Competition is fierce in digital channels, and it’s tougher than ever to cut through the noise. Driving traffic is one challenge, but it’s another to convert that traffic into sales-qualified leads. In this article, I’ll walk through six fatal mistakes in lead generation that I’ve seen time and time again.

We’re not talking about the basics, like forgetting a call to action. Here we’re looking at fundamental strategic errors that prevent effective lead gen. Making these mistakes will cause you to waste budget, resources, time, and energy. The good news: they’re preventable. The key is knowing that they’re mistakes before you make them.

1. Not starting with product-market fit

From my experience, not achieving product-market fit (PMF) before working on lead generation is the number one reason hyper-growth businesses fail.

Put simply, PMF is when a product meets a real market demand. As American entrepreneur Marc Andreessen says, PMF is about “being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.”

Andreessen argues that the life of a startup can be divided into two parts: pre-PMF and post-PMF. The pre-PMF stage is about learning, iterating, and getting as close as possible to the people with the problem you’re attempting to solve. As a business, you should launch a pre-PMF minimum viable product to prove the need, and repeatedly get feedback from early adopters.

Bottom line: ideas are fun, but they’re worth zilch by themselves. I’ve seen too many businesses burn through their cash reserves on lead generation before they know whether their product has genuinely scalable appeal. So before ramping up lead generation and customer acquisition activities, it’s essential to establish product-market fit. You can have the best marketing strategy in the world, but if the product or service is a poor fit for the market, the return on investment will be prohibitively—and fatally—low.

2. Not defining an ideal customer profile

Audience personas will always be helpful, but you can focus your lead generation results even more with ideal customer profiles (ICPs). This works best for B2B lead gen because it involves creating a profile of your priority target accounts.

Defining an ICP (or two-three ICPs) will make lead generation strategy more refined and accurate. I’ve described what goes into defining and testing ICP hypotheses, but here’s the gist:

Step 1: Identify your best current customers.
Step 2: Research common traits in your best current customers.
Step 3: Segment your best current customers based on those traits.
Step 4: Build a list of similar companies to target in each ICP subset.
Step 5: Validate ICP hypotheses by acquiring sales-qualified leads from each ICP.

Once you’ve verified that the ICP hypothesis helps you generate leads, you can scale your marketing activities.

3. Adopting a one-size-fits-all approach

Google “lead generation tips,” and you’ll get millions of results (maybe including this one). But if there’s anything I’ve learned from my time in growth marketing, it’s that each business needs its own custom recipe. There’s no off-the-shelf solution for lead generation.

Google search results for lead generaton tips

Each business has a slightly different audience from the next, and each product addresses a slightly different pain point in a slightly different way. Each business is at a different stage of growth, and will have a different marketing budget to play with. Even products that solve the same problem might do it with different types of functionality—making each “competing” product appeal to certain demographics, geographies, or levels of expertise. Naturally, this impacts the marketing strategy.

Think about the difference between a self-serve SaaS product (meaning a customer can sign up for a free trial and access the product by themselves) and an enterprise-level SaaS product (requiring installation and integrations). Lead gen for the former might be more channel-focused, driving lots of traffic to a free trial page. The latter are much more suited to longer-term lead nurturing, account-based marketing, and perhaps an emphasis on outbound activities.

It’s a simple example, but the nuances go much deeper, and you’ll need to avoid falling into the trap of following suggestions that don’t apply to your business.

4. Underestimating marketing technology needs

You can’t do lead generation with one tool. Think about all the different types of software you need:

CRM
Marketing automation
Website visitor identification
Website analytics
In-product analytics
Social media management
Live chat

This is just the tip of the iceberg. And these systems need to work together reliably, triggering actions when required and powering the nurturing funnels. Zapier can help you connect all these apps, but the takeaway is that many businesses underestimate the complex mix of tools that they need to gain an edge in lead generation.

There are ways to navigate these complexities, but be aware that integrations need attention to get right. If you don’t give these tools the attention they deserve from the beginning, the complexities will only grow.

5. Ignoring prospects’ pain points

It’s easy to get caught up in navel-gazing, distracted by an internal vision and focused on promoting your product or service itself. But when you do this, you completely side-step the most important thing that’ll get you customers: pain points.

Successful lead generation content is powered by:

Understanding the pain points of your audience
Adding value by addressing those pain points

If a prospect has shown interest in an article, video, or podcast about a specific pain point, there’s a good chance that they’re feeling that pain. Remarketing efforts and email nurturing sequences should reference the same themes and stay cohesive with that first pique of interest.

As the prospect ventures further down the funnel, you can get more specific about the value proposition of your product or service—in the context of that particular pain point. That means focusing on pain points throughout the journey: from the top of the funnel with a blog post, all the way through to onboarding and beyond.

6. Spreading too thin

When you only have a certain amount of cash to play with, it’s important to learn quickly and double-down on the most efficient channels for lead generation.

Don’t spread a limited budget over every channel at the same time—the results won’t be statistically meaningful. To draw conclusions from the data, you need volume. With a thin budget spread everywhere, it’s difficult to make any informed future decisions.

Also, given the dramatic differences between each digital marketing channel (e.g., Google Ads vs. LinkedIn Ads vs. SEO), it’s difficult to compare apples to apples if it’s all running at the same time. This becomes especially challenging when you only have a small team.

I’m a big believer in the iterative testing methodology, based on carefully-prepared strategic hypotheses. By adopting a scientific outlook and running lead generation experiments, you can test different channels with clarity. Of course, experience is a blessing when choosing which channels to prioritize. But the key lesson is: give yourself the opportunity to learn which channels are most effective, rather than blasting away all resources on dozens of channels in the space of a week.

Adopting a strategic mindset is critical for lead generation. There are thousands of commonly-known tactics out there to try, but the brutal truth is that the vast majority are unlikely to help your business. As marketers, we need to take these with a grain of salt—using them as inspiration rather than as gospel.

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