Many sales professionals don't have the marketing support to rely on a steady flow of inbound leads, but still have to hit their quotas. Luckily, the inbound sales methodology provides many ways to fill that need.
Inbound sales is a way to identify and connect with prospects by leveraging the inbound mindset of building relationships way before someone is ready to buy.
Most successful salespeople already practice some version of solution selling. They know sales is about consulting around the prospect's problems, not closing the deal.
It's about letting the prospect define the pace of the process and offering education and advice as a way to build confidence and trust. This makes it easy and safe for a client to buy. Here are a few ways you can make it scalable and efficient on your own.
Leads vs. Prospects
The difference between a lead and a prospect comes down to one thing: qualification. Whether you adhere to marketing-qualification or sales-qualification, a prospect is simply a lead that is ready to speak with a salesperson. Your business may have lead qualification software that makes this determination for you based on a set of criteria that you provide.
You might be wondering "What makes a lead ready to speak with sales?" And that can depend on several factors set by your sales team. Perhaps the type of lead generation tactic that brought them into the pipeline determines who becomes a prospect. Or maybe, an SDR reaches out to the lead to qualify them manually by asking a set of layered questions.
Lead qualification should be based on your revenue goals with input from both the marketing and sales teams. But before you set criteria to qualify your leads, you need to generate them first.
Let’s take a look at some of the top lead channels that won’t cost you a penny.
How to Get Free Leads
- Use third-party listings.
- Create content.
- Network online.
1.Use third-party listings.
Websites like Fiverr and Upwork can be a great source of leads for your sales team. If your business sells a service that is in demand on these sites, you can list your services to gain more leads. The best part about using third-party listings to get free leads is that they have the potential to close quickly. When there’s a match between your business and the client, they’ll likely want to get to work right away which is invaluable to your time-to-close KPI and bottom-line revenue.
2. Create content.
We’ll talk about different ways you can do this in the section below, but creating content online helps you get free leads in both the short-term and the long-term. When you use social media to promote your content, you can see a quick spike in traffic to your website and a spike in leads could follow. In the long-term, your content will live on your site and gain authority in the search engines as more people search for queries that your content answers for them. All of this is completely free and only requires time, skill, and consistency.
3. Network online.
Whether you’re on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter or using forums like Reddit and Quora, networking online with people in your market can bring your business free leads. This method of acquiring new customers can be time-consuming, but you’ll develop a better understanding of what your customers are looking for and why they buy your products or services. In turn, you’ll develop a sense of empathy and customer knowledge that money can’t buy.
How to Generate Sales Leads
- Optimize your social media profiles to be more appealing to potential buyers.
- Find prospects you can help on relevant social media networks.
- Post a blog article on LinkedIn with an offer for a 15-minute consultation.
- Ask your current customers for referrals.
- Work with your personal network to identify potential leads.
- Actively engage with new leads at networking events.
- Revisit closed/lost opportunities.
- Send automated email newsletters.
- Guest post to other websites and blogs.
- Embed a meeting scheduler on your website.
- Use live chat to engage with users on your website.
- Lead an online workshop or seminar.
- Create blog content to gain visibility in the search engines.
- Have a giveaway for a free product or service in exchange for a lead form.
- Partner with other businesses online to cross-promote your offerings.
- Join networking communities to chat with professionals in your industry.
- Set up a Google My Business Account and solicit reviews from existing or past clients.
1. Optimize your social media profiles.
When was the last time you actually updated your LinkedIn or Twitter profile? Keeping your social media profiles fresh and up-to-date is a great way to bring in more leads.
LinkedIn is hands-down the most beneficial social media platform for salespeople. Make your profile stand out (and potentially show up in search queries) by drafting a stellar LinkedIn headline and descriptive summary that tells those who visit your profile exactly what you do and who you serve.
Twitter is another social media platform that salespeople can use to connect with leads and generate interest in their business.
To get the most out of your Twitter profile make sure you have a professional-looking profile photo, tag your company’s account, include a link to your LinkedIn profile, and try including a few hashtags that are relevant to your buyers.
Making these simple changes to your social media profiles puts you in a better position to show up in the search results of potential buyers, making it even easier to connect.
2. Find prospects you can help on relevant social media networks.
Most salespeople are on LinkedIn, but may not be using it effectively for generating top-of-the-funnel activity. It is a salesperson's dream to be able to connect in a high-value, low-effort way to find interested prospects, and social media is a great way to do so.
