Gone are the days of cold calls, as new digital channels have emerged, making lead generation easier, faster and more effective.
For businesses to grow or even maintain the status quo, they need new customers. Oftentimes, we find that companies don’t take online lead generation seriously until they already have a problem–years of declining sales, the absence of a sales pipeline, or encroachment from a quickly growing competitor.
Even for a company that already knows all the customers in its niche industry or has 70 percent market share, it’s never wise to get too comfortable when business growth is on the line.
Online lead generation is simply initiating interest or soliciting an inquiry from a prospective new customer. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. Gone are the days of cold calls, as new digital channels have emerged, making lead generation easier, faster and more effective. And who doesn’t want to engage with a prospective customer who needs your product or service?
A Breakdown of Online Lead Generation
There are many ways to generate leads online, but I find that they typically fall within four main areas.
Any online advertising channel can send people to webpages with contact forms, designed to collect prospects’ information, and therefore be considered a lead-generating effort.
Channels like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, however, have specific ads with the sole purpose of generating leads, aptly named Lead-Gen Ads. These ads enable you to collect the prospect’s information without requiring the person to leave the social media site they’re on and visit another website, which many people are more inclined to do.
Another benefit of platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn is the amount of user data at their disposal to help you find the right leads. This data can enable you to court decision-makers at a specific company as part of an Account-Based Marketing (ABM) strategy, or help you find people similar to your existing customers using tactics called “lookalike modeling.”
Search engines, specifically Google, continue to play a critical role in the online lead generation process.
Showing up in organic search engine results for the queries of your prospective customers demonstrates you’re the expert. Did you know that the top search engine result elicits 36 percent of all people’s clicks?* A thoughtful search engine optimization (SEO) strategy for your website and content is the only way to work your way up to those coveted spots.
But if you’re not showing up organically, don’t fret. Paid search advertising is an extremely cost-effective way to show up for relevant queries and collect prospects’ information via your webpage.
Being useful by answering prospects’ burning questions is a great way to stay relevant and get in front of prospective customers while they’re in their research stage – when they’re trying to understand what solutions are out there and what might help solve their challenge.
This can be done by producing regular, helpful content, like case studies or original research. This more premium content (i.e., something you’d be willing to pay for in the form of your contact information) is a great way to generate leads. Blogs can also still be a way to share timely insights and tips, whether in written or video format.
Email marketing is not new, but it’s a tried-and-true tactic. And with advancements in technology, like marketing automation tools (e.g., Hubspot, Marketo, Pardot), companies can be smarter and more-efficient with their efforts.
Instead of blasting their entire database with generic information, marketers can use data on prospects to understand what they care about and customize the content they receive, including personalizing emails with their names and other information.
Getting Started: The Foundation of an Online Lead Generation Strategy
So, with all these different ways to generate leads online, how do you know where to start? Before you jump into a specific tactic or channel, spend some time getting to know your sales team and your current and ideal customers.
Here are the initial steps I recommend you take as you prepare to build and overhaul your lead generation efforts.
Define the buyer’s journey, or the decision-making process someone will use to research and then purchase your product or service.
- Build personas, or profiles of your ideal prospects that include demographics, psychographics, where they spend time, how they get their information and what sources of information they trust most.
- Develop a reciprocal relationship between sales and marketing. Understand from sales what a quality lead looks like and what indicates a sales-ready lead—someone who needs more nurturing. Sales can also help you understand customer pain points and what customers need to know to make a decision.
- Build an outreach and prospecting plan, leveraging the trusted sources and places (physical and online) where your prospects spend their time.
Oftentimes, companies find it hard to map this out alone. They can have too many blind spots or are unable to facilitate the conversions required to cut through the internal bias. An external perspective can offer a lot of value in evaluating and setting the strategy, and then training internal teams to execute the plan.
*According to the BrightEdge 2017 Channel Performance Report.