Lead generation – how to attract new customers
Lead generation is the single most important marketing activity. Whatever else marketing does, it has to help a business sell its products/services.
This guide will help you develop programmes to plan and deliver long-term lead generation activities. It will outline techniques for attracting new customers to your business.
- Plan for the long-term
- Define & prioritise your campaigns
- Competitive pricing
- Goals & problems
- Your value propositions
- Your evidence
At FBA, we follow an ‘inbound marketing’ methodology. Your primary lead generation activities draw customers to you when they are interested in buying. A nurturing process assures the customer of your expertise and suitability at the same time as it educates you about the nature of the their interest.
Let’s discuss how that happens.
Plan for long-term lead generation
As marketers, the goal we all aim for is a programme that delivers long-term, passive lead-generation. Once in place, the activities should operate for months, if not years, and generate leads with little user intervention.
That may sound like a pipe dream. It isn’t. We’ve developed materials and systems for businesses that are still attracting new prospects long after our involvement came to an end.
There is a fundamental difference between this and short-term, ‘appointment-making’ lead generation. That type of activity commits you to an intense, exhausting and expensive treadmill. Every new project requires you to brief an agency, train their telesales team and pay for the results. As soon as you stop paying, the activity halts. Your investment of time and money evaporates like mist. And you may not have even met the project target.
In contrast, long-term campaigns build a relationship between you and your prospects. Even before you speak to them for the first time, they’ll understand your expertise and you’ll understand their interest.
The goals for your lead-generation campaigns should be more ambitious than simply making appointments. Aim for:
- Campaigns that run indefinitely.
- Campaigns that support your sales teams.
- Campaigns that generate materials and tools that improve all aspects of sales and marketing for the products/services being promoted.
- Campaigns that improve the process of nurturing and handling leads for the products/services being promoted.
- Campaigns that reveal the nature of a prospect’s interest so your sales team can follow-up with authority and relevance.
If you have experience with lead generation you’ll recognise this as an ’inbound’ process: it starts by attracting prospects in to you.
The appointment-making, telesales approach is an ‘outbound’ process: it starts with reaching out to prospects. Outbound projects display lots of activity but, because they’re intrusive and depend on interrupting prospects, they’re becoming less effective.
Define & prioritise your campaigns
The first stage of a successful lead generation strategy is to define which campaigns you’ll create and in what order. Which product/service should be promoted to which target market first? Prioritise the largest profit potential.
The quick way to decide on your highest priority campaigns is to rely on your knowledge of your business, your customers and your markets. You’ll already have a clear idea of which products/services and markets have most potential.
The disadvantage of the quick way is that you won’t identify what a successful campaign looks like. You won’t define the market size, the campaign costs or a target.
The thorough way to decide on your priorities is to do a financial projection for each potential campaign. This should include:
- The sales price, cost price and profit for the items being promoted in the campaign. This may require some estimation if the product/service is new.
- The target market size in terms of units, value or, if neither is available, the number of potential customers is usually easier to find.
- Sales targets for each of the items being promoted. This will generate the profit potential for the campaign and should be used to prioritise it.
Even when people buy on value instead of price, it’s important to know how closely your products/services match your competitors’ pricing. It dictates whether you’re selling a premium or budget product/service. This underpins your entire campaign.
Competitive pricing is easily found in B2C (business-to-consumer) and retail environments but hard to find in the B2B world (business-to-business). It’s tempting for B2B companies to take the quick route to competitive pricing: a hunch. However, undocumented, old or anecdotal stories about what competitors charge can be catastrophic. Price is critically important.
A more through approach gives you a safer foundation on which to build your campaign:
- Get competitors’ quotations from friendly business contacts.
- Analyse past deals to see where competitive pricing was disclosed.
- Extract deal sizes and values from competitors’ own publicity.
- If nothing else is available, interrogate and collate anecdotal information.
Goals & problems
Businesses buy products when they want to achieve a goal or solve a problem. A successful lead generation campaign addresses those goals or problems. Understanding your market’s goals and problems ensures that you promote a value proposition that matters to your customers as opposed to a feature that you think ought to matter to them.
