A Brief History of Lead Generation

A company lives or dies by its ability to sell. Countless incredible inventions and world changing big ideas never took off because they didn’t sell. Sales is the lifeblood of any business.

Before a business starts selling though, it needs “leads”. Leads are potential sales contacts for a business. According to a recent study by IDG, 61% of marketers faced problems with generating high quality leads for their sales teams. Qualified leads means easier sales and more money for a business. A companies with a great product or service will fail if they don’t get in front of potential customers with a reason to purchase.

Get in front of a target market with a reason to buy.

This could be using direct mail, cold emails, or leveraging fine tuned personalized marketing based on customer intelligence.

Through each change of lead generation over the centuries, innovations have created new and exciting ways for businesses to get in front of potential customers.

Here is a brief history of how lead generation has changed throughout history:

Lead Generation in Olden Times

Back in the days of cavemen hunting mammoths, saber tooth tigers, or traders exchanging beads in exchange for huge areas of the New World, it was all about person to person.

Businesses relied on referrals, door to door, and being in foot traffic areas where individuals who would be interested in their product would be. This could be a booth in an open-air market or a storefront. Groups of craftsmen would build networks and refer business to one another.

Word of mouth was essential to creating a thriving business during these times since most businesses just served their local area. It was critical to work hard to be a trusted specialist and have a product of high quality worth talking about!

Regardless, during these times generating leads and business was time intensive until a steady stream of referrals were coming in. Generating new leads required someone connecting directly with another person, which made it difficult to scale and not saturate a market.

Luckily, technological advancements began to rapidly change the logistics and the area that businesses could both serve and generate new business in.

Rise of Print

Once the ability to print hits the scene (with Gutenberg’s printing press), lead generation takes on new forms. Print allowed businesses to put their message out to thousands of people over vast distances without needing someone in person. They could advertise in publications with circulations, place posters and billboards in high traffic areas.

There comes more showmanship to promote your business like with P.T. Barnum!

The rise of railroads and the postal system changed the way business and generating leads was done. Aaron Montgomery Ward began mailing “catalogs” to homes across the country starting the world of direct mail. By being able to send letters directly to people’s homes and reliable way to deliver packages, businesses could serve a wider market than ever before.

Lead generation methods quickly changed during these centuries with print and new technologies. Though word-of-mouth and person to person was still a primary source of leads, newspapers, posters, direct mail, advertisements, and billboards gave businesses more tools to generate leads.

Mass Media

With the Industrial Revolution and the rise of big business, advertising exploded in the 1900s.

Businesses could run promotions in national publications and the media and journalism became an industry of its own. Radio could broadcast a company’s message to millions of potential consumers with the first ad running in 1922 for AT&T. Magazines targeting specific interests made it easy for businesses to generate targeted leads in specific markets beginning in the mid 19th century. Television allowed businesses to visually show and demonstrate a product to millions at once beginning with the first commercial in 1941 during a Dodger’s game. The rise of phones meant cold calling and phone books made it easy to generate leads and target specific individuals. Direct mail poured into homes around the country as strategies became more efficient.

People listened and consumed media like crazy and advertisers took advantage of it.

During this time, advertising came into its own as an industry.

An outbound approach to marketing and lead generation dominated and consumers were flooded with ads and offers.

The Rise of the Internet

Consumers were flooded with ads and offers and began to grow skeptical. Too many bold promises and too little to show for it created distrust with advertisements.

Then the Internet was created in 1983 and grew into a more recognizable form in 1990 to what we have today.

It was a dream for marketers and advertisers and lead generation changed all over again.

Consumers could be reached globally and instantaneously for a fraction of traditional advertising. And they could be targeted in a more than ever before. However, this meant adapting to local markets, understanding other cultures, and marketers had to improve their market research methods to be effective.

Pay-per-Click (PPC) began in 1999-2002 which allowed businesses to pay for traffic from searches for specific solutions. Websites could generate traffic and leads with SEO. Email marketing allows businesses to reach the inboxes of millions of people for practically nothing. Video and audio allowed businesses to build relationships with potential customers in specific niches.

Software gave even more ability to set these lead generation systems on autopilot like automation platforms such as HubSpot and Constant Contact.

However, once again bold promises and flood of advertisers caused jaded consumers and the effectiveness of a lot of advertising such as banners worked less and less. Customers became more savvy and began to do more research on who they did business with and gave their information on the internet.

Mobile and Social Media

Mobile technology and social media networks changed how business generated leads once again.

Though there were early social media platforms, the beginning of Facebook in 2004 in Mark Zuckerberg’s bedroom changed the world once again.

These two big changes revolutionized the consumer-business relationship to become more personalized. Mobile and social media gave companies the ability to generate leads and customers by using these platforms to build relationships at scale with potential leads and consumers.

Mobile allows businesses to reach people anywhere at all times right in their pocket. Consumers spend more and more time on their mobile devices consuming content and more allowing companies even easier ways to generate leads. Businesses can send texts, have direct “Call Now” Call-to-Actions, produce content for mobile, create mobile applications for their services, and more. Leads can be generated from people sitting in a bus, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, practically anywhere!

Social media gives the ability for brands to build personalities, target individuals in more specific ways and gain social proof (the new word of of mouth). Social media offers credibility to consumers who want to know more about a business and to see if it’s legitimate.

Potential customers and clients have the tools to learn a lot about a business without communicating with anyone.

The Internet Age ended the dominance of mass media in exchange for more personalized and targeted lead generation. There are chatbots, webinars, customized landing pages and intricate methods to combine all these online and offline tools.

As technological advancements, especially in marketing continue, it will be fascinating to see what the next trend is that will allow businesses to generate leads for their business.

What the History of Lead Generation Means to Your Business

The history of lead generation shows that frameworks, technologies, and methodologies always change. It’s essential for businesses to stay on top of trends and developments to improve the cost, time, and effectiveness of their lead generation efforts.

There is lots of nuance even within different types of lead generation such as inbound or outbound and certain markets will respond to specific tactics more than others. Businesses need to use a blended approach based on their target market.

Though we may think of lead generation in terms of tactics, methodologies, or technology, the fundamentals of lead generation are much simpler.

Throughout history, one thing never changed in lead generation. The focus on getting in front of a target market with a reason to buy. Businesses building a reliable lead generation machine need to understand these principles. It will save them time, money, and increase their effectiveness. If a business doesn’t understand their potential customers or don’t have a product worth selling, all the technology in the world won’t fix the business from failing.

Take time to look at your business today.

  • Do you really know your potential customers?
  • Do you really know your current customers and what makes them great?What do you know about them?
  • Do you know where to find more of these ideal customers?
  • Are your marketing efforts efficiently concentrated on generating more of them?

No matter the century, business winners can generate consistent leads because they know their market and how to get in front of them with their solution.