Category Archives: Marketing Tips & Tricks

6 Best Tips for Creating Evergreen Content

At some point during your research to find better ways to improve the performance of your content, whether it is for a blog, company website, or as part of your overall marketing strategy, you have likely encountered the term “evergreen content.” This is not a new term and has been used for over half a decade to describe content that stays relevant over time. The more staying power your content has in terms of relevance to searchers, the more evergreen it is.

To expand the explanation a bit more, evergreen content is engaging, useful, and topically relevant for an extended period of time. If someone uses a search engine to find information about a specific subject today and a year from now and both receive the same result, that content is evergreen. The longer your content can stay visible in search results and relevant to search queries, the more evergreen it is.

As the internet becomes increasingly saturated with a variety of content pertaining to similar topics, it becomes more important for marketers and content creators to produce content that has the most potential for long-term importance to online searchers and surfers.

Create content for beginners. You might be tempted to think that technically advanced, in-depth content would be more appropriate as a candidate for being evergreen. In reality, the opposite is true. Most of the people who use search engines to find information are relatively new to a particular subject and are expanding their knowledge. The individuals who seek out technical content usually have a source location in mind, and they often avoid search engines unless they are performing a cursory search without a specific data acquisition goal in mind. There are also far more people new to a certain subject using search engines on a regular and recurring basis than there are people who want material on advanced subject matter.

Avoid making assumptions with your phrasing and terminology. Because the majority of your readers will be those who are only now familiarizing themselves with a specific topic, you should anticipate their lack of in-depth knowledge and write accordingly. Technical jargon or industry-specific phrasing should be left out unless absolutely necessary and, if it is necessary, make sure the average reader understands what the words or phrases mean.

Use outbound links cautiously. Many writers who provide online content, especially bloggers, are often tempted to include outbound links to reference and source material. This is usually done to give the reader more information about a subject or establish more authority for facts, figures, and other data provided in the content. Problems can arise, however, when you have included links to external web pages that have shuffled off their mortal (internet) coil and been removed or disabled for one reason or another. A “page not found” error is much worse than not including a link at all.

Strive to be the only source of information for your topic. If competition exists for your content that prevents you from being the only source of information about your subject, you need to make sure your content is the definitive source. One of the key factors in creating evergreen content is that you are publishing something that people will want to read today, tomorrow, and years from now (if possible). This means your content should be the most complete, authoritative, and definitive resource for those who want to know more about the subject.

Focus on one specific subject. The more singular your subject, the more definitive your content can be in terms of delivering the most useful information to your readers. When you try to cover several subjects in one piece of content, the end result is usually a disjointed jumble of thoughts that lack a cohesive connection or strong purpose. When choosing your subject, narrow it down to as finite a point as possible. For example, rather than writing about divorce, you could write about divorce and child custody. Rather than writing about divorce and child custody, you could write about how to help children cope with the divorce and custody process. If your topic is as specific as it can be, this gives you a limited range within which you can write, which means your content will have the best opportunity to become a definitive source of material.

Avoid including information that can “date” your content. Dated content automatically creates a shelf life for the material, meaning it will expire when more updated content becomes available. This includes “top ten” lists of any information for a specific year, data relating to current trends (which are called “current” trends because they, too, have a shelf life), breaking news, future speculation that can be proven wrong, or event-specific content. Undated content remains viable and useful when the following year rolls around or the newest batch of trends makes an appearance.

Now that you know several key tips regarding what makes (or breaks) evergreen content, you may be wondering what type of content performs best in the evergreen arena. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for the type of content that will always find relevance to a significant audience regardless of the passage of time. Some content formats, however, do tend to find themselves staying relevant and useful long after their author has clicked the “publish” button. This includes:

  • Tutorials and how-to content
  • Historical information and “origin” content
  • Curated resource lists (“top ten” content with long-term relevance)
  • Informational posts or encyclopedic content (“ultimate resource” or “complete guide”)
  • Single FAQ industry-specific content (pick one frequently asked question and thoroughly answer it)

Once you have become more adept at creating content that is designed to be evergreen, you will find it easier to adjust attributes of your writing more toward longevity and relevance over time. As you move forward with the creation of evergreen content, you can even go back over old material to see if anything can be re-purposed and turned into content that can stand the test of time.

