- A lead source is the channel through which a lead initially discovers your company.
- Lead sources include social media, search engines, referrals, events and advertisements.
- To best manage your lead sources, use CRM software, granular information, UTM parameters and other solutions.
- This article is for business owners who want to track their lead sources or manage them more effectively.
Ask any sales or marketing expert, and they'll say that what worked best 20, 10 or even five years ago might not work as well today. For example, with younger generations not listening to the radio as often, you might find that radio ads don't reach as many potential customers as social media content. To increase your sales, you need to determine what's working best for your company by tracking and managing your lead sources.
What is a lead source?
A lead source is the channel through which a lead first learns about your company. If a lead has discovered your business from search engine results pages (SERPs), then that search engine – and, by extension, your search engine optimization (SEO) practices – are your lead source.
When tracking and managing lead sources, you should be careful not to conflate lead sources and lead methods. A lead source is the initial point of lead generation, whereas a lead method is the avenue through which you first contact your potential customer.
For example, if you call a lead who contacted you after seeing your website on SERPs, then the search engine they used is your lead source, and calling that potential customer is your lead method. More succinctly, lead sources are lead opportunities, and lead methods make good on those opportunities.
Key takeaway: A lead source is a channel through which a potential customer finds your business, whereas a lead method is the way you first contact the lead.
Types of lead sources
These are some of the many possible lead sources in business:
- Search engines. Leads who find your company through search results could be valuable, especially ones who click through to your page. Your click-through rate from the SERP is a key indicator of how well you're driving organic traffic.
- Links from other websites. A thorough SEO strategy includes improving your website's authority. As you work on this, you may begin appearing high enough on SERPs that other websites will link to yours in their content. Each of these links is a potential lead source.
- Listing websites. In some cases, SEO tactics can also drive traffic to your listings on review websites. The more traffic your listings get, the more potential customers you can attract.
- Cold calls. Anyone who calls your company out of the blue with product or service inquiries is a sales lead – and a great one at that. Since your cold caller already has at least some interest, they should be easier to move along the sales funnel than other leads.
- Direct mail. You're probably still regularly seeing direct mail lead sourcing despite the rapid growth of digital marketing. Anytime you receive a letter or postcard in the mail advertising a product or service, that's postal mail lead sourcing.
- Traditional advertisements. Like direct mail, traditional advertising on radio, television and billboards remains prevalent despite the digital era.
- Events. Networking events, trade shows, seminars and other events are great places to meet people. Some of these new connections may be interested in your products and services.
- Referrals. Even if the people you meet at networking events don't need your products or services, they might know people who do. If so, they can refer these people to your company. Your current and former clients may do the same when they realize that someone they know needs a trustworthy business to provide products or services like yours.
- Social media. Like search engines, social media can teach anyone with an internet or data connection about your company. You can also use your social media channels to promote new developments or discounts that draw leads to your business.
- Email newsletters. Whether you buy an email list or build one from scratch, every email newsletter you send is a chance to generate more business. Email newsletters are especially useful for retaining repeat customers who have recently stopped buying as much. These customers also count as leads, since they have temporarily stopped being sources of revenue but may soon bring you earnings again.
- Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. When you invest money in PPC, your company ranks highly on SERPs regardless of its organic SEO. As such, PPC is often seen as buying new leads, thus making it a powerful lead source in certain cases.
How does a lead source work in lead generation?
Lead sources tie into lead generation through the practice of lead source attribution. In lead source attribution, you note which channel generated a particular lead. The more you attribute your lead sources, the better you can tell how strongly your lead sources are generating leads. With this information, you can adjust your lead generation efforts to target the sources that bring in the most results.
Regardless of attribution, lead sources are the start of your lead generation process. Once your source attracts someone to your website or other content, you can use business intelligence data, such as bounce rates and screen time, to qualify your leads. Once the leads are qualified, outreach can begin – and, hopefully, conversion will follow.
TIP: Lead sources are the start of the lead generation process, and the insights you glean from lead source attribution can reshape your lead generation efforts.
How to track and manage lead sources
Tracking lead sources is the key to refining your lead generation process. Here are several tips to ensure you are effectively tracking and managing your sources:
1. Use customer relationship management (CRM) software.
Properly tracking and managing lead sources is much tougher without CRM software to store all your customer information and act as a database. In your CRM, you should be able to assign each of your leads a source from a customizable list. [If you need CRM software, check out the options we recommend for small businesses.]
2. Go granular.
Listing a lead source as "social media" is a good start, but it won't always tell you enough. With so many different social media channels, you want to know if your lead came from Instagram or Facebook. Get granular – keep "social media" as the lead source, but include subcategories for every social media initiative you undertake.
3. Track CTAs with UTM parameters.
Calls to action (CTAs) are crucial to lead generation, and if you're running multiple lead generation campaigns, you'll want to track all your CTAs. You can do this by attaching UTM parameters to your CTA links. This way, you'll know which of your CTAs is your most effective lead source.
4. Keep your attribution of lead sources consistent and accurate.
A lead source is a potential customer's introduction to your brand. So, if a lead subsequently engages with your company, don't change their source in your records to reflect this subsequent interaction. Your lead source is always the customer's first point of interaction with your company, never anything that comes afterward. Similarly, your lead source should never be listed in your attribution records as a specific marketing or lead generation campaign.
5. Connect your lead scoring and lead sourcing processes.
Once you understand which of your lead sources converts the most leads, use this insight to inform your lead scoring processes. If you discover that one lead source converts more often than another, then score leads generated through that source more highly.
6. Check your results.
A lead source that has converted highly for years might gradually or instantly stop converting as well as it once did. Check lead sources quarterly to assess how well they are converting, and as you do, make sure your lead sources are properly logged. Hand in hand, conversion rates and lead sources can shed plentiful insights as to how you best attract customers – and how you should shape your lead generation campaigns to keep doing just that.