The Essential Tools of Successful Lead Generation Programs

We talk about search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing a lot around here. It’s a popular topic, and most online entrepreneurs are focused on just getting that sweet traffic. But what happens after the traffic gets to you? You can’t just assume that you can plop down a landing page with a shopping cart app and expect the magic to happen from there.

The Internet being the carnival of distractions that it is, casual browsers are prone to breeze by your site, glance through it, and then move on to something else. It’s called “web surfing” for a reason, after all. Nailing down that interest into a converted sale is another matter.

It may feel like only small and fledgling businesses struggle with lead generation, but in fact it’s a concern at every tier of business. In this Forbes’ UK study hot off the presses, 74% of large firms report a challenge with lead generation, as opposed to only 49% of small firms. Large companies are also 63% more likely to use artificial intelligence (AI) to find or market to potential leads. Of those companies, 86% also use advanced data analytics software to shape their marketing. Small firms use these technologies far less.

What’s going on here? Does it seem like small companies actually have an easier time closing sales than large companies? There might be several factors creating this effect. Modern consumers might be more eager to support small businesses rather than dealing with a larger firm. Smaller businesses might also be more nimble and limber, able to pivot quickly to new market opportunities while a big firm has a bureaucratic overhead.

But the bottom line is that every business wants leads. Today, we’re taking a look at the framework for building a lead generation strategy, with the most popular programs used to maximize conversions. Most of these will be SaaS (software as a service) programs, all within the budget of small businesses.


Your Website’s Content Management System

Consider your website and an easy-to-use content management system (CMS) the foundation of your lead generation program. While WordPress began as a platform for blogs, it’s evolved as the Internet has grown. It is now the standard CMS tool for many businesses, powering 33.6% of the top million websites online. The other two-thirds of the top million websites either use a custom CMS or another mainstreamed option like Drupal or Joomla.

WordPress can be outfitted to be much more than a blog. Thanks to its popularity and open source customization, plugins for WordPress offer just about any functionality you can imagine.

Sidebar: What do we mean when we say “open source“? We mean the source code for the application is published and accessible to the general public, which can adapt and customize it to suit their needs. The opposite is proprietary software, whose program code is compiled and released only as an executable binary, with the source code kept secret in-house. Microsoft and Adobe are two examples of proprietary software. The Linux operating system, the Apache web server, and the Firefox web browser are all examples of open-source software.

This matters because we, the people, get to democratically customize our digital marketing stack to suit the needs of the common good. Think of it the same way businesses cooperate to run a Chamber of Commerce. Just in case you’ve read the term “open source” enough times that you were afraid to ask at this point!

Anyway: there are a dozen or so lead generation plugins that will help you build an email list for your business. No doubt you’ve encountered a few of these plugins in the wild. You visit a site off a search or social media link, and a popup offers you the opportunity to sign up for an email list.

Because these pop-ups are so ubiquitous on the web, you might think users are going a little “popup blind,” dismissing them by reflex, the way we were worried users would go “ad blind” not so long ago. But the fact is, email lead generation works! It’s a small enough commitment to push that casual browser just over the edge into long-term interest.

This fresh HubSpot report is sure to make an email-marketing believer out of you:

  • 59% of consumers say email marketing influences their buying decisions
  • 78% of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement over the past year
  • Marketers who use email campaigns report a 760% increase in revenue!
  • 73% of the younger generation say they prefer business communication in email as opposed to other mediums

Considering that you can run an email campaign for the cost of nothing but a few team-hours worth of labor, does a 760% increase in revenue sound good to you? Wow, no wonder those newsletter-signup popups are everywhere!

Check out those WordPress plugins and browse this tutorial on WordPress lead generation at WPBeginner to start cashing in this goldmine.


Website Pop-Up Managers

Riding piggyback on WordPress and email lead generation, OptinMonster is the leading traffic converter on the web, deployed at over a million sites including Fortune 500 enterprises. It makes creating a pop-up as easy as setting up a Canva template. OptinMonster is a highly specialized tool that does one thing very well. Its pricing is well within the budget of a mom-n-pop shop.

