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How to generate inbound sales leads online. Planning for success.


If your company is growing, generating more leads is likely to be one of your goals. We know that inbound leads are the best type of lead and most of these will come in through our websites one way or another. The question I get asked a lot is “how do we increase the volume and generate more inbound sales leads through our digital marketing?”. In this post I’m going to take you through the first step in generating more leads – planning.

I find that it’s pretty common for businesses to skim over this step. The pressure is on from leadership to generate more sales, which means that the marketing team needs to get a shift on and start generating more leads. If you’ve been here before, this might sound familiar. You were really keen to get stuck into making things happen, and you didn’t spend much time on planning, you got to work on things like:

  • Improving search rankings and traffic
  • Spending more on advertising like Google Adwords
  • Doing more social media marketing
  • Blogging more regularly
  • Improving your website

All these tactics hopefully helped generate more leads. But did they really move the dial like you were expecting?

The problem is that without a decent plan and strategy in place there’s a high risk that the hard work you put in won’t be rewarded with the results that you expected.

Planning is essential when it comes to building out a successful inbound lead generation campaign. There are quick wins that need to be prioritised while other important activities take time to bear fruit, which means that expectations need to be managed.

Inbound marketing is a bit like running a marathon compared to a short jog. To successfully complete a marathon without injury you need to plan for it including your training, your nutrition and your rest. These are at least as important as the big day itself in terms of achieving your goal. It’s a similar story with inbound marketing. You don't want this to be the sum of your inbound efforts:


So, let’s look at how you can create a plan for sustainable sales lead growth that will be certain to keep your sales team and senior leadership happy.

Step 1: Define your current numbers


Knowing where you are now is essential. Like planning a trip, if you don’t know your current position, it’s difficult to work out the directions that you need to take to get to your destination.

With inbound marketing the current numbers that you will need to know are:

  • Your average monthly website visits
  • The average number of inbound leads you receive through your website and digital marketing
  • Your conversion rate of website visits to leads
  • Your conversion rate of inbound leads to opportunities
  • Your conversion rate of opportunities to customers
  • Your average customer value
  • Your average customer lifetime
  • How often the average customer purchases from you

For these numbers it is best to work out averages. If your business is very seasonal you may want to work these numbers out by quarter or monthly. For most B2B businesses it is fine to use an average across 6 or 12 months as a starting point.

If your numbers are currently very low or you’re just starting out you can use some standard rates to get you started. Your actual rates will very likely be different, but you’ll want some figures to get you started.

  • A good average conversion rate of total website visits to inbound leads is 2.5% and I recommend using a target conversion rate of 1.5% when you are starting out
  • A typical conversion rate of leads to opportunities is 10%
  • A typical conversion rate of opportunities to customers is 25%

Step 2: Define your objective


Before you define specific targets I find that it is helpful to get your overall objective written down. It’s best to keep this specific. Here are a few examples of overall objectives for you:

  • The monthly revenue goal you’d like to achieve in the next 12 months
  • A profit target you’d like to achieve in 12 months
  • An overall turnover target
  • The number of regular clients you’d like to be working with

This overall objective can also be a combination of factors. For example working with 20 clients at an average monthly value of £5,000 each.

Like with any targets it’s good if the overall objective is specific, measurable and has a timeframe. Doing this provides clarity on what you are aiming for and makes it easier to work out how you are going to achieve your goal in the next step.

Step 3: Define your targets and reporting structure

When you're defining your targets, I find it easiest to work backwards.

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to simplify things a bit. Once you have the basic framework you’ll probably want to play with it to come up with realistic staged targets.

Start by taking your overall objective. For many businesses this will be a revenue goal. Using the example of an overall revenue target, you then want to calculate the monthly revenue increase you need to achieve it. When you have that you can work out the other numbers you’ll be aiming to reach. The main targets that you’ll want in place are:

  • Your target monthly revenue goal
  • Your target average customer value
  • The number of new customers you need to achieve the revenue goal
  • Conversion rate of opportunities to customers
  • The number of opportunities you need
  • The conversion rate of inbound leads to opportunities
  • Target inbound leads
  • Conversion rate of website visits to inbound leads
  • Target number of website visits


When you have the final numbers that you need to achieve, I recommend creating staged targets building up to this number. It takes time to build momentum with inbound marketing, so it is very rare that you’ll reach your final goal in the first month.

You can download our spreadsheet template that has all of these calculations included in a simple calculator format. You can also adapt it to create a custom model suited to the needs of your business.

