Finding customers can be difficult, but there’s a method to it that anyone can learn and follow. We had a brainstorm and came up with 99 ways to generate leads and acquire customers – from traditional sales and marketing to the latest digital techniques.
Digital marketing has been a great leveller – now any business, no matter how small, can access sales and marketing tools previously only available to the big boys.
And because online audiences give attention to genuinely useful and engaging content more than they do to paid ads, anyone can attract that attention without a Superbowl advertising budget – and convert those new fans into customers.
While we’re looking mostly at B2B lead generation here, the rules are much the same for B2C.
Who is your audience? Are you selling something they need?
- Not everyone is going to buy your product or service. A vast majority of people will never be interested even in hearing about it. And that’s fine. The secret to good marketing is to only put yourself in front of potential buyers. That’s the way to get the best bang for your buck and your sweat.
- So the first step is to define your audience. How well do you know your current customers? What do they have in common? Can you define different types of customer and create profiles for them?
- Customers are real people, just like you. We sometimes forget that and only see them as eyeballs or wallets. Beyond getting demographic data on your customers get to know them more intimately. Where do they live? What hobbies do they have? What are their goals?
- As we’re looking at B2B marketing here, you should also think about your customers’ workplaces. What kind of workplace is it? What are their job roles? What work-related problems are they trying to solve? What kind of professional publications do they read?
- If you are having trouble attracting your target market’s attention and converting prospects to customers, the most likely reason is that there is a mismatch between your product (or service) and your audience. Go back to your target audience and ask yourself if you are solving a genuine problem for those people.
- Analyse your audience’s day-to-day work-related tasks, goals and problems. If necessary, re-engineer your offering to fit your audience better. Focussing on solving just one weighty problem can help you cut through the marketing noise and stand out from the crowd. If you can’t change your offering then you might need to rethink your target market completely.
What have you got to say? Content is king.
- Do you have a blog on your website? You should do. You don’t need to write every day, or even every week, but you should have some content up there that tells your audience what’s happening in your company and what you think about important topics affecting your industry. Show them your company is a living, breathing, evolving entity. You can outsource content writing if you don’t have the time or skills inhouse.
- Cold sales are hard. Selling to people you know is much easier. The goal of content marketing is to make new friends and fans so make your content genuinely interesting and helpful. Sales pitches can come later.
- For each article or post that you create try to have a bigger piece of content you can use as a give-away in exchange for a prospect’s email address. This could take the form of a white paper, in-depth guide, video, or longer article that expands on the original article.
- Content that has immediate practical uses is often more popular than a dry, academic treatise. If you can produce content that helps people do their jobs better, you’ll make new friends. Think of ridiculously long lists like this one!
- You can also give away bits of content for prospects to use, even if it’s something as simple as a document template in Word. If you can genuinely solve a problem or save time for your target audience, they will download your content and happily give you an email address in exchange.
- Sometimes you’ll have to demonstrate to your prospects that they even have a problem before you can give them the solution. This is particularly with new and innovative products. In this case you’ll need to craft a narrative which sparks recognition in your audience.
- As your content program starts to show results, you can get more sophisticated. Prospects respond well to video and interactive content so you can do surveys, webinars, podcasts and movies too.
- In-depth content makes you an authority in your field and you’ll rank highly for it in search engines. If you swap back links with trusted sources you might become Google’s promoted answer to whatever question you are answering – which can send you a lot of traffic.
- When creating any content, always be thinking what your Call to Action is. What do you want the prospect to do next after engaging with this piece of content. Unless the prospect gives you an email address for something, or follows you on social media, it’s difficult to continue the conversation.
How are you moving prospects from don’t-know-you to client? Get your funnel set up.
- What is the purpose of your programs? If it’s to generate leads, incoming enquiries, appointments, sales, proposal opportunities then you need to define these and give each a value. You need to be able to track quality as well as quantity, and also track each lead to its final outcome. This is a funnel.
