Follow the Lead (Part 1): Online Lead Generation

Follow the Lead (Part 1): Online Lead Generation

First, let’s get on the same page and agree on what lead generation is. Simply put, lead generation is a process of finding the people who are interested in our products and services and storing their contact information so that we can convert them into customers. It is one of the strategies that both big and small businesses use to sustain their growth and profitability. You can argue, in fact, that lead generation is the lifeline of any business.

Over the last few years lead generation has evolved, driven by the emergence of online technologies and processes to the point where hotshot marketers from the era of broadcast media mass marketing will probably not recognize it today. The differences are absolutely astounding and in many cases, as far apart as night and day. For example just a few years ago, lead generation was about seeking out customers. In today’s self-directed environment, it’s all about the customers seeking you.

Another area where the difference is dramatic is in the tactics used for lead generation. Broadcast era marketers often relied on “point-in-time” campaigns that may have brought in the desired results but whose effectiveness expired or were limited. Today’s information age marketers are more about cultivating continuous relationships, with no pressure or expectations to bring in results immediately.

During the age of mass advertising companies relied on expensive third party data obtained from laborious research (by agencies such as AC Nielsen) whose relevance and accuracy were nevertheless always in question. The information age, on the other hand, sees marketers who have the benefit of working with actual performance and transaction data that they themselves obtained and own.

But perhaps the most marked divergence is in the fundamental perspective governing how marketers develop their strategy. Traditional marketers worked from the perspective of information scarcity while today’s practitioners have to deal with the overabundance of information. The unfortunate consequence of the sharp uptick in available information is the corresponding decrease in attention given by people to these messages. Audiences have become more selective and prefer to shut out messages that are irrelevant to their needs.

There are a couple of crucial, industry-defining realities resulting from the abundance of information and the scarcity of attention.

First, the consumers have changed the buying process. In the past prospects were expected to know nothing about the product. In fact it was common for sales reps to encounter prospects who were absolutely unqualified. The prospects then received their “education” from the sales teams who tried to reel them in. This process has been turned upside down. Consumers can now easily find information on what they need and educate themselves on relevant products using a wide array of online resources. The prospect arrives at the decision to buy based on what he or she learns about the product, long before coming into contact with any sales person.

Second, as a result of the change in the buying process, marketing teams have come up with new ways to plug into and influence the prospect’s new buying process. These new tactics leverage the very same digital and online platforms that consumers use to learn about the products they are interested in. The second part of this post will enumerate what these tactics are and discuss how you can use them to generate leads for your small business.

Follow the Lead (Part 2): Tactics for Lead Generation

In an earlier blog post, I discussed how lead generation has evolved from the era of mass media broadcast marketing to the current digital and online paradigms. I also pointed out an important result of this paradigm shift -- the eventual total transformation of the process by which consumers reach the decision to purchase. This blog post continues where the previous one left off and presents a high level view of how this transformation has catalyzed the development and emergence of new lead generation tactics.

Content Marketing

Content should be the foundation upon which your lead generation strategies and tactics are built. In the former, non-digital era, the pull of content proved to be so powerful that it fueled the unprecedented growth of the broadcast and advertising industries. Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV companies churned out fresh, original and engaging content that attracted massive audiences, which in turn attracted advertisers who wanted to take control of all those eyeballs and ears.

It’s still the same story for marketers today, although the media and the nature of the content itself may differ significantly from that of the past. Marketers still rely on content’s powerful pull to draw people in. And where people come together, the advertisers cannot be far behind.

The Optimized Company Website

Search engine optimization is one of those terms to which online marketers seem to be jaded. But that’s before they realize that up to 80% of their traffic comes from search engines. People still search for information and if your web pages are optimized to take advantage of this there is a very, very, very high probability that your business will benefit from increased exposure, greater brand awareness and targeted traffic that more easily converts into hot leads.

Landing Pages

Landing pages are absolutely fantastic at generating new leads for your business. They are equivalent to the mouth of the funnel through which the prospect begins the journey toward becoming a paying customer. You can think of landing pages as guides that hold the visitor’s hand and takes him to the next touch point, most likely another landing page, another guide to take over on the next part of the journey.

In essence, a landing page is the destination of a search listing; it is where the visitor lands when he clicks on the link in the search engine results listing. The landing page, therefore, needs to provide enough information to at least answer the visitor’s basic questions, provide motivation to take the next step in the journey and offer a clear, unambiguous, unmistakable call-to-action.

Well-crafted landing pages give your business clear paths through your marketing funnel, collect visitor information for further targeting, promote your brand and set the visitor’s expectations.

Social Media

Social media marketing lets you tap into the enormous user bases of the popular social media platforms. These platforms offer excellent mechanisms that let you find targeted users and engage them in conversation. Social media networks help you increase brand recognition and generate brand loyalty through continuous engagement and interaction with your audiences, offering endless opportunities to sustain lasting relationships with prospective and current customers.

It’s no surprise then that online conversion rates have skyrocketed for many companies that have embraced social media marketing.

Email Marketing

Social media may be the talk-of-the-town right now, but the king of conversions still happens to be the old, reliable workhorse of online marketing – email. Studies consistently show that customer acquisition via email marketing continues to increase and ranks second only to organic search. Email does very well because it is permission-based, requiring prospects to opt in to the program in order to receive marketing messages.

Other Tactics

There is no shortage of tactics to generate leads. What I have mentioned above are merely the most prevalent and proven-effective. These must form the foundation of your online lead generation. Then you can add a few more tactics, including the following:

  • Sequential lead magnets. This is like baiting a little child with little bits of candy so that he moves forward taking one little step at a time. Offer your prospects little clusters of focused information, with the promise of more should they take the necessary action to get the next step.

  • Content upgrades. Offer free content based on what your audiences specifically want.

  • Social squeeze pages. This tactic is similar to offering gated content by first requiring the visitor to submit his contact information. A social squeeze page provides the content up front, then offers more information in exchange for the visitor’s contact data.

  • Feature boxes. The feature box is an email form that sits prominently on your web page and waits to capture user information by announcing your brand’s value proposition.

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