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The Changing Face of Lead Generation

Sales people are always looking for new leads. Marketers are always searching for new ways to create them. Lead generation happens when marketers create, nurture, and monitor prospect interest so that sales teams can engage and convert them into customers. Marketers generate and prime leads; sales teams close the deal.

It used to be that B2B marketing departments focused mostly on awareness and branding activities, while a telephone-based team contacted prospects and identified those who were ready for a conversation with sales. That was then. Today, prospects can easily find product and solution information online.

The role of marketing has shifted from pushing a sales process to facilitating a buying process with the help of cross-channel marketing platforms. As a result, marketing departments take a dramatically different approach to cultivating and nurturing leads.

Educating Prospects over Time

The Modern Marketing lead generation process now begins much earlier in the buying cycle. Through social media and sharing, educational webinars, and search, marketers strive to be found wherever prospective buyers might be looking for relevant information on the business challenges that they face. When prospects find the marketers online, they discover the marketers’ products and solutions. As a prospect engages with the organization, the education process can move into lead nurturing. By providing valuable content over time, the marketer will be able to remain top of mind, slowly educating the prospect on key considerations for the purchase decision.

At a certain point, the prospect’s online behaviortheir digital body languagewill indicate that they’re ready to engage with your sales team in a discussion about purchasing. Marketers can identify this readiness through lead scoring, which matches the individual’s behavior to activities that are known to indicate buying intent. The resulting conversation with a sales rep begins with a foundation of buyer education that had been built into the earlier stages of the lead generation process.

Have Phone Calls Become Obsolete in Lead Generation?

Today’s lead generation software manages the entire lifecyclefrom initial engagement to lead scoring and sales handoff. But that doesn’t mean the old-school practice of making phone calls to qualify prospects has gone away completely. Phone calls are still part of the process and can often be a good way to communicate a value proposition or event or determine a prospect’s level of interest.

How Do You Generate Leads?

There are a variety of ways to generate leads. You might attend a seminar or business conference and collect business cards and contact information from other attendees. Prospects could subscribe to your blog or newsletter. Potential buyers might visit your website and fill out a form. Or they could follow and interact with you on social media.

While the old method of meeting and chatting someone up can still work, digital technology gives marketers more options to reach prospective customers and spark interest in their products, services, and brands.

Regardless of the method you use, it is important to clearly articulate the value your products and solutions offer. A hard sell isn’t necessary. Marketing is a process that nurtures and guides a prospect through the sales funnel. You are engaging and informing them about the solutions you offer and how these solutions can help their businesses. You are establishing contact and building a business relationship with your prospects that your sales team will then take over. Which is why a softer approach is generally more appropriate. If you provide the right information, at the right time—and make a strong case—your prospects might even decide to buy before speaking with a sales representative.

What Channels Are Best for Lead Generation?

Marketers generally use two channels for lead generation: inbound and outbound. Both have their own strengths and could play different roles in your marketing strategy.

Inbound or Outbound: How to Decide

Outbound marketing means that you are reaching out to your audience. It is a more traditional, proactive marketing approach that requires you to procure lists of leads and contact information. Prospects are contacted by phone, direct mail, or email. Billboards, print ads, television, and radio can also be part of the media mix. This type of marketing tends to have more generic messaging, as it is targeted en masse. It takes more of a direct, hard-sell tone, rather than informing or educating the audience. Marketing budgets determine which type of media can be included and for how long.

While outbound marketing speaks at prospects, inbound marketing speaks to them. With outbound, marketers have more control over when and how they engage with prospects. Inbound marketing gives the audience more control over when and how they engage with the business.

Inbound marketing relies heavily on digital media content including blogs, websites, and online articles. Marketers create content that is interesting and offers value to a targeted audience. Prospects will find your content when you optimize it for search engines (SEO).

Inbound marketing content is designed to attract and educate the audience. It requires a clear content strategy so that as prospects move through the sales cycle, they engage with appropriate content at each point along the way. This type of content should take more of a soft-sell approach. Try to personalize your content for specific audiences and different customer groups as much as possible. Inbound marketing is much easier on corporate budgets because digital media is considerably less expensive than traditional media.

