What is the best way to generate leads online? Just like most everything about running a small business, this question has a two-word answer, “it depends.” It depends on if you are selling a dozen flowers or a $12,000 piece of machinery. Some leads should be quick and cheap, others are extremely expensive and are part of a long, long sales cycle. Recently, CIO.com rounded up some sales and marketing experts to share their tips for effective ways to generate sales leads. Rather than being a to-do list, each item should be viewed as an idea that may, or may not, make sense for you and your business. 

Your definition of a lead can have an impact on what one must do to collect one. For this list, it appears that the experts define “leads” to be everything from driving traffic a website to collecting email addresses. For a small business, however, a lead typically involves a transaction in which a potential buyer willingly exchanges their contact information and their interest in your product for something you are providing of perceived equal value. As your time or money is a major factor in developing your side of the transaction (for some, writing insightful content or spending time monitoring your social media accounts may come naturally; for others they can be quite expensive in terms of time and money), you should view this as a list of ideas that should be filtered through your personal “it depends” net.

Lead Generating ideas from marketing experts

1 | Referrals

According to the pros, most major business-to-business sales begin with a referral. Tip: Offer an incentive to current customers to refer their friends. (Or offer a great product and support you customers well and that will be the incentive.)

2 | Search engine optimization (SEO)

In one of those “who is going to bell the cat” dilemmas, the pros suggest you write engaging content created around keyword research. Unfortunately, most small business owners are too busy communicating with customers to spend time writing articles for Google algorithms. Even more unfortunately, the pros are correct. The more help you provide to the types of customers you serve, the more Google love you attract.

3 | Targeted online advertising

When you realize that Google has outsmarted your SEO keyword strategy, you’ll need to add more money to Google’s coffers. Time is money, etc. You will need to learn the meaning of Adwords.

4 | Social listening

Tip: This sounds like something an expert just made up. It means you should learn how to monitor the chatter of the social web and how to join in the conversation. There are lots of platforms that would like to help you.

5 | Instagram

The pros say this is a great lead generator if your product is visually enticing. In 2014, we said something similar.

6 | Email marketing

People love email marketing they control. Ironic, however, since no one seems to like email or marketing. If you have something of great value in the email you send customers, they will happily sign up for it. (But if you just send out email that says how great you are, they won’t.)

7 | Direct (personalized) physical mail sent through the Post Office

The pros suggest, get this, that mail printed on paper and sent via the U.S. Postal Service is so rarely sent out anymore, people now actually read it. Note: The pros don’t run small businesses that are magnets for direct mail.

8 | Podcasts

When not practicing your writing and design skills, the pros think you should take up audio production. It will be great if audio production comes naturally to you or someone on your staff. If so, it will be awesome if you can provide insight into something in your industry or region. But it’s a long-term commitment.

9 | Webinars

We like webinars and think they are very effective marketing tools — second only to live events, according to some research. Tip: We just don’t know when you are going to work the production of a webinar into your busy schedule. But try.

VIA | CIO.com “9 proven methods for generating sales leads

Coming soon | In the coming weeks, we will be providing how-tos on each of these ideas.