Starting a business is hard work. You may have the greatest idea and the best product, but if you don’t have leads, you’re not going to make sales. Without sales, even the best business won’t survive.

At Reply, we’ve helped all kinds of businesses of all different sizes automate their sales and, in the process, we’ve learned a lot about how to get leads. With this guide, we’ll help you decide on a lead generation process that’s ideal for your particular situation and consistently produces leads that result in sales for your startup.

The unique challenge of generating leads for startups

Generating leads is essential for any business to succeed, but for startups it can be an especially difficult challenge. Why?

The unique challenge of generating leads for startups

  • Limited resources. When you’re first starting a business, you will never have enough time and money to do everything you want to. Whether it’s paying staff, leasing new office space, or even just drawing enough cash to survive, every penny counts. That means you can’t throw money at all the different potential lead-generation methods you’ve read about.
  • No reputation. A brand new startup is a blank slate. You have no positive word-of-mouth, no referrals, no testimonials, no social proof. You’re also competing with companies and brands with a well-established customer base — convincing prospects to take a chance on something new is always going to be hard work.
  • No experience. Every business is as unique as the people in it, and no-one can walk in and tell you what strategy will work best for your specific situation. What works for others won’t necessarily work for you. Only as you gain experience will you be able to look back and see what works to attract leads and what doesn’t.

There are two main routes for generating leads: outbound and inbound. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, your business will employ a little bit of both, but when you’re starting up you might have to prioritize one over the other.

Outbound strategies

Outbound is all about reaching out to prospective leads and getting their attention. This includes methods such as door-to-door sales, cold emailing, billboard advertising and pay-per-click advertising. There’s a huge variety, from the traditional to the modern, from offline to digital.

Outbound strategies

Outbound strategies generally require more of a financial investment than inbound strategies, but can also offer quicker results. We’ve found the following process the best way to plan an outbound campaign.

1. Define your leads

To reach out to someone, you need to know who they are. A common mistake made by new businesses is believing their product or service is for everyone. If you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no-one. It’s a bad strategy for a business, and a bad strategy for an outbound campaign.

If you have any existing customers, that’s a great place to start; send them a survey or better yet, carry out interviews. If you don’t have any customers yet, don’t panic. You can learn a lot by researching your competitor’s customers and reading their comments in forums and community blogs, or sites such as Reddit and Quora.

Researching your competitor’s customers

In each case, you’re looking for solid data you can use to build an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Don’t base it on your imagination or ‘best guess’, otherwise your whole outbound strategy may end up useless.

Ideally, you’re looking for the following information:

  • Company details - Industry, specialization, size, structure.
  • Demographics - Location, age, education.
  • Psychographics - Industry challenges, problems faced, concerns/anxieties about the product.

You should also consider creating a ‘negative’ buyer persona, of people you don’t want to sell to. This way you can further refine your messaging.

From this information, you’ll want to come up with actionable insights: What’s the best way to reach your prospects? What message is most likely to appeal?

2. Find your leads

With a clear idea of what your customer looks like, it’s time to find them.

This used to mean buying lists of prospects, but that can be risky. Quality can vary greatly, with out-of-date emails and incorrect information. While it may seem easier than building your own list, the benefits of a high-quality list make up for the time and effort needed.

Hopefully, you’ve managed to pick up some useful clues in your ICP. For example, if you found your ideal lead works at B2B companies and hang out on LinkedIn, that’s a great place to start looking. On the other hand, if your target market is Gen Z and spends all their time hashtagging on Instagram, there’s no point wasting time looking anywhere else.

If you’re in the B2B market, there are plenty of databases (such as Crunchbase) you can use to build your own list of leads. By using their filters you can easily narrow down your criteria to find your dream customers.

Use databases to build your own list of leads

Finally, keep an eye on any websites or news channels that cover your target market. Announcements and press releases can help you find not just the right leads, but the right time to reach out to them.

3. Get in touch with your leads

Finally, you need to decide what specific method you’re going to use to contact your prospects. Your main choices are:

  • Cold calling
  • Cold emailing
  • Social selling

Each of these choices comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. Many people dread making cold calls and find it interrupts people, but it can be highly effective at getting quick decisions. Social selling takes a lot longer but has the benefit of building a relationship with the prospect before you reach out.