- When each lead comes in, no matter what type of enquiry it is, you need to capture as much information as possible (eg. industry, location, job title), without putting off the customer by asking for too much. With more information you get a better picture of what type of prospect converts.
- Some leads are for immediate conversion and some are your future buyers. Differentiate between MQL (marketing qualified) and SQL (sales qualified) leads. MQL leads need nurturing by marketing, while SQL leads should be called with the purpose of setting an appointment and following up with a sales proposal.
- Your sales funnel should mirror your buyers’ journey. Standard stages include suspect, prospect, brand-engaged, SQL lead, new customer, onboarding customer, and repeat customer. At every stage, you should vary content and campaigns, perhaps with different offers and landing pages.
- At each stage of the journey and funnel you should identify the triggers that cause leads to move up or down. Are these triggers all internal to your prospects’ business, or can you cause prospects to move up the funnel with your own proactive activity? Understanding the difference allows you to focus your efforts on what produces the most results.
- Is your marketing funnel a leaky bucket? Sending traffic to a low-converting page or form costs you money and customers. Optimise forms and pages, and follow-up email sequences.
- Don’t rush in and ask for the appointment or sale before the prospect is comfortable. If they’re ready to buy they should be giving some signal you can identify. Pushing for a sale at the wrong time can destroy a budding relationship. Focus on engaging, educating and earning the prospect’s trust in the early stages.
- Can you swap leads with related but non-competitive businesses who go after similar profiles of customers to you? Perhaps there’s a company that shares your business park that you could partner with by referring prospects to each other?
How do you make sure your content gets discovered? SEO is about so much more than keywords.
- Prospects love to be told they’re making a great decision, but not by you. It’s much more impactful when they can hear from independent sources, like your other customers. Encourage reviews of your products on Google, Yelp, or whatever is best for your sector.
- For the same reason you should put testimonials on your site, landing pages, and social media. You can swap links with your customers if they agree, which not only displays social proof on your website but also creates backlinks that search engines love.
- Are there trusted third party information sources and experts in your sector? These could include bloggers, celebrities, gurus, and magazines or online publications. Reach out to them and find out what kind of content they’re interested in. Almost everyone needs content and if you can provide it you will get links and traffic.
- Going a step further you can offer to collaborate on creating content with influencers. If you’re doing a lot of the work and bankrolling it, you’ll be surprised how agreeable they are.
- If you want paid traffic, then sponsored content can work better than paid ads, as they are less overtly trying to sell something. You still get the exposure and the links back to your website.
- Depending on what your product or service is, can you give away a free trial of it to key influencers in your sector? Ask them to write honest reviews, and you can then post these as testimonials too. Some content creators on YouTube, Twitch, and other social media make a living by creating videos about particular products or types of products. What’s the analogue of the video games streamer for your industry?
- When any influencers do write articles or create videos that feature your products and services be sure to repost and boost them on your own social media channels. This can bring you both new audiences and makes that influencer more likely to feature you again.
- Organic traffic from SEO is likely to be your highest quality visitors as they’ve searched for something and found that your website offers a solution – at least that’s what they hope. If the content on your landing pages is not relevant to their original search query they will leave quickly. You don’t want to waste their time or your resources, so make sure your content is focussed on the keywords you are targeting. One of the best marketing investments we made was engaging a trusted SEO consultant – you can find highly rated SEO specialists here.
- There are plenty of third party websites that can send you quality traffic. Put your blogs on Medium, answer user questions on Quora, be active on Reddit – or whatever forums are popular for your sector. These sites get a lot of traffic and offer you an opportunity to position yourself as a subject matter expert in your field.
- Finally, if all your buyers are local then you need to go local with your content and SEO. Target the geographical locations you know your buyers are in with the appropriate keywords, meta data, and other information that lets Google know where you do business. Do not however create hundreds of fake spam pages that pretend to be local, as this ‘black hat’ strategy just annoys people.
