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Lead Generation: Making it Great Again!

Posted on 7.01.2016

By Peter Prestipino, Editor-In-Chief


New customers and clients are what keep business moving forward and thriving. In many ways, it is what will make your enterprise great.

Without a constant stream of fresh, interested prospects, enterprises simply can't grow. For that reason, it's essential to concentrate at least a portion of your attention and investment on the practice of lead generation.

For many businesses, attracting new clients is the hardest thing they will ever do in the digital realm. Not only is it necessary to leverage various channels, but also craft messaging (and further, the entire digital experience) in a way that drives interest in the company, the brand, and its product or services. No easy task, of course, even for the savviest and most experienced.

Lead generation is essentially the practice of initiating interest (and inquiry) into the product or services of a business by a potential consumer. These "leads" can be acquired for any purpose really - to build a larger email newsletter recipient list or to be followed up with by a member of the sales team. In many ways, every business (and each individual within that enterprise) is responsible for and ultimately engaged in the practice of lead generation - from the Web designer to the copywriter and pretty much every position in between (access lead generation advice from other 'Net professionals at wsm.co/genroles).

Lead generation, however, most often falls under the responsibilities of the marketing, promotions and advertising departments, so the guidance included herein caters almost exclusively to those Web workers. While lead generation is often paired or associated with lead management - the practice of actually moving a lead through the purchase funnel - the aim in this month's feature article of Website Magazine is to focus exclusively on acquiring more leads and the means by which that can be achieved. What happens after (customer service and nurturing leads) will actually be addressed in next month's issue - so stay tuned!

You might be curious about the title of this article and the use of presidential candidate Donald Trump's likeness on the cover, wondering about the association. Whether you agree with his politics or not, it is hard to deny the impact Trump has had; when it comes to lead generation an "impact" is exactly what enterprises should be after. Regardless of if you love or loathe him, he can actually provide some useful insights into the practice of lead generation and Website Magazine has included a few quotes throughout the article from the real-estate mogul that readers can use to frame their initiatives. Let the following, however, serve as a genuine foundation for an effective lead generation strategy - the best practices and mechanics of putting more sales-ready prospects into the buying funnel.

**"Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion."**

THE EVOLUTION OF LEAD GENERATION

A New Kind of Buyer

Lead generation has changed dramatically over the years thanks to the abundance of information available and has led to what is now known as the "self-directed buyer" and the emergence of new techniques to develop and qualify leads before they officially enter the sales pipeline. In many ways, the practice of marketing itself has changed, and in pretty much every conceivable way.

THE MISSION: Where marketers were once responsible for representing a company and finding new customers, today they are charged with representing the customer and being found as a result of their efforts.

THE APPROACH: Instead of engaging in mass advertising and employing broad demographics to do so, today's marketers engage in one-on-one marketing and employ behavioral cues to gain insights about their prospects.

THE METHODS & TACTICS: Brands have traditionally engaged in a few isolated channels and blasted their message out. Today, however, lead generation is more about continuously managing relationships and taking a more integrated approach to marketing.

THE MEASUREMENT: The digital marketing industry is now taking advantage of big data and using fact-based decision making as opposed to third-party data and their own intuition. The result of all this "change" has been more efficient and effective lead generation initiatives and it has driven unprecedented shifts in buying behavior among consumers. Today, buyers do their own research through search engines, social media and other channels and can learn a great deal about a product or service well before ever speaking to a salesperson (who may actually know less than the customer themselves in some instances). In fact, according to Forrester, buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90 percent of the way through their buying journey before they even reach the vendor. The reason this is happening more and more is because buyers have so much access to information that they can delay talking to sales until they are experts themselves (an armor of sorts against traditional sales tactics). Fortunately, creating a solid lead generation strategy will help brands build trust and capture buyer interest before they are even ready to contact sales.

What marketers are seeing today is a different kind of buyer - one that is more informed in general, pre-qualified and ready to enter the funnel of their own volition. Just because a lead enters the top of the funnel (TOFU), however, doesn't mean they are ready to buy. Enterprises must also optimize the relationship with those in the middle of the funnel (MOFU) and take advantage of what is today the single greatest asset for a business outside of behavioral data: content. Without content, brands will be hard pressed to ever get any prospect into their sales pipeline.


