“The leads are coming!”David Mamet, “Glengarry Glen Ross”
Does your business rely on leads?
Lead generation can feel like a dirty business because quality leads are so important to a great many businesses. David Mamet based an entire play on that very theme. He tells the story of four Chicago real estate agents whose lives seem to depend on acquiring fresh, high-quality leads. Glengarry Glen Ross won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. The 1992 film version with an all-star cast is well worth streaming.
Is your business lead-driven? Not all businesses are. eCommerce and retail don’t rely on leads in quite the same way as, say, software, service, and capital equipment providers, to name a few. This article is intended as a sort of primer for small and new business owners, as well as curious and/or mystified executives. If you have a sales staff that’s desperate for a steady pipeline of qualified leads, read on.
I have a friend who owns a small software development company. He once said, “I’ve got to get started with Google ads. I already upgraded my website, and I’ve tried the blogging and social media thing, but nothing has really worked yet for delivering new leads.” I asked if he was working a plan. “No,” he said. He was just throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck. He thought at first that a cool website would be all he needed to attract customers. Then he dabbled in SEO, and later some Facebook and LinkedIn.
What he wasn’t aware of, and many small to mid-size businesses aren’t, is that none of those things work well in a vacuum. They all work in unison as a machine. The foundation of the machine is the website. Everything else acts like a piston priming a pump to move contacts through your marketing pipeline and into the cupped hands of your thirsty sales staff.
This is the quandary of many such businesses today. In some cases, they believe that because they’re not selling goods the way Amazon does that their website is really only useful as an online brochure. Or they believe that their offer is so specialized that the only way to generate new leads is by getting out there and stumping like a politician.
Really effective digital lead generation calls for building your pump. Let me lay one out for you.
The key Components
These are listed in the order that I would address them if I were setting up a new business:
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Social media
- A/B Testing
If you have no background or experience in marketing, I highly recommend reading my article, How Can a Simple Content Marketing Plan Work for You? It outlines how the basic marketing funnel works in relation to a blog, social media and email to move people through your pipeline.
Here’s how the components fit together:
- The CRM holds the leads you’re planning to generate.
- The website anchors the whole system. It’s your public face and the source of all information about your good or service.
- Social media helps broadcast your message at a very low cost.
- Advertising attracts and drives traffic to the website and/or contact forms.
- An email campaign keeps you in touch with existing customers and new leads.
- A/B testing continually fine tunes your messaging in order to obtain optimal results.
How the Machine Works
Basically, you’re building a machine that speaks to your ideal customer. It’s based around your website, where, presumably, your prospect can learn whatever they need to know about your business. The whole goal of the website is to get the visitor to take some sort of action, such as signing up for email, requesting more information or contacting you directly. We call this “capturing the lead”.
We’re only going to discuss how these various components work together, and not all the fineries and vagaries that go into building, maintaining and optimizing each of them. I’ll save that for other articles.
First, let’s look at the CRM.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Why is this first? Because if everything else works correctly, you’re going to need someplace to store and track your leads. Also, the whole system is about driving leads into your CRM, so set it up first. Almost all of the other components (except A/B Testing) should accommodate online forms that feed into the CRM. For a brand new business just starting out I recommend setting up an account on HubSpot. They offer a totally free option that will have everything you’ll need to build an effective lead generator. Depending on your needs you can also do effective lead tracking through most bulk email systems, such as Constant Contact or MailChimp.
Other than your brand name and logo, a homepage that’s geared towards lead generation should have these key elements:
- A clearly stated value proposition at the top
- Exactly what you’re offering should appear shortly thereafter
- Pain points or problems your prospective customers can relate to
- How your good or service provides solutions to those problems
- Simple but bold calls-to-action (CTAs) enticing your prospects to engage
- Regularly updated fresh content, such as:
- News & Events
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of “looking good”. Of course, aesthetics are important to your corporate identity. However, too many businesses sacrifice function to form. Remember that you’re trying to create a site that triggers a visitor to take action, not to fawn over its beauty.
For example, effective CTAs should be in a unique color and/or in a different font and weight than other text on the screen in order to draw the user’s eye and induce them to click. Too often over the years, many of my clients have balked at the idea of having buttons that didn’t match the rest of the site’s color pallet, such as bright yellow buttons when the rest of the site was anchored in a muted grey and blue. Internet users seem to expect the site’s CTAs to be easily discernible nowadays and can get confused when they’re not. Don’t confuse your customer. Make it crystal clear what you want them to do.
Take this site as an example: Eco-Digester USA
- The value proposition is stated right under the company logo:
- Reduce your waste. Reduce your costs. Reduce your impact.
- The exact offering is stated right below that:
- HIGH TECH INDUSTRIAL COMPOSTING EQUIPMENT
- A pain point is presented next:
- Does your institution dispose of large amounts of raw, organic waste?
- The pain point is followed immediately by a solution:
- Turn your food waste into rich, ripe compost within 24 hours or less.