The development and growth of a portfolio filled with evergreen content only ensures that your material will continue to appear in search results, providing more traffic, visibility, and popularity for your blog or other online content.

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Making Branding Work: 27 Top Tips

Now that we have defined what a brand is, let’s move on to how to make a brand work for you and how to market your business in such a way that capitalizes on your brand, improves your branding capabilities, and increases your market exposure and visibility.

Here are 27 tips for making branding work for you and your company:

  1. Cater to your target market’s wants, not their needs.  Wants establish an emotional connection that goes beyond simple need, and it is how you can create a personal relationship with your customers and keep them coming back time and again.
  2. Create a mission statement that puts in words what the focus, aim, goal, or future direction of your company is, and the value your business can provide to consumers.
  3. Purchase your own domain name (if you haven’t already), and make sure the domain name has something to do with your company.  Make sure the name is as short as possible, easy to spell, and doesn’t have punctuation in the name (i.e., hyphens, underscores, etc.).
  4. If your company participates in local or regional events, trade shows, exhibits, fairs, or similar public activities, make sure you include a calendar on your website that tells people where you will be and when.  Invite the public to attend and visit you at the event.
  5. Create a periodic newsletter available via e-mail and distribute it to subscribers.  Make sure you included ample information about your company, products, services, or other industry information specific to your brand.
  6. Create an opportunity for human connection by telling your company’s story, thus making it become a tangible construct rather than a vague concept in your prospects’ minds.
  7. Create a memorable tagline that conveys what your company does in as few words as possible.
  8. Make sure your company has a great name.  Also make sure your company name doesn’t invoke images of other companies or have any negative associations with the word or words used for the name.  (You wouldn’t want to call a luxury cruise ship – or a communications company – the Titanic, would you?)
  9. Provide content on your primary website that is strictly informational – no marketing, promoting, or selling involved.  Do this on a regular (at least once a week) basis.
  10. Put your customers first.  Yes, you are here to make money but without your client base, you have no income.
  11. Ask for help when (if) you need it.  Tackling branding and marketing schemes on your own can be daunting and you may not be up to the task simply due to lack of knowledge or experience.  This can be a fatal mistake, so if you find yourself treading water to stay afloat, make use of the variety of diverse professional services out there that can help you position your brand, market your company, and increase your revenue.
  12. When you provide informational material on your primary website (see #9), make sure it demonstrates your authority and expertise in your industry or niche.
  13. Establish a blog and make regular posts that focus on your company’s industry, products, or services.  (Make sure you add a new entry to your blog at least 3 times a week, if not more.)
  14. Do not follow the crowd.  Be different and stand out from your competitors.
  15. Develop a great logo for your company, and make sure it doesn’t resemble anyone else’s in any way that could cause brand confusion.
  16. Put your company’s logo, brand name, products, and services on as many social networking sites as possible.  Make sure you update your social media sites regularly and keep your content changing to reach out to different types of consumers.
  17. Be consistent with how you advertise and market your brand image.  If you have a dozen different logos, taglines, slogans, and other means of associating with your company, that only creates confusion.  Find one and stick with it.
  18. Make sure your promotional efforts don’t appear to be “used car salesman slick-pitches.”  You want your marketing to demonstrate your value, not emphasize your greed.
  19. Be accessible.  Provide your company’s physical address, and include a phone number where the phone is answered by a living human rather than a recorded message.  Not being able to connect with a company is extremely frustrating and has turned many customers away from businesses that are stand-offish.
  20. Offer something for free.  Whether you offer a “gift with purchase” or free do-it-yourself instructions, make sure you give something to your target market at no cost at all.  (This is a great way to get otherwise uninterested people to sample what your company does.)
  21. Determine what you are REALLY selling to your target market.  Someone once said that people don’t buy drill bits, they buy holes.  What are your customers buying from you?  Figure that out and then determine how to reinforce your brand by tying in what you sell with what you are.
  22. Be committed to your company, products, services, ideas, goals, and mission.  If your heart isn’t in your business, you’ve already failed.
  23. If you have a restricted target audience (elderly, female, geographically limited, truck-driving, married, cat-loving, etc.), make sure your company’s image and marketing efforts specifically focus on that audience.
  24. Know your competition.  Study what your competitors do and how well they do it.  “Out of sight, out of mind” is  not a phrase you want to apply to your competition because what you don’t know CAN hurt you through their successful efforts versus your failure to be aware of their strategies.
  25. Make every customer feel like they are receiving VIP treatment.  By giving them a “special” or “exclusive” experience, you’ve turned them into a customer for life.
  26. If you are changing your branding scheme, do not implement it in pieces.  This creates confusion.  Roll out your new branding package when you are able to do so for all aspects of your business.
  27. Make sure your company, logo, and brand are associated with a “face.”  This can be you, another employee, your pet, a mascot, a fictional creation, or whatever you choose – but develop a visual personality to go with your branding package.

