what-is-lead-generation blog cover image Hot Dog Marketing

What is Lead Generation?

What is Lead Generation?

You know that line from the movie Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come?”

Well, turns out that when it comes to building your business and acquiring customers, that phrase is undeniably false. Simply putting up a website or flicking on a neon “OPEN” sign won’t bring in clients. Great clients come from strategic lead generation. The phrase (when applied to business) should really be “if you build it and create a strategy that will get the right people there at the right time, they will come.”

Lead Gen Defined

Lead generation, or truncated to lead gen, is defined as initiating consumer interest in purchasing a product or service. A “lead” is anyone who has shown interest in purchasing by “opting-in” at some interaction with your company. 

For instance, a user fills out a form on your website to download an e-book about the common uses for your product. By giving you their contact information in exchange for a piece of content, they have permitted you to market to them and have shown that they are interested in marking a purchase. This qualifies them as a “lead.” Activities that produce these leads, such as advertising, content marketing, email marketing, and much more, are considered lead generation.

How to Generate Leads

There are many platforms and channels to conduct lead gen, both online and offline. Since generating leads comes down to getting interested people into your sales or marketing funnel, not everyone who engages with your brand will be a lead. This is where a lead magnet, or gated content, comes in.

A lead magnet is a piece of content, access, or experience related to your product or industry that is of high value. It should be related to your product or industry; otherwise, the parties interested in this item may not qualify as potential customers and would be a waste of resources to pursue as leads. 

Determine and Target your Ideal Lead

For instance, imagine you have an inventory management software platform for small businesses. Say you create an e-book on “How to Make the Best Wood-Fired Pizza at Home,” many people who don’t fall into your target audience (small business owners in the retail or restaurant industries) will be interested and fill out the form on your website to download the e-book. If you follow up with these people through email campaigns, retargeting ads, and phone calls, you’ll be spending time and money where it will never yield results.

Instead, let’s say you create an e-book entitled “How Restauranteurs Can Reduce Inventory Management by 50%.” Likely, every single person who downloads this e-book will be interested in your software solution; i.e., they’ll be a lead. This e-book idea communicates that this lead magnet is for a particular audience (restauranteurs) and about a specific struggle (inventory management).

Lead Gen Platforms and Channels

Some platforms or channels will be required to host a lead magnet. For instance, if you’re lead magnet is an email series that instructs small business owners how to train their staff to increase purchases at the point of sale, you’ll need an email service provider (ESP) like MailChimp, Constant Contact, or Hubspot. These ESPs will keep a database of all your contacts, and you can build emails and automate them to go out to everyone on your email list. Decide what platform or channel you’ll use by first identifying which one your target market is already using (LinkedIn, email, in-person events, etc.). Then, decide which channel you gravitate towards more. Are you a proficient public speaker? Master of social media? Or perhaps a superior storyteller and writer.


A blog is a phenomenal lead-generating channel because most websites are organized so that users can scan through the blog posts and read the ones with headlines that catch their attention (hey, you’re reading this one!). Even blog posts that are several years old can still garner as much attention as they did on day one – the same cannot be said for social media, known for being ephemeral. Get readers into your sales or marketing funnel by encouraging them to subscribe to the email list to get notified when new blogs are posted. An alternative method would be to have a gated section of your website’s blog that users must sign up to access. Many news websites are modeled this way.

Digital Ads

Digital advertising can be a great source of leads because the ads platform can directly track the cost-per-acquisition (Google, Facebook, etc.). This helps the advertiser understand how much each lead costs them to acquire and inform their budget or pricing. Whether these ads appear on search engine results pages on social media feeds, the users who engage with the ad communicate that they are interested in that brand’s product or service. Digital advertising can be used to speak more directly to the disparate segments of your audience because the targeting of these ad platforms can narrow their scope. 