- The CTAs are set apart in a bright blue and use active verbs such as Contact Us and Learn More.
- There’s a blog for fresh content in the top navigation menu.
Social media accounts with a consistent look-and-feel across all channels.
Not all channels will be appropriate for all businesses, but at least one or two channels will be right for yours. Practically all social media platforms actively cater to small businesses. They have guidance and tutorials on how to establish your brand and enhance your presence in their sphere.
Having some social media presence legitimizes your business in many regards. It’s as much a lynchpin in your digital arsenal as your website. However, it serves a different purpose. While your website is an information repository, social media is an information broadcaster. The information that resides on your website is distributed over the social media channels. It directly engages your pool of potential customers in a way that the website doesn’t. By broadcasting information out over these channels, you are trying to pull people in to your website. This is an important concept to bear in mind as you develop your lead generation machine.
In order for your social media presence to be effective it must be consistent, current and relevant. You will only intermittently drive traffic to your site if you only intermittently post content. That won’t be effective. It’s a bit like priming a pump. You must have a steady stream of content to generate a smooth flow of leads. Your content needs to keep abreast of new developments at your company, in your industry and in your market space.
Finally, your content must speak to your target audience. Give the people you’re trying to attract a place to find information that they can’t get just anywhere. The information doesn’t have to necessarily be about your good or service but it should be meaningful to what you offer. One approach is to post legal or regulatory news that affects your industry. It may or may not be directly linked to something specific that you provide but your expertise will certainly be valuable.
You have all the components to start generating leads at this point. Your social media is set up to attract leads. Your website is set up to capture them. Your CRM is set up to track them. But this system will likely only produce a trickle unless your good or service is in high demand. Now it’s time to really prime the pump with advertising.
Digital advertising is among the massive sea changes in marketing to come out of the Internet era. In the early days of the Internet people willingly flooded it with their personal information. Once the two behemoths of Google and Facebook compiled enough of our personal data, including our demographics, buying habits and preferences, they made it available to anyone with a few dollars and a dream. Data privacy issues are a real concern to me and others in this industry. I don’t mean to make light of them here. That compilation of data is both a blessing and a curse. For most businesses it is generally a blessing.
I’m not going to go into the complexities of digital advertising here. There are plenty of resources to teach you how to get started and manage digital advertising campaigns. It can appear daunting at first. You should know that just about anyone with the wherewithal to start a business can generate an effective campaign given the tools available. But I only want to talk about how advertising factors into our lead generation machine. I’m going to focus on Google and two social media platforms, Facebook and LinkedIn. These tend to be universally valuable for just about any type of business. Your business may want to consider including others, such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc.
Broadly, there are two types of Google ads, Search and Display. In both cases, it’s usually considered a best practice to drive ad respondents to a landing page. A landing page encapsulates your offer and is outfitted with some sort of lead-capture mechanism. You can use a contact form, popup email subscription, toll-free phone number, or all three. It might be your homepage, or it might be another page specifically designed to serve just one ad.
The holy grail of marketing is to induce the user to reach out to you through any lead-capture mechanism, whether it be responding to your ad, or visiting your site, or engaging through your social media account. This is known as conversion because they have converted from being an unknown entity to a valuable lead.
While it can be a bit complicated to set up, you’ll also want to be able to tie any responses back to the referring ad so that you can monitor its efficiency. This is referred to as conversion tracking. There are plenty of resources that can show you how to do this, including Google support.
Google Search Ads
Search ads are where you’ll pick off the low-hanging fruit from your marketing tree. Search ads will generate your most qualified leads, but usually at the highest expense. These are the predominantly text-based ads that are presented when an Internet user types something into the Google search engine. They are usually purchased on a Cost-per-Click (CPC) basis, in which you only pay when a user clicks on the ad.
The sophisticated algorithm that determines what the user sees in the search results is how Google built their fortune. The algorithm seeks to find the most relevant and current web content for particular keywords matched against an auction bid by ad buyers. For instance, when you Google “minivans”, you’ll get a list of the most current and relevant content related to minivans, with the first few spots occupied by those advertisers who are willing to pay the highest price to appear at the top of that search. For transparency, ads are marked as such in the search results.
Since the user is actively trying to find your good or service, search ads can produce golden opportunities. We recently ran a campaign in which our average cost per lead through Google search ads was about $45. Given the price point of our product, we’d have gladly paid over $100 per lead. It’s up to you to determine what you’re willing to pay in order to acquire a high quality lead. If you have a lead-dependent marketing plan and you can’t seem to find a comfortable cost-point for search ads, you may want to re-think your marketing plan and/or your business model.
Google Display Ads
The Google Display Network (GDN) posts your ads for people to see passively while they’re surfing their favorite websites, checking their email, or using their cell phones or tablets. You can target your ads to very specific audiences including demographics, geography and past Internet behavior, such as people who’ve already visited your site. You can find more about the GDN here. Display ads are usually purchased on a Cost-per-Thousand (CPM) basis, which means you pay for every thousand times your ad is viewable by your target audience, called impressions, whether they click on it or not.