How are you getting your message across? A mix of channels is essential.
- People love to get their hands on something, especially if it’s free and genuinely useful. If it’s part of your actual product even better, as you’re showing them how to use it. Can you create a useful, interactive tool or download? This can even be something simple like a template in Excel using macros. The idea is to create a curiosity gap by not giving everything away. You should ask for at least an email in return so you can start a dialogue.
- Prospects aren’t really lazy, but they are busy. Which means even when they desperately want a solution to their problem, you’re still going to have to do a lot of the legwork. So it’s a great idea to make your sales enquiry process and support functions as frictionless as possible. Adding Live Chat to your website enables customers to contact you (or a bot) immediately. This boosts conversion rates and customer satisfaction.
- Before you give a prospect access to the Live Chat, ask for their contact details and add them to your marketing database.
- Some channels are inbound, in that you put out content which hopefully encourages prospects to come to YOU. Others are outbound in that you reach out to the prospect with an email, phone call, or paid ad. You cannot, in most B2B sectors at least, rely entirely on inbound marketing. Decide on the right balance of inbound vs outbound lead generation for your product, sector and audience. The right mix will depend on your budget too.
- If your product is genuinely new and innovative, or you are an unknown brand, then your keywords will likely have pretty low volumes as maybe you’re solving a problem nobody yet knows they have! You’ll need to skew your mix towards the outbound or interruption end of the marketing mix to get attention and awareness.
- By the same token, inbound marketing is most effective if you can create a buzz around your product or service. So if you’re offering a new solution to a real problem, the sooner you can get picked up by powerful early adopters and influencers the better. If you can build momentum behind your brand and story, you can easily switch from outbound to inbound marketing.
- You don’t have to be the next Uber to get customers to come to you. Offer something of value for free and put it out there. Promote it and ask customers to engage with you.
- Client referrals will always generate some of your highest quality leads. Offer incentives for customers to refer new customers. If your sector supports affiliate marketing you can give customers and influencers rewards and kickbacks. Build campaigns and tools right into your customer portal or extranet.
- Affiliate marketing requires you to have the ability to track prospects right from source to sign up, but the tools are publicly available. You’ll need things like personalised URLs and tracking cookies and a back end system to tally and pay customer rewards and commissions.
- How much use are you making of ‘new’ channels where your customers are hanging out? Do you even know where they’re hanging out? While most businesses know how to use email and the phone to reach out to prospects, fewer are using social channels or messaging services such as Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, or Skype. Engagement and response rates can be much higher if you can get on people’s phones. Channel exclusive promotions can give them a reason to add you.
- People love video, they love human interaction, and they love learning new stuff. Webinars bring all those things together, which is why they are becoming such a successful sales tool. For prospects you should make your webinars as educational and informational as possible, leaving any promotional content until later. Webinars deliver even better results if you partner with trusted authorities like industry associations or popular trade publications. Check out our free guide, What can go wrong in a webinar – a risk and mitigation checklist.
- Not all webinars need to be live. Recorded webinars, which run at a set time and unfold onscreen as if they were live and interactive, are a great always-on, 24/7 sales tool. There are plenty of online platforms that can host them for you and provide you with conversion tools and in-depth reporting.
- Another way of reaching out to prospects without selling is to have a regular podcast. Something as simple as interviewing an expert every week can quickly build your brand, or its spokesperson, a loyal following.
- On social media like Facebook and LinkedIn, you can create interest groups, user groups and chat groups about specific topics then invite experts you know and prospects you would like to know to join them. Meetups (online or in person) are also popular.
- Rather than giving away the same old stuff as everyone else – white papers, blogs, guides – why not try some of the less commonly used types of content? These include online presentations, flipbooks, infographics, research reports, and microsites. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. Standing out is usually a good thing and you won’t burn your entire market even if it doesn’t work.
