Contribution from freelance writer Jackie Wills
Lead generation, like almost everything in the business world, is a fluid and ever-changing paradigm. Sticking doggedly to strategies that worked in 2015 may result in a business seeing a depressing decline in lead generation numbers in 2017. Staying ahead of the game is crucial to quality lead generation in a competitive marketplace, and in order to do so, it stands to reason that a business should be constantly analysing the range of lead generation strategies that are available to them, in order to ascertain which are the most successful, and which will suit their business model most comfortably.
In order to analyse which lead generation strategies are going to be the most useful and profitable for a given business, it is necessary to break down which strategies tend to be the most successful. There are numerous channels used by B2B marketers to generate leads, including online directories, re-targeted adverts, rented lists, live events and affiliate marketing, but there are four channels which stand out as being the most efficacious. A number of different surveys have been undertaken, and top spot tends to differ based upon which institution organised the poll, but there are four channels which consistently register as the strongest: Email Marketing, Search Marketing, Social Marketing and Content Marketing.
Email Marketing has been a mainstay of lead generation for two decades now, but the proliferation of email sign ups and heavy spamming means that there are diminishing returns for traditional email marketing techniques. However, new advances in marketing automation mean that many businesses have had great success in using this refined version of an old technique. Marketing automation software allows email marketing to be both automated and, crucially, targeted and personalised to each potential client, by using data from the business’s CRM and metadata from their website and landing page. Instead of ‘spamming’ thousands of emails to every person who has ‘signed up’, i.e. entered their email address into your system, each person will receive a marketing email that seems to anticipate their needs. A fine example of this is the case of Paper Style, a business that sells wedding cards and invitations. They created a dual marketing sequence, split by whether the potential customer was buying for their own wedding, or for a friend’s. Each sequence had its own order, which was devised based on an analysis of their previous sales data. Brides-to-be, for example, would require different products than Maids-of-Honour; the former purchasing wedding invitations, for example, and the latter bridal shower invitations. The order in which they purchase products also tended to be sequential, with, for example, wedding invitations first and ‘Thank You’ cards last. By devising these two parallel marketing sequences, every potential customer who had entered their details could be, by way of an initial email, sorted into the appropriate marketing sequence. This then allowed the automated marketing system to send personalised marketing emails which seemed, to the customer, to anticipate their needs every step of the way. The results for Paper Style spoke for themselves, with, among others, an impressive 330 % uptick in revenue-per-mail.
Search marketing is a product of the paradigm shift in marketing and sales that has occurred over the last two decades due to the monolithic growth of the Internet, and in particular Google. The fact of the matter is that, for many people, the first point of call when looking for a new service or product is a Google search. This being the case, achieving and maintaining optimum organic SEO rankings on Google is one of the key channels for generating leads. The ever-evolving complexity of Google’s ranking algorithms means that it is a great deal more difficult to achieve high organic rankings than it was a decade ago, however, that can also be a plus point: it is much more difficult for businesses to ‘game’ the algorithms, which means that a well-conceived and executed SEO strategy can pay dividends. The reality of search marketing now is that it is inextricably linked with our next topic: content marketing. The SEO strategies of a business need to be aligned with their content strategy, and achieving a symbiosis between the two is crucial to achieving the first-page ranking that is needed to deliver good quality business leads.
