TDW #007: The 5 Levels of Lead Generation

The 5 Levels of Lead Generation

Not every business is ready for more leads.

I know, I know. Coming from a lead generation specialist like me, that might sound a bit heretical–but it’s true. Sometimes when we first start working with a client, the worst thing we could do is turn on the gas and bring in more leads.

Think of it this way: when you build a house, what’s the first thing that needs to be in place? A solid foundation, of course.

If you build a house on a shifting foundation, you’re only delaying the inevitable disaster that’s sure to hit.

Lead generation, or the “first steps to getting more clients”, works the same way.

Some businesses have a super solid foundation already in place (Levels 4 & 5 below). Some don’t (Levels 1 & 2). Most are somewhere in the middle (Level 3). My responsibility is figuring out where the client is and what we need to do to get them to the next level(s).

Here's the 5-level criteria we developed internally to evaluate a new client's starting point for lead generation. It helps us know where to dig in. You can use it for your business as well. It’ll let you know where to start.

A few quick notes as you read:

  1. I’ve not met a single client yet who hasn’t been able to jump multiple levels (no level is permanent if you’re willing to do the work).
  2. You might see your business in multiple different levels. That’s okay and totally normal. If you can, identify the level your business most likely resembles for where you’re at today.
  3. Be as honest with yourself as possible. In my experience, we tend to overestimate which level we’re at and underestimate the impact a good lead generation process has on our bottom line.

With that said, here are the five levels of lead generation.

Lead Generation Level 1: The Novice

Spends no time on inbound or outbound marketing. Relies entirely on the ebbs and flows of word-of-mouth leads and referrals. Website is either non-existent or insufficient. Ironically, the older a business is the more likely they are to fall into this category.

What they say:

  • “I don’t need to do lead generation...I have all the referrals I need.”
  • “I have more than enough work...I can’t even keep up with the leads that are coming in.”
  • “My friend’s cousin’s college roommate tried to generate leads once for his business and it was a waste of money.”

Lead Generation Level 2: The Whiteknuckler

Leads coming from cold-calls/emails, usually through a tremendous amount of manual effort. Purchasing lead lists to ensure the volume needed to close sales. Website has a general contact form. Email list sits mostly dormant outside of sporadic communication.

What they say:

  • “The more the merrier!”
  • “Why can’t I just buy a lead list and upload it to Facebook?”
  • “I know my numbers: if I make 100 cold calls I’ll complete one sale.”

Lead Generation Level 3: The Talker

Actively generating leads through content marketing, but the focus of the content is primarily on the features the company provides instead of the benefits the end user receives. Email list is active. Website optimized for leads. They’re seeing just enough results to stay active, but cannot identify which activities are responsible for their success.

What they say:

  • “This popular guru said everyone should have a podcast so we’re going to devote time, energy, and resources to launching one.”
  • “I signed up for all of our competitor's email lists to see what they’re doing.”
  • “We don’t need to produce content to get leads...we can just spend more money on ads.”

Lead Generation Level 4: The Achiever

All components of the Ecosystem accounted for, but one is heavily favored over the others. However, the imbalance doesn't negatively impact effectiveness. Further optimization and rebalancing of Organic, Paid, and Referral channels will yield even greater results.

What they say:

  • “What do the numbers say?”
  • “What can we do to lower lead costs this quarter?”
  • “Let’s trace the path of our best clients/customers and focus on automating it…”

Lead Generation Level 5: The Veteran

The "Digital Ecosystem" (Organic, Paid, Referral) is in place and operating at peak efficiency. Leads come in automatically, 24/7, without the need for outbound marketing of any kind (unless specific goals, initiatives, or time-based projects require it).

What they say:

  • “Who can we partner with this year?”
  • “How can we lower our cost-per-acquisition?”
  • “Is there an opportunity for us to create our own event?”

Final Words

So what did you find? Surprised? Shocked? Dismayed? Overjoyed? Again, no level is permanent. I’ve seen Level 1’s become 5’s and everything in between. Lead generation doesn’t need to be difficult. Just make sure your foundation is set, solid, and ready for the influx.

See you next week,


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