HomeBlog7 Lead Generation Strategies that Work for Startups

7 Lead Generation Strategies that Work for Startups

Author: Larry Kim
Last Updated: February 11, 2023 | Marketing Ideas

I once 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 launched in 2012 and drive millions in revenue from tens of thousands of customers. 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 over a decade old and continues to grow at a rapid pace, generating millions of dollars 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 over the years!

What is lead generation?

Real quick—before we dive into the strategies you can use to grow your business, let’s make sure we’re on the same page as far as terminology goes.

A lead is simply someone who’s demonstrated interest in your business in some way. Basically, you can think of anyone who’s given you their contact information—to attend a webinar, to download a free guide, to sign up for your newsletter, etc.—as a lead. Because this person has engaged your business’ website and given you permission to contact them (typically through email, but sometimes over the phone), they’re now inside your sales funnel.


Accordingly, lead generation—often shortened to “lead gen”—is simply the process of filling your sales funnel with people who are interested in your business. Anything that gets someone to give you permission to contact them or remarket to them is a lead generation tactic.

For example, let’s say you’re the in-house digital marketer for a company that builds backyard decks. One way you can generate leads is by creating a free, downloadable PDF guide to deck maintenance. Because the people who want to read the guide are required to submit their contact information, this piece of content serves as a lead generation mechanism. Quite simply, it’s a way to help people while simultaneously filling your funnel with leads.

Got it? Great. Now, let’s shift from contracting companies to startups and talk about the seven lead generation strategies you can use to fill your funnel with prospective customers.

7 lead generation strategies for your startup

Disclaimer: You absolutely do NOT need to try all of these. In fact, doing so would probably be a bad idea. Why? Because no two startups are the same. Although these seven lead generation strategies have worked wonders for our companies, that won’t necessarily be the case for yours.

You may only find success with one or two of these strategies. That’s OK. Evaluate each one carefully in the context of your revenue, your resources, your marketing goals, and your competitive landscape. As much as we believe in the effectiveness of these lead generation strategies, there’s no universal formula for growth.

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 Google Ads 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.

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Meet The Author

Larry Kim

Larry Kim is the founder of WordStream and CEO of MobileMonkey, a chatbot building platform.

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