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What is lead generation, and why is it important?

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Copper Staff

Contributors from members of the Copper team

If you’re a business owner, marketer or sales professional, you may already be familiar with lead generation. But what is lead generation, exactly? Is it really something you need for your business? Let’s dive in.

What is a lead?

A lead is simply a prospective customer. They’re any prospect that has a potential interest in what you offer.

There are different degrees of leads. Some are high-quality leads like referrals. Other leads will take a bit of education and lead nurturing to get them ready to buy.

The closer a lead is to closing, the closer it is to the bottom of the sales funnel (more on the sales funnel in a minute). Generally, leads that are closer to closing are considered higher quality than those at the top of the funnel.

So, your lead generation program and strategy will probably include several lead generation tactics to attract a variety of leads, ranging in lead quality.

Some organizations refer to these variations in leads by temperature scale, where “hot leads” are ready to close, and “cold leads” need more work. Another common way to differentiate the lead’s stage in the buying process is using the denotations: MQL and SQL.


An SQL, aka a sales qualified lead, is a potential customer who’s ready to talk to someone from your sales team. They’ve been vetted by your marketing department and are prepared to take the next step.

So, SQLs are hot leads ready to convert. If you’re wondering, “what are leads in sales?” SQLs are it. Sales teams usually don’t work directly with leads until they’re qualified by the marketing team and ready to convert.

MQLs, aka marketing qualified leads, on the other hand, are people who have interacted with your brand and have the potential to become customers if you nurture them successfully. These leads are considered “top-funnel” leads or “cold” leads.

Think of it this way: with a well-oiled lead generation funnel, your MQLs should convert to SQLs, who will then convert to customers.

What is lead generation?

So, you know what leads are, but what is lead generation? Lead generation is all about using digital marketing and outbound marketing techniques to create leads. It’s, quite literally, the art of generating leads.

More plainly, lead generation is the art of attracting and converting people and prospects into individuals who want to know more about your company’s offerings.

Lead generation is a big business. You can easily find lead generation services provided by a lead generation company online. These companies make their money by using inbound and outbound lead generation tactics to generate leads for specific industries. Then, they sell those leads to businesses that need them.

Many companies choose to go with a lead generation specialist instead of being their own lead generator. And while it’s a quick way to get a list of leads for cold calling, it’s not the best approach to generating long-lasting customer relationships (read our take on cold outreach here).

Often, lead generation companies use unbranded campaigns to generate leads, which means the leads you buy have never heard of you before, making your job much harder.

That’s why, for the best results, your company should focus on generating and nurturing its own leads. You want to be able to build the customer relationship from the beginning! But how?

Here are the 3 basic steps of lead generation:


The first step to any lead generation strategy is attraction. You want to attract people who fit your brand’s buyer persona.


Lead nurturing is all about educating and building a rapport with the lead, so they become interested in hearing more about your products or services. You have to communicate before and between transactions to create loyal customers. This could be done through direct conversation or via targeted marketing like email newsletters.


Finally, once your leads express interest in what you have to offer, they become an SQL, and they’re ready for your sales team to convert them!

Best practices for creating a lead generation campaign.

So, how do you create a lead generation campaign in your company? Here are some best practices for each part of the lead generation process.

Sales funnel

A sales funnel is simply the steps a person has to take to become a customer. They call it a funnel because the leads at the top still need some work, but the closer you get to the bottom, the closer you are to a closed deal.

The goal is to bring as many people into the funnel as possible and then move them through. But sometimes a quality lead can start in the middle of the funnel or closer to the bottom.

The acronym AIDA can help you remember the stages of a typical sales funnel.

  • Attention/Awareness (top funnel) – The person becomes aware of your brand
  • Interest (top/middle funnel) – The person is interested in learning more about your brand
  • Desire (middle/bottom) – The person has a positive feeling about your brand
  • Action (bottom funnel) – The person starts to consider making a purchase

There are several methods for generating and nurturing leads at each stage of the funnel. (Check out our tips for creating a real estate sales funnel here).

Top funnel

The top of the funnel is all about attracting leads to your company and making them aware of your brand.

  • SEO/Blogging: SEO (search engine optimization) is crucial for drawing in new leads. You strategically use keywords to ensure your company shows up in relevant search results. You can start by search engine optimizing your entire website, but if you really want the opportunity to bring in more traffic and potential leads, you’ll need to create more opportunities for keywords. A great way to do that is by blogging regularly.

Top/bottom funnel

Some strategies work for both the top and bottom of the funnel.

  • Paid search: Paid search ads are a terrific way to attract people to your website and brand. It works similarly to SEO, but you don’t have to wait for the results. The fantastic thing with paid search is that you can target specific searchers, like people who are ready to act right now.

