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How to Create a Lead Generation Machine

Lead generation is the lifeblood of any business. You need it for not just a stream of customers, but the confidence to turn bad business away.

In order to develop lead generation for your business, you’ll first need to measure the success of your effort. Those metrics measurements are called “key performance indicators” or KPIs. KPIs give you an idea, at each step of your customers’ journey, whether or not you’re doing a good job in bringing people to conversion, whether that’s an event registration or a purchase, whatever the ultimate goal is.

If the term “customer journey” is new to you, don’t worry – it’s a pretty simple concept. Many of you have heard of a “sales funnel” and the journey can be easily translated into a funnel model. This presentation is going to it’s going to expound upon this concept and how you can build your machine based on a funnel model. We’re going to show what your unique customer journey should be in taking someone from being completely unaware to not just conversion, but helping them become a part of like your virtual sales force – somebody that’s a repeat customer and refers you to other people.

In the funnel, we have the stages Awareness, Research, Conversion, and Referral. You can tie KPIs to each one of those stages and it looks like this:

Marketing Funnel Diagram
In being active on social media and getting some traction, you’re getting engagement. That brings your audience to the Awareness stage. This stage is very broad and full of people that can say “I like that. Now I know who you are.” That’s about it.

Through repeat visibility, you can then drive people into the Research phase, where they want to learn a little more about your business. The type of KPI that’s usually tied to this phase is when your audience makes a light commitment. They’ll follow your page or subscribe to your newsletter – something to that effect.

Next, they may take some small actions. If you have a brick-and-mortar retail establishment, they may just see where you’re located. What matters is that they’re starting to perform the research that makes then more familiar with you. You can track those actions through the Research stage’s KPIs.

When you’ve reached the Conversion stage, you’re able to use KPIs that affect your bottom line. You can measure the cost it takes to generate a lead and the cost to generate a sale. Divide the cost by lead or sale and you can then determine your return on investment (ROI). Improving your ROI involves a practice called Conversion optimization, where we reduce the dollar amount per lead/sale to run the machine more efficiently. Conversion optimization uses a broad range of tools from website heat mapping to customer surveys in order to improve the cost, speed, and overall effectiveness of each step of your funnel.

Finally, we look at how our customers are acting after the Conversion stage. This is usually measured in online reviews or if they’re sharing their experience positively with others. There are certain practices tied to this stage as well such as social media listening, sentiment analysis, etc. that help in establishing how happy your customers are.

Persona Development

To optimize the effectiveness of your funnel, let’s now take a look at organizing your audiences. I use that plural intentionally because a marketing funnel is not a one-size-fits-all. The customers we want, while individually unique, can be grouped by defining characteristics like geography, income, etc. to help make the outreach you do be more specific to each group. The creation of each group, as well as the characteristics you use to define those groups, is called persona development.

A persona looks a little like this when you put it all together. This example was put together with a free tool provided by HubSpot. In this case, we’ve created a persona called “Bride Brenda”. We have a rough idea of what her age group is and, while there are brides that are older or younger, this is only one persona. Secondary personas can have other age groups, income levels, and so on.

Example of a Buyer Persona

In our research, we can find out that Bride Brenda’s average lowest level of education is a Bachelor’s Degree, the preferred method of communication is typically something that’s a bit more direct like a chatbot on your website, SMS or good old-fashioned phone call.

There’s a lot of information in this graphic, which may make you think we’re making a lot of assumptions. The truth, however, is that we can get this data from the tools most of us use every day, including:

  • Google Analytics or other site traffic monitor tool
  • Mailchimp, Constant Contact or email marketing platform
  • Facebook Insights, Hootsuite or other social media management system
  • Square or other point-of-sale systems

By using these, you already have existing data. You can also be proactive and send out customer surveys (using tools like SurveyMonkey). Some will even go so far as to establish focus groups.

By gathering all of this data, we start to find commonalities: when the most online activity is, which social networks seem to perform the best, which email subject lines perform the best, etc. That information is what’s used to complete a persona.