Above all else when you are marketing your company to the public, never – ever – settle for “good enough.”  Once you decide that your efforts are “good enough,” you’ve committed your company to the grave and are just waiting for it to expire.  Aim high – higher than you think you can go – and then constantly and consistently do everything you can to achieve those aims.

17 Tips for Writing a Mission Statement

Nearly everyone has seen the movie, Jerry McGuire, and remembers the beginning when Jerry pens his mission statement, only to have everyone refer to it as a memo.  Memos are usually less than a page in length, and Jerry’s manifesto was well over two dozen pages – clearly it was more than a memo.  But was it really a mission statement?

What is a mission statement?

We will forego the Wikipedia definition and take from more reputable sources to find out what, exactly, a mission statement is.  According to Entrepreneur Magazine’s online encyclopedia of business knowledge:

A mission statement defines what an organization is, why it exists, its reason for being. At a minimum, your mission statement should define who your primary customers are, identify the products and services you produce, and describe the geographical location in which you operate.

Kinesis provides a thorough article regarding mission statement composition that says, in part, “[a] well-crafted mission statement can provide the focus and motivation you need to take your business to the next level. These are the values that drive your business personality, customer service, and marketing messages. In fact, your mission is the soul of your brand. It is your Why. It is the very reason that your company does what it does.”

Before you can develop a mission statement, your company has to have a primary purpose.  This can be an industry-specific product or service, or it can be the delivery of ideas and concepts on a more general scale.  Regardless of what your company does, you have to know what it was created to accomplish before you can compose a statement of it’s mission, values, and beliefs.

Here are 17 tips for writing a mission statement for your company:

  1. Keep it simple, stupid.  The “K.I.S.S.” principle applies to a lot of things, especially those involving the composition of written content.  As stated in an Inc. article, it is a mission statement, not a mission essay.
  2. Make the creation of a mission statement a joint effort among everyone on your staff.  By giving them the ability to contribute to the end result, you are empowering them to be more deeply invested in the company.
  3. Your company will evolve over time so make sure your mission statement does, too (especially if it was written during the company’s infancy).
  4. A mission statement is an overall sense of your company’s identity, so it should receive as much professional attention, deference, and adherence as your personal identity does.
  5. If your mission statement is being revised or recreated from a previous version, don’t toss it in your employees’ laps without allowing them to have some input or giving them the opportunity to test the statement through real-world application.
  6. Decide whether you want your mission statement to reflect your company’s short-term or long-term goals, especially if your goals may be more dynamic than static.  Keep in mind that short-term statements need to be revised as the company’s goals, accomplishments, and plans change.
  7. Try to be as succinct and concise as possible,because the perfect mission statement should also be able to double as your company’s slogan.
  8. Include the four key elements of an effective mission statement (according to Inc.).  Those elements are value, specificity, plausibility, and inspiration.
  9. Avoid vague phrasing and conceptual generalities.  A mission statement that says your company aims to be an industry leader of quality products, outstanding customer service, and cutting edge innovation for tomorrow’s consumer today might as well have been written on toilet paper and flushed.  EVERY company has that mission, but your mission statement should be much more exacting, precise, and specific.
  10. Examine the mission statements of other companies, especially those with whom you compete for customers or sales.  Reading what others have written can fuel your creativity when it comes to writing your own statement.
  11. Be specific with regard to what you can do for your customers, why your company’s products or services are superior to your competition, what makes your customer service extraordinary, and why your company exists in the first place (the “why” behind the creation of your company).
  12. After you have written an initial statement, don’t think that you are finished and it’s ready for framing.  Read it, revise it, read it again, revise it again.  It is not complete until it encapsulates everything about your company’s purpose in all aspects of business, and until you are 100% satisfied with every word, phrase, sentence, and piece of punctuation contained in the statement.
  13. Use descriptive words that convey a dynamic, visual impression of your company’s mission to readers of the statement, but don’t use any words or phrases that are unnecessary to the overall statement.
  14. Keep sales pitches out of your mission statement.  For example, Microsoft’s old mission statement used to say, “A computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software,” which sounds like nothing more than corporate greed.  Microsoft’s new mission statement is equally crappy, however (“to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential“).
  15. Write your mission statement around what makes your company stand out from the crowd.  If you’re no different from your competition, why should customers come to you instead of them?
  16. Don’t say that your company is “the best” at this or “the world leader” of that or the “undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion” of anything, really.  Pompous terminology is a turn-off and customers tend to avoid overtly arrogant people and businesses.
  17. Apply the “front page” guideline to your statement.  Would you be proud to have your company’s mission statement printed boldly on the front page of the newspaper?  If not, go back to the drawing board.