Say you’re a real estate agent in Dallas, Texas; you can pay to display your ads anytime someone searches “hire a real estate agent in Dallas.” People who search action-specific terms are often much closer to buying than those who search more general terms like “real estate in Dallas.”

Bidding for these action-oriented search terms is one lead generation tactic that results in leads closer to the bottom of the funnel.


Some common approaches can generate leads in every stage of the funnel.

  • Social media marketing: Social media marketing is a terrific way to attract, nurture, and convert customers. You can use it to build brand awareness and build trust with potential prospects. Depending on your industry, you might even be able to convert people right on social media.


If you already have plenty of awareness and top-level leads, you might be more interested in lead nurturing strategies for generating middle or bottom-funnel leads. This strategy is perfect for both.

Email marketing: Email marketing is a terrific way to nurture top-level leads and move middle-level leads towards the bottom of the funnel. Some companies use cold emailing to generate leads, too. While you can definitely generate leads with cold emails, we recommend saving emails for educating and lead nurturing.

How to qualify your leads.

How do you know where leads are in the buying phase? Sometimes it can be hard to tell where people are in their sales journey. That’s where lead scores come in handy.

Scoring leads

Lead scoring is an excellent, non-biased way to assess how far along any lead is in the funnel. Lead scoring is a way to rank the sales readiness of any lead using predetermined indicators.

You determine what types of typical behaviors your SQLs have and assign a point value to them. For instance, if a person visits your page, that might be worth ten points. On the other hand, if they’ve clicked on one of your emails, it might be worth three points.

You can define what criteria matter most to your company. Then, you can use these lead scores to determine when it’s time to send a lead over to the sales department. It ensures you don’t miss out on any opportunities and lets you know which leads need more nurturing, too.

Types of lead generation strategies

As you can probably tell, inbound lead generation is all about attracting leads to your brand and then developing a strategy for moving them through the sales funnel. Often though, attracting people to your company is the most challenging part.

Here are a few of our favorite ways to fill up the top funnel.

Newsletter signups

Newsletter signups are a proven method for getting people into your funnel and nurturing them. You can put newsletter signups on your website or share them on social media.

Encourage people to sign up by offering useful tips, coupons or information your target demographic would care about in your newsletter. Then, use your newsletters as a regular touchpoint. They can help educate and move recipients to the bottom of the funnel.

On demand webinars

Webinars are an amazing way to establish yourself as the thought leader of your industry. Offer free webinars as a way to collect new leads who are interested in what you have to offer.

The great thing about on-demand webinars is you only have to do it live one time. After that, you can send new people who sign up for a pre-recorded webinar. Then, if they have any questions, you can encourage them to email your team directly, which will open up the conversation and allow you to start nurturing the lead.

Even if they don’t ask any questions, you still gain a lot by collecting the contact information of webinar participants. Webinar participants who don’t engage are perfect top-funnel MQLs primed and ready for some strategic nurturing.


Who doesn’t love freebies? Offer freebies on your lead generation website or social media accounts for people who aren’t ready to commit to engaging with your brand. Instead, let them get to know you and get access to valuable data without committing to purchasing.

Simply offer the free product behind a lead capture form. In other words, provide the free download in exchange for an email address or other contact information.

Here are some of our favorite freemium downloads to create fresh, top funnel leads:

  • Checklists
  • Guides
  • eBooks
  • Factsheets

Online events

Online events became mainstream in 2020, so now, people are much more excited to attend them. Consider hosting online events to get new top-funnel leads and make some fresh connections.

Since we are in the relationship era, it’s wise to host events where it’s possible to make real human connections. Consider offering some chat or video capabilities with any online event you host. The more you meaningfully engage with people, the better your chances are of creating potential customers.

So, what are leads in business and why are they important?

Whether you’re a B2B marketer for a multi-million-dollar company or the owner of a small, local business, one thing is clear: you need to have leads. Without them, you wouldn’t have customers. Lead generation is just part of running a thriving business.

But it’s not as complicated as everyone makes it out to be, especially when you toss out the digital marketing jargon and get to the heart of it.

So, what is lead generation? It’s simple. Lead generation is just another way of saying customer creation.

And creating customers is all about providing value, building meaningful connections, and following through on your promises. Think about your buyer persona(s) and develop pipelines around the people. Think about what will actually make your target demographic respond, and use that as your guiding post.

Leads aren’t just potential dollar signs. They’re people. When you remember the person at the other end of the lead generation tactics, your strategy should become clearer.

Copper is a relationship-centric CRM committed to helping businesses build better relationships with their leads and customers. We have easy-to-use, built-in features for lead scoring, tracking deals, and automating tasks. Try us free for 14 days.

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