While the more you can find out about the persona, the better, there are really only three elements you need:

  • their preferred method of communication (social platforms, email, traditional medium, etc.)
  • their biggest challenge (your problem to solve)
  • their goals (what the solution looks like to them)

But since we’ve done our homework so well with this example persona, let’s go back to the funnel model. With this specific persona, we know where we need to be to get the best KPIs for lead generation and it looks like this:

Lead Generation Channels
At first, this can seem like a lot of places to be at once and a lot of stuff to add to an already busy schedule. Who has the time to do all of this?

Building the Lead Generation Machine

We need to make it easy and put in place a strategy for each tier of the funnel without spending 50 hours a week doing it. Here are some tips per stage that you can use to put this entire system to work I’ve given some tips for each step along the way. We’ll start at the top of the funnel.

Top of Funnel

The top of the funnel is where lead generation begins. Your introducing people to your brand, probably for the first time.

For social media, many of us are already scheduling posts. Scheduling on Facebook can be done within the platform, but for some reason I don’t understand you have to go to a different part of your Facebook account to schedule post it. It’s ridiculous.

A scheduling tool like Hootsuite is very very robust and you may not need something with that many features. There are other tools like Later ( that provide a more simplistic way to post to all of the major social media networks. Dive into those insights and see when your audience is most engaged and schedule your posts for that time. More than likely, it’s in the evenings – probably not during your 9 to 5. Plan about three to four posts each week. Then, you’re just managing conversations that spawn from those posts.

Whether your online time is visiting industry sites or just scrolling through social on the toilet, you undoubtedly see content that interests you professionally. Add your perspective to that content on social, your blog, or even a quick video. In doing so, it makes that content – to a degree – yours, helping you reach more of your audience. Don’t forget to tag any related individuals or companies in your posts. In doing so, especially on your company page, it opens your visibility to a new audience and helps with reciprocity.

Middle of Funnel

Once your audience is interested in your brand, they’ll want to learn more. This step of your lead generation is to inform and convince them, not necessarily to close them.

If you don’t have a Google My Business account, it’s totally free and helps with your search engine optimization. It’s also a place to store reviews, photos of your business, etc. so when somebody types in the name of your company, there’s a whole listing to shows up in some Prime real estate. Once again, it’s totally free and you can post to that just like you can post to Facebook.

Asking for reviews can be an automated process. Add a request to your email signature or newsletter and a link to your invoices. Just be sure to give your customer options since we’re not all on Yelp and some are afraid of Google knowing too much about them. Once that’s done, you’re asking for reviews each time you reach out to your customers.

Something that’s a little more time-intensive is making sure that you’re putting quality content on your site regularly. What defines quality content varies but it’s always content that lines up with the wants of your personas. For subject matter, look at the social posts and email blasts that got the most attention. That’s usually a topic that people want to know more about.

An important piece that you may need an agency for is an SEO audit on your website. The audit takes a look at the content that you’ve been creating, the code that supports your site, the speed of pages, page URL structure, etc., and makes sure that it all works together to lift your site for a specific set of keywords. I typically suggest that you have an audit performed quarterly if you’re generating a steady stream of content.

Bottom of Funnel

At this stage, we’re talking more about lead nurturing than lead generation since your audience has been created, they’re active, they just have to be convinced to cross over. The most effective way to nurture leads is to communicate with them one by one and if you have the time for that, good on ya but the rest of us should look into automation.

There are platforms that are insanely robust, like Marketo or HubSpot but with its functionality comes intimidation. If you have the time to learn them, they can be incredibly powerful. If not, most email marketing platforms come with a simplified version of automation where, if someone performs an action on one email, they get a unique, pre-written email that fits their action. If they perform a certain action on that one, they get another tailored email, and so on.

How you set it up is pretty simple. Let’s say you go to a trade show and you end up with a ton of business cards. If agreed to an opt-in, you can then put all those contacts onto its own contact list in the platform you choose. Then, they’ll get the sequence of emails I mentioned earlier but they’re emails about what the people at the trade show cared about. You can even add people later as long as they fit that area of interest and they’ll get the same sequence, starting from the first email that you didn’t have to write again.


By performing all of these consistently (with many, just setting them up once), you have a lead generation cycle that grows with time. You get more referrals, which opens you up to larger audiences, which builds greater awareness and the funnel expands. You’re being exposed to new audiences and their quality continues to grow. You can also be more selective with more leads to choose from.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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