A few quick recommendations to leverage your social media presence for lead generation:
- Try to connect with as many people as you can. The more connections you have, the wider your reach will be. You don't have to be best friends with the people you connect to. Tangential connections can be amongst the best for potential prospects.
- Post in the "Share an Update" section you're currently looking to identify and help a specific type of prospect with a specific type of problem by a specific date. For example, "We are looking to work with three new commercial landscaping companies by September 1 that are interested in building their business in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area".
- Get three recommendations from current clients demonstrating high-quality work that can vouch for your value, professionalism, and effectiveness.
3. Post a blog article on LinkedIn with an offer for a 15-minute consultation.
I speak on behalf of HubSpot 50 times a year, and often when I mention "blogging" to my audience, people's eyes glaze over. They think of blogging as a structured and difficult way of writing a college essay — and writing is up there with public speaking on the list of things that people hate and fear.
But blogging is really just a conversation, and a blog topic can be as simple as answering the standard questions about your product that you do every day, such as "The Beginner's Guide to [Common Business Challenge]" and "X Things You Need to Know About [Business Area]."
4. Ask your current customers for referrals.
Over the course of my work helping digital agencies fill their sales funnel, I frequently ask my clients the last time they pinged their current clients, thanked them for their business, and asked for help in generating more business.
Everyone agrees that a referral collection strategy is effective, but for some reason, it's hard to implement one effectively. You can follow the seven steps below to get started:
- Check with your account manager to make sure the customer is happy (and if they're not, set up a call anyway to see how you can make things better).
- Ping the client with a phone and an email and ask for a 10-minute conversation.
- Thank the client for the business, explain that you value your relationship and you're always interested in making it more valuable to your client.
- Ask if there are any other contacts or companies she can think of that would be interested in the same level of service.
- Get the name, phone number, and email of the contact, and why your client thinks it is a good fit.
- Ask if they can tee you up with a quick introduction email.
- Extra credit: If you can, send them a handwritten note or small item like a T-shirt thanking them for the referral. Little touches go a long way.
5. Work with your personal network to identify potential leads.
Working your personal network is another sometimes-overlooked option that is fairly easy to get started with because you have built-in trust. There are certain people you'll meet in a personal context that you wouldn't think of as a lead generation machine but can be incredibly valuable.
In today's busy world, you have yoga friends, work friends, neighbors, and more — but they exist in these separate buckets that don't necessarily intersect. The key is remarkably simple — if you're at the point in your relationship where you can talk business, let potentially useful acquaintances know.
Identify the type of company you're looking for (size, employee number, revenue amount, location, etc.) and send an email they can forward to make the connection.
Of course, mixing the personal and professional like this needs to be effective and respectful — but it is a great way of broadening your reach.
6. Actively engage with new leads at networking events.
When possible, attending these events (in person and online) should be part of your routine because they're a great way to grow your reach and potentially drum up business.
Below are four basics I remind people of before they dive into networking (whether in-person or at a virtual networking event):
- It's about mingling and being human and having fun. Don't take things too seriously!
- Explaining your "always be helping" philosophy face-to-face is usually a pretty big differentiator.
- Bring business cards to hand to your new acquaintances.
- Offer to connect on LinkedIn from your phone while you're standing next to someone. I usually respectfully ask — would you like to connect on LinkedIn? If they say "yes," I just hand them my phone and say, "Can you find yourself and connect?", which makes things a lot easier.
7. Revisit closed/lost opportunities.
These are businesses that already know what your company does. They might have seen a product demo or made it through a discovery call and it just wasn't the right time to buy.
Touch base with these prospects every six months. Ask how their priorities have changed, if their business and team goals have shifted, and what their challenges are.
Invest in marketing to these prospects, because they're already more qualified than new, warm leads. Enroll them in appropriate marketing email drips, send them relevant blog posts, and keep communication personalized.
It might not be the right moment the first or third time you follow up, but it could work in your favor the fifth.
And you never know when a prospect will change jobs and finally have the budget or business case to implement your solution. By staying top of mind, you'll be the first vendor they call.
8. Send automated email newsletters.
Blond explained that one of Rainforest's most successful email sequences is addressed from their CTO. Rainforest's SDRs send the email to the CTO of a prospect's company, framing the message as if their CTO asked them to reach out.
"It's creative, it grabs attention, and it allows us to cast a wide net over each prospect's company," Blond said.
To send a successful email sequence, have a clear purpose for each one. For example:
- Email 1: Address pain points
- Email 2: Explain a value message
- Email 3: Name drop a big client
- Email 4: Qualify your message
- Email 5: Include a product message
- Email 6: Reach out one last time
Implement a comprehensive, purposeful email sequence and see it work for you.
