While lead generation is important for any business, arguably, it’s more critical for technology and software companies that don’t sell physical products.
Without a clear lead-generation strategy, you won’t be able to maximize your company’s capability to attract more prospects that will eventually turn into customers, which is the same as a failure to maximize your revenue.
On the other hand, developing and executing an effective and efficient lead-generation campaign can sometimes be challenging, and proving the campaign’s ROI could be even more difficult.
This is why in this guide, we will cover all you need to know about lead generation for software companies. We’ll touch upon what lead generation is, its importance for software and technology businesses, and the step-by-step guide you can use to develop and implement your own lead generation strategy.
Without further ado, let’s start this guide from the basics: what is lead generation?
What is lead generation?
First, what is a lead?
A lead is any person who has indicated their interest in a company’s product/service in any way. In practice, a lead is someone who has submitted their contact information to a company, essentially giving their permission to this company to contact them and send promotional messages.
With that being said, lead generation is the (systematic) effort to acquire potential customers’ contact information. Software companies can use various methods and techniques to pique potential customers’ interest and convince them to submit their contact information, but mainly it involves three key elements:
- Building awareness of the brand and the software product. If they don’t know who you are, they won’t be interested in what you sell
- Establishing credibility and trustworthiness. People only want to submit their contact information to businesses they trust
- Offering something valuable in exchange for their contact information. People need incentives before they open themselves up and show their interest
Why do you need lead generation?
In the digital era, lead generation plays a critical part for any business in promoting its product or service, and there are a few reasons why it is so important for software companies, including:
- Lead generation lets you know who your ideal audience is, their behavior, their preferences, and how to attract them. On the other hand, this target audience can learn how your software company can provide solutions for their problem.
- Allows you to create visibility and awareness for your product. The more people are aware of your software product, the more likely some of them will end up purchasing it.
- When done right, lead generation doesn’t only help with finding prospective customers but can also help generate business opportunities and open possibilities of partnerships. For example, you can partner with non-competing businesses in your area and gain access to their audience, and vice versa.
- An effective lead generation is one that is continuously improving, not only in terms of quantity (generating more leads) but also in terms of lead quality. Having more qualified leads would ultimately translate into higher efficiency and productivity.
Can’t we just buy leads?
We can, technically, buy leads (i.e., email databases) rather than spending our time, resources, and effort to generate leads organically.
However, while sometimes purchased leads can be useful, in the majority of cases, they won’t be as valuable as generated leads since these purchased leads don’t actually know your brand and—at least initially—isn’t yet interested in your brand/product/service.
Thus, any content, message, or offer you send them is an unwanted and disruptive message. While it’s possible that they’ll be interested in your solution and/or your offer after they’ve opened your message somehow, it won’t be as effective as sending your message to a qualified lead that’s already interested in your solution.
You should also consider that when you send a message (i.e., an email) to those who never opted in to receive your message, not only it’s likely they’ll report you as spam, but you may be held legally liable in countries where customer privacy is regulated (i.e., GDPR in EU countries.)
If too many recipients flagged your emails as spam, you could be blacklisted by the email providers (meaning your emails won’t go through,) and it’s very difficult to go out of this blacklist jail once you get in. This will hurt your email deliverability and your future lead generation/marketing campaigns.
How lead generation works
While every business’s lead generation can be unique, here are the steps of the typical lead generation process:
- Step 1: someone discovers your business through one of your marketing channels. They may stumble upon your content via Google search, click on your online ad, discover your business on social media, and so on. They started becoming aware of your brand, product, or service.
- Step 2: this person clicks on your CTA (call-to-action.) It can be a button on your website, a clickable photo/image, a link on a social media post mentioning your brand, and so on. A CTA is anything that encourages prospects (i.e., website visitors) to take some kind of action.
- Step 3: the CTA takes this prospect to a landing page. The landing page is a specially-designed web page that is optimized for capturing visitors’ contact information in exchange for an offer. This offer can be anything that is perceived as valuable by the prospect: gated content, downloadable software/tools, a webinar, a course, etc. This offer is offered for free in exchange for the visitor’s contact information, and is often called a “lead magnet.”
- Step 4: this visitor fills out a form and submits their contact information, effectively converted into a led.
Looking at these steps, we can understand that in developing a lead generation strategy, there are three key elements you’ll need to optimize:
- How to attract prospects, so they are aware of your brand/product/service and visit your platform (your website, social media profile, etc.)
- How to convince these prospects to click on your CTA and visits your landing page.
- How to convince those who have visited your landing page to submit their contact information. This is typically deeply related to how valuable your offer (the lead magnet) is in the visitor’s perception.
All three elements are equally important and will be our focus for the rest of this guide.
