Article

What’s a lead source? Here’s what it is and why it’s important

Simply put: A lead source is how a lead initially hears about you. Knowing your lead source trends enables you to grow leads.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published April 18, 2022
Last updated April 18, 2022

If you wrote a research paper in college, you may still be haunted by the strict, seemingly arbitrary rules of citations in the MLA, APA, or CMS formats. But there was a good reason to cite your research: you, and anyone reading your paper, needed to know where you got your sources.

It’s no different for sales and marketing teams when sourcing leads. While you’re not sharing your work with a professor these days, your sales reps need to know where and how leads had first contact with your company. This knowledge cultivates a more nuanced experience for every lead, likelier conversion, and better targeted campaigns in the future.

Essentially, identifying and tracking lead sources using customer relationship management (CRM) software enables your sales team to better understand the buyer’s journey and provide personalized content to your leads. Without a proper citation to the source, a lead is less likely to convert.

In this guide, we will define what is a lead source, provide some lead source examples, explain the benefits of implementing a quality lead source report for your business, and offer up some best practices to follow through the lead funnel.

What is a lead source?

lead source

A lead source is the specific channel through which a lead first learns about your business. When someone is motivated to find you because they are looking for a particular product or service, the first point of contact—whether it’s a web search, referral, or an Instagram story—is the lead source. Conversely, if you are the one reaching out to a lead via phone, direct mail, or TV ad, these are also lead sources.

Of course, there are any number of ways a potential customer or client can discover you. These will break down broadly into digital or online sources and more traditional ones.

Online lead sources, which we’ll cover in more detail below, include:

  • Social media
  • Email campaigns
  • Search engines
  • Virtual events
  • Pay per click (PPC) ads
  • Backlinks
  • Blog articles


More traditional lead sources include:

  • Referrals
  • In-person events (like trade shows)
  • Advertisements (like billboards or TV)
  • Cold calls
  • Direct mail

Not only is it important to understand where your sources come from, it is also critical to your business that you manage this information effectively. No matter how you’re generating leads, there are some important distinctions to grasp as well as best practices to follow.

Why does a lead source matter?

For one thing, understanding how a lead has found you aids in successful sales prospecting. If you track where potential customers first learn about your business, you can narrow down the most successful channels in your lead generation efforts and focus on them. With this information, your marketing team can cultivate enticing content to draw leads in or encourage your sales teams to perfect their outbound strategies. In either case, prospecting tools for sales reps are worth investigating to help your reps cultivate quality sales leads.

Types of lead sources

Whether you’re B2C, B2B, startup or enterprise, you need leads. Sales reps frequently cite lead generation and prospecting as the most difficult parts of their jobs—and that makes sense. No matter how good you are at nurturing and closing, you’re always going to need fresh leads to keep your pipeline humming along. So in 2022, where are those leads coming from?

Online lead sources

We live in an increasingly digital world, so it’s no surprise that the internet is a crucial point of origin for sales leads.

  • Social media

Social media marketing is the current darling of lead generation, with TikTok and Instagram influencers erupting as the new frontier for B2C marketing. For B2B sales, on the other hand, a staggering 80 percent of social media leads come from LinkedIn, making it a platform you can’t ignore.

80% of social media leads come from LinkedIn.

But numbers aren’t everything. Lead scoring can help you determine which platforms bring in the highest quality leads. Generating a lead vs. generating a sales qualified lead can be very different tasks.

Keep in mind, it's more important to hone your skills on a select few platforms than to spread your efforts across every platform. Deciding which to concentrate on depends on your buyer persona. Do they spend more time on Twitter and TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest, Facebook or YouTube? This will determine where you spend your time and energy.

  • Content marketing

In 2022, buyers are more in control of their purchase journeys than ever. That’s why producing valuable content online as a lead hook has emerged alongside intense search engine optimization (SEO) battles. With content marketing, the aim is to create and distribute relevant and consistent content in the form of blogs, ebooks, white papers, webinars, and video in order to present your company as a thought leader and trusted brand. Gating certain content by requesting emails in exchange for access is a tried-and-true lead sourcing tactic.

On the other hand, you want to be visible in your industry when leads embark on their first organic search engine journey. That’s where SEO comes in. When typing generic search terms into Google, 75 percent of users never click past the first page. Make SEO a priority to increase your visibility in SERP listings.

When typing generic search terms into Google, 75% of users never click past the first page.

Traditional lead sources

While digital sources of lead generation are fertile ground, traditional marketing methods remain critical in sourcing, generating, and nurturing leads through the sales pipeline.

Customer referrals and word-of-mouth are consistent high-quality business lead sources, especially in B2B prospecting. In fact, customer referrals make up 54 percent of B2B leads, leading the way in both digital and non-digital sourcing.

Other non-digital sources include cold calls (whether inbound or outbound), direct mail campaigns, and traditional advertising like billboards, TV, or radio spots.

Lead source examples

Let’s take a look at a few lead source examples: two digital and one traditional.

Let’s say you’re a sales rep working to meet your monthly quota selling a SaaS product. In this market, your buyer persona is an operations executive who needs your valuable tech to streamline their business.

A message arrives in your inbox on LinkedIn from a lead interested in learning more about your product. What’s your source? LinkedIn.

