If you are in sales or business development, you know that lead generation is very important. Lead generation comes in many forms and usually falls on the shoulders of both sales and marketing departments. Managing prospects, leads, accounts and opportunities is very time-consuming and detailed.
Worse yet, it is impossible to remember all of your conversations and the nuances of each person/company you talk to. Tracking lead stages, phone calls, emails, contact information, notes, corporate information and marketing touches are just a few of the rigors of lead generation and conversion. So with all of these challenges, where do you start?
What Is Lead Generation?
First, let's start with what we consider lead generation. Lead generation is the process in which we identify and qualify “suspects” or people or companies that would purchase your products or services. There are two categories of lead generation: inbound and outbound.
Inbound lead generation focuses on storytelling, education, content marketing, social media and digital communications. The goal of inbound is to build a relationship and establish trust with a prospective buyer long before they even know your company name or offering. You become the expert, trusted resource because you have offered value to the buyer by helping them become more educated on a specific topic as a subject matter expert. A key component of inbound is never to “sell” your prospect but to help them.
The purpose of content marketing is to establish yourself as a thought leader for your company and to establish your company as the expert to help guide the prospect to the right decision—your service or product offering. As mentioned above, this process avoids blatant selling but instead pushes education. A few content marketing examples that are effective in helping you reach this goal are:
The best way to showcase your talents is to share an example of how you’ve helped a customer just like the prospects you’re trying to attract. There’s no better way to sell without selling than using a case study. This way, prospects can place themselves in the shoes of the customer you’ve already helped and say, “that’s just like what I’m dealing with.”
Whether interviewing a coworker on ways you’ve solved problems for customers or hearing directly from a customer on a testimonial, videos offer the closest experience to a face-to-face meeting without the commitment from a prospect. A video allows your prospect to dive deeper and learn more about who you are and what your company stands for at a more intimate level, all on their own time at the pace they’re ready for.
Outbound lead generation primarily focuses on cold calling, advertising, direct mail and trade shows. Outbound tactics are geared towards getting your message out to as many people as possible and hope they contact you or purchase from you as a result. Typically, outbound strategies involve a “sell” message and are focused on product features, marketing pitches, specific services, etc.
What Is a Conversion?
A conversion can be different from one company to another and is usually defined by you as it relates to your sales and marketing strategy. Typically, a conversion is when a prospect demonstrates action that shows they are indeed interested in your product or service and provides personal information such as their name, phone number or email address in exchange for information. Examples of conversions are:
- When a prospect calls you and requests more information
- When a prospect downloads an eBook from your website
- When a prospect signs up for your email newsletter or connects with you on social media
- When a prospect stops by your trade show booth and lets you scan their badge
Conversions come in many forms and some conversions are more qualified than others defined by the action the prospect takes.
Merging Sales and Marketing
Today, many companies still operate in the old-school mindset that marketing and sales should be different departments with different goals. I once heard a CEO of a large corporation say that “marketing is arts and crafts and sales is the lifeblood of a company.”
Hogwash! Today, sales and marketing are merging together as one integrated team, and when this happens, magic is seen. A key to taking charge of your lead generation and conversion is to make sure your marketing and sales people are working on the same customer acquisition strategy. They should be speaking the same language and working towards common goals. Each team member should have defined objectives as they relate to the overall plan. The graphic below shows where marketing (dark blue) and sales (light blue) should be working together as one team.
Taking Charge and Data Is the Key to Successful Sales
If you are engaging in inbound lead generation, outbound lead generation or both, it is critical to track and document your efforts. Whether you are a sales force of one or 1,000, knowing what you did, whom you talked to, what actions a prospect has taken and what their interests are is extremely valuable information for converting prospects to customers.
In the graphic above, we have identified two key technologies to assist you in this process: marketing automation software and customer relationship management (CRM) software.
Marketing automation software helps you to manage, document and analyze your marketing practices. A proper content marketing strategy, whether inbound or outbound, should have components integrated that allow for tracking and analysis. The goal is constant improvement and refining your lead generation effort. Some well-known and recommended marketing automation software platforms are: HubSpot, Marketo, Act|On, Pardot and Eloqua. Each offer different pricing options, features and functions to fit your unique strategy.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps you manage, document and analyze your sales practices. I have seen many companies, even large ones using Excel or ACT for this function and in my opinion, it just does not work. CRM takes you to a whole new level in the sales process and, like marketing automation software, it is affordable for any size business. Popular CRM platforms are SalesForce, Dynamics, Sugar and Zoho.
As you work on converting more suspects to leads with your lead generation strategy, make sure your sales and marketing departments are working as one team. Create one integrated strategy that has clear lines of responsibility and use marketing automation and CRM software to help you manage your strategy. Taking charge means you have to know what you are doing, know what you have done and be able to make refinements for constant improvement.