Once created, your mission statement should be expressed to all your employees so they will know their reason for being where they are.  Everything undertaken should be done in such a way as to reflect the core principles of the company and to fulfill the purpose(s) of your mission statement.

After creating a mission statement, the last thing you want to do is have it attractively framed and nailed to a wall to be forgotten.  The statement should be reviewed periodically to make sure of two things – one, that your company’s purpose and goals are still in line with the statement, and two, that the statement still accurately reflects what your company’s intentions and direction are.

Above or Below the Fold?

You have figured out a way to get traffic to your website or landing pages through online lead generation, now you need to find that magic formula that will provide you with through-the-roof conversion rates.  Guess what?  There is no magic formula. 

Converting visitors – even those that are highly qualified leads – is part of your overall marketing strategy that, like everything else, requires effort.

If only it were as easy as putting a particular phrase on your landing page or making a “buy now” button a certain color, and everyone who saw it would instantly be compelling to buy, buy, buy.  There are aspects of your website design that can be instantly compelling, but the results they achieve are usually in regard to instantly compelling your visitors to continue reading your content or move along to another site that is more appealing, engaging, or interesting than yours.

Statistically, when an internet surfer reaches your landing page, you have about 4 to 7 seconds to keep them on that page.  What this means in the most basic and logical sense is that your “above the fold” content has to be out-of-this-world.  If the first few pieces of content on your page don’t immediately grab their attention, your visitors will quickly lose interest.  This applies even if they are targeted prospects or qualified leads.  People using the Internet to obtain information or make purchases still make decisions that are measured in seconds, because of the immediacy that the Internet provides.

But does a call to action above the fold really make that much of a difference in conversion rates?  Some Internet bloggers and so-called experts claim that above-the-fold content has no bearing on conversion rates, while others will vehemently insist that if your important content and calls to action are not above the fold, you’re losing leads, prospects, and sales with every passing second.

In an article titled The “Above the Fold” Myth Debunked, Eugen Oprea discusses some specific examples where CTAs were placed below the fold and resulted in increased conversion rates.  He claims that the fold doesn’t matter because people know how to scroll.  Yes, and people know how to stop at stop signs, not beat their wives and children, avoid using illicit drugs, eat healthy, balance their checkbooks, flush the toilet when they’re finished going to the bathroom, wash their hands before eating, and stay below the posted speed limit when driving, but that doesn’t mean they do it.

The majority of people searching for something on the internet determine their interest in a page by what is visible on the screen when the page loads, meaning what they see “above the fold.”  Just because someone CAN scroll definitely does not mean that they WILL scroll (and more often than not, they don’t).