Lead generation phase 1: attract and build awareness
The first phase of lead generation is, as discussed, how you can attract visitors to your platform (or, sometimes, directly to the landing page) and build awareness.
There are various channels and tactics we can leverage to build awareness and attract your prospects, but for software companies, here are the most prominent ones:
Publishing high-quality and relevant content and optimizing it through SEO, so it’s visible on the search engines. The idea is to make your content readily available so that when they actively search for information on Google or other search engines, they may stumble upon search results pointing to your content, click on it, and consume your content (while visiting your website/platform.)
You can publish ads on various platforms (PPC on search engines, social media ads, etc.) and drive people to directly visit the landing page or your other platforms (your blog, website, or social media handle.
3. Social media
Pretty obvious. With virtually everyone—including your software company’s target audience— on social media, it would only make sense to promote your brand on social media. The challenge is how to get your social media content and/or ad noticed amidst the noise from other brands.
4. Free product trials
Product trials are especially effective as a lead generation tool in technology and software companies. You can either offer a limited free-trial period for your software or offer a free cut-down version of your software product. Offering free product trials is more commonly used as a lead magnet (more on this later,) but it can also be effective in attracting initial prospects.
5. Referral marketing
Referral marketing can come in many different forms, but the most common one is enabling other people to market your product in exchange for commissions. Referral marketing leverages the power of word-of-mouth and, when done right, can be effective in generating awareness and amplifying your brand’s reach to more people. More reach, in turn, will increase your chances of generating more leads.
Keep in mind, however, that this list of five channels isn’t exhaustive, and there are definitely other lead-generation tactics you can leverage. For instance, consider exploring the benefits of lead generation call center services. These services involve using trained professionals who can make outbound calls to potential leads, qualify prospects, and gather valuable information for your business. These five are just the most popular—and effective—ones that you can use as the foundation for other tactics.
Lead generation phase 2: optimizing CTAs
The second phase of lead generation involves optimizing your CTA so the visitors of your platform can continue to your landing page.
What is a CTA?
CTA stands for “Call to Action” and is a prompt for a user to take an action that is desirable for your business. Within the scope of lead generation, the CTA can ask the user to either visit a landing page, sign up for your email newsletter, or submit their contact information.
CTAs can come in many forms, typically clickable elements such as:
- A hyperlink with well-crafted anchor text in the body of content (i.e., blog post, email, social media post)
- A well-designed button on a web page
- A clickable image/photo
No matter the form of your CTA, its role is to encourage your audience to move one step closer to becoming a lead—and ultimately make a purchase later on the buyer’s journey.
Whether or not your CTA is well-crafted and optimized can literally make or break your lead generation campaign’s success. A good and optimized CTA could significantly help the software company’s performance to generate more leads and vice versa.
Anatomy of an effective CTA
When it comes to CTA placements and design, your options are virtually limitless. However, an effective CTA should follow these best practices:
- Has prominent/attractive color that immediately grabs the audience’s attention
- Noticeable placement and design
- Clearly communicates the benefit the visitors will get in a short and concise way, not longer than seven words long
- Triggers FOMO, mainly by creating a strong sense of urgency (i.e., limited offers)
Optimizing your CTA
You can follow these actionable tips when optimizing your CTA to generate more leads:
- Understand and predict your target audience’s needs
The better you understand what would it takes for your target audience to take the desired action, the more effective your CTA will be. Gather as much information as you can about your audience, including but not limited to:
- Your audience’s problems/pain points that you could solve with your offer
- What would motivate this target audience to buy your product or service?
- What kinds of offers would they prefer? A price-sensitive audience would be more interested in discount offers, but a value-oriented audience would be more interested in getting more direct benefits, and so on.
If necessary, conduct surveys of your existing customers, or have focus group discussion sessions to learn more about them.]
2. A/B test and experiment with different copies
When it comes to writing copy for a CTA, keep in mind that your copy should be short, to the point, and easily understood (i.e., not longer than 7 words if possible, and definitely not more than 15 words) and should immediately convey the value the readers would get.
Perform A/B tests to test different copywriting tactics. If one doesn’t initially work, don’t be afraid to try different approaches.
There are various copywriting approaches you can try when writing CTAs for lead generation, for example:
- Incorporating questions, “How can this great software only $5/month? Learn More”
- Time-sensitive and FOMO offer, “50% discount, today only!”
- Incorporating humor
3. Make sure it’s clearly noticeable
To be effective, you have to clearly show that it’s a CTA, even if it feels too over-the-top sometimes. Use bright, attractive colors that are immediately noticeable, use bold fonts, use attractive images, and so on.