Avoiding ‘the better mousetrap’
The ‘better mousetrap’ metaphor describes a company that fails because it continues to improve mousetraps long after people have stopped buying them.
You fall into the same trap if you start a campaign focused on promoting or developing your own product/service. You have to start with a customers’ goals and problems. This is customer-centric marketing.
The quick route to defining customer goals and problems is to assume that your experience is enough for you to understand them.
It’s a dangerous course to take:
- You slip into a product-centric view, assuming your customers crave what your product/service does.
- You narrow your focus to goals or problems that relate to your product/service, not the goals and problems that affect your customers’ broader business.
- Assumptions are often plain wrong.
A more thorough approach involves speaking to customers to understand why they have bought from you. Start with an open question. If the customer finds it difficult to articulate his purchasing decision you could suggest a few of the reasons you think people buy from you.
During interviews it’s important to expand the discussion to the customers’ broader business goals. While researching the legal market for a cloud computing company, we found that law firms often moved to the cloud to improve their use of technology and retain staff. It was as much about HR as IT.
Customer research is the easiest type of research. You already have a strong relationship with your customers. A conversation should be a natural part of your regular review process.
Your value propositions underpin demand generation
A value proposition is a reason a customer would buy from you instead of one of your competitors. Treat that as two challenges:
- Why would they buy at all?
- Why would they buy from you instead of a competitor?
Value propositions are a logical progression from your customers’ goals and problems. If it doesn’t address a goal or problem, it’s a feature, not a value proposition.
We worked for an engineering firm that produced components for the oil industry. The components were rust-proofed. That was a great value proposition when we sold to oil platforms in the North Sea. It was not any kind of value proposition when we sold to the Middle East.
Try to develop a series of value propositions. The message stage of your campaign needs plenty.
If, for example, you’re going to run a social media campaign, you can’t just repeat the same message endlessly. You need different messages to resonate with different audiences and address different goals and problems.
The quick route to developing value propositions is to describe how your product/service helps a customer achieve their goal or solve their problem. Follow a simple and effective question and answer format; the goals and problems are the questions, your value propositions are the answers.
Although simple, this technique is limited. It doesn’t assess the power of each value proposition nor does it compare your value proposition against other ways the customer could address their problems and goals.
A more thorough technique is to score each value proposition against three criteria:
- How valuable is your product/service to your customers?
- How exclusive is your product/service? Competition weakens your value proposition.
- How credible is your value proposition? Can you prove what you claim to be able to do?
- These scores help you prioritise your value propositions.
We live in a sceptical world. Purchasers needs to be convinced that you can deliver on the value propositions you promise. That’s a great opportunity for you to distance yourself from your competition.
- Case studies have to address your value propositions. If you say your support programmes help customers in a crisis, prove it.
- Test data and charts are effective ways to support technical claims. If you say your products clean a substance faster and more effectively than your competitors, use a graph to prove it.
- Video is an effective way to demonstrate your value proposition especially if your product moves or changes over time.
- Screen recordings do the same for software solutions.
- Comparative pricing can show a clear difference between prices or cost savings. Using a chart makes data easier to absorb.
- Documentation can be used to prove guarantees, indemnities and other legal protections.
- 3rd-party certification can prove authority and expertise.
- Quantitative proof reassures purchasers; it must be good if others buy, follow or endorse it.
There’s no quick route to providing evidence. It’s always hard work. You can ease the workload in two ways:
- Support your strongest value propositions first; leave the weaker ones until later. If you followed the thorough route to producing value propositions, you will know which have the greatest value, exclusivity and credibility.
- Don’t produce evidence unless it supports a value proposition. It’s too easy to do a case study with your best customer, only to realise later that all it really says is “we get on well.”
Despite the work involved, producing evidence is a vital step in your lead generation strategy. You will develop a good relationship with your main purchasing contact but he/she is rarely the only person involved in the purchase. You need to convince other influencers without ever meeting them. That’s when your evidence becomes so important.
Some complex value propositions need special messaging to make them easier to absorb.
For example, we made the point earlier that outbound marketing is a constant fight; as soon as you stop it your lead generation dries up. The messaging was the photo of the salmon swimming upstream. It’s designed to trigger a predictable emotion.