B2C Versus B2B

Given that their target is the general public, B2C marketers might prefer to use mostly outbound marketing. Consumers tend toB2C customers make quicker, faster purchasing decisions,—s sometimes on the spur of the moment—which is better suited to , and thus react better to outbound marketing methods. Business B2B customers, however, take more time to consider what they are purchasing and rely more heavily on the care more about having a relationship between buyer than with the seller company they are buying from. Which makes inbound marketing the better approach for B2B marketers.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule, however. Elements of inbound and outbound marketing can be combined into both B2B and B2C marketing campaigns. For example: a B2B marketer might do an email blast and a B2C marketer might include a blog, web presence, and social media.

Before you develop your marketing communications strategy, another factor should be taken into consideration—your company’s sales funnel.

Understanding the Sales Funnel

A sales funnel acts as a model of your business’s sales and marketing efforts. It is generally divided into four stages of activities across a customer’s purchasing lifecycle: awareness, interest, consideration, and action.

AwarenessWhen a prospect becomes aware of your business and the solutions that you offer. They may have found you through a Google search, social media post, an online article or blog, or by clicking on an ad. Your prospects are most likely dealing with a problem that needs to be solved.
InterestThe prospect is actively looking for solutions and, after finding your content online, has expressed interest in your products and services.
DecisionNow the prospect is making up their mind about whether or not to make a purchase. They are considering your product(s) and its various features and options.
ActionThe prospect finalizes the deal and becomes a customer.

While there are no stringent rules for what content to use at each stage, you’ll get the best results by aligning your content strategy to your sales funnel. For example: landing pages, blogs, and thought leadership papers can all help build awareness. Once a prospect is showing interest, case studies are a proven way to intrigue them further. During the decision-making stage, an email with more in-depth product, pricing, and benefit information can help prospects make a final choice. After your prospects become customers, newsletters and follow-up emails help them stay in touch and even motivate purchases of add-ons and other products.

Some businesses choose to break their sales funnel down into three stages:

Top of funnelHow you attract interest
Middle of funnelHow you nurture and manage prospects
Bottom of funnelHow you convert prospects into customers

The needs of your business will dictate how you design your sales funnel and accompanying content strategy. You might choose to add more stages or create a separate, more personalized, sales funnel for each industry that you are targeting.

Crafting a Customer Journey

The customer journey refers to all the different paths a prospect could take up until they have made a purchase—and even after that for a repeat customer. This journey can involve the entire customer lifecycle, from when they first become aware of your brand to when they become regular customers, or it can just be a single interaction, such as signing up for a mailing list or making another purchase.

When developing a customer journey, it’s important to view things from their point of view. Consider your customer’s pain points, wants, and needs—and how your product helps with them. Think about how your customer interacts with your entire business, not just with marketing and sales. Keeping the complete customer journey in mind can help you improve the entire experience for your customers.

Lead Generation in the Online World

Make no mistake; it’s a digital world. Your prospects are online for most—if not all—of the day. Online media is your best chance to reach them and generate leads for your business. Your online media menu includes emails, white papers, landing pages, social media posts, blogs, infographics, videos, webinars, PPC ads, display ads, ebooks, and case studies.

How will you know if your online content is generating leads? Metrics can provide insights into what is working and what isn’t working, so you can tweak your strategy accordingly.

Which metrics should you be paying attention to?

Website visitsThe more visits you have, the more people are landing on your page and the higher it will rank with the SEO keywords you are using to optimized your content.
Source of website visitWhere did your visitors come from? Directly to your site or because of organic search results? Did a social media post, email, affiliate marketer, referral, or paid search lead them to your website?
Marketing-qualified leads (MQL)These are prospects that have taken an action to show their interest, such as signing up for a newsletter. But they might not be ready to buy just yet.
Sales-qualified leads (SQL)These leads have shown indications that they’re ready to close the deal, such as requesting a demo.
Click-through rate (CTR)This is the number of people who have clicked on your call to action (CTA) in comparison to the number of site visitors you have had.
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