OptinMonster allows you to customize the behavior of pop-up windows. It can delay the popup until the user has been on site for a set amount of time or has scrolled down the page a set distance. It can set the popup to trigger only after a set number of pages have been viewed or when the user gets to a certain page on your site.

Lastly, there’s the classic popup behavior that most sites use: triggering only on exit intent. It detects visitor behavior such as moving the mouse towards the top navigation buttons on the screen, then fires off the popup right when they were leaving. It’s your way of offering the user an incentive right when their interest was waning.

You should do some A/B testing with your site, so you’d be testing one option or another and tracking the results. Then use that data to fine-tune your popup behavior. Be mindful that you want to present opportunities for the user to convert into a lead, without annoying them or seeming too pushy. Usability Geek has an in-depth study of popup effects on user experience. It’s a fine art to balance lead generation without making your site too “busy.”


Landing Page Builders

The landing page is the most basic digital sales tool and also one of the earliest strategies deployed on the web. Times used to be that landing pages had a terrible reputation on the web because they were designed in blocky HTML from scratch, were ugly as sin, and drove users away with a hard sales pitch.

Oh, you modern web users have no idea what used to pass for a landing page! The garish colors, the angry chopped font salad, the screaming shill pitches! We still have nightmares about this era of the web.

Modern landing pages use software to generate a sensible design from a template. Thanks to generations of A/B testing, the designs are simple and appealing. We now know that a landing page works best when it doesn’t have the aesthetic of an air-horn going off in your face.


Unbounce has risen to the top of the market as an excellent landing page creator. It works within WordPress, and it has extensions to work with popular digital marketing platforms like PayPal, Slack, Twilio, MailChimp, and more.

You don’t have to be a developer to create beautiful, well-optimized landing pages. Unbounce has customizable page builders and has over 100 landing page templates to choose from, all of them modern and attractive. This makes creating a landing page an easy “set and forget” experience.

It is a paid service, but well within the budget even for a micro-business. It’s trusted by over 15K online retailers.

Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms is a popular choice for simple form generator software without generating a landing page too. As opposed to Unbounce, Gravity Forms is a simple form generator, which can create a form that you can embed in your own landing page’s custom design or anywhere else on your site.

Gravity Forms also integrates with digital marketing tools like MailChimp, PayPal, Freshbooks, and Dropbox, and also works from within WordPress. Be sure to check the list of community-created add-ons. There are several bright ideas there such as locking down permissions to only allow access to certain users or an integrated plug-in to invite users to a Slack chatroom.


Marketing Automation Software

Using a marketing automation platform is one of the hottest trends in digital marketing, operating like an automated sales manager on your desktop. You use it to collate multiple marketing channels like email, social media, and organic website activity into one oversight panel, while also providing insight into sales engagement. These platforms also use tracking codes to keep tabs on users, and workflow automation to set up error-free repetitive tasks. Think of it as project management just for your sales department.

The three top platforms are all pricey, but robust and capable. We’d probably recommend them for midsize businesses or larger.


Since 2006, HubSpot has been one of the leading inbound marketing software products. It’s a full-service marketing and customer support package. Hubspot has a nice balance of being user-friendly together with a powerful set of features and great data visibility. It’s a good mid-range option with an economical lower tier for the basic package.


Founded in 2003, ActiveCampaign is a cloud-based platform for small-to-medium sized businesses, focused on marketing and customer relations management. The pricing structure goes all the way down to the lemonade-stand tier, so it’s a thrifty choice for those seeking the most basic package.


Practically the Walmart of digital marketing software, Salesforce needs no introduction here. It has acquired and merged its way into every associated market. The Salesforce Marketing Cloud encompasses the acquisitions of former Pardot, CoTweet, iGoDigital, and Keymain Marketing to provide a full-menu customer service package. Their tiered pricing model lets you pick and choose the features you want, packaged as “studios.” As you would expect, Salesforce is practically a career in itself and is priced for the enterprise tier almost exclusively, but there is no feature or service on the planet they won’t either support or acquire.


