Prosperopedia.com, the encyclopedia of prosperity, is dedicated to helping our community become more knowledgeable about how to be prosperous. To that end, this article describes a strategy for efficiently growing a business built on product marketing and sales using a proven lead generation strategy.
This article describes the steps involved in creating an online lead generation system that works well for software subscription and other types of companies. The strategy involves publishing content targeted towards people who are most likely to be interested in the product, and converting web traffic into sales leads.
Over the past decade, I’ve had the opportunity to work with several different tech companies and organizations who needed help using the internet to grow. I’ve had almost two decades of experience steering web traffic to ecommerce websites, and in each of the situations I’ll describe below, I was asked to use that experience to boost the growth of companies that knew they should be taking advantage of the valuable opportunities for growth provided the internet, but didn’t know quite how to do it.
In this article, I’m going to share with you the strategy I’ve used successfully for doing online lead generation for several technology companies and (this is a significantly different type of case) for the religion to which I belong, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This strategy relies heavily upon the great opportunity that exists to match potential customers with a company through a search engine (i.e. Google), using well-written, intentionally targeted content to connect with potential customers while helping them in their quest to solve a problem or answer a question that relates to the product the company sells.
I’ve found that this strategy works particularly well for subscription-based software companies, who often pay way too much to acquire each new lead for their sales reps. However, it also works for many other types of businesses who employ sales reps who reach out to leads generated by a marketing team for the purpose of walking them through how the company’s product solves their problems. This includes everything from software subscriptions (which is highly popular in Utah, where I’ve done most of my consulting) to mortgages and other real estate products.
After I review the strategy, I’ll provide some case studies with specific examples that will help you see the approach I’ve been able to use successfully.
Let’s get started.
Identify Target Personas
As with other marketing strategies, identifying your target personas is the first part of the strategy. For companies that have been in existence long enough to have enough customers that they can create an attribute list of companies who purchased the product, you can evaluate those existing customers (especially your best or most lucrative ones) to put together profiles of who made the decision to purchase the product along with who did the research that put them into contact with your company. For each of the different types of customers you identify and the reasons they chose your , there are likely hundreds or even thousands of others who would easily follow the same path and become a customer if they were simply introduced to your product or service. In sorting through your existing customer base, your job is to figure out what your product did to solve the problems your customers were facing so that you can create a template out of the interaction to use over and over again.
The identification of these target personas you will go after will include the standard attributes, like their job titles, their interests, their typical age range and dominant gender, along other persona attributes. But for this activity, you’ll also want to understand what issues they face related to your product, including what words and phrases they search for to find what they need. You’ll often find this kind of information in forums, Facebook groups, and in other discussions happening online.
As you create personas for those you think will be most likely benefitted by your product, you can begin to empathize with them and their respective situations. I’ve found that reading through discussion forums that are comprised of the types of people your product is designed for, interacting with them, and even asking them questions about their needs will change your mind from a marketer or salesperson who just wants their money into an advocate who is genuinely concerned about improving their situation. Your product then becomes part of the solution for them.
Once we’ve identified our target personas, the next step is to essentially configure the internet to introduce those people to you. There are lots of different channels and mechanisms for doing this, including Google (and other search engines, just to be fair; it’s just that the others pale in comparison), YouTube, Facebook Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media outlets, business directories like Yelp, and other places where large crowds of people hang out.
My approach to lead generation focuses mostly on getting traffic from Google. I’ll explain why.
Why Traffic from Search Engines is So Valueable
I’ve found that traffic coming to your website from search engines tends to convert better than any other kind of exposure. That’s because of the natural relationship that exists between Google, the endless sea of information that it organizes into useable chunks, and Google’s billions of users, who use Google’s search interface to find things to the tune of almost 6 billion interactions per day. When someone lands on your particular webpage after they’ve done a Google search, you have a situation where you’ve essentially received some aspect of an endorsement for what you’re presenting since Google has trusted your page enough to offer it as a solution to whatever the Google user has searched for. Google has built and maintained its dominant market share by being very good at that matchmaking game.