Social Media

Many people consider social media only to promote brand awareness and not generate leads. However, while social media aids in raising brand awareness, it can be leveraged to generate leads as well. Leads can come in on social media platforms via direct messages, comments, or clicks to links in posts. 

Landing Pages  

A landing page is a webpage dedicated to offering a lead magnet to acquire user information. They are often, though not always, hosted on a brand’s website, though not part of the primary sitemap. They exist to communicate more about the lead magnet (e-book, online course, etc.) and host a signup form. Landing pages might include written text, videos, infographics, statistics, reviews, and anything else that might persuade users that the lead magnet will help solve their problem. These are incredibly useful for high-value lead magnets or if a brand has lead magnets for multiple audiences.

Email Drip Campaigns

An email drip campaign is a series of automated emails that go out based on a set trigger. For instance, using our inventory management software example, we can infer that small business retailers will be interested in optimizing their inventory management just before the holiday season comes up towards the end of the year. Offering a series of six emails that can go out to these business owners and managers in August and September, informing them how they can make holiday inventory planning and tracking much better this year will be extremely valuable to them.

Hosted Events (in-person and webinar)

Hosted events can be wonderful for generating leads because they already ask the audience to commit something: their time. Whoever shows up to an hour-long in-person presentation about optimizing restaurant operations is likely highly interested in solving a problem. Targeted, isolated events can help home in on the specific audience preferred. On the end of the spectrum, conferences attract hoards of people, but many won’t qualify as leads and will need to be culled from the sales funnel.

Referral Marketing

Word-of-mouth, or referral marketing, is one of the best channels for producing high-quality leads. The only downside is that it is difficult to persuade current customers to put their reputation on the line and advocate for a brand. However, it is effective. As humans, we trust other humans much more than we trust advertisements or company websites. This is especially true when it comes to our personal and professional networks. 

For instance, let’s say that your inventory management software platform displays a notification to users that they can get a discount on their subscription by soliciting their network and getting others to signup. If customers love the product, they’ll jump on the opportunity. It gets even better because we tend to maintain relationships with people that do or are interested in similar things. Therefore, the restaurant owner using the software likely has several other restaurant-owning friends. Of course, relying on your customers to be your sales force means that you can’t censor what they tell their networks. And among friends, they’ll probably be candid, so make sure your product and service are top-notch if you engage in a referral marketing campaign.

How to Use the Data

Identify what doesn’t work and double down on what does. The data gathered from lead gen campaigns provide insight on customer acquisition costs and conversion rates across varying marketing channels. Compare how much marketing and advertising budget was spent and the revenue gained to pinpoint the best marketing channel for your business. Think of these as little experiments repeatedly run to obtain the best results.

Honorable Mentions: Online Quizzes, Tools, and Giveaways

More great lead gen activities include quizzes, tools, and giveaways. These are included as “honorable mentions” because they may bring loads of traffic, the users won’t often qualify as leads. A quiz can be fun, engaging, and highly shareable, such as: How efficient is your restaurant? (scale 1-10). An online tool, such as a calculator that spits back how much time you should be spending on inventory management each week, can live on your website with little to no maintenance. And a giveaway can certainly get names on your email list and into your funnel, though you’ll accumulate many unsubscribes unless you provide immediate value to newcomers.

Nurture vs. Lead Gen Campaigns

British cat and Golden Retriever

Lastly, keep in mind that not every campaign aims to generate leads. Use email, social media, or other channels to nurture your audience. Your content and engagements will inform and qualify your audience during this time before moving them into your sales funnel. Someone in your marketing funnel may be interested in your solution but simply not have a problem for you to solve yet. Nurture them by providing informative but lightweight content that keeps your brand on their mind for when that crucial time arrives.


Lead generation is efforts, tools, activities, and campaigns with the goal of gaining more leads for a business. Thankfully, this has been done in every way thinkable and by many companies in the past, with proven results. When it comes to lead gen, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel; find out what has worked for others and apply it to your business.