Rank 'Em If You Got 'Em

Lead scoring is a shared sales and marketing methodology for ranking leads in order to determine their sales-readiness. Leads are "scored" based on the interest they show in the business, their current position in the buying cycle and their fit in regards to the products or services being sold. Lead scoring helps companies know whether prospects need to be fast tracked to sales or developed with lead nurturing over time. Lead scoring ultimately drives greater efficiency and effectiveness, but how can today's enterprises get started? Read more about lead scoring and ranking prospective customers at wsm.co/leadpoints.


CONTENT MATTERS

Breadth & Depth

Whether an enterprise is B2B or B2C, the challenges to lead generation success are likely the same: a lack of resources (staffing, budgeting, time), a lack of sufficient insight into an audience of prospects and, of course, a limited ability to develop content. Content, however, is the proverbial fuel that drives profitable customer action and interaction. Creating relevant and valuable material can be used to attract, acquire and engage a target audience; today, it serves as the best available opportunity companies have to gain a buyer's trust. So, where should a content development and marketing team begin? There are, of course, many questions that arise when the conversation turns to content.

"How much content do we need," and "Who will create it," being just two of the most common.

The first step should be to explore competitors' efforts to understand not just the volume, but also the type of content being developed. Web professionals often need to look no further than companies that foster and support brands' existing business marketing efforts including social tool providers like HootSuite, Buffer and SproutSocial. These companies regularly post useful, compelling content that is engaging and personalized to the needs of their audience. The best practice is to first know what type of content is most attractive to a company's potential leads. For information publishers and service providers in particular, that tends to be e-books and guides, presentations, research reports, whitepapers, webinars and videos, but there are an endless variety of approaches that can be taken by today's digital marketers. What about for e-commerce merchants? There are solutions for this breed of 'Net professionals as well.

ZMags, a digital catalog software provider that enables sellers to make content from a PDF shoppable, recently branched out with its Zmags Creator product. Using rich images most associated with print, sellers can now add interactive elements like fade-ins, animations and videos that can play "on scroll" via the Web. Essentially, anything that can be done from a design perspective can be done with Zmags Creator. The difference is that, previously, creating more visual experiences took months to develop. The Creator solution, however, makes it possible for a creative (not technical) person to develop a custom digital experience with drag-and-drop functionality that mirrors it.

In the case of Marks & Spencer, the UK-based retailer saw a 90 percent increase in engagement and 50 percent increase in conversion with their use of Creator. Essentially, marketers can move from a sterile product page to one that is rich in interactivity, bringing together creative, context and commerce in immersive ways.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Learn more about the intersection of e-commerce and content with a Q&A from Zmags CEO Brian Rigney at wsm.co/zmags16.)

Looking for more content inspiration for your enterprise? Website Magazine has put together a "Master List of Digital Content Ideas & Tech" for Web professionals to consider using at wsm.co/mlcontent.


Where Do Leads Come From?

An Oct. 2015 study from eMarketer found that 89 of respondents cited email as the most-used channel for generation of leads, followed by content marketing, search engines and events. The practice doesn't really change all that much from year to year - or at least the sources of leads. A study from Bizible, for example, from early March 2014 found that direct traffic, search engines and Web referrals were the three most popular online channels for lead generation, accounting for 93 percent of leads.


ACQUISITION TACTICS

Mind the Channels

**Sometimes the best investments are the ones you don't make."**

Once a variety of content, in a variety of formats, is developed, the next phase in any lead generation initiative is to actually start acquiring the leads. Fortunately, there is no shortage of opportunities. The traditional digital method used to acquire leads is through the website itself, but backing up a little, marketers need to consider the channels they will use to attract users in order to eventually convert them. So, take the website off the proverbial table for a moment, and let's focus on those opportunities that today's savviest brands are using to attract potential leads.

The first step in acquiring leads is to raise awareness - without it there is simply no way you'll ever convert an interested potential buyer. Marketers will need content to make it all happen, but once they have it (and enough quality content at that), the chances to convert a prospect to a lead grow exponentially.

Email: While it is one of the most effective marketing channels, email doesn't receive the attention it should in the realm of lead generation primarily because brands must first have a list of possible prospects for it to work at all. It might seem counter-intuitive to think of email as a lead generation method, but there are some rather effective approaches.