Additionally, whoever Google has sent to your website is looking for the information you’re sharing. The interaction of being able to share a potential solution for their query falls under the area of pull marketing (where customers are drawn to you) versus the much less favorable alternative of push marketing, which is represented in situations such as when you purchase a list of people and attempt to contact them through email or phone to sell them your product.
Here is an example of the difference between using SEO and content marketing versus pushing an offer to even a warm audience that has opted in to receiving offers.
One of my business partners has built a large audience on Facebook (about 170,000 people) through sponsoring product giveaways and other product promotional offers. Recently, we made an attempt to supercharge the sales of one of my company’s products (vinyl home decor designs) on Amazon, which usually rewards off-site traffic that converts into sales with better organic rankings and higher sales. The product, along with a 30% off discount coupon, was shared to this group. Over 1,000 people clicked from the promotion link to the Amazon product page. None of them purchased the product.
Those 1,000+ interactions in this case simply didn’t represent a match between what my store was offering and what the people in that particular audience, even those who actually saw the product image, pricing, and discount offer and made the effort to click on the link, really wanted.
Rarely does that type of thing happen when content you publish is matched up with visitors who come from Google.
Publish Targeted Content To Match Persona Interests
Once you’ve determined who it is that you should be targeting with your product, the next step is to come up with a list of topics that would represent your target personas’ interests, especially as they relate to the features of your products. You can prioritize your list of topics to place the most impactful topics first. For instance, if you can find topics that you can use to identify and connect with those who are ready to buy your product, especially if you can find ones that are lower competition and that you have highly useful information about, start with those topics. You can use Google’s Keyword Planner (you’ll need to set up a free account with Google AdWords to use this tool) to find high search volume, low competition phrases to target.
There are lots of different guidelines about how long your articles should be, and how to optimize the content for Google, and it’s important to understand the fundamentals of search engine optimization (SEO), but the most critical element of this part of the strategy is to publish, publish, publish! As long as you’re publishing highly useful, highly targeted content, the traffic and leads will start coming.
For new companies with brand new domain names and websites that are starting from scratch, it can take some time (even months) to start seeing significant traffic and leads. However, there are many ways that you can accelerate the process, including by simply publishing often.
In one of the stints I had helping a company bulk up their inbound marketing generated leads, I asked any and everyone who was willing to write for me to create an article about something they had a particular knowledge about or interest in related to the company. In once case (eFileCabinet), I had the executive admin writing articles about the scanners we recommended for scanning documents into our document management system (DMS) product. I recognized that a good portion of those who are searching for the business grade scanners we recommended were also in the market for a DMS. If they were educated by an article we wrote about the pros and cons of several of the most popular business scanners, they would naturally be interested in our product as well.
We ended up generating a lot of very qualified leads from the scanner review pages written by someone who previously never thought that her job would involve writing content for our website, but who got fulfillment out of seeing her contribution to the company in terms of sales that came from the content she’d written for us.
In that same company, I asked our salespeople to go through their email and dig out any significant back and forth question and answer threads that could be used to create a new piece of content. We soon had over half our team of 20+ sales reps writing and submitting informative articles for us to publish. To close the loop and incentivize them, we would hand over to them any leads generated from content they had produced instead of having those leads go into the normal round-robin lead distribution system.
After the first round of articles were completed and results were obvious, we soon began having sales reps ask us for specific topic recommendations. Based on our recommendations, which came from our daily evaluation of which topics produced the most qualified and lucrative leads, they would do research on the topic to understand enough to do justice to the content pieces they’d produce for us. This process not only helped not only increase traffic to our website and leads into our system, but it also improved the overall sales team’s ability to sell the product, as it made them much more informed about the ways our software could be used.
Changing the Average Selling Price Through Topic Selection
When I first introduced the content marketing strategy to our sales team, the idea they had locked into their heads from years of experience selling the product was that there was a well-defined structure in place that determined how much they’d close in revenue based almost exclusively on how many sales they made in a month. The average selling price (ASP) of our product, which was sold mostly to accountants (an accountant founded the company and designed the software originally to meet specific accountant needs) was $1,200 annually, or $100/month. Almost all deals we closed were for small accounts with one or two licenses.
I introduced to this team the idea that if we published content that attracted bigger fish by describing how our software handled issues being experienced by those personas, we could easily increase that ASP so that each unit of sales work they did would extend further.
