Startup Lead Generation Strategies: It’s About Relationships

If you want customers, you have to go out and earn them.

October 3rd, 2017   |    By: The Startups Team    |    Tags: Development, Sales, Customers, Customer Acquisition

During last week’s Startups Live, we talked about developing your pricing strategy, and how asking customers for money is an important step in building an actual grown-up company.

If only it were as simple as flipping a switch on a revenue stream and then watching the sales pour in. That would be a beautiful world to live in. But we don’t live in that world, we live in this world – and in this world, if you want customers, you have to go out and earn them.

Startup Lead Generation Strategies

We tend to think of lead generation strategies as this very rote, transactional thing: you herd as many people as you can into your funnel, and then you shake the funnel and hope that enough people fall through to paying customer.

“Driving traffic is different than turning someone into a customer.”

But as Startups Live regular Dr. Deborah Hecker pointed out during this session, “Driving traffic is different than turning someone into a customer.” The truth is, lead generation is a lot more nuanced than most people give it credit for. That’s especially true now, when customers are increasingly aware of – and wary of – being sold to. Today more than ever, lead gen isn’t about selling – it’s about building relationships, and earning customers’ trust and, eventually, their business.

Ryan Draving is the CEO of Referable, a company that specializes in developing high-quality leads for B2B companies, and is a Senior Partner at M+Co — so he spends quite a bit of time thinking about lead generation strategies. For this session of Startups Live, he joined us to share some of the biggest misconceptions he’s seen in lead generation – and what startups need to do to build the kind of relationships that get results.


The first mistake Ryan sees businesses make: too much emphasis on lead quantity – and not enough on lead quality. “Lead quality and qualification is one of the undervalued parts of lead gen,” Ryan says.

Too often, founders and sales leads fixate on the number of leads that come in. “They get stuck on ‘We need X leads per month,’ as opposed to focusing on the outcome those leads bring to the business,” Ryan observes.

“They get stuck on ‘We need X leads per month,’ as opposed to focusing on the outcome those leads bring to the business.”

Ryan calls this the “Gotta catch ‘em all” approach to lead generation. At first, he says, that mentality makes sense. “You start off taking whoever you can, because when you have no funding or real money coming in, you just need some traction.”

Before too long, though, you need to start sorting the wheat from the chaff, so to speak – zeroing in on the customers that are actually a good fit for your product.

The last thing you want is customers who are not a good fit raising hell for your customer support team, blowing up your social feeds and tanking your reviews.

A solid lead qualification process spares everyone a lot of unnecessary headaches – and gets your customers to the “delight” part of the conversion path a lot faster.


Another common misunderstanding Ryan sees: Founders who think lead generation strategies are all about bringing new customers to your business when, in reality, the opposite might be true.

“People often look to ‘new leads’ first when they want to grow their business,” Ryan observes. “But it’s often far better to re-engage your existing or past customers.”

Remember: Lead generation is all about building a relationship. With customers you’ve already closed, you’ve invested a lot of time and effort, and the relationship is already there. They’ve seen your product in action, and they’ve had the chance to decide if it works for them. With that background in play, convincing customers that another product or service you offer might also be a good fit becomes a much easier lift.

And not only is it important to nurture your relationships with existing customers for their own sake – those connections can also become powerful lead gen sources in their own right.

Chances are your existing customers know at least a few people who also face the problem you solve – and who would therefore also be a good fit for your product. And, if you play your cards right, your existing customers will lead you right to them.


Here too, though, there are some missteps to avoid.

When asking existing clients to point you toward friends for referrals, it’s important not to overwhelm them. “If you ask an existing client ‘Do you know anyone who needs help with A. B, B, D, E, etc….?’ you’ll get a deer-in-headlights stare back,” Ryan says. “Most likely, the person will say “I can’t think of anyone right now, I’ll let you know if I do.”

“If you ask an existing client ‘Do you know anyone who needs help with A. B, B, D, E, etc….?’ You’ll get a deer-in-headlights stare back.”