Eugen Oprea’s article also refers to what he calls “the cloud box,” that annoying floating advertisement that follows you down the side (or middle, even worse!) of the page when you DO decide to scroll for a second or two.  He claims this is wildly successful in terms of getting more leads and generating more interest.  In my opinion, it is wildly off-putting because it’s just more crap in the page that I have to look at while I’m trying to look at the content I came to the page for.

Eugen’s article page also displays a “sign up” window of some kind at some point during your viewing, and it is incredibly deceptive – there are no “X” boxes in the corners or a “no thanks” button or any apparent way to get rid of the window without signing up for whatever it was pitching…I didn’t bother reading it…but if you click outside the window, it goes away; good thing, too, ’cause when it appeared I was ready to “X” the entire browser tab to get rid of it.

KISSmetrics, a respected source for all things SEO and marketing related, also claims that calls to action above the fold have no bearing on conversion rates.  However, unlike Eugen Oprea, they qualify this statement by saying that placing your call to action above the fold is irrelevant IF your content is totally awesome (i.e., appealing enough to make the site visitor want to continue reading below the fold).  KISSmetrics actually claims that the fold has no bearing at all on conversions, whether CTAs are above or below it.

A study to determine fold placement for CTA success reported that long-copy content detailing the value and benefits of what is being marketed to the site visitor is actually what makes or breaks the visitor’s decision to stay on the page, keep reading below the fold, and activate a call to action at the bottom of the page.

An Unbounce study on landing page call-to-action placement determined that there are actually several different ways you can locate a CTA on your landing page and they can have varying effects on conversion depending on how you lead your site visitor to the finish line.  (They are, however, also advocates of the “people WILL scroll” school of thought, despite the fact that studies have determined that less than 20% of site visitors will scroll.)

Despite these examples that claim either that the fold doesn’t matter or that below the fold calls to action are either just as successful or more successful than above the fold CTAs, other industry and marketing analysts say otherwise.  An older article on DemandGenReport.com says that above-the-fold CTAs increase conversion rates exponentially.  A Boostability article says that a call to action is a “must have” for content above the fold to generate more leads and conversions.

There are many, many more examples of marketing articles and information that support above-the-fold calls to action as the most appropriate location to generate better leads and increase your conversion rates.  Ultimately, the choice of placement is left in your hands.  Regardless of whether you decide to go above or below the fold with your calls to action, always make sure you have high quality, original, and appealing content to attract and keep your visitors’ attention.  If you lose that, you’ve already lost the potential conversion, no matter what you are marketing.

The Paradox of Choice: Real or Not?

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less is a book by psychologist, Barry Schwartz.  In a nutshell, the book discusses why and how multiple options create stress, confusion, and a lack of decision-making ability on the part of consumers.  The first part of this post deals with real-world scenarios.  For the section on how the Paradox of Choice relates to online buying decisions and the effect it has on digital commerce, skip ahead to the section titled The Paradox of Choice and Online Commerce.

In a supposedly world-renowned, researcher-curated economic study where many different types of jams were offered to customers for sampling prior to making a purchase, people faced with so many decisions ultimately ended up not making a decision at all.  They felt stressed out and confused over the large variety of options, weren’t sure which single flavor to pick, and didn’t pick anything at all.  (Also known and referred to as The Jelly Experiment.)

There are supporters and detractors to the applicability of the Paradox of Choice when applied to consumer purchasing decisions.

In an online article titled More is More: Why the Paradox of Choice Might Be a Myth, The Atlantic Magazine presents a debunking of Schwartz’ theory.  They claim that in “several studies” attempting to replicate the results of The Jelly Experiment, the end result was that offering lots of extra choices made no difference either way.  The Atlantic’s article also claims that offering a single-option actually produces the results that Schwartz is claiming via the Paradox of Choice.

To demonstrate how one option creates a “no sales at all” result, The Atlantic cited Williams-Sonoma and how they nearly doubled sales of their $279 bread maker.  At one time, the $279 bread maker was the only one being sold by Williams-Sonoma, and they were not really generating noteworthy sales on the item.  They introduced a $429 bread maker and sales of the lower-priced version almost doubled (and practically no one purchased the $429 one).

