Lead generation is the use of marketing techniques and actions to obtain potential customers’ contact details. Websites and digital marketing are major sources of lead generation.
The lead generation term is mainly used in B2B marketing but it also applies to BtoC activities. Lead generation is particularly important for B2B marketing because purchase cycles and decision processes are long and complex. A BtoB lead must be "worked" on for weeks or months to become a customer.
Leads are more or less qualified. A simple email address from a newsletter subscription is not qualified and not always considered as a real sales lead. On the other hand, a website visitor who completes a webform to obtain a white paper can be considered as a qualified lead.
On the Internet, webforms associated with content marketing are usually the main means to collect and qualify leads. Thus, white papers, webinars and case studies are usually used to obtain leads.
Image source : 2012 B2B Content Marketing Report (Holger Schulze and B2B Technology Marketing Community on LinkedIn).
Lead generation mechanics according to Hubspot:
Webforms optimization for lead generation is usually a form design issue and a trade off between lead qualification and lead quantity.
Lead generation is the first stage of lead management, other stages are:
lead allocation or distribution
lead follow up
lead qualification or requalification
Some lead generator websites are specialized in lead generation for reselling these leads to different company sales departments.
There are also specific services which allow website owners to obtain more or less qualified leads from a simple visit without a form completion.
An example of lead generation event: