7 Lead Generation Strategies that Work for Startups


I recently had the pleasure of hosting a webinar on lead capture strategies with the incredibly knowledgeable Tim Paige, Conversion Educator at LeadPages.

LeadPages is a dynamic software company headquartered in Minneapolis – and they're growing fast. They just launched in 2012 and already have millions in revenue from over 30,000 customers. LeadPages hit a $3.5 million run rate nine months after launching and are now growing at a rate of about 20% each month.

Tim and I got together to share the lead gen ideas and demand generation strategies we've used to build our companies far quicker than most are able to achieve. My own company, WordStream, is now seven years old and has grown 677% in the last three years, to $6.6 million in annual revenue.

So how do you DO that?

Have a look at how these two successful startups generation leads, based on what LeadPages learned from processing over 4 million opt-ins a month and how WordStream used PPC to increase revenue and clients ten-fold in three years!

1. Create a LOT of Opt-In Opportunities and Make Them Irresistible

Webinars, free reports, live demos… don't stop at just one or two opt-ins. Turn every blog post into an opt-in page. You can give away recipes, PDFs of your blog posts, worksheets, resource guides and more.

Lead generation strategies blog post with opt-ins enabled

Get the opt-in box out of the sidebar and make a pop-up. Force users to make a decision. Do you want this or not?  It's easier to say no when the option is just sitting there in the sidebar and saying no is as easy as ignoring it.

Lead generation strategies LeadPages LeadBox

In testing, this increased conversion by 32%.

You can't make them say yes, but you don't have to make it so easy for people to say no.

2. Always Be Testing – But Test the Right Way

Getting great advice is a good thing, but it's dangerous to think that because it worked for someone else, it'll work equally well for you. That doesn’t mean you should ignore great advice, but that you need to test, test, test – and do it right.

Split test even where you think you don't need to. Sometimes the results amongst your audience will seem counterintuitive, but this is why testing is critical.  In this test, for example, you might think the use of "my" or "your" would have little effect.

Lead generation strategies AB split test example

The treatment actually resulted in 24% fewer conversions!

Point of view can be impactful. In this test, changing "your" to "my" resulted in a 90% increase in conversions:

Lead generation strategies AB testing point of view

Other aspects you'll want to test for are immediacy, concreteness, images, and more. Split test your headline, your button copy, and your background image. The results might surprise you, but you'll be making better, more informed optimizations.

3. Make Landing Pages Clear and Easy to Take Action On

Tim shared their best-ever converting landing page; check it out:

Lead generation strategies best converting landing page example

Why is this so effective? Tim explained that it doesn't require the user to process very much information, like a 3-minute video or a whole page of copy would. It outperforms a free report because a lot of people are feeling information overload and don't want to download something even longer to read.

Video lead magnets have suffered an image problem lately, in part because of the proliferation of launches and lack of time. For these reasons, this landing page was a hot performer. It also helped that people genuinely want to know which tools other people are using and this fulfills that desire.

Anyone can do this – dentists, plumbers, architects, whoever. This type of lead gen landing page can be set up in under a half hour and is definitely worth trying out.

4. Write Better Ads!

I've been saying this for a long time and it's still true – most ads just suck. They're boring, they're all the same, and one isn't any more compelling than another.

Take a look at these ads:

Lead generation strategies bad PPC ads examples

If you're the searcher, you really have no reason other than price to choose one over the other. This is what I call an AdWords Jackpot for an advertiser. When everything looks the same, there's a huge opportunity to come in with something different and blow the competition away!

Writing better ads can raise your CTR above the expected average, giving your Quality Score a boost. Learn more about writing killer ads and how doing so can lower your costs per click in Going Unicorn Hunting: The Secrets Behind Ads with 3x the Average CTR.

5. Give Better Offers

Unless you're one of the very top advertisers, there's a ton of room for conversion rate improvement. In fact, the top 10% of landing pages have conversion rates 3x to 5x the average. How do they do it?

One creative way is to give better offers. This is far more meaningful than your typical, run of the mill optimizations – changing button color, font type, spacing, etc.

Every software company offers a free trial. Every plastic surgeon offers a free consultation. What do you have to offer that is unique, compelling, and offers real value to the visitor?

For us here at WordStream, it meant rethinking our standard free software trial offer. We decided to offer a free AdWords Grader, instead.

Lead generation strategies WordStream AdWords Grader

Conversions went through the roof! We had found something non-committal that people could actually use and weren't asking them to take all the steps of downloading, installing, and then actually using our software. To date, this has proven to be one of our most effective lead generation strategies.

If your conversions are 2% or lower, you need to try something drastic like changing up your offer big time. Small optimizations will beget small results. The top 25% of advertisers have an average 5.31% conversion rate and the top 10% are hitting over 11%, on average! You have a ton of room to grow.

6. Go Nuts with Remarketing

Remarketing enables you to tag site visitors and get back in front of them as they go about their business around the web, checking their email, watching YouTube, searching Google and even hanging out on Facebook.

Lead generation strategies remarketing diagram

It helps turns abandoners into leads, which is huge considering that 97% of people will leave your landing page without converting. Remarketing amplifies the effect of all of your other startup marketing activities – content marketing, social media marketing, etc. – by positioning you in front of your audience again.