Again, A/B test different elements of your CTAs, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Lead generation phase 3: optimal landing page and attractive lead magnet
You’ve successfully attracted prospects to your website or platform and successfully convinced them to click on your CTA.
So, now what?
This next phase is about optimizing your landing/offer page and the lead magnet offer in order to convince your target audience to finally convert into a lead.
Landing page optimization
An optimal landing page must immediately appeal to your target audience, meet their expectations according to their needs, and compel them to act (in this case, to submit their contact information.)
To achieve this, here are some landing pages best practices to follow:
- Less is more
It might seem counterintuitive to say that a very simple landing page tends to perform better. Avoid including too many visual elements. You want your landing page visitors to focus on your offer and the CTA to convert as soon as possible.
- Make your offer noticeable and clear
An effective landing page should have its offer immediately noticeable and should clearly convey the benefits the visitors will get from the offer.
When planning to optimize your landing page, focus on how you can get your visitors to feel excited and inspired by this offer.
Again, the better you understand your target audience, their needs, and their problems, the better you can design and present an offer that caters to this need.
- Experiment with contrast
Experiment with using contrasting colors throughout the landing page to make your offer more pronounced, clear, and attractive.
Contrasting colors will also help your audience in consuming information due to the presence of negative spaces.
- Be consistent with your branding
Since in a lead generation process, a prospect may move between different platforms/pages (i.e., from a blog post to a landing page,) then it’s crucial to maintain visual consistency across different lead generation channels (i.e., ads, social media posts, web pages, etc.) and throughout the landing page.
If your visuals aren’t consistent, it may end up confusing—or worse, annoying—your prospects, preventing them from converting.
- Optimize CTA buttons
If your landing page involves using CTA buttons for your offers (i.e., “Sign up now”) then make sure it’s clear and straightforward.
Your CTA buttons should not confuse the reader. It’s okay to make it as obvious as possible, and keep it simple by avoiding overly long and/or fancy languages.
- “14-day free-trial here”
- “Join to download”
- “Sign up now”
- Make your contact information easy to find
An unfortunately common mistake is not making the contact information available/prominent enough on an otherwise optimal landing page.
While it’s understandable that you’d want to avoid clutter, you can actually provide your contact information in many different ways. If clutter is really a concern, you can simply include links to your help centers. However, ideally, you should have your company’s email address and phone number readily available and easy to find on your landing page, or alternatively, you can use a contact form.
- Display social proofs
A tricky aspect of optimizing a landing page is how to include social proofs (list of previous clients, accolades, testimonials, etc.) on the landing page without making it too cluttered and too over-the-top.
In general, understand that probably you might not be able to include everyone, so prioritize
only the best clients and/or testimonials. Also, make sure this section is well-designed. It should be prominent and attractive enough but shouldn’t dominate the whole page. If possible, diversify your social proofs, for example, by having your customers create a short video testimonial or post something on social media (that you can screenshot.)
- Optimize for SEO
Don’t neglect the opportunity to drive organic traffic to this landing page via organic search. You can, for example, target branded keywords so that your landing page can appear when someone searches for your company’s name or product’s name (or related phrases.)
Also, depending on the industry your software company is serving, you might also want to target industry-related keywords (i.e., “accounting software,” “design software,” and so on.) You can use various keyword research tools (Google Keyword Planner, SEMRush, Ahrefs, Ubersuggest, etc.) to identify the best keywords for your landing pages.
Setting up and optimizing your lead magnets
Your landing page—no matter how optimized—is only as effective and attractive as the lead magnet you offer.
A lead magnet, as discussed, is a valuable offer you are offering for free in exchange for your target audience’s contact information. In your landing page, and even in the whole lead generation campaign, the lead magnet is the “hook” you are using to get your audience to convert into leads.
Without an attractive lead magnet, your lead generation campaign is doomed to fail.
The key is to offer something that is perceived as more valuable by your target audience than their internal resistance to submit their contact information (and give permission for your business to contact them.) To achieve this, there is a multitude of lead magnet types and ideas available that you can leverage, and below we’ll discuss some of the most effective ones for software companies.
Different types of lead magnets for software companies
How should you decide between different types of lead magnets? Basically, there are three key considerations:
- Your business’s nature, the industry you’re in (in this case, software industry), and the product/service you sell
- Your customer profile and preferences
- The time and resources you are willing to spend creating your lead magnets
By considering these three factors, what works best for a software business might not work for a marketing agency, and vice versa.
With that being said, here are some of the most popular and effective lead magnet ideas you can use for software companies:
You can offer tools that are related to your product. For example, if you are selling accounting software, you can offer a free tax calculator app as your lead magnet.
