Lead Generation at the Discovery Stage: The Two Types of Leads and Where to Find Them

Lead generation at the discovery stage might be a challenging task. Kristina Shtaudínger, the head of online marketing of Admitad Startups, explains how to find leads for research and sales purposes, what might go wrong, and how to save the day

My product marketing team noticed that when projects at the discovery stage approach us, their requests usually fall into two categories:

  • Research-focused. It’s when a project needs to find people for CustDev interviews, guerilla testing, etc.
  • Sale-focused. For example, a brand wants to try to sell something to early birds.

In both cases, brands select leads by specific criteria, and sometimes it’s the most unconventional people with particular demographics.

3 classic methods of looking for leads for research purposes

Usually, we use three methods of finding leads for research. I’ll explain them starting with the least efficient one and ending with our favorite.

Paid traffic

Typically, when a brand is in the discovery stage, it runs its research without having a clear offer and/or knowing its buyer persona. So if you are trying to reach the right people in such circumstances, the biggest mistake would be to build a landing page and start driving paid traffic.

  • There will be no understanding of what your target audience is. 
  • Your marketer will be hopelessly trying to adjust your targeting on the go.
  • As a result, you’ll fail miserably and simply burn your budget.  

Paid ads might make sense if you use them to motivate people to take part in a research. For instance, you place an ad on Facebook, inviting people to complete a survey in exchange for a reward. When we used this method in the B2C Indian market, we were impressed by the outcome.

Contact databases

Another way out is to find, buy, or parse an email database. You can do a mailout saying something like, “Hello, friend! I would like to offer you to take part in our survey. My team will compensate you for your time and effort.” The compensation can be anything from a financial reward to an Amazon certificate. 

Alternatively, you may search for the right people manually. For example, if you need to reach Shopify sellers, find a place where they love to hang out — such as Slack communities, Facebook groups, or LinkedIn. If you join their community, then you can send invites to group discussions and private messages. But in my practice, this monkey job was never worth it. Our in-house specialists are highly qualified, so it would be a waste of funds to assign them this kind of task. That’s why when we have to resort to this method, we outsource people from Upwork or Kwork.

Respondent finders

The last and most efficient method in our arsenal is when you turn to services that help you find survey participants. There are three types of them:

  1. Websites where you post your requests and screening questions and have people get back to you.
  2. Full-service platforms where you post your requests and screening questions and they find leads and make appointments for you. 
  3. Agencies that are looking for respondents according to the criteria that you provide and make appointments. 

We work with all three types of platforms and choose the right one depending on our situation. Sometimes we need the fastest options, other times the most affordable one.

Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. For instance, if you rely on platforms where you can find leads by posting queries and collecting responses, you’ll be able to work fast. On the flip side, you might not always be satisfied with the quality of these leads. 

If you prefer full-service platforms, the quality of leads will be high. But you’ll need to pay extra for the document flow and additional functionality that you can’t decline.

An agency will give you quality assurance while platforms might only do so at an additional cost. The primary shortcoming of agencies, however, is the document flow. Before you start working with an agency, you need to sign a contract and complete many formalities. The second drawback is that the work with an agency takes too much time. Every step has to be discussed in advance and every action needs to be thoroughly coordinated. However, you can be sure that the agency will find the right people and organize Zoom meetings for you.

To sum it up

I would say, finding leads for research has two key challenges.

  1. You don’t always know how to make your offer appealing. It’s not easy to motivate people to give you an interview. 
  2. You don’t fully understand your audience at the moment. On the research stage, you are just trying to approach these people and get to know them. 

It’s like wandering in the fog with your eyes closed. Or shooting when you hear a sound in a dark room, even though you don’t really know where this sound comes from. 

Here’s a short observation from my team’s experience. When trying to generate leads at the discovery stage, we sometimes realize that none of the above-mentioned methods work. For example, some approaches used to work in the past, but now they fail to complete our task. In such circumstances, we begin to look for alternatives. I call it a search and rescue operation: we’re basically looking for leads as well as saving our budget and ourselves from burnout.

Finding leads for sale-focused purposes

There is a second category of lead generation requests: a brand asks us to find people to try to sell them its products. By that moment, this brand already has an offer or an MVP, and we already understand what its target audience is like, what it wants and needs.

How to find leads for sales

In this scenario, we have a more extensive range of options. Just as before, we keep relying on respondent finders, but we can also use paid traffic. It becomes more efficient because we have a clear offer and know our client’s buyer persona.

It’s not so hard to find leads for the pilot version of a product. A sufficient approach would be to invite people to test this item. It also makes sense to deploy classic marketing tools here: social media, content, emails, and other warm-up instruments. 

For example, we have a solution called Collabica Store that helps Shopify retailers enter cross-store partnerships. We are running a blog, a Slack channel, and some other social media marketing efforts with a hint of community management. This way, users can interact with the brand.

In the case of Rentomatic, we’ve built a landing page for the pilot version and directed paid traffic there. Plus, we created email sequences, i.e. found an email address database and composed an impactful scenario. Thanks to these efforts, Rentomatika has got its first 5 customers.

What might go wrong and how to fix it

If a brand gathered enough data on the previous stage, then most likely it has developed a good offer and obtained extensive knowledge about its buyer persona. Yet sometimes, things just don’t click even if it seems that the team did everything they could. 

When it happens, we come back to people we’ve already contacted and ask what they didn’t like about the offer. But in some cases, it might be reasonable to start searching for leads from scratch. It’s hard to say how many times you’ll need to go back to square one. It all depends on the team’s faith and the stubbornness of the product manager.

Final thoughts

At the discovery stage, brands typically need leads for two purposes: research and sales. The three sources for research-focused lead generation are

  • paid traffic,
  • contact databases,
  • respondent finders.

The problem with gathering leads for research is that you don’t fully understand your audience and largely need to rely on your gut feeling. 

When generating a lead list for sale-focused purposes, it would be reasonable to rely on the same three sources as well as classic digital-marketing tools. Typically, it’s much easier to find leads when you have a pilot version of a product. 

Still, you should be ready for situations when no method delivers good results. For example, you get the leads but they don’t buy your product or fail to fit your research purposes. There are two ways out: you can build a new lead list from scratch or talk with your already existing leads, convincing them to share what they dislike about the offered product.

Head of online marketing