- Whatever content you put out, ensure your approach is both multi-channel and cross-channel. This means everything needs to tie together. For example, a LinkedIn post leads to a blog on your site, which leads to an opt in to download a white paper, which leads to a follow up email sequence that is relevant, leading to a landing page with a call to action or offer.
- It’s good to stand on the shoulder of giants. Can you leverage the reach of an established platform like Amazon, Shopify, Weibo or whatever’s big in your sector to sell your product to new markets? What’s the online equivalent for your product of getting on a supermarket shelf? If your product is online you could reach a whole new audience with a Salesforce plugin or a Zapier integration, for example.
Sometimes you need to pay to reach your audience. Ads have their place in your mix.
- While paid traffic is generally of lower quality than organic traffic – because the visitor is prompted to come to you rather than searching you out – it can yield results fast. It can also be profitable once you know your numbers. For example, let’s say you know you can get visitors to your site for $2 each. If you know your conversion rate from visitor to lead to prospect to new customer, and you know your lifetime value and profit margin on each customer, then you know how much you can spend to acquire each customer. If every $1 you spend on advertising earns you $2, then you probably have a business.
- For most B2B sectors you can easily target your prospects on LinkedIn and Facebook by their job titles, industries, locations, and interests. Google and Bing ads can also be good sources of paid traffic if you are able to cost-effectively target popular keywords.
- For content marketing, use the native ad formats on LinkedIn and Facebook that come with built-in forms. These allow you to collect emails and other user information without the prospect having to leave LinkedIn or Facebook. Sometimes these forms can pre-populate the user’s data, which significantly reduces effort and friction. It also means you can do away with the time and expense of creating landing pages.
- Once you’ve managed to get someone to your website, you don’t want to lose them. Get them to come back by setting up retargeting Both LinkedIn and Facebook support these, as does Google for display ads.
- You can also set up remarketing ads on most platforms by importing your prospect lists, and on social media sites you can target your own followers.
- Once you have a list or two of people for your remarketing campaigns, you can ask Facebook and LinkedIn to automatically build lookalike audiences. Using these, you can target new people with whom your brand has never interacted.
- Your website likely has key conversion pages such as landing pages, registration pages, shopping carts, or free trial conversion pages. You can target people who reach those pages but do not complete these actions with remarketing ads on most platforms. You could, for example, hit them with discount offers to complete the buyer’s journey that they started.
- There’s been significant growth in brands sponsoring content in popular podcasts, streams, and YouTube videos. The content creator sometimes gets paid a lump sum, and sometimes gets an affiliate link to include in their video from which they earn commission. NordVPN, CuriosityStream, and most online educational course providers have built their audiences using this method.
Landing pages are the most important pages on your website.
- The most important pages on your website are the ones you direct people to when you want them to complete a specific goal. Unlike standard web pages, your landing pages should be laser focussed on the action you want the customer to take. For this reason, they often exist outside the normal website navigation/site map, and indeed often minimise the user’s options to click to another page on the site. Getting your landing pages right is the key to any successful campaign.
- Identify your goal for each landing page. Is it to get the prospect to revisit, enter an email address, ask a question, or take up an offer? Make sure each landing page has only one objective and that it is as easy as possible for the prospect to complete it.
- As landing pages are so different to the rest of the website, some brands use professional landing page solutions. These allow you to create optimised landing pages outside of your usual website. This can be useful as most content management systems don’t have the tools to easily design and change pages, which is the key to optimising conversion rates. It also stops your website getting cluttered up with lots of pages if you’re running a lot of campaigns. If you don’t use a landing page service consider setting up a separate microsite just for your landing page, with its own CMS.
- A/B testing of your headlines, images, calls to action, copy, colours, and page layout is the only way to find out what works and what doesn’t. There are rules, of course, but only by trial and error will you optimise your conversion rates.