Say for instance that existing clients or partners possess a list of potential leads. If a marketer can convince them to deliver a message on their behalf (either in exchange for a discount or a co-promotion to the marketer's own existing list) the enterprise will be on the fast track to generating more leads.

Another email-related option to consider is that of co-registration - learn more about this practice at wsm.co/coemail.

Organic Search: The holy grail of lead sources is, of course, the search engine. These valuable resources crawl and index content (in its variety of forms) and often top the list of marketers' preferred channels. Optimizing content for search requires brands to make several important considerations, understanding the makeup of their prospective leads, the depth and breadth of content that ranks on the search results pages and more. Content is what search engines are after and it is the responsibility of every enterprise to create it.

Social: While still a digital mystery to most brands, social media has quickly become a valuable channel for those that can leverage its innate power. What makes social so interesting is that audiences self-select somewhat, defining their interests, aligning themselves with both their wants and needs. If marketers can identify the optimal audience, develop in-demand content and craft messaging that compels prospects to convert into leads, social media can provide immense value. So, what resonates with each brand's prospects? Learn how to find out at wsm.co/contentso.

Advertising: Enterprises willing to spend money to make money often turn to advertising before any other channel and for good reason. Today, performance-based advertising offers an opportunity to employ data, leverage content and drive measurable results - a trifecta of lead generation goodness. It can be cost-prohibitive, of course, but well-managed campaigns can make all the difference to the success of an enterprise over the near and long term. The very well-known downsides are the complexities associated with the practice, like those addressed on page 23 and 38 of this issue.

Content Syndication: Prospective buyers don't always start their purchase journey at a search engine or social network so it's important that marketers attempt to establish a presence wherever they may show up. The best way to deliver high-value content to the correct prospects is through content syndication - a strategy that can be used to promote content on other websites for greater reach and engagement. Through content syndication (and its lesser cousin guest blogging), a brand's content appears on third-party sites and newsletters. And because most content syndicators deliver leads directly to a company's inbox, it's a great way to keep leads coming in the door.

Discover the basics of content syndication at wsm.co/contsyn.

FROM PROSPECT TO LEAD

The Final Step

Just because a prospect was drawn to a website does not mean that the website will aid in conversion. In addition to paying attention to the type of content and the sources of traffic used to drive a consumer visit and ultimately a lead, marketers must also concentrate on the website and its components and the means by which it is possible to convert a prospect to someone that becomes a customer.

There are many elements which convey to users that a company can be trusted enough for them to willingly enter the sales pipeline including indicators such as reviews, trust seals or payment methods.

While every enterprise is different, creating landing pages for each buyer persona (learn how to create them from SEO data at wsm.co/buypersona) goes a long way toward generating more leads as can forms that are optimized for mobile and are easy to complete. Landing page development and optimization is an important practice for today's 'Net enterprises; discover how to build and refine these essential assets for the purpose of lead generation at wsm.co/landgen.

METRICS FOR LEAD GENERATION

Measurement Strategies

**"In the end, you are measured not by how much you undertake, but by what you accomplish."**

Knowing what to measure, when to measure and how to do it is useful for companies of any size. Let's take a quick look at some of the most common measurement approaches.

Companies track a variety of metrics related to their lead generation efforts but for the most part they do so to understand the contribution to revenue (as well as the health of the sales pipeline itself), the quantity of leads (qualified/nonqualified), the cost (per inquiry/per lead), as well as the various stages of leads. Measuring leads can be quite complicated depending on where prospects are in their buying journey. Since we're more concerned here with the generation of leads as opposed to the nurturing of prospects, focusing on the quantity, the quality and the cost will be sufficient for most enterprises - particularly those that exert control over their message and where their message appears.

Every enterprise is different of course, with varying demands and expectations, and as a result the manner in which they measure will vary. Check out Website Magazine's "Big List of Lead Generation Metrics" at wsm.co/genmetric.

Making Lead Generation Great Again

Acquiring new users is challenging - there's no doubt about that. Fortunately, when enterprises and marketers understand the shift that has taken place in relation to the buying process, concentrate on creating content that resonates with users and leverage the many channels available (measuring the performance of each phase accordingly), it is possible - and profitable - to make lead generation great again.

**"As long as you're going to be thinking anyway, think big."**


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