Daniel Mochon penned a single-option aversion paper for the Journal of Consumer Behavior.  Mochon claims that when consumers are faced with a “take it or leave it” option consisting of one particular brand or item, they become more interested in shopping around for comparisons to make sure they are getting the best product, best deal, and best option.  Conversely, when they are presented with 20 different flavors or brands of potato chips, for example, the numerous options actually heighten distinctions and give us a greater and more confident sense of surety when making a final purchasing decision.

Mochon’s explanation for this is that by offering a much wider range of options, we are actually giving the consumer the impression that they have explored every possible option (on the shelf in front of them), and are making the best possible decision based on their ability to make comparisons on-the-fly.

While all of this explains the Paradox of Choice and how real or effective it is in real-world examples where consumers can see, touch, taste, and smell the options being presented to them, how does it affect online purchasing decisions?

The Paradox of Choice and Online Commerce

Real-world applications for determining how many options are simply too many can be made easily via a kiosk, sample counter, or simple survey.  Determining whether or not the Paradox of Choice is real in online commerce, however, is another thing entirely.  Companies may not have the time, staff, and budget to spend untold hours performing market research before coming to a conclusion on the best way to market, display, and sell their wares on the internet.  This means that, in most cases, a refinement of shopping options or marketing strategies is done on an as-needed or on-the-fly basis, when one particular method isn’t working and gets modified or replaced by an alternate method.

According to a Smart Insights article on the Paradox of Choice:

Less really is more when it comes to your customer’s satisfaction.

The study of how and why people make decisions, especially as those decisions relate to consumer purchasing, is not a new field of inquiry.  There is research dating back to the 1950s that examines whether or not the number of purchasing options impacts a consumer’s decision, and how more or less likely a consumer is to make a decision at all when faced with a greater number of selections or fewer.

A research paper published by Iyengar & Lepper in 2000 discusses When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing? [PDF document] as part of a section on personality processes and individual differences.  This study begins:

On the face of it, this supposition [“the more choices, the better”] seems well supported by decades of psychological theory and research that has repeatedly demonstrated, across many domains, a link between the provision of choice and increases in intrinsic motivation, perceived control, task performance, and life satisfaction.

The Iyengar & Lepper study conducted field and laboratory research trials to evaluate choices made by potential consumers when faced with a varied number of options, as well as when faced with a different number of options that consisted of very similar and very dissimilar characteristics.  An example of the latter would be when you are faced with 20 different brands of plain potato chips of varied types (wavy, plain, kettle, salted, etc.), or 20 different flavors of chips offered by the same brand (sour cream and onion, BBQ, cheddar, wasabi, jalapeno, salt and pepper, etc.).

The conclusion reached by the Iyengar & Lepper study is that while people may initially prefer to be faced with a greater number of options (which appears to give them more power over their final decision), they often fail to choose decisively and confidently, or fail to choose at all.  A smaller number of choices produces the greatest level of post-selection satisfaction and almost always culminates in a decision being made by the consumer.

A perfect (and perfectly frightening) example of too many options can be found at the website for Ling’s Cars.  A word of warning – before you open the page, turn down your computer speakers.  There is quite literally so much information on the home page that you simply don’t know where to look or click first and, if you are like so many other people, you choose instead to just click away from the website altogether.

Some marketing experts recommend that you design an online landing page with some information and options for your visitor, but not too many.  The blog over at Kissmetrics provides The Anatomy of a Perfect Landing Page.  There are many other experts, however, that would disagree with Kissmetrics’ opinion.

Those dissenting experts mentioned above hold the opinion that a landing page should display nothing more than what serves the page’s purpose.  The purpose of the page is to get your visitor to buy something.  There should be no navigation links, options, menus, calls to action, write-ups, or anything superfluous on the page that does not say (literally and figuratively) “buy me now.”

This ‘less is more’ theory is certainly in line with some aspects of the Paradox of Choice, but oversimplifying a landing page by giving your visitor only one option that consists of spending money may be just as much of a deterrent as the carnival of the grotesque at Ling’s Cars.

If you do simplify your options to the point of having no options at all other than the one most beneficial to your business, you need to make sure it is as much of a no-brainer non-choice as possible.  Make it impossible for your visitor to walk away from what you are offering.

