Lead Generation for Startups

January 7, 2021

Lead Generation is one of the most fundamental components for any business. There are a whole host of enterprise level solutions available for businesses when it comes to lead generation. There are always new tools to make the process more efficient and increase lead retention.

However, at the heart of lead generation lies an even more integral factor; relationship building. The process of relationship building is the foundation upon which any business is built. This is especially worth remembering for early stage startups, creators and entrepreneurs who want to start selling products or services.

So how can we define Lead Generation?

“Lead generation is the process of attracting and converting strangers and prospects into someone who has indicated interest in your company’s product or service.”

The world of sales and lead generation have their own plethora of language and terminology for all of the varying types of leads and their different stages;

  • Marketing qualified leads are contacts who’ve engaged with your marketing team’s efforts but aren’t ready to receive a sales call.
  • Sales qualified leads are contacts who’ve taken actions that expressly indicate their interest in becoming a paying customer.
  • Product qualified leads are contacts who’ve used your product and taken actions that indicate interest in becoming a paying customer.
  • Service qualified leads are contacts or customers who’ve indicated to your service team that they’re interested in becoming a paying customer.

Everyone has to start somewhere though. Most entrepreneurs and startups don’t have the luxury of a large sales and marketing teams to usher potential leads through sophisticated processes as outlined above. Some of the challenges that startups face are around limited resources, little or no reputation and minimal experience.

The process of lead generation usually goes something like this.

lead gen process - startup sanctuary

You attract people, convert them into leads, you nurture them until they become your customer and then have them promote your business as a byproduct of delighting them with great service.

This is a relatively straightforward process, but startups need to find unique ways to kickstart how they attract people to their business. Let’s look at how they can do this:

  • Define Your Leads
  • Find Your Leads
  • Create Content your Leads will love

1. Define your leads

Creating your ideal customer persona is an exercise that will help you better define your leads.

“An ideal customer is a customer that would get significant value from your offering, and provide significant value to your business in return”

This then begs the question of; “who is the ideal customer for my business”?

This is probably the most important question you have to ask yourself as a business owner or product builder. Your ideal customer is therefore someone who sees your product or service as the perfect solution for his or her problem. Knowing our ideal customer allows us to create a specific value proposition for our product or service. It will also help to shape the content that you convey your value proposition. The main objective should be to define the ideal customer and develop your offerings in order to attract more customers with similar characteristics.

When putting yourself in your ideal customers’ shoes, you should also think about the motives that drive them. Your ideal customer should know that they have a problem that they need to solve, hopefully as soon as possible. They should also be ready to solve that problem by taking action. Even better if they are exploring ways to solve that problem already. If you can catch them at this point and your product or service is a great fit, that is the perfect scenario.

Customer personas are fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers. Customer personas also help us to understand who our ideal customer is on a deeper level. Creating a persona for them also makes it easier to tailor content, messaging and services to meet their specific needs.

Use this Persona Tool to develop a customer persona. You may even have more than one persona that you are targeting based on different product or service offerings.

2. Find your leads

The next step is to find out where your ideal customer hangs out online. This will vary based on the product or service you are offering. The first thing to think about is: where are there existing communities that might contain some of my potential customers?

Some of the larger social networks can be great for this… Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram etc… but in the beginning stages, you really want to focus efforts on extracting as much value as possible.

The goal is to narrow our focus down from the wide net of the internet, towards where our ideal customer hangs out.

Find your leads - Startup sanctuary

Think of the 2 or 3 core platforms or communities that are relevant to your niche product or service. Where are your ideal customers hanging out online? Where can you make the most impact and entice a group of potential customers to use your product or service.

3. Create Content Your Leads Will Love

Your content is the foundation of your inbound marketing efforts. Think of content as the fuel to all of your marketing campaigns from email to social. The foundation of your content marketing strategy needs to rest on building relationships with people who are likely to convert into becoming leads and customers for your business.