- Are you offering anything different of interest on your landing pages? Go beyond free trials and offer free support, free consultancy sessions, or free set-up to prospects trying your service out.
- Review your copy. Some sectors prefer short, to-the-point copy, while in others long story-like copy can work better. Either way your copy needs to hold the attention of your prospect and lead them to the call to action in the right frame of mind to convert. Whether your copy is long or short it should always follow on naturally from whatever led the reader there, and be focussed on your key messages and call to action.
Don’t forget good old-fashioned outbound marketing and prospecting. Even when leads come to you, you will still need to work to convert them.
- Generating leads is a numbers game. So ensure you measure everything so that you know where to spend time and money. Metrics include Click Through Rate, Cost per Click, CPM, Conversion Rate, Time to Conversion, Number of contacts to conversion, Cost per Lead, Cost per Customer, ROI. In theory, once you know these numbers, you know how much revenue a given campaign spend should generate.
- Outbound marketing is only as good as your lists. You can build lists online using a number of tools, including page scraping, exporting your LinkedIn contacts, and searching for contacts using Linkedin Premium or Sales Navigator. It takes effort but it is possible to find target companies and contacts online and their emails and phone numbers. Ensure you only contact work email and phone numbers. It’s possible to outsource LinkedIn outreach to a specialist, who will then move conversations out of LinkedIn and into your email inbox, where you can “take over” and move those leads to demos or discovery calls. Ask us for more information on the cost of this service at email@example.com.
- You can also rent lists from reputable providers and brokers. Usually you can only email them a certain number of times so you can’t keep all the data, only people who respond.
- It’s also possible to buy data from publishers, usually in exchange for sponsorship of a report or event. The deal is that you get to keep the names and contact details of downloaders and attendees.
- One of the most powerful outbound marketing tools you can use is a prospecting As well as following up the leads your inbound marketing campaigns generate, they can also cold-email and cold-call your prospect databases to set telephone or face-to-face appointments for sales reps. Consider outsourcing the prospecting function.
- The job of the prospecting team isn’t to discard each lead that isn’t ready to buy. Instead the objective is to gather information on target companies, build relationships with key individuals, find new contacts, educate prospects by sending information and following up, suggest uses for your services, and find new leads in the news and trade press.
- Never under-estimate the power of PR to reach broad audiences and create market awareness of your offering. Get to know the journalists that cover your area in a particular publication and write them a concise email with an idea for a story that will interest their audience.
Email marketing is still the best way to engage with a database of prospects.
- There’s an old marketing adage that the gold is in the list. So make sure you communicate with your prospect databases. Email a regular newsletter to your marketing list with interesting information and links to some exclusive content.
- Keep growing your list by inviting website and social media visitors to subscribe to your newsletter. Inserting social media sharing links in your newsletter (and on your website) will also help to grow your list.
- Create email sequences which educate, entertain and inform your market about your products but also provide helpful free information and tools.
- When a lead takes action, they can move from one email sequence to another. For example, more engaged prospects might get a different level of content, customers another level still.
- Stay classy, don’t spam. Spam is anything that is unsolicited and untargeted, whether that’s emails, LinkedIn mails, promoting your product in chat rooms, or targeting irrelevant keywords for search ads.
- Set up triggers to send communications, offers, or instigate follow up calls when prospects complete an action. This could be when they visit a particular page on your website, engage with a piece of content, open an email, or click a particular link.
- Use analytics to add rich demographic and other data before contacting a list (use it on your own list too). You can then use this to target your marketing efforts appropriately.
Social media and your community of customers and advocates are great channels to reach out and engage with your audience.
- Whenever you create a piece of content, or email out to your databases, be sure to post links to it on your social media channels.
- Don’t just get clicks, your goal with social media is to get that YouTube subscription, Twitter follow, Facebook Like, or LinkedIn connection so you can continue building a relationship with the people who engage with your content.
- Run contests online and to your email lists with prizes and incentives for engaging with the brand or sharing content. These could be as simple as asking people to submit photos of using your product.
