Three Proven Methods to Automate Lead Generation

How to generate more high-quality leads in a lot less time.

Recently, I was asked to speak at Shirt Lab, a one-day workshop targeted to decorated apparel shops, which focused on how to automate your business. My topic was “Automating Lead Generation” and that is what I am sharing with you today.

Learning how to use technology and tools to achieve more in less time is just smart business. In recent years, I have focused on how to automate the lead generation process using the latest techniques, and it’s had a dramatic impact on my business and that of my clients.

After 26 years of being directly involved in screen-printing companies, I started my current enterprise, The McKibben Group, to help nonapparel companies in niches like footwear and outdoor sports create branded apparel lines.

I began consulting with factories around the world to help them reshape their businesses. And in the past few years, using some of the techniques and technology I’m sharing here, I’ve helped my clients generate $80 million in product sales.

I dig how automation shakes up lead generation. It’s like having a super smart assistant who knows exactly who to talk to and makes sure you’re always hitting the mark without wasting time. It’s not just efficient, it’s a game changer for connecting with the right people in a way that feels genuine and targeted.

Many people forget to keep the human element in the automated world of lead generation. It’s crucial to blend tech efficiency with a personal touch. At the end of the day, it’s those genuine connections that turn leads into loyal fans. Keep it smart but keep it human.

When we first embraced automation for our lead generation, it was all about efficiency, but we quickly realized something was off — the warmth was missing. We introduced personal touches along with our tech tools, customizing where it counted. The shift was dramatic, and engagement shot up. We found a blend of tech efficiency and personal connection is the golden nugget.

Like anything you are learning, automating a specific process in your shop needs to be done one step at a time. Try not to get overwhelmed by all the possibilities. As you get started and implement, you’ll find the need to fine tune and tweak.

Growing up in my family’s screen-printing business, I learned every step of the process. You start in the art department and work your way to pulling printed shirts off the dryer and packing them.

Automating your sales process has the same approach. You know who your audience is, you learn how to best engage with them, and you break it down into steps that you do one at a time.

Essential tools

In my opinion, the number-one tool for automating lead generation is customer relationship management software, better known as CRM. It’s your digital Rolodex and your journal for every client.

When Bill Clinton ran for president the first time, he created an index card catalog of more than 10,000 people. On it, he had the person’s name, contact info, and something he remembered about them. When he phoned, he was always able to make a personal connection.

Your CRM is the same thing. It’s much more than a company name and contact info. It’s a mini bio on John. Is he married? Does he have kids? What does he like? Knowing all of these things is not weird, it’s customer service.

There are a host of CRMs to choose from including Salesforce, Monday, and HubSpot, to name a few.

Pipedrive has been the one for me. It may not be the one forever, but it’s worked pretty well for the past decade. I’m starting to use more of their integrations as my business grows. (See sidebar for integration examples.) And as I hire more virtual assistants to run the back end of the business, I don’t even go into Pipedrive anymore. I just let my virtual assistants run it, because they know what to do.

Pipedrive (and other CRMs) comes with built-in presets that allow me to input the info and call it up instantly. For example, the key contact, the financial influencer, who I need to talk to today, a priority to get accomplished, a problem that need immediate attention, etc.

Having this capability at your fingertips is huge. If you don’t already have a CRM, pick one and start to figure it out. Most of the ones I see people in our industry use are Salesforce, Hubspot, and Pipedrive.


The second tool to automate is email. I know we all get bombarded with every email under the sun promoting something, but it’s still effective.

Of course, you’re going to lose accounts that don’t want it anymore. But it’s great for communicating your message and telling your story. You can build beautiful images using AI and create amazing email newsletters. You have to deliver good content. It has to be interesting and not just about buying your stuff. But if you make it engaging, it’s a huge help in building your community.

There are lots of email marketing platforms like Constant Contact, Mailchimp, Brevo, (formerly Sendinblue), and GetResponse. Some CRM programs have email built in. Both Pipeline and Hubspot do. All of my emails are sent through our CRM.

To automate our email, we create scripted responses to common questions and also for each stage of the sales process. With a well-crafted script, you ensure a consistent, efficient email system that helps convert more leads into customers and maintain strong relationships with existing clientele.

Of course, each preset message has to be slightly personalized before sending, but you are not starting from scratch, which saves a ton of time. A few examples of what this looks like would be an initial contact script that introduces your company, value proposition, and encourages engagement. Then a followup would be to leads who did not respond to the initial contact with an added incentive.

Consequent scripts would be designed for lead nurturing, qualification, a proposal or demo, closing, and post-sale. But, this entire process can be handled mostly by a virtual assistant.

Keep in mind, there is a time investment to get all of this set up. You need to outline each step in your sales process, and one or more scripts are written for each stage. These should be engaging and compelling, so plan on investing the time or, if it’s not an expertise, hiring an expert to help you write them.

Even once it’s up and running, it will require some fine tuning and updating periodically, but otherwise, it will significantly reduce the amount of time spent by your full-time, in-house staff.

Social media

I could talk about social media for hours. I use Hootsuite, and I haven’t found a better marketing and management tool. Other popular programs include Buffer, Sprout Social, Later, Sendible, and CoSchedule.

Most social media marketing management providers have blogs providing a lot of valuable content about how to create engaging social media to get the best results and lots of other valuable information. One of the greatest benefits of a social media marketing platform is it allows you to schedule posts in advance as well as aid in cross posting and other types of integration. While I was at Melmarc, we had our social media automated to the point we were hitting 1,000 people a week. It’s much more challenging today, but it also is forcing me to create better content.

In addition to increasing your efficiency and effectiveness, you also have access to valuable insights through analytics that can help drive better engagement with your audiences. I have found that social media is a great way to get to know your audience. You’re able to see what they’re posting, what they’re talking about, and engage with them. Not in a “can you buy more from me” way, but in a human way. You might comment on a customer whose child just won his soccer tournament, or you might see a client’s milestone on LinkedIn and share your congratulations.


In my opinion, these are the top three ways you should be automating your leads. Once you’re mastered these, you’re going to see a significant uptick in the quality of new customers, leads, and the amount of connection. There are many other ways to automate sales and your processes, but getting started, I’d focus on these three and then evaluate the results.

Harnessing the integration power of CRMs

When first learning how to use a CRM, your focus needs to be on its core purpose, but as you become more comfortable, you’ll find there are many ways these programs integrate with other software and apps to increase your automation capabilities.

For example, some programs can be integrated with Gmail and Outlook to synchronize emails, manage communications directly from within the CRM, and log email interactions automatically.

You also can:

  • Sync contacts and create targeted email campaigns based on CRM data.
  • Schedule and manage Zoom meetings.
  • Identify website visitors and automatically create new leads.
  • Sync customer support tickets to have a complete view of customer interactions and streamline support processes.
  • Sync financial data, create and send invoices, and manage accounts receivable directly from the CRM.
  • Sync customer and order data from Shopify to the CRM to manage sales and customer relationships more effectively.
Justin McKibben bw

Justin McKibben

The McKibben Group

Justin McKibben is the founder of The McKibben Group, a consulting agency started in 2020 specializing in business development, brand management, and consumer products based in Newport Beach, California. He has been involved in the decorated apparel business for more than 30 years working for his family’s screen print shop, McKibben Screen Printing and Distribution, until that sold in 2000. He then spent 15 years working for Melmarc, Ontario, Calif., a high-volume screen printer focusing on licensed and private label apparel in the surf, skate and activewear markets among others. You can reach him at justin@mckibbengroup.com.

View all articles by Justin McKibben  

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