This tool doesn’t really need to be overly advanced or complicated. Anything simple will do, as long as it provides value for your target audience, for example:
- Helps them solve a problem
- Automate repetitive tasks
- Save time
- Minimize errors
And so on. Offering tools as your lead magnet is also a good way to showcase that you—as a company—understand the problems and pain points your audience experiences and that you can be a potential solution.
2. Software trial
Arguably the most important and effective form of lead magnet for software companies, offering the opportunity to try your software for free provides twofold benefits for your business: it allows people to be aware of your product while also potentially shortening the buyer’s journey (they may purchase the product directly after the free-trial period.)
You can offer software trial offers in two different ways:
- Free-trial period: offering a limited time to try the full version of your software. Every feature is unlocked, but they can only enjoy the software for a limited time (i.e., 7 days, 14 days)
- Free version: offering a cut-down (but still useful) version of your product for free, forever.
Each approach has its own pros and cons, and one may be more effective for a specific type of software product than the other. It’s best to thoroughly evaluate the nature of your product and your user’s preferences when deciding between the two model.
Everybody loves discounts, but they can be a tricky lead magnet to execute, especially if you are offering discounts for your main product, where there’s the possibility that the prospect is not yet ready to commit to purchasing.
Yet, in some scenarios, it can be effective.
4. Gated in-depth content
In-depth content like guides, ebooks, white papers, and research reports, among others, can be very effective in a software niche where you are targeting a hyper-technical audience.
Offering in-depth content as a lead magnet can also help you educate your target audience and nurture them until they are ready for purchase while at the same time establishing your business’s thought leadership and expertise in the niche.
If you can offer original, in-depth content (i.e., case study of your product, report for original research, etc.) it can be even more effective as a lead magnet. However, if that’s not possible, it’s perfectly okay to curate content from others’ research results.
An important consideration when offering gated content is to make sure your prospects don’t use fake email addresses to access your content. Make sure to have a good validation/verification process in place (i.e., double opt-in.)
5. Free consultation/assessment
Depending on what type of software you are offering (and in what niche,) offering free assessment or free consultation can be an attractive lead magnet to offer. For example, if you are offering a graphic design application, then you can give a free consultation to assess the client’s current website design.
Offering free assessment/consultation as a lead magnet also allows you to learn more about your prospect’s pain points, which can also provide valuable insights you can use for the rest of your marketing campaign. To be effective, your software product must help solve the issue/problem commonly detected during the free assessment.
If you want to try this approach, you can try asking for the prospect’s contact information right when you start the assessment to increase effectiveness. For example, you can ask the prospect to complete a quiz, and then once done, they have to enter their email address to receive the result.
Technically a form of in-depth content, but a checklist (typically in downloadable PDF form) is easier and faster to make than an ebook or white paper, making it an attractive lead magnet option for certain niches.
For example, if you are selling an event management program, then you can offer a downloadable event management/logistics checklist, which can be very attractive to your target users. It’s easy and simple to execute, and yet can be high in value.
An effective approach is to offer a downloadable checklist that is related to high-performance content you’ve published. For example, if you are selling an SEO analytics tool and have a blog post about an SEO guide that drives a lot of traffic, you can offer a downloadable technical SEO checklist that would help increase leads from this particular blog post.
Offering free access to your webinar as a lead magnet can be very attractive to your audience. You give them a chance to consume your engaging and informative video content while at the same time interacting with the speaker (i.e., via a Q&A session.)
To keep it attractive and engaging, make sure your webinar is narrowly focused on a specific pain point rather than covering too many topics at once.
Monitoring your lead generation campaign
In the majority of cases, lead generation is not a one-off effort but rather a continuous, long-term game.
Thus, monitoring the performance of your lead generation strategy is critical, so you can identify any issue faster and make adjustments when necessary.
Define key metrics/KPIs to monitor and establish a system (i.e., implementing analytics tools) to keep track of these metrics. The KPIs/metrics you might want to monitor can vary depending on what types of software you are selling, your target audience, your lead generation objectives, and other factors. However, some of the most common KPIs to monitor for software companies are:
- Organic traffic. How many visitors come to your website from organic search
- CTR (click-through rate). The percentage of people who clicks on your CTA to learn more about your offer.
- Conversion rate. The percentage of traffic that converts into leads
- Cost per lead. How much did you spend to acquire one new lead?
For software companies, having a working lead generation strategy is critical if you really want to achieve healthy growth both in user base and revenue.
By following the actionable tips we’ve shared above, by now you should have a solid foundation to develop, implement, and execute your lead generation campaign.
Above anything else, it’s important to start by defining the right goals, identifying your target prospects, and continuously monitoring your campaign’s performance against these goals.