Cold email is our preferred method—after all, it’s how we built our own business—as it has a good balance of getting attention without being too intrusive. Open and reply rates vary by industry, but you can boost your chances of getting a response by 50% if you include 1-3 questions.

Get in touch with your leads

The most important thing to consider is what’s most effective for your prospects. It doesn’t matter if you love social selling; if your prospects aren’t on social media, you’re wasting your time. Even with your research, it may take some experimentation to find out what works best. Ultimately, a combination of all three is likely to give the best results.

Quick tip: Struggling to find the right contact information? Tools like Name2Email and Hunter.io can help you find and validate email addresses, while contact enrichment software can help with other details.

Find and validate email addresses

Inbound strategies

Alternatively, you can use inbound strategies to attract leads. Inbound is all about creating value for prospective leads and drawing them to you.

Inbound strategies

Most often this is in the form of content, such as blog posts (like the one you’re reading right now), ebooks, webinars, and video content. Inbound may take longer to get results, but costs less (62% less, to be exact). The right piece of content can go on attracting prospects for years. To succeed though, you’ll need a clear strategy.

1. Create valuable content

The first step is the same as with an outbound campaign; if you want to create content that attracts your ideal customer, you need to know who exactly that ideal customer is.

Once you have your ICP you’re in a much better position to start creating content. By addressing the needs and concerns of your ideal customer, people will be lining up to check out your content.

For example, suppose your ICP for your internet security business identified your leads are concerned with creating back-ups. Your interviews found they’re worried about remembering to back-up regularly, and find the whole process complicated. By creating a blog post or video on ‘The simple way to schedule your back-ups’ you’re addressing their biggest concern. You’re providing real value.

Check out: 5 Reasons Why Personalised Content Drives More Sales

It’s worth spending some time optimizing your content for the search engines too. For example, what are the exact terms your prospect search for? What’s the competition for the search terms? Using an SEO tool like Moz or Ahrefs can answer those questions and make sure your content is getting the most bang for the buck.

Optimizing content for the search engines

2. Distribute your content

All the content in the world won’t do you any good if your potential leads can’t find it. SEO can help bring in organic traffic, but it takes time. To make sure your hard work doesn’t go to waste, you need an effective way of sharing it, in the places your leads hang out.

Distribute your content

While you can always use paid channels to promote your content, there are plenty of free options. This might involve establishing your own distribution channels, such as social media profiles and email newsletters.

If your content is valuable (and it should be), you should also be able to leverage other people’s channels. For example, you could make guest appearances on other popular blogs or podcasts, or encourage people to share your content with their followers.

Get creative with your distribution channels and try to come up with original ways to get attention.

3. Capturing leads

I’ve seen plenty of sites with great content, but they’ve unfortunately forgotten the main objective: capturing leads.

Capturing leads

This usually requires several types of content forming a funnel. You might have a blog post freely available on your site, along with a more substantial ebook offered in exchange for the visitor’s email address. If you’re a guest on someone else’s channel, you will normally be allowed to include a bio, which is a great place to link to your site.

Make it easy for people to sign up for more valuable content.

Getting followers on your social media is great, but leaves you at the mercy of the social media provider. If Facebook decides to close your account, you lose all those leads. That’s why we highly recommend getting prospects on your email list at the earliest opportunity.

Quick tip: When people sign up for your list, let them know you’ll be sending them promotions and offers. Being transparent not only saves you from emailing people with no interest in buying from you, but is also a requirement under the GDPR if you’re emailing people in Europe.

Congratulations! You now have a list of self-qualified leads.

Conclusion

An effective method of lead generation is essential for a startup’s long term success and survival.

An effective method of lead generation

By choosing the best method for your company, whether that’s through inbound or outbound, you’ll be able to establish a consistent flow of leads.

But only sticking to that method and constantly optimizing your results will get you to your aim point.

Try Albacross

Lee Gladish

Lee Gladish

Co-Founder at Reply.io

Lee Gladish is a Co-Founder at Reply.io, a Toronto-based sales acceleration platform. He was previously the VP of Sales at ScribbleLive, a leading B2B content marketing software platform and VP of Sales at Filemobile and Ringcube. Lee has built high-performance teams to manage sales opportunities in strategic accounts in both mid-sized and enterprise companies. Here at Reply, Lee is adept at employing a “Be proactive” approach thus delivering outstanding company advancement.