Messaging doesn’t have to be photographic. It can be textual.
The quick route to developing messaging for your value propositions is not to do it. Some value propositions are so obvious they don’t need it. Others are clear from the evidence you produce.
This also protects you from the danger of messaging: people might not get lateral images – like the salmon.
The thorough route is to source stock imagery, create a suitable graphic or write appropriate text to help customers understand your value proposition. You might use a photo of a Gordian knot to illustrate complexity But how would customers know it was a Gordian knot? You could use a photo of a nodding donkey oil well to illustrate endless reliability, but would everyone understand it?
Messaging is a time-consuming and contentious activity. You need your team’s opinions to ensure the message works.
Communications, the visible tip of lead generation
Everything until this point has been planning. Now you need to publicise your value propositions to attract customers; it’s the heart of inbound marketing.
Will you create web content? Will you run a webinar? Will you use Google Ads? Will you exhibit?
Let your customers choose your communications channels. If they read a publication, get articles into it. If they belong to a trade association, join it.
Most people think lead generation is just communications. They ask for an advert, a social media post or a presentation. If you haven’t done the work earlier in this guide, your communications may miss their mark.
There are numerous communications techniques you could use to support a lead generation campaign. Let’s run through a few.
- Every campaign needs to include optimised web content. 70% new purchases start with an online search. When a customer Googles “CAD consultant” you need your name to show on page 1. Your website is the cornerstone on which everything else is built. To be effective, your content needs:
- a cornerstone page.
- supplementary pages that point traffic towards it.
- downloads and other elements that encourage interaction and, in time.
- inbound links from outside your site. There is no quick route to effective web content.
- Social media posts are an ideal way to promote your campaign’s messages in short, well-illustrated snippets. They also drive traffic to your website, increasing its authority. Let your audience dictate whether you focus on LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter or another social media platform. Tools like SparkToro can tell you where your customers are active.
- Animations, videos and screen recordings serve three purposes. They help explain complex topics, they increase interaction on your web pages and they attract links from other sites.
- Use downloads to encourage visitors to go beyond passively viewing your pages. A simple download such as one of our Action Plans gives the customer useful guidance and tells Google your page is considered valuable.
- Use gated content – where the customer has to give you their name and details before they can download the document – to pass extensive guidance to customers. Gated content is the trigger for effective lead generation. Only when you have their details can you start to nurture a prospect.
- Email remains one of the most powerful tools in marketing. Once you have established the nature of a customer’s interest, email can nurture and define their interest by providing relevant information, pricing, case studies, videos, invitations to events, etc.. You need marketing automation software to handle email marketing effectively. The one thing you shouldn’t do with email is broadcast messages to people before they’ve expressed an interest in your products.
- You can use email to broadcast surveys to customers and prospects. These give you the kind of data customers like to read (“72% businesses like yours only have a basic firewall”). They also give you the information you need to define how your product/service can help them.
- If your website supports a chatbot, include a line of questioning that supports your campaign so visitors to your website can be directed to the campaign’s web content. This technique is now being called “conversational marketing”.
Advertising suffers the dual disadvantages of costing money and interrupting your audience – nobody opens a magazine to read the adverts. Despite this, advertising can work when used selectively and as part of a larger campaign.
- Google pay-per-click adverts work when you want to target people looking for certain keywords like “marketing strategy”. You know the audience is interested in the keyword topic but, because you have little control over who sees your advert, you don’t know if the viewer would be a suitable customer.
- LinkedIn pay-per-click adverts are shown according to a contact’s professional characteristics: job type, industry, seniority, etc. so you know they’re a suitable customer. They’re only shown to LinkedIn members, they’re more expensive than Google Ads and they’re shown regardless of whether the member is interested in the subject of your campaign.
- You can advertise on other websites by contacting the owner directly (e.g. the websites associated with print publications) or by using Google’s display network remarketing or affiliate marketing. Like all digital advertising, it’s both traceable and measurable.
- Print advertising can work to increase brand awareness but is generally expensive. Producing metrics that prove its ROI (Return On Investment) is a challenge.