Content Marketing is increasingly important in an age when people are used to being on the receiving end of a great deal of information. Whether B2B or B2C, potential clients and customers expect it. This presents its own problems, but also its own opportunities: with so much information and content out there, much of it becomes, at worst spam, and at best nothing more than background noise. However, this creates a space for companies that can make their content stand out from the crowd, and deliver information that is both targeted and, most importantly, helpful to the prospective customer. This dichotomy of problem-and-opportunity is a theme within Content Marketing, as the sheer range of possible content means that is possible to waste time and money on creating content that will have no demonstrable impact upon ROI rates, but likewise the opposite is true; a judicious choice and deployment of content can generate a huge amount of interest. Content can also act as what is known as a ‘lead magnet’, in as much as they can offer an incentive for potential customers to provide their email address. Many people are wary of doing so because of the proliferation of spam messages and mailing lists, and are much more inclined to enter a company’s email system if they ‘get’ something before they ‘give’. Content can be deployed in such a way with superb results: offering a free E-book, or webinar, access to interviews or even a free trial are often very successful in generating leads, as well as beginning a process of engagement between the potential customer and the business. Furthermore, content such as blogs can perform a dual function: working in tandem with Search Marketing strategies to improve Search Engine Optimisation, while also engaging the potential customer in a personal way, leaving them feeling like they have tangibly benefited from their experience.
Social Marketing is a slightly different animal, in that it can be broadly seen as an off-shoot of both Search Marketing and Content Marketing. Of course, there are leads to be generated by using a business networking site such as LinkedIn, particularly because, aside from networking, it can also provide a lot of data. EKA, a risk management software firm, used LinkedIn in this way – profiling network prospects, mining data to provide both market analysis and individual data profiles for companies, and mapping networks to identify viable connections- and created a $2 million sales pipeline in a matter of a few weeks. However, it is more common that a company’s social marketing amounts to little more than spamming promotional announcements on Twitter. In the case of social media platforms such as Twitter, it is more strategically useful to utilise Social Marketing as a tool of Content and Search Marketing, in so far as it can be a useful medium for directing people towards the high-quality content that will boost SEO rankings and engage the potential customer, both of which will, if done correctly, be effective lead generation strategies. It can also be a useful tool for establishing and promoting business brand identity, something that is crucial to standing out in a crowded marketplace. If your brand identity is established then it can make generating leads that bit easier, as potential customers can already be at a certain level of engagement before they have even hit a business’s landing page or explored their content.
Integrated and Reactive Approaches
In essence, successful lead generation strategies have to be flexible, reactive to customer-habits and realistic about changes in those habits. Flexibility means the innovative combination of aspects of each of the four major lead generation channels discussed, using data driven analysis to discover what works best for a given business. Being reactive to customer-habits is also a data-driven practice: for example, customers today, whether in the B2B or B2C sectors, are distrustful of what can be termed ‘traditional advertising’, and this can be seen by the fact that up to 80% of potential customers ignore paid ads on Google. They’re just not interested. As the old sales adage goes, people don’t like being sold to but they like to buy. This is why moving away from ‘traditional’ advertising or marketing methods, and into an integrated method that seeks to promote customer engagement and personalised promotional marketing emails is proving to be a more successful model. This is why a channel such as Content Marketing is so important – 80% of decision-makers surveyed, from a wide range of businesses, preferred to imbibe information about a company through articles and other content, as opposed to ‘traditional’ adverts. Adverts, in that sense, have lost their power to engage, and offering people content which they feel educates them and allows them to make an informed choice is now a far more successful model. This may not always be the case – re-activeness, remember, is crucial to successful lead generation strategies, but it is certainly the case in 2017.
Another aspect of this reactive approach, for example, is creating a scoring system for leads, such as awarding a numerical points score for acts of engagement, such as opting-in to an email system or downloading an E-book, and subtracting a numerical points score for acts of disengagement, such as unsubscribing from an email list. A system that scores and ranks leads allows a company to respond in real-time to the reaction of customers and potential customers to their marketing strategies, as well as identifying potential customers who are primed to take that step into becoming actual customers. This streamlining of lead analysis can also help to save time and money by efficiently deploying their lead follow-up resources.
Invest in Strategy
Effective lead generation strategies require just that; strategy. Throwing money at out-dated models of marketing and lead generation is only going to waste both the initial marketing investment and the time and effort of the staff who are responsible for turning cold leads warm. For lead generation success in 2017, willingness to be adaptive, flexible, analytical and innovative will give a business a far greater chance of staying ahead of the game.