Conclusion

Finding out what makes consumers tick – and what makes them click – is an endeavor that will continue to occupy the minds of market researchers, digital marketers, business owners, and other professionals for some time to come.  There are plenty of great resources for guiding you in the process of getting clicks and conversions, so make sure you do your own research, too.  Pay attention to your analytics, perform testing on content and CTAs, and keep fine-tuning your marketing strategies until you have ones that work best for your business.

What Is Lead Generation?

The most basic definition of lead generation is that it is ‘the initiation of customer interest or inquiry into the products or services of a business‘ (Wikipedia definition).  While some lead generation tactics are used for passive purposes such as list building or newsletter sign-ups, most tactics are employed for more active and aggressive purposes like cultivating demographically desirable and pre-qualified sales leads or refining a global audience or pool of potential consumers into a targeted one.

The Purpose of Lead Generation

Whether you are selling to consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B), there are two obstacles that must be overcome before you can actually close a sale.  You have to provide a compelling response to the following questions:

  • Why should I talk to you?
  • Why should I buy from you?

Most companies try to answer both of those questions simultaneously, using the same content, calls to action, sales pitches, and other strategies.  In reality, those two questions make up two distinctly different parts of the equation and should be treated as such, with your marketing strategies and sales processes focused on each one individually rather than looking at them as being indistinct from one another.

When you tell a potential customer why they should buy from you, you are engaged in the sales process.  Convincing that customer to pay attention and respond to your marketing content, however, by telling them why they should talk to you in the first place, is the primary purpose of lead generation.  A potential customer must first be interested enough to want to know more about what you are selling before they will begin the earnest effort of deciding whether or not to finalize their role in the sales process.

The Lead Generation Funnel

Lead generation, just like making sales, has a ‘funnel’ through which a potential customer must go before they become a qualified lead.  Some marketers consider lead generation as part of the sales funnel, albeit the broadest part at the beginning of the funnel, but others separate it and tackle it as a separate part of the overall marketing process. While the processes of generating leads and making sales should be viewed as separate and distinct for your overall marketing strategy, the bottom of the lead generation funnel overlaps with the top of the sales funnel.

Once a lead has reached the bottom of the lead generation funnel and attained the status of qualified and interested/engaged lead, he or she is ready to begin (or has already begun) the journey through your sales funnel to the end – which is the completion of a sale and the conversion of that lead into a paying customer. The first part of the lead generation funnel comprises your marketing efforts, rather than your sales efforts.  Before a potential customer can become a final sale, they must first be attracted to your offer (whether it’s a product, service, or something else entirely).

Associated with the book, Lead Generation for Dummies, Dayna Rothman writes for the ‘for dummies’ website and provides a comprehensive explanation of the components of a lead generation funnel and how they are used to move a person from a window shopper to a qualified lead to a final sale.

Stage 1: Awareness – At this stage, an individual is dancing around the widest opening of your lead generation and sales funnel.  They are aware of who your company is by name or that you offer certain products or services (in general), but they have done little more than visit your website, check out your social media page, or anonymously download a free document (like a white paper or eBook) through one of your marketing links.

Stage 2: Name – The interested individual has now become part of your database of potential leads, because they have signed up for a newsletter or other subscription, or given their personal contact information as part of a non-anonymous download.  While the individual’s interest may be slightly piqued, they are still not officially a lead at this point, because they may decide your company isn’t worth patronizing or your offerings don’t meet their needs.  A name is, after all, just a name until they become an actionable lead.

Stage 3: Engagement – Once your company has established meaningful communication with the individual, there has now been introduced a certain level of engagement.  This can come through the individual’s initial actions (such as downloading a white paper and expecting a marketing response from the company) or through your company’s initial actions (such as including that individual in an email marketing campaign with a targeted recipient demographic to which the individual belongs).  At this point, the individual is fully inside your lead generation funnel but not yet committed to your sales funnel.

Stage 4: Target – After you have established engagement with your potential lead, you must determine if they fit within your target audience.  The use of targeted recipients for email campaigns is slightly different than establishing an individual as belonging to your company’s desired customer base.  For example, someone who downloads an eBook describing symptoms, attributes, and cycles of drug addiction might be interested enough to reach Stage 2 and 3, but they cannot be compelled to achieve Stage 4 because their interest in drug addiction is to enable them to act in a support role for a friend or family member; thus solutions and assistance for addicts would be of no benefit to them personally.  A ‘target’ (in this context) is someone who has a desire or need for what you are offering and is ready to explore available offers so they can make an informed selection.