You will need to set other more granular targets as well. These will include specific targets for each different marketing channel. We’ll discuss this further in Step 11.

As you work through the rest of the steps keep referring back to this stage, because you’ll probably want to refine the targets as you dig deeper.

Step 4: Describe your ideal customer by company


Lead generation through inbound marketing is best suited to B2B marketing and higher value considered B2C purchases. Defining your ideal customer by company applies to you if you’re working B2B marketing. If you are working in B2C, just skip this step.

The typical criteria that are used to define your ideal company are:

  • Industry
  • Company size – staff
  • Company size - turnover
  • Geographic location
  • Business stage e.g. Start-up, First round funding, Established SME, National, Multinational
  • Business challenges
  • Specific attribute e.g. sales team of 25+, franchisee model, partnership

Select the criteria that are important to you and define these clearly.

From my experience, when defining target customers - less is more. The more focused you are, the more likely you are to succeed.

Step 5: Create your customer personas

Now it is time to define the actual people you want to be attracting. For B2B marketers you know the company profiles you are targeting and you now need to do the same for the people within them.

For B2C marketers, you’ve skipped the company step, so you’ll start here.

What is a customer persona? The definition is: A semi-fictional description of your ideal customer based on real data and some educated speculation about customer demographics, behaviour patterns, motivation and goals.


In B2B marketing it is common that there will be a decision making unit, where multiple decision makers will be involved in the decision. It is important to understand the typical decision making unit for your product or service – as it will help you identify the important personas that you need to define.

Again with personas – less is more. Aim to identify and create 1 to 3 personas. If you have more than that, you’re likely to end up using the main ones and the others will be wasted. My advice is identify the important personas from the start and save yourself some time.

For personas you want to:

  • Identify their role (In business environments roles often have various names, so pick the most common one and put the other important ones in brackets if you need them for reference)
  • Their typical demographics
  • Their goals
  • Their challenges or needs/desires relevant to your product or service
  • Their interests
  • Their motivators
  • Their influences

You can download our persona template that will take you through the questions you need to ask to create your personas.

Step 6: Really understand your persona’s challenges and goals

We’ve already mentioned the challenges above. When you first define your personas you’ll capture the challenges in a relatively high level of detail. Now I want you to get detailed.

Really understand their challenges. Research them online. Search groups on LinkedIn and Q&A sites like Quora – what questions are your target personas asking about your product or service? What are their frustrations?

Interview your current customers. Why did they choose you? What made you stand out from their other options?

Interview potential customer, what are they looking for and how would they like help?

The more you can understand their challenges and goals the more effectively you’ll be able to communicate with them.

Step 7: Map your customer journey

When we are making a new purchase, whether it is service or product, we go on a journey.

The typical customer journey – looks like this:


It is really important to map this out with inbound marketing. With digital marketing in particular businesses get into the habit of targeting the consideration stage of the journey. We see this commonly with Google Adwords and SEO, where specific key phrases that convert well in terms of generating leads are targeted.

The problem with this is that you often haven’t built a relationship with the customer. Trust is low which means that the purchase decision will often be driven by price.

With inbound marketing, the full customer journey is considered. A lot of marketing effort will be aimed at earlier in the cycle – targeting the awareness stage, to build trust and win early stage leads that can then be nurtured.

Educational marketing will also be targeted through each of the stages of the journey, and will be tailored and personalised to the customer’s stage in their journey. Communicating with your customers in this way builds trust, increasing the likelihood they’ll buy from you and then increases your retention and advocacy rates. All of which is great for your bottom line.

When you’re mapping this journey, you want to understand the customer’s questions and state of mind at each stage. You can then plan how to answer the customer’s questions and build trust to put them in a positive frame of mind about buying from you.

Step 8: Work on your customer’s buying motivators

This step can be run in parallel with Step 7, or you can go through it afterwards and layer it on.

When we make a buying decision both our left brain and right brain will be at work. Depending on the person one may dominate the other, but as marketers we’ll get a higher hit rate if we can cover all bases.

For B2B marketers we also need to consider the individual needs of the decision maker and the company needs that they’ll be taking into account.

I have written a detailed post on this, that you can read here. Otherwise this graphic we created does a great job of summarising it.


The buying motivators change as the prospect goes through their customer journey with you. Understanding these changes, will allow you to make your marketing appeal to both sides of their brains, as they are moving through the journey – helping you to communicate your message more effectively.

Step 9: Define your space


As businesses we all have a sweet spot where we excel. Identifying this and owning it will help to create more clear water between you and your competitors.