Remarketing using the Google Display Network gives you 92% reach in the U.S., across millions of websites, videos, and devices. We've found that remarketing ads fatigue is about half the rate of regular ads, so be aggressive! Use our Remarketing Cheat Sheet to get started.

7. Use Gmail Ads to Target Competitors’ Customers

Here's another tip for generating tons of leads, at the expense of your competitors.

Gmail Ads are powerful tools for getting right in front of your target audience.

For a SaaS startup, no audience is more valuable than your competitors’ customers. With Gmail Ads, you can target your AdWords campaign to only ever reach people who receive emails from your competitors, giving you direct access to people that already use similar products.

There are several ways to do this. One is to target keywords that your competitors are likely to use. Sign up for your competitors’ email lists and take note of any words and phrases that they use frequently, then add them as target keywords.

A more accurate solution is to target your competitors’ domains. Below is an example of a Gmail Ad from DigitalOcean, a cloud infrastructure provider. I receive emails from other cloud storage companies, which DigitalOcean are clearly targeting using domain placements.

SaaS AdWords strategy Gmail Sponsored Promotions

Expanded, the ad looks like this:

Gmail ad example SaaS startup

Using Gmail Ads like this lets you reach the same audience that you’d reach through a search engine marketing campaign, all at a fraction of the cost.

Rapid Growth Needs Serious Lead Generation Strategies

Tim and I have seen great success in our respective companies and at a far faster clip than average. If you want to grow and grow fast, you need to prioritize your lead generation strategies and use tactics like the ones we've recommended above to get as many qualified prospects as possible into your funnel.

Want to learn more? Check out the full slidedeck from our Lead Gen webinar and leave any questions you have in the comments!

Find out how you're REALLY doing in AdWords!

Watch the video below on our Free AdWords Grader:

Visit the AdWords Grader.


Oct 16, 2014

This tips are wonderful.Other best practice are in social media.

Jasper Oldersom
Oct 16, 2014

Great post again, Larry. I thought LeadPages had been around for ages, since it is such an established business in the I.M. industry.I'd love to process 4 million opt-ins in one month myself ;) That's insane!I just knew you would say "Write better ads" ;) What would you do in the above example with the iPad's to stand out more?Cheers,Jasper  

Jay Joseph
Oct 17, 2014

It's hard with the iPads since they're all the same. I put a minute into it, so there's a better answer I'm sure, but preceding the product description with 'New' would be interesting.Those are shopping ads so you're going to be getting that headline pulled from the listing title, so it's not as simple as just 'writing a better ad', you'll want to get in your database and optimize all that data in Excel (which you should have done anyway so no biggie).Anyway, back to the 'New' example, what that's going to do is differentiate you, even though they're all new, obviously, I find that stating what's obvious to us as experts is a simple way to differentiate products that aren't all too different.I'm sure there's some better things, built in 3G, free 3G included, free 2 Yr warranty, assuming they have any of those, thaat you can use to differentiate.It almost doesn't matter here though, the point is that when everyone else's value prop is the same, it's so easy to stand out from the crowd :)

Jasper Oldersom
Oct 21, 2014

Hey Jay,Sorry that i'm just seeing it now..Thanks for your reply :)I  absolutely get your point. When everyone else is boring, that's the unique chance for us to stand out and get a higher CTR.In this case, i imagine it might even be really smart to use a slightly different image in combination with one of the points you mentioned. Cheers! - Jasper

Oct 16, 2014

Brilliant article, just started up a business and these tips are going straight to work, thank you. Non-committal and special it is!!

Kevin Raheja
Oct 22, 2014

Hey Larry! This is a great marketing resource. If you ever need anything let me know! Kevin Raheja-Business Development, LeadPages 

Nov 24, 2014

Very nice tips but I would add interactive Customer Service to the list. Lately I have been trying to create quality leads through Live Chat and I my experience is very positive. I would like to know you opinion about it, but I think that when it comes to creating good leads a more personal customer-seller relationship is vital, and the ultimate differentiator between you and your competitors. If you are interesting in checking it up, the solution I am using right now is Visitlead.com. It offers some interesting extra features appart from Live Chat (for ex. co-browsing, website widgets, tracking, dynamic content...) that I find very useful for the creation of leads. 

Marty B
Dec 16, 2014

I personally like to use the lead generation systems that pay me for the leads that are generated.  I also manage to harvest a large amount of leads that I use to market my own business opportunities to.Often times I will create custom lead capture pages that pertain to the current niche I am promoting and ultimately build a strong targeted email list from those leads generated.Optimizepress is my favorite lead capture page system of choice.  Free Trial Marketing Tools actually gives it away in their paid platform.   

Feb 25, 2015

Hi Larry -

I realize this is an old post... but I'm hoping you can offer some insight.

It is much easier to close a sale using content offers and automation when you are selling a product or software. I see that you also offer managed solutions which is most likely a more complex sale.

Obviously content will still be used for lead gen, but how does your follow-up process differ when they are looking for a service vs the product?


Mar 31, 2017

Great article Larry! Definitely generating leads is not hard at all when you understand which areas you need to focus on or maybe change. I completely agree with these 7 tips you are sharing

Sep 07, 2017

At the moment, the reality of B2B marketing in social networks has not been properly implemented anywhere. A waste of time and money.

Nov 22, 2017

Got new insights! Thank you for the article, Larry! I am participating in a start-up now and we are using the help of lead gen team. It makes life easier, haha)
Called leadpipe.io, check it out.

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