social media is to answer questions they have and just generally be helpful. This is a lot easier to do on LinkedIn where people discuss things relevant to their business needs within groups, but you can also do it on Facebook or even Twitter.

Method No. 6: Live chat

One exciting new way to generate leads that wasn't widely available just a few years ago is a live chat function. There's lots of live chat software out there that can add chat to your site, so that if a visitor to your website has a question as they're browsing, they can immediately submit that question to you through the chat.

It's an immediate warm connection that can pay dividends down the road.

Ways to use live chat

Live chat can be super-effective for getting leads if you do it right. Here are a couple of ways to do that.

  • Keep it on your landing page: It's probably overkill to add live chat to every single page on your website, and it may even annoy customers to have it constantly popping up. Instead, just put it where it's going to be most useful: as part of the greeting that is your landing page, where they first get to know who you are as a company.
  • Analyze chat transcripts: Make sure you are collecting all of your chat transcripts and tracking which "chatters" ultimately become customers. This gives you an opportunity to compare these customer chats against those who did not buy from you, which could provide important clues on what you can do better.
  • Use the chat to qualify the leads: As you’re chatting with the customer, try to qualify them right then and there if you can. You might use techniques like BANT, where you try to determine Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline, in that order. Or, you can try a different method -- whatever makes sense for your business. Doing lead scoring this early can improve the efficiency of your lead qualification process.

Use software to improve lead generation

A good lead generation program is important not only because it results in more prospects, but also because it makes the prospecting process easier by ensuring you’re getting quality leads in the first place.

One way to improve the effectiveness of any new strategy you undertake is to acquire customer relationship management software.

In addition to offering prospecting tools, CRM software will help you organize your entire sales operation from the ground up, ensuring that your sales team is organized and using the right sales tactics to ensure maximum success so that once you get those leads, you can more efficiently turn them into sales.

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