The History of Lead Generation

The history of lead generation is a story passed down from generation to generation. First told by cave drawings, today I present it to you in the form of a blog. Lead generation has evolved into a massive industry, generating millions of dollars each year.

In the beginning, generating sales meant going cave-to-cave giving recommendations on the most reasonably priced, quality cave drawing materials for those restricted by a tight gatherer budget. Fast forward to the introduction of buying, selling and trading in a central marketplace. Around 27 BC through 476 AD, the Romans used markets to buy goods such as food and clothing.

1690: Newspapers

Lead generation began to resemble the same tactics we use in our strategies today in 1690. The first newspaper was published in the United States, titled Publick Occurrences. This newspaper had multiple pages, unlike the single-page newspapers that had prefaced it.

1796: Posters

The lithographic process enabled the production of posters to evolve into a much simpler endeavor eventually, leading to today’s modern printing. Since then, posters have been used for advertising all sorts of messages for not just businesses, but the government, too. The 1960s saw the rise of pop art and protest movements throughout the United States using posters. Posters became sources of decor with the introduction of pin-up girls and rock n’ roll musicians. Today, they can be seen at bus stops, on college campuses and at the movie theater. billboard

1835: Billboards

A traveling circus in New York was the pioneer into the uncharted territory of billboards. Today, billboards line the interstate advertising everything from hamburgers to churches.

1864: Telegraphs 

Telegraphs had been in existence before 1864, but this year was the earliest recorded use of its use for mass unsolicited spam. Overall, the telegraph accelerated the speed of business transactions during the late nineteenth century, leading to the world of marketing as we know it today.

1922: Radio Commercials

In 1922, American Telephone & Telegraph Co. established WEAF in New York as a “toll station.” Under the toll model, people who had something to broadcast paid to do so, just as telephone time was sold. AT&T was the first to utilize the radio’s airwaves for commercial purposes, with an ad for long distance calls.

1941: Television Commercials 

Bulova strikes again with the first television commercial. United States television networks weren’t allowed to run commercials before 1941, but that didn’t stop some from experimenting with ads. An NBC announcer read messages for sponsors like Procter & Gamble and General Mills during broadcasts in 1939.

1950: Door-to-Door 

The 50’s brought us some great things, such as Elvis, drive-in movies and diners. It also brought the rise of door-to-door sales. Fun fact: Johnny Cash started as a door-to-door salesman. At this point in the sales industry, the seller held all the information. The consumer was only told what the seller wanted them to know. It made for a one-way street where salespeople held power over their customers, and if a consumer was remotely interested in a product the only information they could get on it was right from the salesman’s mouth. Since then,

1960: Call Centers 

Private Automated Business Exchanges (PABX) began to be used for handling large numbers of customer contacts. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, technological advances consolidated the importance of call centers to business. Telemarketing, as it has come to be known, began in the early 1980s. By the mid-1990s, U.S. businesses spent nearly $90 billion a year on telephone marketing. Today, telemarketing is utilized by businesses like ours to help companies find leads and set appointments.

1967: Super Bowl Commercials

The first Super Bowl was held in 1967, but no memorable commercials came out of it until 1973. Noxzema Shaving Cream was the first to debut a commercial during the Super Bowl, costing only $42,000 for 30 seconds. Today, a 30-second spot costs $5 million.

1971: eBooks 

Michael S. Hart launched Project Gutenberg and digitized the U.S. Declaration of Independence, becoming the first eBook in the world. The concept of ebooks led to eBooks readers, libraries offering digitized books and even Google. In 2010, Apple released the iPad with iBooks and its iBookstore on iTunes, Google’s eBookstore launched, and Amazon reported that for the first time, its eBook sales outnumbered its hardcover book sales.

1978: Unsolicited Commercial Emails 

Eventually, this phenomenon was called spam. The term originated from a Monty Python skit about the food item SPAM. The original spam email was sent out to 600 California Arpanet users by Gary Thuerk.


1984: Infomercials 

The FCC marked the true rise of infomercials as it lifted its regulations of time limits on advertising. Self-help products and home cooking utensils helped its popularity grow. Infamous infomercial products through the ages include:

    • The Foodsaver Food Vacuum Packaging Machine
    • The Snuggie
    • The Slap-Chop
    • ShamWow
    • The Bowflex Home Gym
    • Proactive

1985: Desktop Publishing

Adobe introduced PostScript and Aldus developed Pagemaker for the Mac in 1985, just a year after the first desktop laser printer is released. Desktop publishing uses computer applications, digital graphics, and multimedia formatting to create electronic documents and presentations. This paved the way for what we know today as Adobe’s creative suite. There are very few things you can’t create, thanks to these programs – from posters to websites to motion graphic videos.

Visual content is 40X more likely to get shared on social media than other types of content.

1990: CRM and IMC 

The first CRM and software programs were one-dimensional, where filing cards with customer details were filed and used. Integrated marketing made the new technology advancements blend with the traditional methods that businesses were using. Together, CRM and IMC opened up huge business opportunities.

first web page

1991: Web Page

The first web page was created to explain what the World Wide Web is. We’ve come a long way, from plain text to video and interactive content on every page. Check out the best design on websites.

1994: Banner Ads 

The first web banner ever posted was featured on Wired magazine’s digital affiliate, It was an ad for AT&T, with the text “Have you clicked here? You will,” linking to a webpage that collected the early sites of great museums of the world. Early banner ads served more entertainment purposes than selling. The branding opportunity by being a pioneer in this new form of advertising was worth more than using it to actually sell a product. Today, banner advertising is a $13 billion business in the U.S. alone.

1998: Google 

The search engine giant has been answering all types of questions for 20 years as of this year. But search results is just one of many things that Google has given us. Gmail, created in 2007, made free email and storage space an expectation rather than a privilege. The Google Drive followed this ideal, with Sheets, Docs and a space to store it all. Google Maps changed the way people navigate their trips and provided new information with the Street View tool. While large companies have budgets to establish their presence everywhere, Google Listings helps smaller businesses to be found by potential customers. Clearly, Google has made an unfathomable impact on the world, and they don’t show signs of stopping anytime soon.

2003: Social Networking 

This year marked the start of something big. Really big. In 2003, Myspace and Linkedin went live. 2004 marked the launch of Facebook, 2005 followed by Youtube and in 2006, Twitter went live. Today, advertisers spend billions of dollars on social marketing. Why? Because as of 2018, 2.62 billion people are social media users. The customer reach potential is huge for businesses today, and the opportunities for connecting with those prospects are endless.

2007: Smartphone

In 2007, Apple released its first iPhone. Among some of the groundbreaking features was a responsive display from which to check email, stream video, play audio and browse the internet with a mobile browser that loaded full websites much like what’s experienced on personal computers. Up until the iPhone, smartphones had been geared toward business people. Apple’s version enabled users to play games, watch movies, chat, share content and stay connected.


An integrated marketing plan is essential to any business, including elements of both outbound and inbound lead generation. Outbound includes emails, cold calling, direct mail pieces, etc. Inbound consists of all things digital: social media channels, PR, websites, etc. Above all else, today there are more ways than ever before to analyze every method of lead generation. With platforms that provide tracking for both inbound and outbound, measuring lead generation is simple and convenient – leading to better strategies.

What will the future of lead generation look like?