9. Guest post to other websites and blogs.
Are you writing blogs yet? You should be. Start by writing about what you're an expert in.
It could be sales process optimization, referral marketing, or your product/service — but whatever you do, start writing, and share it on your company's blog, your personal social media channels, and your customers.
It's important for you to be a visible expert in your field. Not only will it display your expertise, but you'll educate your prospects as well. Need some help on your first post? Reach out to your resident marketer or blog editor for a quick lesson. They might even offer to help you write a post or two.
10. Embed a meeting scheduler on your website.
If you're a rep in charge of bringing in your own leads, you don't have the resources to send three back-and-forth emails coordinating schedules with a prospect. It's a waste of your time and a waste of theirs.
Instead, embed an appointment scheduler on your website and your email signature. HubSpot's free Meeting Scheduling Tool syncs with Google and Office 365 calendars, so your prospects always see your updated availability.
Plus, if there's no designated sales rep, you can set a round-robin meeting link, so prospects are able to schedule meetings with the rep who's availability best aligns with their own.
Make it easy for leads to get in touch with you and schedule time to learn more.
11. Use live chat to engage with users on your website.
Another way to vet leads is through an easy-to-use chatbot builder. There are a lot on the market today, but HubSpot Conversations gives you the tools and context you need to have unlimited, personalized conversations at scale.
Customize your widget so that it matches the look and feel of your brand and pops up on your prospect's screen with a welcome message that's actionable and matches their intent. Use your chatbot to qualify leads, book meetings, answer FAQs, and more.
You can respond to chats through the Conversations inbox, Slack, on even on the go with HubSpot's mobile app. Because it's part of your HubSpot CRM, every conversation is saved.
12. Lead an online workshop or webinar.
While sharing articles and blog posts are a great way to share your knowledge, nothing tops getting the opportunity to actually teach. Hosting a webinar or online workshop sharing your expertise on a relevant topic is a great way to generate leads online.
For example, if you sell social media scheduling software for small businesses, you could host an online workshop for entrepreneurs showing them how to build engagement on social media. By sharing your knowledge on a relevant topic in an intimate format such as video, you are building trust with leads quickly.
13. Create blog content to gain visibility in the search engines.
Guest posting to other blogs and websites is a smart way to build brand awareness with new audiences, but by blogging on your own domain, you’ll benefit from long-term SEO gains.
A blog content strategy won’t bring you a ton of leads overnight, but overtime, you’ll find a sweet spot of keywords and off-page promotion strategies that will help you build a loyal following of readers who may eventually become leads.
14. Have a giveaway for a free product or service in exchange for a lead form.
Who doesn’t like free stuff? Drum up interest in a new product offering or service with a giveaway. In exchange for a lead form, you can offer your audience a chance to win a free consultation, product, or service from your business. With the consent of the people who entered the giveaway, you can add them to your email nurture campaigns where they can learn more about your business and become customers in the future.
15. Partner with other businesses online to cross-promote your offerings.
Partnerships are mutually beneficial to both you and the other business. Not only will you both gain exposure in two different audiences, you’ll be more likely to make a good impression on the other audience if your brand aligns with their needs.
When partnering with another business, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind before agreeing to collaborate:
- Do a quick audience analysis. Is the majority of their audience in that market for what you sell? If not, it may not be a productive use of your time.
- What type of collaboration will you be partnering on? Social media collaborations are popular — will you do video, a series of posts, a social media takeover?
- What is your goal for the collaboration? How many new leads do you plan to acquire? How will you follow up with them
16. Join networking communities to chat with professionals in your industry.
The Revenue Collective and Women in Revenue are just a few examples of networking communities that you can join to connect with like-minded professionals.
While soliciting services might be prohibited in these groups, you’re bound to find people who are looking for help with a problem that you can solve. You can also leverage your connections in these groups to help you find leads online.
17. Set up a Google My Business account and solicit reviews from existing or past clients.
Google brings in more than 5 billion searches per day. That’s “billion” with a “B”. Because of the sheer amount of traffic to the search engine, it’s a good idea to enhance your presence there. Google My Business is a free option for any business to use. So long as you have a valid physical address where your company does business, you can see an increase in traffic to your website once your account is activated.
Create a Robust Sales Pipeline with Online Lead Sourcing
No matter how small or large your business is, you can generate quality leads online to increase revenue. Whether you’re more of a writer, networker, or public speaker, the opportunity to connect with people and generate leads online is definitely worth your while. Try these online tactics to close more deals this quarter.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in August, 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.