A better approach, Ryan says: “Be specific in what you ask for from someone.” Ask a few straightforward questions that go right to the heart of what you want to know about their friends. “Start with a primer question that will reduce the number of potential people he could refer to a very small number (4-10 max),” Ryan says. “Something like ‘Do you have a group of buddies you golf with?’ This primer question will reduce options – which almost always helps with lead gen and conversion rates.” Once you’ve narrowed the field to this specific target, follow up with a question that encourages your customer to think about whether those people might benefit from your product. “Something like “Do you think any of them are struggling to [Insert problem statement and proposed solution here]?” Ryan says.

With this clear question in front of them, just sit back and wait for the lightbulb to go on. “This leads to your existing client saying “Actually, yes! I bet Bob and John both have that problem!” Ryan says.

Just like that: boom! Lead generated. “Since you reduced options, added clarity, and are already positioned as an expert in your client’s mind, this should work extremely well.”

Approaches like this that put rails for the conversation go a long way toward guiding the customer to your desired destination.

Also see: 11 strategies for getting customers to make more referrals


Another common lead generation mistake Ryan sees startups making: bogging down the lead gen page on their website with too much information. See: 10 reasons why your landing page sucks and how to improve it.

“Your landing page needs to be laser focused and clear,” Ryan says. “One of the most common and critical mistakes is that people overly complicate the offering or the messaging on their lead gen pages.”

“Your landing page needs to explain as much – and no more –  than you would tell that person if you were face-to-face.”

Even if you think more information will help seal the deal – even if the details you’re thinking about adding are ones that you’ve seen close sales in the past – resist the urge to clutter your page with excess information. “Clarity trumps persuasion every time,” Ryan  says. “It converts better and it ensures you get the right leads that will directly speak to your niche.”

A simple test to see if your website messaging is hitting the mark: “Imagine you were talking to someone in person, and asking them to take action,” Ryan says. “Your landing page needs to explain as much – and no more –  than you would tell that person if you were face-to-face.”

When building out your landing page for lead gen, three rules reign supreme: Keep the offer simple. Have a clear CTA. And test, test, test.

“My answer to most questions,” says Ryan.


If lead gen is all about building relationships, bridging the gap between you and your customers, then the content you put out in the world are the bricks and mortar that build that bridge.

We could devote whole sessions to the importance of content marketing (and we will). But for now, we’ll leave it at emphasizing this one point: if you’re limiting yourself to the usual suspects – Facebook ads, drip emails, paid search – you’re leaving a whole world of potential untapped.

It’s 2017, and new channels for connection are being built every day. Some of us may even be building them. And believe it or not, some of those channels may be way more effective lead gen tools than your standard promoted tweet.

The whole Startups Live crew agreed that some of their most effective lead gen opportunities have come from opportunities they’ve had to connect more directly with would-be customers. Speaking engagements, webinars, hosting Slack channels and Facebook groups, podcasting, YouTubing – all of these channels give you an opportunity to get up close and personal with your core audience, demonstrate value and build the kind of trust that converts into sales.

Everything you put out into the world is a reflection of your brand and what you have to offer your customers.

Kori Ashton, Founder & CEO of WebTegrity, chimed in to share a channel that has been effective for his company. “Our world is custom WordPress development, so we do weekly YouTube videos to help the DIYer get around WP,” he explains. “It’s helped establish us around the world as a “go to” resource for the industry.”

Not only that: non-traditional channels can just be more fun than traditional ones. ”Videos instantly show folks your personality,” Kori observes.

Long story short: everything you put out into the world is a reflection of your brand and what you have to offer your customers. Find the channels where you and your team can connect with your audience openly and authentically – and don’t just assume that the channel everyone else is using is the channel that will get you results.


Lead generation strategies can feel like one of the more formulaic aspects of building a business, but it’s important not to get stuck on autopilot. Wherever you and your team are in your lead generation practices, don’t be afraid to take a step back, shake things up, and look for a fresh perspective.

And if all else fails, you can always go back to where it all begins: talking to your customers. Ask them: what do they appreciate most about you? What do they want to see more of from you? After all, lead generation is about building relationships, and real relationships are never one-sided – they go both ways.


Need more information on taking customers from attraction to conversion?
Listen to Hiten Shah talk about effective Sales Funnel Optimization.

Want to learn more about using content to build relationships with customers?
Watch content marketing wizard Neil Patel share his tips for effective content marketing.



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The Startups Team

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