We did some digging into the features and capabilities of our document management software and soon started publishing articles about using a DMS to accomplish compliance for universities, HIPAA laws and how to meet them using the appropriate DMS, and lots of other content targeted towards bigger accounts. Within weeks we began getting leads and later closing deals from large universities, pharmaceutical companies, and others. Instead of deals that hovered around the one-user, $100/month level, we started seeing licensing deals come through for 50 or more users that were in the $60,000+ deal range. In fact, soon after we started publishing and promoting content that attracted these much larger customers, the company saw the need to create a specific enterprise sales team to deal with those leads for much larger organizations.
Use Your Competitors to Better Index Potential Customers
Doing competitor research is critical for software and other tech companies. One of the things I learned about creating a comparison feature matrix and digging deep on the understanding of your competitors, including their pricing, product features, and other elements of their offer compared to yours is that you can learn a lot from their attempts to reach out to an audience that overlaps quite a bit with the people you want to attract.
When you find a close competitor and start looking at who is using their software, I call that process persona indexing. When you do persona indexing, you are essentially looking at the competitor (usually a larger company that has a track record that can be evaluated). You can then use some of the same tactics you can see your competitors doing, including writing content similar to what they’ve essentially validated.
Besides reviewing their content strategy, I’ve also found it very effective to write articles (even highly complimentary ones) about your competitors and the features of their software. Usually brand names are not very competitive search terms, and it’s easy to rank an article for a competitor’s brand name, describing their product, and using the article to both introduce your similar product and to differentiate it from theirs in a way that induces the reader to become a lead.
Use Web Analytics to Understand and Improve
When you begin publishing targeted content and driving the kind of search traffic you want to your company’s website, it’s critical that you use web analytics to understand what’s happening once they get there. Having a highly-qualified web analytics expert (or, for smaller companies, having an intelligent person who has web analytics as a significant aspect of his job) acts as a mechanism for feeding back into your content generation efforts, besides allowing you to take away any blockades you might find existing in the way that your website converts into leads, which we’ll talk about next.
As an example of a breakdown in this, I will use my experience working with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more commonly known as the Mormon Church). Using the tools I had available to me, tools that were also available to the executives who managed the church’s marketing efforts, and to the general public (SEMRush, Moz.com, and other tools I’ll discuss later), besides our actual internal web analytics tools, I could tell that there were tens of millions of visitors each year going to LDS.org (which was then the church’s official domain; it has since been changed to ChurchOfJesusChrist.org) from people who were religious, but who were not members of our church. The fact that they had searched for religious material and had chosen to spend time reading content on the church’s website should have given us a huge opportunity to match up
Knowing very well that one of our top priorities as a church is to share our message with other people to gain converts, and that our protocol for sharing that message involves to our missionaries (the mostly young men and women traveling around in church dress, who are essentially our sales team) anyone who is honestly interested in learning about our religion, and understanding how powerfully lead generation can be done by simply asking those on your website if they’re interested in our product, it seems obvious to me that if those who are ultimately responsible for sharing our message of the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world simply understood what they were missing out on – essentially thousands of highly qualified leads (we call them investigators) – by not knowing who’s visiting our flagship website (most of our content is published there, including the scriptures, talks, online versions of our magazines, gospel topic discussions, and much more) and by not being interested in finding out using web analytics and some simple proof of concept tests whether that website might be a gold mine for referrals, to say that we’re not doing it correctly would be an understatement.
I’ll talk more about this situation more later when I review tools available to help you optimize your lead generation efforts.
Convert Website Traffic Into Qualified Leads
There are lots of things that can be done to convert website traffic that comes from your content marketing efforts into sales leads and ultimately customers. The simplest thing to do is either guide them through a checkout process if you’re selling a commodity, or to ask them if they’d like help learning more about your product or if they want help with what they’re trying to solve. These conversion steps – the part of the lead generation process where website traffic turns into actual people with whom you can converse – are usually done through adding forms to your pages and/or by adding a chat feature to your website.
Don’t scrimp on this part of your lead generation funnel. There are better ways to ask someone if they’d like you to contact them, and there are worse ways. There are better segues into asking them to have a conversation with your sales team about their needs as they relate to the content they’re presently consuming, and there are worse ways.