As a small business or startup, you likely don’t have a huge amount of social proof and trust built up online just yet. The answer is to become a trusted advisor to your prospects by publishing and creating valuable content assets and thought leadership. This is the key to being successful with your lead generation efforts in today’s complex buying landscape.

Creating trust with potential customers online starts with providing value and creating content. Information abundance equals attention scarcity. You therefore need to create content that delivers impactful value and publish this on a consistent basis.

Getting in the habit of creating valuable unique content is imperative for small businesses and entrepreneurs. People need to know who you are, what you are building and what problems you are trying to solve.

Packaging this in the form of blog posts, articles or videos is a great place to start. If you are unsure how to begin, just document your process. Share content around what you are building and how you are building it. The byproduct of this can only be more attention for your business and what you are building. You increase your own serendipity by documenting your journey.

Think of your business as the central hub from where you venture out into other communities in order to both provide and extract value.

Content Marketing wheel - Startup Sanctuary

Immerse yourself in a community where your potential customers are hanging out and begin providing valuable content and insights in your business niche. Answer questions, share thoughts, provide your unique take on the conversations that are going on.

The primary component for success with generating leads in this way is going to be to over index on value creation. By over indexing on value creation for your specific niche you are going to be able to extract value back towards your business and generate leads. The Call to Action on your business side will depend on the offering that you have prepared. For most businesses, this will be joining an email list, scheduling or booking a call/appointment or purchasing a product or service on your site.

Content Marketing value extraction - Startup Sanctuary

Doing things that don’t scale

This process is very manual, but doing things that don’t scale is a necessary endeavour for most startups in the beginning. Recruiting users manually is just something that most startups have to get their hands dirty with.

Nurturing these leads once they take the first step in expressing interest in your product or service is the next part of the equation.

Nurturing Your Leads as a Startup

The more you dive into the realm of lead generation as a startup, the more you understand that lead generation is really all about relationship building. Nurturing these relationships one by one is the starting point.

The typical lead generation funnel looks just like this and it is your job to nurture leads and potential customers through into paying customers. How can we do this in the early stages?

lead generation funnel - startup sanctuary

  • Nurture and Empathize

Conducting customer interviews will be paramount to success here. Speaking with early users and prospects gives you a rich qualitative data set as a founder. Understanding the problem they are facing and reverse engineering your product or service as the solution to their needs is the process for moving these prospects through your funnel.

  • Take Them on a Journey

You are unlikely to make a sale with your first contact with any prospect. You generally need to have multiple touchpoints with them before they’ll be compelled to buy your product or service. It takes between 6-8 touches to generate a viable sales lead. This is especially true when cold prospecting. These touchpoints might involve having multiple conversations with a prospect before they commit to a purchase.

As we spoke about before, your content strategy is going to be a long term play for lead generation. It will reside as an evergreen business asset on your website. Your content will also serve as touch-points for prospects as you share it across various social channels.

One mechanism for warming up leads and nurturing them through your process is with email sequences. A nurturing sequence introduces a potential customer to your company and gives you a way to communicate your unique value proposition over a sequence of emails.

With your sequence, have a clear purpose for each email you send. Use a simple template like this to address your leads:

  • Email 1: Address your ideal customer’s problem
  • Email 2: Convey your unique value proposition
  • Email 3: Leverage some social proof and testimonials about how you are helping others solve the same problem
  • Email 4: Qualify your message (Show them some results of what your product or service can give them)
  • Email 5: Deliver value in the form of unique insights and include a product message
  • Email 6: Reach out one last time and include an introductory offer to them

Measure, Learn, Iterate

As with all processes in your business you should constantly evaluate your own lead generation process.

One of the most successful ways to have a measurable impact on your lead process is identifying where your leads drop off and attempting to resolve the issue, while also learning how to recapture the leads that were lost. Put stop guards in place where you can and continue to iterate on your process.

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