You can’t always guarantee that your ad will be displayed on an appropriate site in an appropriate manner. As specific as your targeting might be, it’s not uncommon for a B2B ad to appear on a children’s website, for example. This simply dilutes the effectiveness of your ad. You may want to investigate other display ad options if it’s absolutely critical that your ads always be displayed appropriately. One option is to negotiate with various advertising venues directly.
Social Media Ads
Practically every social media platform has some way for businesses to engage with its users. In the case of Facebook or LinkedIn, companies can set up their own pages and post content to it as though they were an individual. They can purchase advertising in a variety of ways. Both Facebook and LinkedIn tout their own lead generation systems in which you can create an ad with a contact form within their platform. The contact information is accessible through your business account or can be forwarded to you by email. Without going into all the nitty-gritty, I’m just going to say a few words about each of these.
Facebook is considered one half (or thereabouts) of what is referred to as the Internet duopoly. The other half is Google. Together, they dominate the advertising marketplace leaving all other providers in a distant third.
My personal experience, particularly with small businesses, is that it’s not a good place to actually sell things. However, it can be a great place to build brand awareness and generate leads, especially for B2C marketers. But I wouldn’t use their internal lead generation system. The leads I recently obtained through that system were of a very poor quality. It seemed to produce people who had no recollection of filling out our form and had no interest in our product. I don’t know how their forms were forwarded to us. I highly recommend driving traffic back to your own landing pages and lead-capture mechanisms.
There’s at least one exception that I’ve seen as far as generating B2C sales on Facebook. Facebook can drive sign-up rates for personal services such as massage, yoga, or exercise classes when targeted to the right demographic, especially locals.
I find that LinkedIn is the best social media platform for B2B brands. It is a great place to establish thought leadership within your expertise. With its ability to segment your audience by geography, industry, job experience, function and title, it’s easy to hone right in to the decision makers and influencers who need what you sell.
Finally, email is where you nurture leads until you close them. Depending on your business model you’ll want to touch base with your leads at least once a month, in my opinion. Once a week is optimal for most businesses, and once a day is not at all unusual. Again, it all depends on your particular model.
In most cases, you’ll be able to use your CRM for bulk email. However, a more purpose-built bulk email provider may suit your needs, such as Constant Contact or MailChimp. The key is to send out relevant emails consistently. You may want to segment your email list and send warmer leads more often and colder leads less often, but be consistent in any case.
If you’re new to the process, each of the major CRMs and email providers have guides and tutorials to walk you through it. Don’t get too wrapped up in analytics and statistics at the beginning. Things like open rates or opt-out rates shouldn’t concern you until you’ve got more experience. In fact, opt-outs are usually your friend, in that they help winnow your list down to only those people who are truly interested in hearing from you, which generally increases open rates. Also, don’t despair over all those people who never open your emails although they never delete them and never opt-out either. The fact that you’re popping up in their inbox on a regular basis is often enough to help keep your brand top of mind.
As with so much in business, experimentation is key. Once you’ve got your lead generation machine up and running, I advise you not to change anything arbitrarily or capriciously. A/B testing is where you compare a changed element against its original element, such as modifying one or two words in an ad or swapping one image on your homepage, to see which one performs better.
I’ve seen clients get frustrated with their systems and abandon them or make such massive changes that it was like starting from scratch. It’s really important to make small, discrete changes that can be tracked against existing practices so that you can tell what’s truly working and what’s not. If enough thought has gone into the original process, then improving the machine’s performance should only be a matter of tweaking a few elements as you go along.
Not only is it important to make discrete changes within an element, such as an ad’s headline or tagline, but it’s also important to only change one element at a time within a chain of elements in order to isolate any performance issues. Keep in mind that your lead-generation machine is a set of moving parts that are all connected to each other.
For example, a search ad leads to a landing page which contains a contact form. To discern if this chain is producing as many leads as it can, or to diagnose any problems if you’re convinced it isn’t, test one element at a time. Test the ad first; test the landing page second; then test the contact form third (or whatever order you see fit). But don’t test more than one of them at the same time. You’ll be better able to pinpoint the optimal choice as well as avoid accidentally creating any new problems along the way.
There are ways to run A/B tests on most of the components above, including the CRM, ads and email. The specific methodology and tools for each can be found easily within each provider’s site. The website presents special challenges. Thankfully, there are several very powerful third-party tools, including Google Optimize and Optimizely.com.
get to it!
This article has been an introduction to building a lead-generation machine using the analogy of a water pump. It has in no way been an exhaustive in-depth analysis of the subject. There’s much more to learn, but I think there’s enough here for the DIY sole proprietor to get started building a new system, and for the experienced executive to examine their existing system.
The choice of a water pump was very specific. Water has life-giving properties that provide sustenance for living creatures. Leads have life-giving properties that provide sustenance for businesses. Without them, many businesses would shrivel up and die. Keep your pump primed.