With inbound marketing defining this space is more important than ever. If you can define and own a space – and become the authority in it – you will generate more of the right leads. These leads will want to buy from you and will be much less price sensitive. Which means you win all round.

Step 10: Plan your offers

A key tactic in inbound marketing is creating offers that your prospects can download. An offer is free taste of your product or service – an easy and low risk interaction with your business.


To generate sales leads you need to identify prospects who are active in their buying journey and interested in what you are selling. Offers are the filter and magnet that help active buyers to identify themselves to you (which is why they’re often referred to as Lead Magnets).

Offers come in a variety of forms, here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • A free guide or ebook
  • An explainer video
  • A calculator or tool
  • A free trial
  • A free version of your product or service
  • A demo
  • A detailed case study
  • A seminar or event

Just like any of your marketing messages and content, to get the best results from your offers, you want to target them to your personas and that persona’s stage in the buying journey.

For example a free guide or free tool might be more suitable as an awareness stage offer than a free demo. That’s because the free demo is what they’ll be looking for when they are actually considering your product, so you need a step before this.

That’s why it’s important to get into your persona’s head when you’re planning your offers. Understand what will be most valuable to them at each stage of their journey with you.

Going through this process takes a bit of time – but you’ll get much better results and conversion rates by investing the time at this planning stage. You’ll save a lot of time in the long run too!

Step 11: Plan your promotional strategy

When you’re planning your promotional strategy break it down into two areas:

Offsite promotion and onsite promotion.

Offsite promotion planning

How are you going to get your offers in front of the right people? For each of your offers you need to go through the list of potential inbound marketing promotional channels to decide which to use. Here’s a list of common channels that will get you started:

  • Email marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Search engine optimisation (SEO) – check your site’s SEO with our quick SEO scoring system
  • Pay per click advertising like Google Adwords
  • Social media advertising like Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Offsite content promotion
  • Partner marketing
  • PR
  • Traditional marketing and advertising (It may not be strictly inbound, but if you’re promoting an educational resource or offer, there is a pretty fine line between the two)
  • Telemarketing and direct sales prospecting (a big part of inbound marketing is alignment with your sales team)

Onsite promotion planning

  • Landing pages – essential for increasing conversion rates on offers – our SEO page analyser is pretty handy for checking your landing page and blog posts SEO scores
  • Calls to action
  • On site promotions – banners, pop-ups, slide in, exit promotions
  • Blog posts and announcements
  • Internal linking from relevant pages and blog posts

As part of this planning, define the targets for each of the channels you’re planning to use. Doing this will allow you to quickly identify what is working and what isn’t when you have things up and running. Which will allow you to quickly fix what isn’t working and do more of what is working.

Step 12: Define your lead scoring and lead nurturing

All leads are not made equally. Some will be great and others won’t be.

Some will be ready to pass over to sales. Others will be at an early stage in their journey where a call from sales could put them off.

If you count all leads the same – the chances are that you’ll end up getting quite a bit of kick back from your sales team. Even worse your sales team will end up thinking that all website leads are rubbish – and will miss the great opportunities when they come through.

This is where lead scoring and nurturing comes to the rescue. You want to score leads by fit and also by their stage in the customer journey.

Leads that don’t meet your minimum fit criteria should be removed from the process. There’s no point in taking up time or marketing resource, marketing to the wrong prospects.

For leads that meet your fit criteria, score them by where they are in their customer journey and agree a score where they should be passed to the sales team.

Any that haven’t met the score – should go into a cycle of lead nurturing to identify when they are ready to be passed to the sales team.

Discussing lead quality using a scoring system is a great way to get your marketing and sales team aligned and ultimately achieving the targets you’ve set.


Summary and next steps

The planning stage of lead generation is often skimmed over because everyone involved is keen to get those leads coming in. However, the time invested up front will save a lot of time and cost in the long run. It will also significantly increase the likelihood of achieving the targets that you have set.

Planning your inbound marketing lead generation strategy can be daunting if you haven’t been through the process before. If you would like help with it, you may want to contact an expert who’s been through the process hundreds of times before, as they’ll bring valuable experience to the table. If you’re confident to plan it yourself – work through each of the 12 steps above.

Download the resource pack including the benchmarking and target setting spreadsheet, persona template and a PDF of this post.

It's a marathon, but keep at it and you'll have a smile like Mo at the end!


Please get in touch if you have any questions or want to let us know how you got on with it. 


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