Social Media Management Platform

Ten years ago, we never thought “social media manager” would even be a job title, let alone a software category. But then social media came to dominate the world. Literally, as of August 2020, Facebook has 2.7 billion active monthly users. The world population is only ~7.6 billion, so 36% of the entire human race is an active Facebook user. We’ll go out on a limb and forecast that social media is here to stay for a while.

Besides Facebook, there is of course Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, and all the rest. Western users take note: QQ AKA Tencent QQ has 860 million users, but you might not have heard of it if you’re not familiar with the Chinese side of the Internet.

Marketing on a consistent schedule to all the different social media platforms is a process crying out for automation, and there are two SaaS (software as a service) apps that specialize in this necessary function. Both of them allow you to set up scheduled, automated social media posts to the various platforms. Posts can include video, image, links, tags, and work within each social media platform’s own quirks.


Hootsuite is the bigger, more enterprise-focused social media management platform, with some 16 million subscribers. It’s the more expensive option, although the pricing tiers scale well for any size business. Hootsuite brings a huge feature package to the table, but might seem a bit overkill with its complexity.

Buffer is the runner-up for social media management, with 4.5 million subscribers. It’s a slightly more economical option, but it’s also a bit more stripped-down in features. However, you might find Buffer to be the right size solution and a lot easier to use.

Ad Managers

You can probably guess what we’re going to recommend for an advertising platform. Google has completely owned this market to the point where it’s hard to believe that the search engine is only 23 years old as of this writing. What did people do to advertise before Google? I think we just painted ads on rocks or something.

Google Ads has a rich suite of features that allows you to plan your keyword strategy, focus your ad’s reach, add useful extensions, and remarket through specific audience targeting. Using pay-per-click (PPC) ads is an integral strategy in lead capture, since anybody who clicks on an ad is obviously interested in your product, service, or industry already.

You should aim your PPC strategy towards high-intent, transaction-oriented keywords. These are keywords like “price,” “near me,” “buy,” “best,” “sale,” “deals,” etc., along with your market’s usual keywords. These searches show high intent to buy, as opposed to idle browsing.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in talking about Google PPC ads before. Here’s just part of our handy tips on using Google ads to generate leads in digital marketing. We have more articles that are focused on specific industries and using Google ads too.

There, you have almost a complete course in our Google Ads university!

Remember that Google Ads also run embedded within web pages too, not just in Google’s own search results and other properties. This is called the “Google Display Network,” and you can use contextual keyword targeting to introduce readers to your product on relevant web pages referencing your industry. You can end up converting someone who never knew your industry existed.

Final Thoughts on Lead Generation

Sometimes the best technology is your own wits! There are some general lead generation practices that you should keep in mind as a cohesive focus, throughout your marketing toolchain:

  • Educate your customers – At least half the attraction of the web in the first lace is plain old monkey curiosity. Give information away for free in your content marketing, and then your grateful audience feels like it has already had a profitable transaction with you.
  • Keep it simple! – The path of least resistance should be between users discovering your site and your lead funnel. Make your site easy to navigate, anticipate every click they’ll want to make and put a button there to land it, and make doing business with you the easiest, most pleasant thing in the world.
  • Remember to include persuasive calls-to-actions (CTAs): “Act now to redeem this coupon in the next 24 hours!”
  • Be sure your website follows best practices, loads at a decent speed, and is mobile-friendly. Check out these site analysis tools to check your site for issues.

Digital marketing has evolved in leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades. The process is streamlined now with so many software tools, which eliminate redundant work. At the same time, digital marketing is a more refined science than it was at the turn of the century, so we have some feedback about lead conversion to go on. If we’re still going strong after this much time, we must be doing something right!



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