- Create an affiliate marketing program and pay third parties for sending traffic and buyers to your website.
- Be active on third party community sites and forums (LinkedIn, Facebook, Reddit, etc.). You must be a sincere contributor and helper to build trust with people looking for information and assistance. Promoting your product takes a back seat.
- Host an Ask Me Anything (AMA) live chat on your website or social channels with an acknowledged expert in your field. If you don’t feel comfortable doing live events you can also do podcasts and share them on your social channels and those of your partners.
- People love you when you can introduce them to useful contacts. Can you help your LinkedIn or real life contacts by introducing them to each other or to new suppliers and sources of information? They won’t forget you.
- Make sure you follow key prospects on Twitter and Linkedin. Ensure you reply to any interesting posts they make, or repost them. Message them with congratulations or free help, and start a conversation.
There’s a ton of software and technology that can help you. Here are some ideas.
- Keeping your lists on paper or in Excel sheets no longer cuts the mustard. There are plenty of cost effective, cloud-based CRM tools, which can be set up in minutes or hours. Use your CRM to add sales leads and email marketing contacts, and track your interactions and conversations with your prospects.
- Many of the CRM applications include some digital marketing tools, however it is often better to use dedicated tools. For example, email marketing tools such as MailChimp can be used to build and store your emails, and track engagement with your emails like open rates and click rates. Your marketing tools can be integrated with your CRM so that new contacts and unsubscribed contacts can be updated in both.
- Automate as much as possible. If you’re relying solely on sales reps you can’t scale easily as each rep can only generate and follow up a limited number of leads. Online tools like MailChimp, Hootsuite, Hubspot, and Leadpages let you automate many aspects of lead generation and email marketing. If you find that something is working is then easy to scale it up to generate and handle as many leads as you like.
- Chatbots can even initiate contact with customers by popping up questions for them on your site and social channels. The rule with chatbots is to be interesting, even quirky if it fits the brand, to engage with website visitors. In a B2B environment, chatbots should just mostly aim to be helpful. Don’t forget to at least get an email address in exchange for providing assistance. For more on chatbots, get a copy of our free white paper, Virtual agents, chatbots and the future of customer engagement.
- Use marketing automation tools to gather data on visitor and prospect behaviour, profile them, and target them with more relevant content based on your buyer’s journey and triggers.
Your website is your public face and first sales tool.
- Personalise the experience on your website to show the information most relevant for each visitor. You can do this based on the visitor’s past interactions, or where they are in the buyer’s journey, if you can identify them accurately. Alternatively, if you can’t, or they are a new visitor, you can personalise the content based on their traffic source, eg. if they are coming with a tracking URL that shows they are responding to a specific campaign.
- On your website, instead of bombarding visitors with everything you do, show a questionnaire which teases out what they actually want and need. At the end of this you can then offer them the appropriate solution. You could also use a chatbot to do this.
- Use calls to action intelligently on your website. Don’t overcrowd the visitor with multiple options which just confuse them or leads to decision paralysis. Ensure you give incentives to visitors to click on CTAs. For example, you can give offers, freebies, useful help, and content.
- Your calls to action should include opt-in forms which allow the visitor to request a giveaway on your website.
- If your product or service is sold on a subscription basis, you can convert prospects with a soft, free offer or free trial. This not only enables you to collect contact details and even billing information, it also allows your prospects to test out your product.
- Judicious use of pop-ups and sticky bar CTAs can increase conversion, but don’t be annoying and use more than one at any time. These can appear after so many minutes on the website, at a certain point in an article, on an exit detection, or when a user abandons a shopping cart or form.
- Build opt-in forms right into your content so that visitors have to give their details in order to see the rest of an article or the next episode in a video series.
- Conduct market research on your website and social channels by soliciting feedback from followers. You should also monitor your competitors as well as industry authorities and publishers.