Stage 5: Lead – Closely aligned with Stage 4, this stage means the interested individual has become more engaged with your company through various methods and meets the criteria you have established for your target audience or desired customer base.  This is the point in your overall marketing funnel where the individual progresses from deep within the lead generation funnel to the beginning of the sales funnel.  While not a qualified lead yet, he or she is well on their way.

Recycling – At this point, when the individual is passed from your lead generation efforts to your sales team, he or she may not be ready to commit to a sale.  There are plenty of reasons why an interested and engaged potential consumer can fall out of the sales funnel at this point, and you should not discard them entirely.   Recycle them back into your lead generation funnel and attempt to re-engage him or her in the future.

Stage 6: Sales Lead – After your potential consumer has reached this point, it’s time for your sales team to step in and take action to guide the individual to a final sale.  The individual has expressed interest, become engaged, and should now be vetted by the sales team as a qualified lead.  This is the final point before the individual makes a commitment to a sale.  (If the sales team finds that the customer is firmly hesitant, for whatever reason, the individual can be ‘recycled’ back into the lead generation funnel for future action.)

Stage 7: Active Opportunity – Your initial, tentative lead has now reached the point where they are a qualified lead and you have an active sales opportunity that aligns with his or her needs.

Stage 8: Final Sale – Your qualified lead has made a purchase and become a bona-fide customer of your company.

After the Sale – Ongoing Lead Cultivation Efforts

Once your lead has reached ‘customer’ status in your sales funnel, you should make every effort to maintain a strong level of engagement and on-going relationship with him or her.  Many companies see a high level of profitability through repeat business and customer referrals, so it is important that you maintain the B2C or B2B relationship to encourage future purchases and referral leads and customers. It is extremely important that you devote attention to maintaining a relationship with your now-existing customer and either soliciting repeat business from that individual or encouraging them to provide you with referrals for potential leads and future business.

I realize this was already stated in the previous paragraph, but it is critical to your business that you stay ‘friends’ with your current customer base.  An extremely easy way to do this is by reaching out to your existing customers on a regular basis by sending an email. Your email can be short and sweet (‘we hope you are enjoying our product/service’) or it can encourage a response (‘please let us know if you have any questions, problems, suggestions, feedback’) or inform them of a new or similar product or service (‘check out the upgraded version’).

Regardless of the content of your email, make sure it opens the door to communication rather than closing it. Many companies just don’t realize how vital repeat business is to their success, and often let existing B2C and B2B relationships fall by the wayside while they focus on attracting new leads and customers.  Eventually, that pool of potential leads will dry up, which means you certainly should not neglect the customer ‘oasis’ already in your back yard.

Managing Leads and Making Sales

Part of an effective marketing strategy is the use of lead generation management and the establishment of mutually agreeable (to sales and marketing) criteria for determining when a potential or qualified lead should or can move on to the next step in your overall marketing funnel. Without knowing how to maximize the lead generation efforts of your online content, whether it is blogs, social media, landing pages, or your company’s website itself, you could be losing countless leads (and profits) simply because you aren’t utilizing effective lead generation management.

Furthermore, if you do not have criteria in place to help determine when a potential lead should be progressed forward through each stage of your lead generation and sales funnels, you could lose leads (and profits) simply due to indecision or ineffective sales or marketing on your part rather than the consumer.  Your marketing and sales teams will not have a cohesive guideline for determining whether or not that lead is ready to move forward, ready to be recycled, or ready to be converted into a paying customer.

Today’s digitally-driven society makes it incredibly easy for you to capitalize on numerous methods for generating leads and making sales, especially if you have the right support teams in place to nurture leads and encourage engaged individuals to complete their journey through your sales funnel. Don’t let a lack of understanding about the importance of lead generation or your failure to truly grasp how it can boost conversions and sales when used effectively keep your company from reaching a high level of profitability and achieving your marketing goals.