9 proven ways to generate sales leads

Sales and marketing experts share their lead-generation tips, including the best methods and media for finding prospective customers.

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When it comes to the best way (or ways) to generate sales leads, or find new customers, "there is a lot of buzz surrounding social media," says Mick Hollison, the CMO at InsideSales.com, a provider of cloud-based sales automation and predictive analytics for inside sales professionals. Social media "is exciting and highly utilized.

However, our research found that social media platforms -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest -- aren't very effective at generating quality sales leads," he says. "Meanwhile, some of the more effective methods, like executive events, webinars, search marketing and telemarketing, are underutilized."

While trade shows and webinars work well for certain organizations, many businesses swear by LinkedIn and Facebook (despite InsideSales.com's findings). Clearly, when it comes to lead generation, one method does not fit all.

So how do you determine which methods or media are the best for finding new customers? By testing several different lead generation strategies — and measuring the results.

marketing, sales, lead generation

To make this task a bit easier, we asked dozens of sales and marketing experts to find out which lead generation methods yielded the best results for themselves or their clients. Following are their top nine suggestions on where and how to find new customers.

1. Customer referrals. Dogs may be man's best friend. And diamonds may be a girl's best friend. But customer referrals are an organization's best friend.

"There is nothing better than getting a sales lead from a happy customer," says JR Rodrigues, CEO, NetCablesPlus, which sells a wide variety of networking cables and accessories. An existing "customer knows what you are offering and probably has a good idea of what the referred prospect needs," he says.

"This means that the lead is probably well-qualified. Beyond this, you will have tremendous credibility with the prospect since you come well-recommended from someone that they know and trust," Rodrigues says

2. SEO, SEM and PPC. "The best way (in terms of lowest cost per acquisition) for an IT company or a service-based B2B company to generate leads is through pay per click (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO)," says Gabriel Shaoolian, the CEO and founder of digital agency Blue Fountain Media.

"PPC and SEO are the most effective way to generate leads because when companies need IT services, they go to Google and search for IT companies. (Something like 90 percent of consumers -- business or otherwise -- go to Google search first.)," Shaoolian says.

To increase the effectiveness of your search engine marketing (SEM) and PPC campaigns, use "long-tail keyword phrases, which are highly targeted search terms typically consisting of three words or more," advises Brett Prince, president, Marketaire, a provider of social media and Internet marketing news.

"Long-tail keyword phrases drive targeted traffic due to their specificity, and they're less competitive than related, shorter search terms, which tend to be higher in volume and more competitive," Prince says.

SEO

In terms of SEO, "consider something educational, something your audience could benefit from," says Prince. "Once you've identified your target keywords, create content around it. You may be amazed at how fast you will rank and start generating traffic and leads for this term."

3. Cross-promotions and co-marketing. Consider forming "alliances with complementary, noncompetitive vendors to exchange leads, promote each others' products and services, or any number of other mutually beneficial activities," suggests Rodrigues.

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