- Outdoor advertising around exhibitions can be effective at supporting your presence inside but it does make an already expensive exercise even more so.
- Sponsorship is an effective way for SMEs to promote their local credentials and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) agenda. It’s most effective when your target audience is active in the sport or venue being sponsored e.g. golf clubs or competitions.
- It is hard to imagine any campaign for a product/service that did not require a brochure or datasheet. The critical requirement for sales brochures is that they speak to the customer’s needs. If you need to list technical specifications, a technical datasheet is more appropriate.
- If you sell to specific professions or industries, a vertical market brochure can be tailored to address how your product/service helps their business.
- Case studies and testimonials are an important part of the evidence that supports your campaign. Video case studies are effective and compelling but take time to produce. Document/PDF versions are still popular.
- Detailed handbooks like FBA’s Little Black Books are the mainstay of many lead generation campaigns. They’re popular because gated content turns anonymous web visitors into identified prospects who can be nurtured into customers.
- Quick guides can be used as free downloads to establish your credentials, summarising your areas of expertise and assuring prospects that you’re a business worthy of further consideration.
- Quick cards like Forbes Baxter Associates’ Action Plans are convenient, A6-sized summaries that can be handed out at events. They are more durable, cheaper and, when packaged, more impressive than A4 brochures.
- Presentations serve two purposes. They support your sales teams, helping them to promote your product/service consistently and accurately. Secondly, they can run automatically to present your product/service at events.
- A sales support book ensures that your sales team promotes all your value propositions completely and consistently. It helps them handle common objections and translate your product/service’s technical features into customer advantages. It’s the tool that turns a prospect into a customer.
- Producing editorial for magazines (and their websites) helps you target prospects and markets that have not gone totally digital. Magazines will rarely allow editorial to be as promotional as your own brochures but the publicity it generates establishes your business as an authority in its field.
- Winning industry awards and certifications is a cost-effective way to improve your business’ profile and establish your expertise. The questions asked by different awards panels are often similar; preparing standard answers makes the process fast and practical.
- If you operate globally, your key materials need to be translated into different languages. Buyers are more confident when they work in their own language.
- Publications are genuinely keen to publicise news that’s interesting to their readers. Prepare a press release that
- explains why your news is interesting to their readers.
- includes a photo they can use.
- contains accurate contact information.
- gets to the point quickly.
- With exhibition stands costing several thousand pounds, it’s essential to make the most of your presence. Focus your messaging on a current campaign and make sure you have consistent brochures, follow-up cards, presentations and lead-capture forms available. Use full-length, drop-down vinyl panels to make a less expensive shell scheme stand look like a bespoke design. Because it costs so much to book a stand, prepare the event and have staff attend, the cost of bespoke collateral is relatively insignificant.
- The advantage of an in-house seminar is that it costs less than an exhibition. The disadvantage is that you have to persuade every attendee to devote a significant part of a working day to you alone. Once at your office, you have the opportunity to present them with a consistent and professional message. Refer to the Workplace Branding section of our page on Brand Marketing.
- Webinars are becoming incredibly popular because your visitors don’t have to travel, they don’t have to devote so much of their day to you (so are more likely to attend) and the technology extends your reach globally. The structure is flexible enough to let you present a well-considered pitch and allow interaction from viewers.
- If you sell to a professional audience, creating a CPD course (Continual Professional Development) gives you the opportunity to educate them in your view of your industry, establish yourself as an authority in that industry and generate long-term leads.
The importance of repurposing
This list of communications techniques looks impossibly long. Who could possibly support 30 different types of communication for each campaign? Before you start thinking that it’s too much, consider two things:
- Nobody does all of these activities for every campaign. Consider them all but only action the ones that suit your audience, budget and the profit potential of your campaign.
- ‘Repurposing’ will save you. The same core messages will be reused in numerous different guises. Our Little Black Books, for example, form the core of our web content, A6 postcards, pull-up banners, PowerPoint presentations, and social media posts. Far from being a cheat, this is beneficial. Customers see a reassuringly consistent message from us wherever they come across it. Repurposing saves time and improves effectiveness.