In most cases I’ve seen, you’re looking for a chance to get someone’s name, email address and phone number to pass on to your sales team so that they can work their magic and walk them through the sales process.
Why Organic Search Traffic Beats Paid Traffic
Most of the companies I’ve worked with have spent some amount of time and money building out marketing campaigns that involve paid traffic. Most of them didn’t use AdWords, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, and other forms of paid marketing very well, but I’ve noticed that companies often don’t have the patience for plays (like content marketing) that take more time to develop and don’t exactly create an instant flow of traffic.
In one particular technology company I consulted for, the month before I arrived saw over $65,000 spent on Google AdWords clicks without a single valid lead. Yikes! That experience could cure a startup or any not well-funded business from doing any sort of paid marketing ever again.
While I certainly know that paying Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube or any of the other large audience platforms that exist out there can be profitable, I’ve never seen it be as efficient as having a steady stream of free, organic, ready to interact with your brand people who are more highly likely to become leads for you than ones that come from paid ads.
Why is that?
Because when the interaction between you and a potential lead is sponsored (meaning they came to your site because you paid someone to send them there), the interaction is almost never as genuine and natural as when they are sent from Google experimenting with your content and determining that it was worth showing to one of their “customers”.
Google earns over $100 billion in revenue from people clicking on their ads each year. However, that paid revenue is driven by Google’s ability to efficiently return the best natural (unpaid for) search results to users when they use Google. Google often fails to deliver solid results for their AdWords users. The example above is one example of that (of course it was as much the outsourced paid marketing team’s fault as much as it was Google’s; after we dug into them, we fixed the issues and started extracting value out of the relationship fairly quickly) lack of concern that Google has over whether your AdWords spend actually benefits your company and provides a way for you to be profitable. Google simply just doesn’t really care that much if you waste your money through their paid advertising program.
However, if Google were to ever lose ground to competitors (Bing, Yahoo, MSN, etc.), then they’d start to lose their position as the market leader in search engine optimization, and their advertising revenues (which are so high because everybody uses Google to do searches) would plummet. This need to stay squarely at the top is why Google dedicates so many resources to making regular updates to their algorithm, penalizing people who are intentionally trying to trick the formula, and rewarding those pages and websites that simply provide the best value to their nearly 2 billion users worldwide.
So, even if you’re doing well with paid search, this strategy for targeting leads through organic search is highly worthwhile. If you’re doing strictly paid search stuff, and you begin implementing this strategy, you’re sure to see your cost per customer acquisition go down.
The Sales Acceleration Formula
While I was working at a company called eFileCabinet several years ago, I rolled out this content marketing strategy aggressively, which instantly helped me become good friends with the sales manager, whose team had previously been attempting to sell to leads purchased from Data.com, almost all of whom were simply not the right people to attempt to sell our document management software product to.
With each new article published, highly targeted leads would soon follow, and the sales team would be thrilled yet again to see a bump in their qualified lead volume.
One day, the sales manager asked me if I had heard of a book written by the guy who had helped HubSpot go from being unheard of to one of the top CRM tools available. The author’s name is Mark Roberge, and the book is called The Sales Acceleration Formula. I hadn’t heard of the book or the author. He remarked that my strategy seemed to be very similar to what is described in the book. I read the book. In fact, the strategy I’m describing here is very descriptively explained in that book along with other aspects of doing sales. If you have no more time than to at least read the section on demand generation in that book, you’ll have a second witness (much more powerful than mine) of how this strategy can work as it is the formula Roberge used to quickly put HubSpot on the map.
Time to Start Your Lead Generation Campaign?
As I mentioned at the start of this article, this strategy is one that always works. At least that’s been my experience with it on no less than a dozen occasions. As long as you have a product or service that solves people’s problems, and as long as those people are searching the internet for something like what you offer, this strategy will always work.
One last hint: getting started now on implementing this strategy is much better than getting started later.
Feel free to let me know how it goes for you.
Coming Soon…Use Cases and Tools
This has turned out to be a really long article, but it will end up being longer.
I’ll be back with some use cases and recommendations for tools that you can use to make your inbound marketing lead generation strategy get results more quickly.