The next morning a lead visits your website and is captured by your CRM when they input their information to unlock a white paper. This time your source is the specific landing page on your website where they provided their information.

That afternoon you speak to a current customer on the phone and you ask them for some referrals. Although 83 percent of customers are willing to offer a referral, only 29 percent of them actually do—because they are never asked. Ask for referrals and log that source as a client referral.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

How to track lead source

Lead tracking begins by determining the source of your lead’s first contact with your business. Once the lead is generated, track its source through a strong practice of attribution—assigning credit to the point of origin for that lead. You want to know if an email marketing campaign, Instagram story, or word-of-mouth referral is directly responsible for won opportunities.

When tracking lead sources, it’s important to be granular in your approach. That means providing as much specific detail as possible. The best way to keep track is through CRM platforms. Your sales team will benefit from knowing a lead was sourced not from social media such as Twitter but from YouTube or a blog page. A lead tracking system is critical for compiling, tracking, and analyzing leads as they progress through the lead funnel.

A powerful CRM easily tracks source and attribution data as part of its sales force automation (SFA) technology. Companies can also use custom Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) properties to capture data from organic searches or digital ads. No matter the size of your business, these insights will enable you to determine your most effective lead generation sources and guide future marketing and sales tactics.

Lead sources to measure

The most effective sources to measure depend on your industry, locale, and specific business, but there are several common sources that every company should experiment with. Here are our top five online and traditional sources that are absolutely worth measuring.

  • Social media channels and paid social ads

Choose your social media platforms carefully, making sure they’re actually the scrolling ground for your buyer persona. Rather than expending time and effort on every platform, cultivate your company image carefully on a few platforms. Keep a detailed record of which sources bring in quality leads.

  • Blog posts, including guest posts

Blog posts are a great way to present yourself as a thought leader in your field by providing targeted content in a knowledgeable and reliable manner. Guest posts can increase credibility as well as engagement. Track page views, bounce rates, and CTA click-through rates to establish which subject matter your leads are most interested in.

  • Pillar pages and organic search traffic

Don’t ignore the power of inbound pages on your website. When leads arrive at these content-rich pillar pages from organic search results, it tells you you’re doing something right. A strong keyword hierarchy will increase visibility on the SERP. Analytics can help determine which pages on your website are drawing traffic. It’s crucial to understand your lead’s expectation when they click on that page and then deliver on that expectation.

  • Referrals

Word-of-mouth referrals from current customers are a consistent quality lead for businesses. Keep track of how many leads are sourced in this way and analyze which products, experiences, services, or qualities have brought them to you.

  • Competitors

Studying your competitors can be an incredibly useful source for leads. What is their approach? Who is their audience? Gather data from the competition to improve your own efforts.

The benefits of lead source reporting

Track the source of your leads with a lead source report generated from your CRM software. When you identify a lead’s point of origin with your company, you can improve their experience throughout the buyer’s journey with personalized content and communications using the channels they already prefer to use.

A lead source report that shows you the most effective platforms on which to reach your customers means more quality leads, more conversions, and better marketing ROI.

Lead source best practices

Let’s face it, lead management is complicated. Here’s our list of the five best practices to follow to help you implement a successful strategy for effectively managing and utilizing your sources.

  1. Categorize clearly

    lead source

    When categorizing attribution, be granular. Keep it clear, simple, and accurate. Listing “social media” as your source is not useful when you have ongoing campaigns on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. Use subcategories like “Social media: Twitter” to identify different channels. Separate these from campaign names which can make reporting more challenging down the road.

  2. Be consistent

    lead source

    Use CRM software to help you track sources properly. Never change an attribution once identified. If you encounter duplicate points of origin, reduce confusion by identifying the earliest known interaction.

  3. Determine which sources provide qualified leads

    lead source

    Of course you want to bring in high-quality leads. Employ lead gen software to automate and refine that process. Next, determine the quality of your leads with a lead qualification checklist. Finally, examine the sources of those leads. Which sources ultimately convert the most leads into customers? That’s where you want to focus your time and effort.

  4. Continue to experiment

    lead source

    The market is constantly changing. What worked five or ten years ago is not the same today. And as your business grows, your audience will grow and change too. Don’t expect your best leads to always come from the same point of origin. Experiment with different strategies and campaigns, but keep careful track of attribution so you can analyze your results accurately.

  5. Check results and analyze success

    lead source

    Although you’ll be analyzing throughout the sales process, you should also prioritize a final analysis. Be patient and allow time for these results to come in. Leads need to be converted before you can analyze the success of your methods and sources.

    This data is important because it allows you to connect more effectively with your target audience on the channels they use most often.

A winning sales strategy starts at the source

Understanding the importance of lead sources is just the first step—tracking them and implementing that knowledge comes next. The good news? Tracking is easy with a powerful CRM solution.

Whether you’re a small business in need of anSMB CRM or an Enterprise behemoth, Zendesk is the intuitive CRM for you. Our user-friendly interface offers comprehensive tools to track attribution accurately and compile lead source reports for your team. With this information at your fingertips, it’s simple to implement targeted strategies, ensuring you’re investing your time into nurturing high-quality leads.

You should never be in the dark about where your leads are coming from. Sign up for your free trial today and see how Zendesk can refine your lead generation and sales strategy.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

Read now